God's Plan for the Church - Part 3

Tom Pennington • Ephesians 4:13

  • 2003-10-19 AM
  • Sermons


Well last Sunday, was not only my first Sunday here, but was also a significant event in the history of the world. Last Sunday, October 12th, was the official celebration of Christopher Columbus Day commemorating Columbus' first voyage to the Americas in 1492 as all of you learned the little poem when you were growing up. In one of the greatest quirks of history, Columbus is famous for arriving at the wrong place. In his day the Ottoman Turks had seized the land bridge from Europe to China and India. So, the Europeans who had developed a taste for all things eastern decided that they needed to find another route to the Far East.

Columbus decided, that instead of taking the lengthy and dangerous trip around the Horn of Africa, that he would take the easy way and sailed due west. He thought that he could sail about 200 or excuse me about 2400 nautical miles west, and if he did that he would reach the islands around Japan. His plan was based on two miscalculations. First of all, because many in the 1400's still relied on maps that had been drawn by Ptolemy, a geographer of about 100 AD. They believed that the world was mostly land instead of mostly water as we know it is today. And so therefore they calculated that the Far East extended much further east than in fact it does. The second miscalculation that Columbus was working on was he underestimated the circumference of the world by about 25%. So, he set out on his trip, and instead of landing near Japan, he landed in the Americas. Ironically, because of his miscalculations we celebrated Columbus Day last weekend.

But most of the time arriving at a wrong destination or accomplishing a wrong goal is not a good thing. It certainly won't get you in the history books, and sometimes the consequences can be disastrous. That's the case when a church ignores the map laid out in Scripture and sets its own course, and someday the folks in that church stand before Christ and discover that they miscalculated, and that as a church they arrived, but they arrived at the wrong destination. That doesn't have to happen because God has provided everything we need to help us get it right.

As we saw last week in Ephesians 4:7 - 12 Paul laid out God's plan for the church. But every good plan has a final goal or objective in mind. It has a destination that you're aiming for. It's true that if you aim at nothing you usually hit it. So, what's our target as a church? What are God's ultimate objectives for this church and in fact for every church? In other words what is the goal of the church? What is its destination, and how do we as a church get there? Paul identifies the goal, the target that we're aiming for, the destination that should be ours as a church in verse 13 of Ephesians 4.

But first let me remind you of what Paul has already explained about God's plan for the church as we saw last week. In verses 7 - 10 of chapter 4 Paul explained how Christ as part of His victory celebration as He ascended to heaven led captives behind Him, the enemies He conquered, and He gave gifts to men. He gave spiritual gifts, that is a unique capacity to serve in the church to every believer without exception, and those gifts are to be used to minister in the church. That's verses 7 - 10.

Last Sunday night we looked at verses 11 – 12, and in those verses Paul explains how those spiritual gifts fit into Christ's comprehensive plan for the church. Essentially Christ's plan for the church, for this church or for any church has four simple parts as we saw last Sunday night. And I won't take the time to go through them in detail, but let me just outline them for you. Every church should be operating on these four simple principles.

Number one: Christ appoints the leaders of the church. Notice verse 11. "And He gave" [That is Christ gave] "some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastor-teachers,"

Apostles and prophets were the foundation of the church we discovered in 2:20 and those offices are no longer, no longer have a role in the church. But Christ appoints the leaders of the church and in our case it's evangelists, those who are essentially missionaries who go and spread the gospel to places where Christ is not named. And it's pastor-teachers, that is elders or those who are the teaching elders as I am in this church. Christ appoints the leaders of the church.

Number two: the leaders equip the members of the church. Notice verse 12. He gave these men who he's gifted for a specific role, "for the equipping of the saints". Spiritual leaders are to equip the saints. And primarily spiritual leaders have two tools to do this. The first is the teaching of the word of God, and the second is prayer that God would use that teaching of His word to equip them as they hear it and respond to it. So, Christ appoints the leaders of the church, the leaders equip the members of the church, thirdly the members accomplish the service of the church.

This is Christ's plan: the members accomplish the service of the church. Notice verse 12 again, He gave these gifted men "for the equipping of the saints for the work of service," My role and the role of the elders of this church is to equip each one of you to do the work of service.

What is the service that you as the saints in the church should be doing? Well, essentially the church exists to do several things. It exists to worship God. We're doing that this morning. It also exists to nurture and care for each other so that we're each built up into Christ likeness. We do that through a variety of ways as we fellowship and interact with each other as we use our gifts that happens. Not only though are we as a church to worship God, not only do we do the service of worshipping God and the service of nurturing and caring for each other, but we're also to show the love of Christ to our community and the world by sharing the good news that there is forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ alone. We're to evangelize. We're to reach out to the world. That's the service that the members of the church should be doing, should be accomplishing. You should be using your spiritual gift or that spiritual capacity God has given you to serve in one of those priorities or perhaps a combination of them.

So, Christ appoints the leaders, the leaders equip the members, the members accomplish the service, and if all of that happens verse 12 says the outcome produces the growth of the church. Notice the end of verse 12, "to the building up of the body of Christ." When all of that happens, when Christ provides spiritual leaders, and when those leaders equip the members, and when the members do the work of the ministry, the entire church and each member is built up. That's the plan.

But when we come to verse 13, Paul steps back in a sense, and he puts his finger on the map and says there, that's where you as a church need to go. That's the destination you should be aiming for. You follow along as I read verses 11 - 13. Paul says,

And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ;" [Now here's the destination.] "until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and to the unity of the knowledge of the Son of God to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.

What an incredibly rich verse. In this one verse Paul answers for us the four most important questions about God's goal for the church, the destination we're aiming for - four important questions.

The first question Paul answers is: when will we reach the goal? When will we reach the goal? Notice the beginning of verse 13, until, until. Until measures the time this plan and ministry is to last. When will God's plan for the church be finished? The short answer is when every single Christian arrives at the goal God had in mind when He set the church in motion, when He established the church. And that goal for each individual Christian is perfect spiritual maturity. Notice the (Greek or excuse me the) English phrase, "mature man". Literally the Greek says a "perfect man". Perfect spiritual maturity, when we're all exactly like Jesus Christ.

Now when does that happen? When do we all become perfect just like Christ? Well the Apostle John puts it well in 1 John 3:2 when he says, "when He appears." He says, "Beloved, now we are the children of God, and it has not yet appeared what we will be. [But] [w]e know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we shall see Him just as He is."

So, follow Paul's logic. He's saying this. God's plan for the church isn't finished until we're all perfect. And we aren't fully perfect as John tells us until Christ returns. That means God's plan for the church unfolded here in Ephesians 4 will continue until Christ returns. It'll never change. It was the same in the first century, and it's the same today, and if the Lord should tarry it'll be true for another thousand years. Until every man is perfect, until every man is completely and perfectly like Jesus Christ, the plan outlined in Ephesians 4 will continue.

People keep trying to reinvent the church. It seems that there are people in every generation who assume that God's plan needs updating. They say things like, well you know Ephesians 4 was fine for the first century and even the 19th century and the 20th century, but you know people today are more sophisticated. They expect more from the church. They expect something different. We need to update the divine plan. Folks that is pompous blasphemy.

Now, don't misunderstand me, when it comes strictly to tools and methods, we should be looking for ways to improve how we minister. That's why today we use things like a sound system and the power point slide you saw. And if there're other advances that come along that can be helpful to achieving the plan that's laid down here in Ephesians 4, we'll use them. But the basic plan laid down in this passage has never and will never change. Christ appoints the leaders of the church, the leaders equip the members of the church by teaching and prayer, after the leaders equip the members, the members accomplish the service of the church, and that's God's plan. That's God's eternal plan. And it's the height of arrogance for some self-styled Christian guru to wake up one morning and decide that God needs help, that His plan is outdated and that he can draw up a better one. The church has always been, is and will always be God's way for doing God's work. And if it's done God's way, it will always reflect the plan laid down in Ephesians 4. Christ's gifts for His church and the service of the saints are to continue until the goal is realized. The end of the plan is when the members of the church all come to maturity - perfect maturity in their head, the Lord Jesus Christ.

So, folks, don't chase after the latest fad or gimmick that comes down the pike for doing church. This happens every couple of years, some new scheme, some new plan comes along. God's plan has been the same from eternity past. Nobody is going to suddenly discover this hidden lost map to success in the church. We have a map. And it's laid down here on the pages of God's Word, and specifically it's in Ephesians 4.

There's a personal application of the fact that this plan is in place until Christ returns or until every man is perfect, and that is you can never retire from the church. Until you are like Christ, you can never retire from the church. You see some people because of our culture, when they retire from their jobs they check out of the church. You can retire from your involvement in the church on the very day that your spouse or your best friend agrees that you are now perfectly and completely like Jesus Christ. Until then this is the plan, and you're part of it. Paul's answer to the question when will the goal be realized, when will we reach the goal? It's when Christ returns and makes us perfect. Until then this is the plan.

That raises the next question, the second important question that Paul answers in this passage, not only when will the goal be reached but secondly who will reach the goal? Notice what he says next, "until we all, until we all." You see no Christian is excluded. There is in that expression the implication of what theologians call the perseverance of the saints or perhaps better, the preservation of the saints. Notice that Paul says, 'we all', that is every true Christian will some day arrive at the goal and the final goal is spiritual perfection, it's to be like Jesus Christ. The Apostle John loves the reality that the saints will persevere or that God will preserve them. He makes this point very clearly back in John 6. I want you to turn there for a moment. One of my favorite passages, it brings such comfort and encouragement to me, John 6:37. Christ says, "All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out."

That verse underscores God's sovereignty in salvation. You can see in that verse both election as well as what theologians call the effectual call, that is when God draws a person to Himself. Notice that He says that "those will come to Christ whom God has given to Christ." That's election. And "when the Spirit summons them" notice it says, "they will come." Christ says they will come. There's what called the effectual call. They're drawn by the Spirit to Christ. They will come. But notice the end of that verse, verse 37, "the one whom comes to Me, I will certainly not cast out." The translators have done the best they could to incorporate a Greek expression that wouldn't be appropriate in English. In Greek you can use what's called a double negative. You can't in English or at least you shouldn't. A good translation of this will be, would be for Christ to say '"the one who comes to Me, I will never, ever cast out." There's security. There's comfort. Notice verse 38,

"For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me." [Verse 39,] "… [Here's] the will of Him who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day."

For Christ to fail to perfect one whom the Father has given Him would be a direct violation of the Father's will and Christ will never and can never do that. We will all persevere, we will be preserved, all of those who are truly in Christ will be preserved by God. Christ will raise us up on the last day. He will make us like Himself.

It's also interesting back in Ephesians 4 to notice that Paul includes himself. He says "we all". Remember Paul is an apostle. At this point in his life he's been in Christ for probably about 30 years, just 4 more short years before he's put to death for the cause of Christ. He's in a Roman prison for the name of Christ, but he still includes himself as not yet perfect. Just as he says in Philippians 3, he says, "I haven't attained, but I'm still pressing on for the prize." The prize of course is Christ likeness. Paul says there's going to come a time when we all will be made perfect. Listen, if Paul didn't arrive at spiritual perfection in this life, neither will we. But here's our great hope. It will happen, until we all attain.

I don't know about you but it's a great source of joy and comfort to me in spite of my current sinfulness today to know that even today I am growing toward the goal which includes Christ likeness and perfect spiritual maturity and some day I will be like Christ when I see Him just as He is. And so will you if you're in Christ. Philippians 1:6 promised us promises us that "He who began a good work in you will carry it to completion until the day of Jesus Christ." That wonderful reality should inspire you; it should give you the energy and strength you need to continue the battle with sin today. And you will battle. Your entire life you will battle. But as Jonathan Edwards said in his 70 resolutions, he said, "I am resolved not to give one inch to my corruptions, but to continue the struggle with them, regardless of how unsuccessful I may be." God give us the grace to continue to fight, to put off the sin which will one day be completely removed, and we will be like Jesus Christ. Who will reach the goal? Paul says, we all will.

The third question that Paul answers in this passage is how do we reach the goal? When will we reach the goal? When Christ returns. Who will reach the goal? We all will. But how do we reach it? Notice he says at the beginning of verse 13, "until we all attain." The Greek word translated "attain" is a very interesting word. It's used 9 times in the book of Acts to describe "travelers arriving at a destination". For example, in Acts 21:7, Luke writes, "When we had finished the voyage from Tyre, we arrived" [ there's our word,] "at Ptolemais and after greeting the brethren, we stayed with them for a day."

So, when it's speaking of travel, it's speaking of arriving at one's destination. When it's used figuratively as it is here, it means to arrive at a goal. For example, in Philippians 3:11 it's used that way. Paul says in Philippians 3:11, "in order that I may attain" there's our word, "to the resurrection from the dead." I'm hoping some day to be at the goal of physical resurrection just like Jesus Christ my Lord, to have arrived at the resurrection.

So, by choosing this word, Paul is giving us a picture or an illustration of the process of spiritual development. Our spiritual growth resembles a journey. There's a starting point, there's the trip itself, and there's the destination, the arrival at that destination. In addition to the imagery of a trip or a journey, in this same passage, Ephesians 4, Paul also uses the growth of the human body to illustrate spiritual development. Notice verse 13, he describes a mature man. Verse 14 he talks about being no longer children. Verse 15 he says grow up. And in verse 16 he talks about the growth of the body. In other words, Paul is saying our spiritual growth is like the physical growth of our bodies, and it's like taking a journey or a trip.

Unfortunately, there are two common views of sanctification of the growth toward spiritual maturity that deny what Paul is saying here. You may not know them by name but undoubtedly you have been influenced by them because they are extremely popular in the Christian culture; two wrong views of how we grow toward Christ likeness. One is called the Keswick View. You may have heard that expression. The Keswick teaching of sanctification would say this. The problem is that you're having with your struggle with sin is that you're trying to do it, stop trying to do it and just, and this is a favorite expression of theirs, "let go and let God". You see they would say that the first major step in our spiritual development is what they would call total surrender to God or abandonment to God. If you'll just come to the place, they say, where you stop doing anything and let God change you, that's when you'll really begin to grow. I must recognize my own inability and stop trying to change and pray for God to change me. That's one wrong model of sanctification.

There's another common one in the church today, and that's the Pentecostal or Wesleyan model of sanctification. This teaches that there's a moment of spiritual crisis when God suddenly and radically delivers me either from all of my sinful tendencies or from one particular dominating sin. It's like a second blessing or a second work of grace. This teaching says that in a simple act of faith I receive spiritual victory just as I receive salvation. They'll often use the illustration of having two coins in your pocket, and one day you take out one coin and cash it in and that's your salvation. Then you struggle with your sin and you struggle with your sin until some day you realize that you have this other coin in your pocket, and you take it out, and you cash it in, and suddenly you hit this higher plain of spiritual reality.

The problem with both the Keswick and Wesleyan view of sanctification is that they both teach that spiritual development and growth is something God does directly without the use of means and without human effort which contradicts the Scripture. And secondly, both of these views teach that it's something that happens suddenly. That in a moment of crisis I go from being spiritually defeated to being spiritually victorious. You'll hear them talk about the victorious life. Paul says our spiritual growth isn't like that at all. It's like the growth of the human body. Sometimes there are growth spurts, and very rarely growth can be thwarted, but normally the body grows slowly, steadily at times almost imperceptibly, but always toward maturity.

Or it's like a trip. As you take a trip you're normally progressing toward the destination except for when you take a wrong turn, or you have a mechanical difficulty. The pursuit of Christ likeness is a life long process not a one-time event. The bottom line is the true believer is always growing toward or traveling toward Christ likeness. It's not the perfection of his life, but it's the direction of his life. There will be a decreasing pattern of sin and an increasing pattern of righteousness.

If you can't look back in your own Christian life and see growth, if you're still exactly the same as you were a year ago or ten years ago, then you may claim to have spiritual life, but there's a very good chance that you're in fact spiritually dead. You see real life produces growth. But ultimately, we'll not arrive at the destination, we'll not be fully like Christ until He returns. Perfection is only possible in heaven, but it is to be our never-ending pursuit here. How do we reach the goal - through the process of slow steady growth or by taking one step after another until we arrive at the destination? We're not to be like children who five minutes into a thousand-mile journey want to know if we're there yet. The entire Christian life is a journey, so you may as well choose to enjoy the ride.

I hope that encourages especially you young Christians. I remember as a college student shortly after I came to Christ I found myself often attracted to books that promised this sort of instant spiritual maturity. I read some of the deeper life theology which argues that there's this sort of crisis point at which you reach and then crash, bam, alakazam you're suddenly victorious over every sinful struggle. You're instantly transported to the highest level of maturity, of spirituality. I'd see a book like Hudson Taylor's Spiritual Secret, and I'd buy it thinking this must be it. This is what I've been wanting because surely the struggle I'm having with sin isn't what God intends. I was tempted by the kind of Star Trek approach to sanctification. God will just beam me there. Listen folks, it's a lie. There are no short cuts. Spiritual growth is like the process of physical growth. It is a slow, painful process. It's like a trip that sometimes seems like you'll never get there. But if you just take the next step, someday you will arrive at the destination. As the Chinese proverb says, the journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.

So, Paul has answered the questions when do we reach the goal? He said when Christ returns. Who will reach the goal? Every Christian. And thirdly how do we reach the goal? By the slow, painful process of growth like a human body or the slow, steady process of a journey, a trip. That brings us to the final and most important question and that is, what exactly is the goal? What exactly is the goal that we're reaching for? Notice verse 13 again, "to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ."

We're on a journey, Paul says. But what's the destination when we finally arrive where will we be? Where does the church's journey end? Paul describes the end of the journey in three ways. There are three objectives we should constantly be seeking to arrive at. Number one to the unity of the faith, number two to the unity of the knowledge to the Son of God, and number three to a mature man. Now while none of those will be true in perfection here, this is the goal that should occupy the energies of the church, these three great objectives; now let's examine each of them separately.

First Paul says we should arrive at the unity of the faith. I want you to notice the implication of Paul's statement. He's essentially telling us that immaturity produces individuality, and maturity breeds unity. He includes the definite article before the word faith, "the faith" that means Paul is referring to our faith as a body of doctrine, not as an act of believing. He's not saying that we are united in our believing, although that's true. Instead he's saying that we are united in "the faith". That expression is often used in the New Testament to describe a body of doctrine, a body of teaching. For example, in Jude 3, Jude writes, "Beloved, while I was making every effort to write to you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith" [ The body of truth,] "which was once for all handed down to the saints."

As we mature, we become united in embracing the fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith. True unity is not built as some would argue on experience or feeling but on truth. It's built on an agreement about doctrine. There is a body of doctrine that we who believe in Jesus Christ should be attached to that we should follow that we should be united on. Those fundamental doctrines that distinguish all true Christians are the doctrines that we should be fighting for.

I hope in our study of systematic theology on Sunday nights in the coming weeks to identify those fundamental doctrines that distinguish all true Christians from others, that if someone doesn't embrace, they're not in Christ. So, in these fundamental issues we are to be united, and we're to grow in our unity, in embracing them. But in all other doctrinal issues there should be charity. We can have fellowship with an R. C. Sproul for example without agreeing him without agreeing with him on his eschatology or his infant baptism because we agree on the fundamentals of the faith.

How can we arrive at that kind of doctrinal unity, at least to the highest level possible here on earth? It's when the men Christ gave the church teach God's people the Scripture, then the people become united around one body of truth, one body of Christian doctrine. You see God's truth is not divided and fragmented. So, when people are, it's a sign that they've not yet come to understand the unifying truth of Scripture. Now that doesn't mean that we will all agree on every issue. We're not all going to agree on what the tenth toe on the beast means. But we will all be united in "the faith".

So, the first objective in God's goal for the church is: the unity of the faith. The second: you'll notice back in verse 13, is the unity of the knowledge of the Son of God. With spiritual maturity and ultimately with spiritual perfection we become unified in our knowledge of Jesus Christ. But what does it mean to know Christ? Well, obviously, Paul is not talking about knowing Christ in a saving sense. That's not a goal we need to reach. The youngest Christian has already reached that goal. It means to know Christ in two senses; first to know the correct doctrine about the person of Christ. To know what Scripture teaches about who Christ is, you see if you're not worshiping the Christ of Scripture, then you're not worshiping the true Christ. That's why in 2 John 9 the Apostle John writes, "anyone who goes too far, and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. But the one who abides in the teaching, he has both a Father and a Son." To be united in the knowledge of Christ means to be united in our understanding of who He really is, the truth about Him.

But it means something else as well. I think there's another sense Paul has in mind here. It means not only to know the correct doctrine about Christ, but to have a deep relationship with Christ. The Greek word for "knowledge" speaks of more than salvation knowledge. It speaks of a deep intimate knowledge. It's full, accurate knowledge. For example, in John 10, Christ said, "I know My sheep." Now Christ didn't mean by that that He knew who they were. Of course, He knows who they are. He meant that He was attached to them at an intimate level. As believers we are united on more than knowing doctrine. We are united on knowing the person of Jesus Christ. Knowledge of the facts of Christianity are imperative for the true Christian, but knowledge of the facts doesn't make you a Christian.

One of the most biblically knowledgeable men I ever met, I met when I was doing prison ministry. He was in prison for killing his mother-in-law. Some of the most helpful technical commentaries on Scripture were written by men who reject the gospel. Christianity is not simply accepting a collection of dogmas, although it certainly is that. It is embracing a person. It's about devotion to Christ. In fact, if you want to test the genuineness of your own relationship to Christ, your own relationship to God, ask yourself if you are devoted to Jesus Christ, do you love Jesus Christ? That is the most basic description of who a believer is. And so, we become united in our commitment to and our devotion to Jesus Christ.

While we all know Christ we long to know Him more. That's why in Ephesians 1 you'll notice verse 17 Paul prayed, "that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him."

That's why in Philippians 3:10, Paul the great apostle says, my prayer is "that I may know Him."

Colossians 2:2 Paul prays that the Colossians may "attain to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding, resulting in a true knowledge of God's mystery, that is, Christ Himself."

So, we're united in our intimate knowledge of Jesus Christ. That brings us together and as we grow in spiritual maturity that unity around Jesus Christ will become even greater, and some day when Christ returns, it'll be perfect unity.

So, God's goal for the church, what is His goal: number one unity in the faith, number two: unity of the knowledge of the Son of God, and number three: spiritual maturity. Or as Paul says, "to a mature man" verse 13. Mature literally means perfect or complete, but in the context about children and growing up it has the idea of full development. It speaks of mature adulthood, that's why it's translated as it is in the New American Standard. Notice the contrast with this mature man in with verse 14, children. And notice the contrast is with a specific characteristic of children, their lack of discernment. So, we are to attain to or arrive at, the destination of being a mature or a perfect man.

It's interesting that Paul uses the singular for the word man. Notice he says we all, plural, should become a mature man, singular. That's not uncommon when the Scripture is speaking of issues relating to unity. The goal to be reached is that of one new humanity regenerated and spiritually mature not individually, but in all the members. You see God isn't just concerned that I or the elders be spiritually mature, but that every Christian in this church becomes mature.

The next phrase in verse 13 sets the standard for maturity. It further defines what it means to be a mature man. You see, apart from this qualifier, we might each have our own standard of what maturity looks like. But God doesn't allow us to set the standard. God doesn't grade on our curve. Here's the standard, notice the end of verse 13. "to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ."

Wow, that's Christ likeness. Let me tell you what that doesn't mean. It does not mean that once we reach spiritual maturity, complete, ultimate spiritual maturity that we will become little gods. No, the Scripture teaches that we will always be human. It also does not mean that we will become someone else.

If you've read any of the writings of Watchman Nee or similar writings, you'll discover that there's this tendency to say that when you get to a point of spiritual maturity you will almost sort of, your personality will sort of cease to exist and Christ will be living through you in a sense of, not in a sense that we normally mean that, but in almost a sense that He's engulfing your body, and you no longer really exist. That's not what Christ likeness is either.

So, if Christ likeness is not those things what is it? Here's what it means. It means to completely possess the gifts and grace of Christ that can be given to men. Or to measure up to the fullness of the virtue that belongs to Christ, or another way of saying it, to possess the sum of the moral qualities that make Jesus who He is, not His attributes of deity, but the moral qualities of Christ. To possess those in the fullness that Christ possesses them. It's when we fully embody in all of us the graces and qualities that Christ has that we have arrived at the goal. This is the culmination of the goal God has for the church.

This is discussed throughout the Scriptures. Romans 8:29 says, "Those whom God foreknew,"

Listen to this, when God chose us what did He choose us for "He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son," When God chose you in eternity past, His intention was that someday you would be a perfect reflection on the moral level of His own Son. Galatians 4:19, Paul says, this is what I'm trying to do, he says this is "My children, I am again in labor until Christ is formed in you –" Colossians 1:28, Paul lays out his ministry, he says,

We proclaim Christ, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ. For this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me.

Paul says listen, my ministry is to see Christ formed in you and that's the ministry of the elders of this church and that's my ministry. That's the object, that's the goal. Philippians 3:14, Paul says, "I press on for the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus." What is that upward call? It's to be perfect he says. It's to be like Christ. An essential element of the goal of the church and of every Christian individually is Christ likeness.

How do we get there? How do we become like Jesus Christ? What's our responsibility? There's an amazing verse in the New Testament that lays out our responsibility. I'll just give it to you. I don't have time to develop it this morning. I'm sure I will in the coming months. Second Corinthians 3:18 explains how we become Christ like. Paul writes, "We all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory…." You see as you and I look into the Word of God, and as we examine the person of Jesus Christ as we see Him in all of His beauty that glory radiates to us, and we are changed.

Perhaps you've had the opportunity as I have to visit the Statue of Liberty. That is one imposing statue. From the foundation of the pedestal to the tip of the torch it stands 306 feet or about 100 yards high. Just to put its size in perspective, she's 35 feet across at the waist. Now ladies don't you feel better about yourselves? Her index finger is 8 feet long. One of her fingernails is 13 inches by 10 inches and weighs 3 1/2 pounds. Her sandal is 25 feet long. Based on US women's shoe size that means she wears a size 879. And if you stand at the base, and you look up it absolutely towers above you.

That is exactly how morally and spiritually Christ towers over us. The standard He sets is absolutely unreachable. But God in His grace decided to make us like His Son, and He will. Someday you and I will measure up to the stature of the fullness of Jesus Christ. That should produce incredible humility. When you see a Christian who thinks a lot of himself, who's satisfied with his spiritual condition, I can guarantee you that person has stopped measuring himself against Christ and has started using some lesser standard. Because when the standard is the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ, you and I can never be smug and satisfied. We can't help but constantly cry out to God with a sense of our own sinfulness and unworthiness. That's the goal.

Many of our congregation work in the airline industry, and all of us who live in this community are reminded of the airline industry as these huge airliners pass over head. When you think about air travel, what do you think is the most important element of successful air travel? What do you think is the most important ingredient to a successful journey? What is the essential component to ensure that you arrive where you wanted to go? Some of you might say a compass. Others might say fuel, others a pilot. But you can have all of those elements and never have a successful journey because the foundational element of a successful journey is having a destination.

In Ephesians 4:13 Paul under the inspiration of the Spirit reminds us of the destination of the church. It's unity of doctrine, unity of devotion to Jesus Christ and complete spiritual maturity or Christ likeness. Until those things are true, the plan is laid out here for the church. May God give us the grace and strength to pursue the goal, both individually and as a church.

Let's pray together.

Father, we thank You for the incredible wisdom that You portray in Your great plan. Lord, I pray that You would help us to embrace Your plan as our own. Lord, I ask that You would help us to use the gifts You've given us in the church.

Thank You that someday Christ will be perfectly formed in us, and we'll be like Him. Lord we long for that day.

Until then give us the grace and strength to strive toward this goal. To be united in what we believe, to be united in our devotion to Jesus Christ, and to be heading toward perfect spiritual maturity to be like our Lord in who's name we pray, Amen.