David Jeremiah - Christlike Character
I remember reading a story about a man named, Ken James, who was driving from Houston to where he lived, in Gregory, Texas. And it was in the days back then when service stations had people that came out and actually helped you put your gas in the car and usually washed your windows. And so, he was in one of those particular stations, and the attendant started to wash his windshield. Ken asked him how he was doing. And the attendant said, "Well, I'm doing now pretty good. But there was a time when my life was as dirty as your bug-infested windshield". Ken asked him what he meant. He said, "My life was a dirty mess until Jesus Christ cleaned me up".
That was many years ago, but he said he'd never forgotten this young man's simple statement. When we receive Jesus Christ as our Savior, we're cleansed and forgiven, and we're on our way to heaven. But we are aren't perfect yet, can I get a witness? We have to keep washing our windshields, as it were. Growing in godliness is a lifelong process. I've been at it for 50 years, and sometimes I feel like I haven't even started. And this is what Peter is telling us in the great passage we're studying today. Remember how the paragraph opens, "His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness".
Notice that word, God has already given you everything you need for a godly life. There's not anything we can do to get to heaven. We have no good works we can offer to God. The only way we get to heaven is by faith, by grace. You can't go to heaven by doing good things, you know why? Because in order to qualify, you got to be perfect. You got to get a ten on everything. Nobody can do that. The Bible says there is none righteous, no, not one. You can't get to heaven by doing good works. Ephesians says it is not by your works that you get to heaven, but by faith in Jesus Christ. But the next verse says, "Therefore, as Christians, develop good works. This is God's will for you".
In other words, we don't do things so we can go to heaven. But once God gives us the gift of eternal life, and we're on our way to heaven, and we're saved, and we're believers, the Bible says we should devote our lives to good works. God cares about good works, we just got to get them in the right place. They don't come before the cross, they come after the cross. And so, these things we're talking about right now, this is a part of the cooperative that we have with God.
So, let's just begin here in the right place and ask ourselves the question, what is godliness? What is it? And I don't want to try to be too simple, but this is the best answer I know. Godliness is trying to become more like God every day, which is to say, it's to become more like Christ all the time because Christ is God in the flesh. I am told that there was once a portrait that hung near the main entrance to the Alamo, in San Antonio, and it was said to be of James Butler Bonham, who died in the battle before his portrait could be finished. His nephew looked so much like him that they went and got him, and he sat in for the rest of the portrait so that future generations would have an idea what the man who died for their freedom looked like.
And I want to tell you that Jesus Christ is the earthly portrait of God. The Bible says it this way, "No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in the closest relationship with the Father, he has made God known". How do I know God? The Bible says I can't see him. The Bible simply says no man has ever seen God and lived. But God has revealed himself to us by sending his own Son, Jesus Christ, who is the second person of the Trinity, God in the flesh. And Jesus Christ came down here because of God's love for us not only to die on the cross, but to live on this earth for all those years he was here and show us how God would live if he were here, because Jesus was God and he was here.
So, if you want to know what would God do in this situation, you got to ask yourself, what would Jesus Christ do? You study Christ and you find out how God works. Just as Jesus Christ reveals God to us, God has put the responsibility on us to reveal Jesus Christ to others. We're to be like Christ, that's what it means to be godly, so that others will see God in our lives, amen?
Renee Zellweger has been working hard to become the famed actress and singer Judy Garland. If you've ever watched, "The Wizard of Oz," you'll remember Garland's remarkable voice. And millions of people thought she was as wholesome as apple pie person, because that was the image we were given, but behind the scenes, as you remember, Garland struggled with a lot of problems. The pressure of stardom, and depression, and spiraling addiction to alcohol and drugs, she suffered financial pressures, and she became suicidal. In 1969, she was found dead in the bathroom of a rented house in London at the age of 47. She was a marvelous entertainer, and Renee Zellweger was given the role of Judy Garland.
I want to tell you what she did to do that. In preparation for this role, she had to pour all of her energy into transforming herself into the image of Judy Garland. She wrote, "I immersed myself in all things Judy". She read every book she could find about Garland. She took music lessons. She learned choreography. She studied Judy's voice so she could duplicate it. She studied Judy's gestures, her posture, her walk, her speech patterns. She used prosthetics, contact lenses, wigs, costumes. And I'm told that during filming, Zellweger sat in the makeup chair every day for two hours just to transform herself into Judy Garland.
Now, I can appreciate a person's dedication to their chosen craft. I got to tell you, there's only one person I really want to be like and that's Jesus Christ, amen? And here's the difference. She has to become Judy Garland from the outside in. The Bible tells me, I can be Jesus Christ from the inside out. But here's what I want you to take from this. If an actor, an actress would be willing to go to that effort to learn how to portray somebody that they are really not, wouldn't you think we'd be willing to say, "Listen, I want to be like Jesus, and if I'm going to be like Jesus, I'm not gonna just wake up one morning and I'm gonna be like Jesus".
There's some things I can do to learn who Jesus was. And the more you learn who Jesus was and the more you study who Jesus is, the more you watch what he does, the more you have this hunger in your heart to be like that, and the more you begin to realize that something of Jesus is starting to rub off on your life and make you a different person. Well, we have to immerse ourselves in all things Jesus, right? Just as she immersed herself in all things Judy, we have to immerse ourselves in all things Jesus. We have to read all we can about Jesus in the gospels. That's where you're going to learn about him. We have to keep reading his Word throughout our lives. We have to study how we walked, and how he talked, and how he spoke.
And the Bible tells us in 1 Peter chapter 2, that Christ suffered for us, now watch this, leaving us an example. How do we know about Christ? He suffered and died for us, and he left us an example. And it says he did that so that we should follow his steps. How do I become like God? Well, I can't become like God the Father in the sense that I don't know how to do that, but God the Father has given me this wonderful picture of himself in Jesus Christ.
So, if I want to become like God, I have to study how I can become like Christ. So, godliness literally becomes Christlikeness. There's one paragraph in particular in 1 Peter that has three things I want to share with you about what it means to be like Christ, and what it means to follow him, and what it means to develop this desire for godliness in your life. I want to read this to you. Don't get lost, I'll come back and we'll unpack it.
1 Peter 2:9 through 12, "But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, his own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of him who called you out of darkness and into his marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy. Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul, having your conduct honorable among Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works that they're able to observe, glorify God in the day of visitation".
Now, as we unpack this paragraph, I want to first of all talk about how we examine our own identify before God, and that's where it starts. In 1 Peter 2:9, God tells us something about ourselves that I think needs to be repeated often in this culture in which there isn't a whole lot of self-confidence on the part of a lot of people. Listen to this. If you're a Christian today, don't ever forget this, God tells you that you are his possession. He says you are his own special person. God created you as his own special person. The Bible says, you are not your own, you were bought with a price. If you're a Christian, you are a Christian because you are God's special person. He created you. You're unique from everybody else. You have a special purpose. God put you here for this reason. And when you find out what that purpose is, then you can start to really live.
But you can't go along as a Christian and have what some people call worm theology. You know, I'm just a worm. No, you're not, you're the creature of God, and you are his special person. So, I just can't get over the power behind Peter's phrase. Peter calls us as Christians God's own special people. And let me tell you, Peter wasn't writing to a group of elite people. These letters from Peter were written to scattered believers, many of whom had come out of Judaism and they were suffering greatly for their faith. Some of them were slaves, many of them were illiterate, some of them were sick and elderly. But Peter said to them, "No, you are special. You are the most special people on the earth. It isn't the imperial and the elite who are special, it's you. You are God's special people, that you may proclaim the praises of him who called you out of darkness".
You are God's possession. He created you for a purpose. You belong to him. You are very important. Number two, not only are you God's possession, but you're God's pilgrim. Here's what it says in 1 Peter 2:11, "Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims". One of Peter's greatest concepts was this idea of being a traveler down here. This wasn't original to him. I mean, this is in the Old Testament several times, where people are called pilgrims. It's not a John Wayne expression. You know, John had that pilgrim thing he did. But this means that you and I, we don't really belong here. This is not our home. Our home is in heaven. We're sojourners, that's what it says, we're strangers.
And there's something really special about that. To Christians who were scattered by persecution and were traveling to heaven, Peter in verse 11 says, "Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul". In other words, don't take on the characteristics of the environment where you are. We don't belong here. Here's the third thing that will help you as you journey toward godliness, you are God's platform. It says here that what God gives us so that we may proclaim the praises of him who called us out of darkness into marvelous light.
While we're going through this world as we are, while we're pilgrimaging our way to heaven, our purpose is that we're to be testimonies to God. We're to be witnesses to him. That doesn't mean we have to know the four spiritual laws of the Roman road or any of the other methods of presenting the gospel. It means that our whole life, who we are as pilgrims, is to be a testimony to who the Lord Jesus Christ is. I started praying a little prayer some years ago that I don't know where this came from, but as I would face the day and realize what my routines would be, I just started to pray, "Lord Jesus, help me to bring your influence into every situation where I go today. May there be something of Jesus in this situation".
And you know, I get into some pretty interesting places where Jesus doesn't seem like he fits. But when you have Jesus in your heart, wherever you go, if you're living for him, you bring the presence of Jesus into that situation. Isn't that true? Well, that's our goal, to remind others of Jesus. And here in this passage, in 1 Peter, he says, "Have your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God".
Our hands and our feet become the platform or the pulpit by which God is able to speak to our world. When we grow in godliness, people begin to see Jesus in us. And that's the purpose of this character building quality that we're given in 2 Peter chapter 1. "Add to your faith virtue. Add to your virtue knowledge. Add to your knowledge self-control. Add to your self-control perseverance. And add to your perseverance godliness, Christlikeness". Now, that's who we are, that's why we should be this way.
So, let's take the final step in this little package. Let's go from examining our identity to expressing it. Here's what I want to say to you, once again three things quickly. First of all, godliness is about ownership. Live like you belong. You belong to Jesus, you belong to God. It makes you think twice about things you do when you recognize that. Have you ever as a child remember your parents saying, "Now remember when you go out, whose children you are," you know? My dad was the president of the college where I... and I grew up in Cedarville, Ohio. And he never quite said it this way, but my mom had no problem saying it. "You are the president's son. Just you know, don't embarrass us".
When you realize that you're God's special possession, you want to do the right thing. You want to be the right person. It's a great motivation to Christlikeness. I belong to God. I want to live in such a way that brings honor to his name. I don't want to soil the name of God, because I'm one of his children, and I'm acting like I don't know who is. So, the Bible constantly reminds us of that. In 1 Corinthians, for instance, we read, "You are not your own. Therefore honor God with your body". Romans 1 says, "You are called to belong to Jesus Christ, called to be holy people". Romans 14:8 says, "If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we're the Lord's". We belong to him.
I remember reading about Mike Ruffin who recalled the first time in his life when he didn't feel like he belonged. He was 14 years old and in love for the first time. When his girlfriend dumped him, he was devastated. He cried uncontrollably, and his distress increased when he found she had broken up with him because he didn't live in a good neighborhood. "I wasn't good enough for her. It was a painful reminder that was running in a crowd to which I did not belong. I've never forgotten that feeling," he said. When the writer of Psalm 73 endured a confused time of discouragement and depression, the reality that pulled him through this was this. Psalm 73:23, "Yet I still belong to you, and you hold my right hand". Isn't that a great truth from God?
Romans 8:1 says it this way, "There is therefore now no condemnation to those who belong to Christ Jesus". Ladies and gentlemen, we belong to Christ Jesus. And let's live like we belong. He's our owner, he's our Father. He's the giver of life. He's the one to whom we will one day report. Number two, godliness is about citizenship. Keep your eyes on heaven. Keep your watch on heaven's time. Keep your eyes on heaven. Don't always be looking at the things of the earth. As you diligently add godliness to your life by remembering who you are, you have to keep heaven in mind, God's special place.
The closer we get to heaven, the more we should reflect its character. Here's the essence of the principle again. You become like the place you most want to go, and you became like the person you most want to see. And here's the third one, godliness is about ownership, so act like you belong. Godliness is about citizenship; keep your eyes on heaven. And godliness is about stewardship. That's not money, it means carry out your assignment. Peter said again, "Have your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, so that when they speak against you, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation".
So, what I'm saying to you is this. The Bible says if we live our lives in the culture where God has called us, if we live our lives in such a way that we are uniquely different than anybody around us because we love people, we care about them, we reach out to them, we call them by their name when they're hurting, we go when nobody else will, when we do those kind of things, when we live our lives like that with that kind of conduct, the Bible says when they come after us, or they want to say bad things about us, they can't really do it because you've done so many good things to help them that they just... there's no way they can climb over it. If people are going to criticize us, men and women, let them climb over our love for them, and our love and good works for them.
Well, there you go. What does it mean to be godly? It means first of all to know who you are. You belong to God, you are his special person. Number two, it means that you're a pilgrim, you're not here forever. You're here only for the short time God has let you be on this planet. While you're here as a pilgrim, honor him and be his platform to sing praises to his name, and by your good works to honor him in your life. If you don't think there's something to work on there, I haven't done my job. All of us are in the midst of this, and all of us take notes in our own hearts. This is going to make me a better person as I walk with the Lord, amen?