I concluded the last with this thought: “We need to learn to be the humans God created us to be—made in his image and likeness, good yet with room for improvement.” The question some may be asking is just what did God do (and still does) to grease the skids for this process? What resources are available that even makes this possible?
The first answer will seem pretty obvious, but it needs to be said: God provided his son, Jesus, for us, but not just as a sacrifice that takes away our sin. Sin is just part of the problem. Forgiving sin makes it possible for us to enter the Kingdom of God, but the removal of sin doesn’t show us how to live in the Kingdom of God. But Jesus is more than our Savior, he is our teacher; more exactly, he is our mentor. He not only taught us what to do and not do in order to live fruitfully in the Kingdom, he showed us. His acceptance of society’s outcasts, his concern for the poor, his courage in confronting injustice—whether it came from religious powers or political powers—while steadfastly refusing to resort to violence in doing so, his cutting through religious minutiae to get to what really matters spiritually, his faithfulness to God all the way to his death—in all of these things and more, he didn’t just teach them to us, he demonstrated them for us. Jesus is our model. That is why it is absolutely crucial for the follower of Jesus to read the gospel narratives over and over, becoming immersed in the life and teachings of Jesus. How can you follow someone if you don’t know their teachings and their example? A follower of Jesus is not just someone who accepts as true the facts about his incarnation, death and resurrection; a follower is someone who actually follows, conforming their life according to the pattern set by Jesus. Admittedly, this was a tall order even when Jesus was walking around the earth, but he’s not anymore. Are we then reduced to reading four rather short narratives about his life, as great as they are? It would have been nice if Jesus had hung around to help us out, wouldn’t it?
Well, the good news is that he did. He gave us his Spirit, the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God. When his first disciples were upset because he was leaving them, Jesus offered them these words: "And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.” The Spirit of Jesus abides with us, goes alongside us, and prepares the path before us so that we can actually do what Jesus tells us to do. We have spiritual power to be the followers of God intends us to be. But not only that, Jesus said that the Holy Spirit will be in us. Paul puts it this way: I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:19-20) So this new Kingdom life we are called to live we live in cooperation with the Spirit of Jesus living in us. Like any new life skill we are trying to learn, at first we are pretty incompetent. An apprentice on their first day doesn’t know how to do anything, and the master craftsman must pretty much do everything. But as the apprentice learns and masters new skills, the master backs off, letting the apprentice do more and more, correcting, guiding, fixing mistakes, and then teaching new skills. And even when the apprentice reaches the point when they are so competent at the craft that they need little guidance, the master craftsman is always there, his presence inspiring confidence.
But not only that. God has given us his plan for all of creation. He has revealed his plan, which while we were in sin remained a mystery to us. But now, with renewed minds and understanding, with fresh eyes guided by the Holy Spirit living in us, we are able to see what God has been up to all along. He has been guiding history—not through coercion, not through predestination, but through love—toward an end, a fulfillment: the earth as it was created to be, humans as we were created to be. Paul speaks of this in Romans 8:19-21—For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.
This plan wasn’t a mystery because God hid it from us, but because we refused to see it, as Paul says in Romans 1. But having our sins removed, the life of Jesus before us, the Spirit of Christ within us, we are able to read the story of The Plan—the Bible—and understand what God is doing, and then see where we can fit in and actually be a part of the fulfillment of God’s plan.
Then, we will not only be disciples, we’ll be fully human according to God’s plan; humans in which the image of God in us is undimmed by sin.