WEEK 2: The Word Conforms Us
God’s Word is one of his greatest gifts to us. God’s desire for us as his disciples, and for us who lead others, is that we become his image bearers. In Romans 8:29 we read:
For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters
The word image here is translated from the Greek word, eikon (or the more familiar spelling to us in English is icon). An icon is something that represents the best image of another thing – to be like it. Paul is saying in his letter to the Romans that God’s desire and plan for us is that we are formed to be like Jesus, so that we can represent him to others. As you can see in this verse, Paul uses the word “conformed”. The prefix of this word, “con”, means thoroughly, or fully. So Paul is saying that God wants us to be thoroughly or fully formed into the likeness of Jesus, so that we can then represent him to others. This is something that happens over our lifetime as followers of Jesus. We are not formed in a day, instead we are formed day by day, as we intentionally seek to live close to God.
So how are we to be conformed into the image of Jesus? It is a process, and one that is led by God, not by us. We are followers or apprentices in this process, and God is our master. There are a number of practices that we can engage in that will help us to be formed more like Christ. All of these practices have something in common, and that is they are all centred on being with God. In other words, we are formed when we intentionally submit ourselves to God who shapes us, through us being present with him.
One of the most important ways, or practices that we engage in that brings about our formation, our maturing as Christians, is spending time with God through reading and meditating on his Word, and then acting on and applying what he shows us. Eugene Peterson who composed The Message version of the Bible, wrote a very helpful book about this practice of reading and meditating on Scripture called “Eat this Book”. The title of the book tells us immediately the place that he believes Scripture has in his own life – it is like the food for his soul. It is what fed him, nourished him, and in a very basic and plain way, gave him life. His encouragement is that when we “eat” Scripture, we chew on it slowly, in an unhurried delightful way. He compares it to a dog gnawing away on a bone.
You may have been reading the Bible ever since you learnt to read as a child or reading Scripture may be a more recent experience for you. Perhaps you have had times in your Christian journey where you have read the Bible eagerly, consistently, daily. Perhaps there have been other periods when you have not. Whatever your experience has been past or present, our opportunity over the course of this year in Project 11, as you spend time daily in God’s Word, is to allow God to feed you from the Scriptures you read each day.
This week we want to explore what this looks like for us as disciples of Jesus – what does it look like for us to have our lives conformed to be like Jesus, through this practice of reading and meditating on his Word?
In our last Project, Crop, we saw that knowing and trusting God’s Word is vital to us growing in God. We considered Jesus’ words from John 15 where he says that we are to remain or abide in him and his words then remain in or abide in us. Eugene Peterson in The Message renders this verse, “Make yourself at home with me and my words are at home in you”.
So I want to come back to my earlier question – what does it look like for us to be conformed into the image of Jesus, through his Word? Rather than “theorise” about this, let’s get into some Scripture to see how it works. The section of Scripture we are going to “eat” to use Peterson’s image, is one that is truly formative if we allow it to penetrate our hearts and guide our thoughts and actions. As leaders, it is one that we will constantly return to as we seek to lead others.
Let me set the context. Jesus had been preparing for his public ministry, his teaching ministry, which he announced just prior to his calling of the disciples with the words, “Repent, God’s Kingdom is here.” We read that he then went all over Galilee teaching and healing, and crowds of people were drawn to him.
He determined as the numbers of the crowd swelled to hold an extended time of teaching – these days we would call it a conference or a convention. We know this teaching as the Sermon on the Mount, and the disciple Matthew recorded Jesus’ teaching in chapters 5 to 7 of his Gospel.