I want to share with you where my mind has come to rest as I approach the end of my pilgrimage on earth…
When a saint and servant of Christ like John Stott says something like that, you sit up and take notice, especially when the words come from his final sermon. Dr Stott finally retired, after sixty years of ordained ministry, at this year’s Keswick Convention, with a sermon entitled The model – becoming more like Christ. It’s a sermon that shows why Stott has been such a blessing to the church over the past six decades, and why he will be sorely missed.
Stott begins by considering a question which “perplexed” him as a younger Christian: “what is God’s purpose for His people?” He considers the answer given by the Westminster Shorter Catechism (“to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever”) and briefer statements such as “love God, love your neighbour”, but declares none of these to be “wholly satisfactory”. He continues:
So I want to share with you where my mind has come to rest as I approach the end of my pilgrimage on earth and it is – God wants His people to become like Christ. Christlikeness is the will of God for the people of God.
Stott identifies three biblical texts which underline Christlikeness as God’s past, present and future will for his people: Romans 8:29 (God “predestined [us] to be conformed to the image of his Son”), 2 Corinthians 3:18 (we “are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another”) and 1 John 3:2 (“when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is”).
“[I]f we claim to be a Christian, we must be Christlike,” Stott concludes, citing 1 John 2:6, before going on to look at five ways in which we are to be like Christ:
- First, we are to be like Christ in his incarnation, following the example of his “amazing self-humbling” (Philippians 2:5-8).
- Second, we are to be like Christ in his service: “just as Jesus [in washing the disciples’ feet] performed what in His culture was the work of a slave, so we in our cultures must regard no task too menial or degrading to undertake for each other”.
- Third, we are to be like Christ in his love. Stott bases this on Ephesians 5:2, and observes that:
- Fourth, we are to be like Christ in his patient endurance. 1 Peter, in particular, teaches us this truth:
- Finally, we are to be like Christ in his mission. As the Father sent Jesus into the world, so Jesus sent his disciples into the world (John 20:21, John 17:18). This means that “as Christ had entered our world, so we are to enter other people’s worlds”, and Stott quotes Archbishop Michael Ramsay in support of this:
“We state and commend the faith only in so far as we go out and put ourselves with loving sympathy inside the doubts of the doubters, the questions of the questioners and the loneliness of those who have lost the way.“
Hence “All authentic mission is incarnational mission” (a statement that will raise hackles in some quarters, and I suspect Stott well knows it).
Paul is urging us to be like the Christ of the Incarnation, to be like the Christ of the foot washing and to be like the Christ of the cross. These three events of the life of Christ indicate clearly what Christlikeness means in practice.
Every chapter of the first letter of Peter contains an allusion to our suffering like Christ … This call to Christlikeness in suffering unjustly may well become increasingly relevant as persecution increases in many cultures in the world today.
Stott concludes his sermon by looking at “three practical consequences of Christlikeness”, which I hope to look at in a separate post.