“And this, so that I may know Him [experientially, becoming more thoroughly acquainted with Him, understanding the remarkable wonders of His Person more completely] and [in that same way experience] the power of His resurrection [which overflows and is active in believers], and [that I may share] the fellowship of His sufferings, by being continually conformed [inwardly into His likeness even] to His death [dying as He did];” Phil. 3:10
Sometimes when Wanda and I converse Jesus throws in a diamond of wisdom that astonishes us. The other day, the Father unveiled a new layer of understanding about the wilderness. The illustration was a like a square peg in a round hole as we began to learn how God sees us being conformed to the image of Jesus.
When I was younger, I grew watermelons with my father. In the early summer, we saw bright yellow flowers on the vines showing new fruit soon to be arriving. If bees pollinate the flowers, a tiny watermelon fruit forms and grows. By summer’s end, we were harvesting large, juicy round watermelons. These were awkward to transport and store.
In Japan, where space is an issue, large round watermelons are problematic, so someone engineered a way to change the shape. They invented a method of encasing the growing watermelon into a box. Early after the fruit is formed, they put a box around the growing watermelon, which is then conformed to the shape of the container. When the fruit is ripe, the box is removed and the farmers harvest the square fruit. Now the Japanese can package, sell, and store the watermelon efficiently.
As Wanda and I discussed this, we saw a parallel in how we can be conformed to the image of Jesus.
The stages of Christian growth
In stage 1 of the Christian life, God encourages His children to bear fruit but few are successful. In nature not every flower produces fruit and in stage 1 not every believer matures. Most don’t. Though many believers claim to follow Jesus, their lives do not reveal the fruit of obedience and repentance. A large majority of believers will continue to live for ‘self’, even after salvation; frustrating the will of the Holy Spirit. Their life is far from being conformed to the image of Jesus.
Only a small minority of believers ever produce fruit in keeping with repentance. (Matthew 3:8). God nurtures these would be disciples in faith.
In stage 2 God observes the fruit of repentance in a believer’s life, much like the farmer looks over his crop and sees growing melons. God knows, however, despite the good fruit there is still a mixture of ‘self’ and spirit in the believer. The Father needs to create the right conditions to eliminate ‘self’ and nurture spirit in the person. The simple solution is to place the believer into constrained circumstances so they will be conformed to the image of Christ. (Phil. 3:10).
Conformed to the image of Jesus
Wanda and I often refer to stage 2 as the wilderness. In our family’s case the constraining circumstances Jesus placed us in had the effect of forcing us to trust Him in faith for our daily existence. Other disciples will endure different constraints, but with the same predictable outcome. Whatever the path, the goal of God is to conform each of His children into the image of His adult Son. This means no ‘self’ and a spirit yielded to the Father’s perfect will.
God designs a unique wilderness for each believer. All the trials one endures in this season have a singular purpose; to expose, isolate and eliminate ‘self’. As the believer, now a disciple, cooperates with God they grow into conformity with Jesus; much like the square watermelon. If they reject God’s training period of the wilderness, the believer will not look much like Jesus. Their ‘self’ nature will remain to corrupt and ruin them; making them useless to God and man.
Many believers will never reach the wilderness for their lives never produce fruit in keeping with repentance.
For those who persevere, the constraints of the wilderness will conform them into the image of God’s Son, Jesus. Those who succeed enter as spiritual children and exit as spiritual adults. As a fellow brother and sister we urge you to yield your life to God. Start bringing forth fruit in keeping with repentance so He may lead you into the wilderness. There God will conform you in the image of His Son if you follow Him.
Homer and Wanda