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  • Paul Reich

Transformed into Christ's Image

Updated: Mar 4, 2021

God’s plan is that we become like His Son. Having this as our hope, we will cooperate with Him as He works to transform our hearts and character.



For the past two springs our oldest daughter has bought “butterfly raising kits” to teach her two daughters the marvels of biology. Our granddaughters have had the delight and wonder of watching the larvae eat the specially formulated food, grow into caterpillars, form chrysalises, and eventually hatch into butterflies. Then at the appropriate time, they have had the joy of releasing them outside.


This past spring, my daughter also collected some frog eggs from a local pond and placed them in a plastic tub in their back yard, attempting to simulate their natural ecosystem. Our granddaughters had the delight of watching these eggs hatch into tadpoles. While many did not make it, two of them grew to become good sized tadpoles. The last of which was nearly a frog with only a small tale left before it died. Obviously, some tweaking is needed to maintain a healthy environment for the frogs to thrive, but for a first-time experiment it went fairly well and provided another opportunity for our granddaughters to observe the marvels of creation.


Though very different creatures, butterflies and frogs share the common experience of undergoing metamorphosis. They transition through distinct stages of physical transformation resulting in adult forms that are very different in structure and appearance than their infant states. The changes are remarkable.


The butterfly is transformed from an earthbound caterpillar, having a segmented wormlike body with more than a dozen legs and eyes that can only see in black and white to a colorful winged creature of flight, having a streamlined aerodynamic body, six legs, and compound eyes that see in more colors than humans can. Caterpillars dine on leaves and are asexual, while butterflies drink nectar and seek out a partner to reproduce.


Similarly, frogs undergo transformation from water bound, legless, fish-tailed creatures with gills to full grown amphibians having freedom on land as well as in water due to their spring-loaded legs with webbed feet and lungs for breathing air. While tadpoles are herbivores that eat algae, frogs are carnivores that eat insects, snails, and small fish – some large frogs even eat lizards or mice!


The metamorphosis that takes place in butterflies and frogs is dramatic. In both these genera, the mature adult is very different than the infant. This remarkable change happens because God has placed in butterfly larvae and in tadpoles DNA that will guide this incredible transformation process, so that over time they develop into adult versions of their species. These marvelous creatures are living object lessons for the incredible metamorphosis that God wants to bring about in the lives of His children.


Image by Kevin Ryan from Pixabay


The word metamorphosis comes from a compound Greek word made up of meta and morphe. In Greek, meta is often used as a preposition meaning “after, behind, beyond” or “with, among,” but can also mean “changed” or “altered.” In Greek, meta is often used as a prefix to other words and can convey either meaning. In the New Testament it is used in the latter sense in the Greek word for “repentance” – metanoia, which literally means “a change of mind” – from meta, “change,” and nous, “mind.” Meta is also used in the “change” sense in English words such as metastasis, referring to a negative change in a malignant growth, and metaphor, which is a comparative figure of speech using a word, phrase, or idea to symbolically express resemblance to another idea. A metaphor both “alters” a literal understanding and conveys a meaning “beyond” the literal.


The last part of metamorphosis comes from the root morphe meaning “form.” Popular in the world of science fiction, our English word morph is derived from this Greek word. The combined word metamorphosis means “changed form” and is commonly translated “transformation” or “transfiguration.” Various cognates of the morphe family of words occur in the Greek New Testament and are used to describe the believer’s moral and spiritual transformation into the image of Christ. For example,


Galatians 4:19 (NIV)

19 My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed (morphoo) in you,


As a mother experiences the many discomforts of pregnancy and pains of childbirth to bring forth a healthy fully developed child, Paul is metaphorically experiencing spiritual labor pains as an apostle to see Christ fully “formed” in the believers at Galatia. Paul understands that Christ dwells in the hearts of believers through His Holy Spirit (Romans 8:9-11; 2 Corinthians 13:5; Galatians 2:20; Ephesians 3:14-19; Colossians 1:27), and when the Spirit in them completes His transforming work, they will come to full maturity and reflect the very character of Jesus. In fact, God’s predetermined plan for all believers is that we become like His Son.


Romans 8:29 (NIV)

29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed (symmorphos) to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.


The word “conformed” is a translation of the Greek word, symmorphos, combining the prefix sym, meaning “same” or “like” with morphe. Symmorphos is an adjective meaning “like-natured” and describes something that is “similar in representative nature or essence to something else.” [1] Paul is saying that God’s predetermined plan for all believers is that they become "like-natured" to His Son, Jesus. The purpose is so that Jesus might have preeminent status in a family of brothers and sisters who reflect His family likeness. This truth of family likeness is also taught by the Apostle John


1 John 3:1–3 (NIV)

1 See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.

2 Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like (homoios – "resembling" or "similar to") him, for we shall see him as he is.

3 All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.


God has lavished His great love on us by bringing us into His family and calling us His children. This love is demonstrated through giving His Son to die for us that we might be forgiven (John 3:16; Romans 5:8-10) and through faith in Jesus be born into His family (John 1:12). Though believers are now children of God, we have not yet become fully like Christ. Just like the caterpillar and tad pole undergo metamorphosis, we too will undergo progressive transformation into the full image of Christ. And when Christ returns, we will be like Him for we will see Him as He is. Because of this hope for Christ’s return and hope of being like Him, we now in this life purify ourselves just as He is pure. In other words, we cooperate with Him now in the process of becoming more like Him, though the full transformation will not be fully realized until He returns.


Purifying ourselves is more than self-effort; it is the life of Christ expressing itself in us and through us. We are “working out” what God is “working in” us because He gives us both the desire and the ability to please Him (Philippians 2:12-13). In my previous blog, I quoted 1 John 2:6, “Whoever claims to live (meno - "abide") in him must live as Jesus did” (NIV). John picks this theme up again in chapter 3.


1 John 3:6 (NIV)

6 No one who lives (meno - "abides") in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.


The believer who is drawing life from an abiding relationship with Christ cannot persist in sin because the very life and nature of Christ indwells him and this life will manifest itself in righteousness. In fact, John goes on to say that those born of God cannot continue in sin, because God's “seed,” His DNA, resides in them.


1 John 3:9 (NIV)

9 No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in them; they cannot go on sinning, because they have been born of God.


The Greek word for “seed” is the word sperma. It is used in Scripture to refer to the reproductive life force of plants, animals, and humans that results in offspring. You have rightly guessed that our English word “sperm” comes from this Greek word. In the passage above, John uses the word sperma to refer to God’s life-giving force in those who are born of God, that is those who are born of the Spirit (John 3:2-7). The “sperm” or “seed” of God resides in those “born of God” and it will produce in them His righteous nature, character, and lifestyle because every seed reproduces after its own kind (Genesis 1:24-29, Matthew 7:15-20).


John goes on to say that those “born of God” will not only be righteous like Jesus is righteous, but they will also love like He loves (1 John 3:10-18). Those born of God will love because this is the very nature of God, and His DNA is deposited in them.


1 John 4:7–8 (NIV)

7 Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.

8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.


The "seed" or nature of Christ indwells all God's children. As we yield to His life in us and grow to spiritual maturity, we will become more and more like Him, expressing His righteousness (1 John 3:6-9) and His love (1 John 3:10-18), thereby confirming by our likeness to Christ that we are born of God and are part of HIs family.


But what about believers who do not yet exemplify the nature and life of Christ? We are all at differing stages of maturity. Like the caterpillar or the tadpole, some may not yet reflect the qualities of a mature butterfly or frog. In fact, Paul describes some believers as “spiritual,” that is mature believers, while describing others as “carnal” or “worldly,” those controlled by the “flesh” because they are exhibiting jealousy and strife (1 Corinthians 3:1-3). The latter have not yet learned to walk under the control of God’s Spirit, so they do not yet fully demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:16-26). The transformation process is progressive - some believers are immature and some have matured through years of following Christ, while others are at various stages in between.


There is an exciting culmination to God’s plan (and our hope) for being like Christ. Not only will we share the same nature and moral character of Christ, we will also be like Him physically when He returns. Even now we groan, awaiting the redemption of our bodies (Romans 8:23), but at Christ’s return, our mortal bodies will be transformed into the likeness of His immortal and glorious body.


Philippians 3:20–21 (NIV)

20 But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ,

21 who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform (metaschematizo from meta, “change,” and schema, “figure” or “fashion”) our lowly bodies so that they will be like (symmorphos – "in conformity with") his glorious body.


Finally, the butterfly will emerge in all its glory, and we will be like Christ, fully exhibiting His character and sharing in the likeness of His glorious body. At that time, God’s plan to have a family of sons and daughters who share the family likeness of His “firstborn” (the one who holds all the rights and privileges of being the eldest) will be fully realized (Romans 8:29).


Summary


My purpose in this post was to further establish that Jesus is the plumbline for our lives. Not only is He the example we are to follow, as noted in my last post, but He is the model of family likeness that sets the standard for all God’s children. God has planned that we all be transformed into the image of Christ. Though this will not be fully realized until Christ returns, we are now in the process of becoming like Christ. Because God’s seed is in us, the more we yield to the control of His Spirit in our lives, the more we will be transformed from glory to glory into the image of Christ.


In the next post, I will discuss further what the “image” of Christ is and what it is not (lest we step into the heresy of some who teach we will share God's divine attributes that make Him uniquely God). This will be followed by a post (or two) looking at God’s process for bringing about transformation and our part in the process. Beyond that, we will also explore God’s written word as a plumbline for our lives and learn how to calibrate our lives so we are living in alignment with Christ and His word. I hope you find the journey both insightful and inspiring.


References:


[1] Faithlife Corporation. “Logos Bible Software Bible Sense Lexicon.” Logos Bible Software, Computer software. Bellingham, WA: Faithlife Corporation, February 16, 2021.

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