Whenever the Bible speaks of the finality of our salvation, it always references our full and final conformity to the image of Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul says God “predestined [us] to be conformed to the image of his Son” (Rom. 8:29). That’s the goal of our salvation: to look like Jesus. To be sure, we “are being transformed from one degree of glory to another” even now in our lives here on earth, as the Holy Spirit works in our hearts and lives and makes us more like Jesus little by little (cf. 2 Cor. 3:18). But we will not be perfectly conformed to Christ’s image until Christ returns. Only then will our salvation be completed. The apostle John confirms this in 1 John 3:2: “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.”
Why Conformity To Christ?
As believers we love and affirm this great truth concerning our future hope. But we should ask a question: Why has God the Father chosen conformity to Christ’s image as the goal of our salvation? Why not conformity to the Father, or conformity to the Holy Spirit? Why specifically Christ? Why has God chosen to make us like His Son?
I find it helpful to consider who exactly Christ is. Jesus Christ—the Son of God—is, according to Colossians 1:15, “The image of the invisible God.” Hebrews 1:3 says, “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature.” Christ, therefore, is the perfect image of God.
What exactly does this mean? It means that from all eternity God the Father has looked upon God the Son and seen the exact representation of Himself. The Son perfectly represents to the Father the image of the Father’s own glory. We are in the mountaintops of theology here, but this is absolutely crucial. From all eternity, God has looked upon His own glory—that is, the Father has looked upon his Son—and has always enjoyed what He’s seen—and infinitely so. What God has always seen in Himself is the greatest, most supreme thing in the universe, and that is His own glory, perfectly displayed back to Him by the Son. How has God seen and enjoyed the glory of God? By Christ reflecting back to the Father the exact, perfect image of God.
Imitation Is The Highest Form Of Praise
This is, I think, why the Father has chosen conformity to the image of Christ as the goal of salvation. If what God enjoys most is God’s glory, and God’s glory is represented perfectly by Christ, then it follows that what God would most desire to make of us is reflections of Christ. Or as Paul said it: “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers” (Rom. 8:29).
Be careful in understanding your purpose in life. You do not exist to make God happy. God did not create us to fill up some deficiency or need. He doesn’t need us (cf. Acts 17:25). We don’t add to his glory or his happiness in and of ourselves. My presence in heaven doesn’t make God more glorious than if I’m not there. So why did God do it? Why would God create us to be conformed to the image of His Son?
Think about what you are, Christian. You are a Christian. The term “Christian” essentially means “little Christ.” We are a congregation of little Christs. I think this is exactly what God the Father wanted. He loves nothing more than to behold His Son, Jesus Christ. Why not fill heaven with hundreds upon thousands of little Christs? In doing so Christ Himself is “the firstborn among many brothers” and receives all the glory and praise. John MacArthur writes:
It has been rightly said that imitation is the highest form of praise, for this will be the supreme tribute to the Son—He will be the Chief One among many who have been made like Him. They will reflect His goodness, because they will be like Him, and they will proclaim His greatness as they worship Him unceasingly for eternity.
His Glory, Our Joy
This, then, is why God has chosen conformity to the image of Christ as the goal of our salvation:
· It is because Christ Himself is the image of God.
· It is because Christ Himself is infinitely glorious.
· It is because Christ Himself is infinitely deserving of praise.
Therefore, the goal of our salvation has nothing to do with who we are and everything to do with who Christ is. Therefore, Christ alone is worthy of our worship and deserving of all our praise.
But this is good news, is it not? We who formerly were children of darkness have been made children of light! We are dead to sin and alive to Christ! We are sons and daughters of the living God! The Holy Spirit is transforming us more and more to reflect the Lord Jesus! And God will finish what he has started in us, to the praise of His glory!
So don’t shrink back from this Christ-centered purpose of salvation. God has brought us to Himself and will conform us to Christ for his glory and our joy.
He is shown to be great; we receive the love.
He receives the praise; we receive the pleasure.
This is good news. This is the gospel.
John MacArthur, “Divine Immutability and the Doctrines of Grace,” in Foundations of Grace
, Steven J. Lawson (Orlando: Reformation Trust, 2006), 17.