Called to Be Christ-Like

Recently, a dear Christian woman told me, “I’m learning my purpose in life through a class I’m taking.” She was finishing an eight-week course meant to help people discover their calling. She said everyone in the class was anxious to find their purpose.

I heard a pastor on the radio advertising something similar. He offered to help listeners discover their spiritual gifts. If you would request his questionnaire, fill it out and send it in, his staff would evaluate your particular gifts. Then they would tell you how to find your place in the body of Christ.

A frustrated ministry couple wrote to me, “We’ve been looking for ways to fulfill God’s calling in our lives. But we’ve run into all kinds of hindrances. We’re so discouraged, at times we feel like giving up.” Maybe this couple will turn to the resources these others are using. I’m sure such tools are helpful to some degree. The Bible says God gives gifts to his people, and I believe there are special callings.

Yet I’m convinced by Scripture there is only one core purpose for all believers. Our specific callings are gathered up in this single purpose, and every gift springs from it. And if we miss this purpose, all our desires and pursuits will be in vain.

Jesus sums up our core purpose in John 15:16: “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit.” Our purpose is simply this: we are all called and chosen to bear fruit.

Many sincere Christians think bearing fruit means simply to bring souls to Christ. But to bear fruit means something much larger even than soul-winning.

The fruit Jesus is talking about is Christ-likeness. Simply put, bearing fruit means reflecting the likeness of Jesus. And the phrase “much fruit” means “the ever-increasing likeness of Christ.”

Growing more and more into Jesus’ likeness is our core purpose in life. It has to be central to all our activities, our lifestyle, our relationships. Indeed, all our gifts and callings — our work, ministry and witness — must flow out of this core purpose.

If I am not Christ-like at heart — if I’m not becoming noticeably more like him — I have totally missed God’s purpose for my life. It doesn’t matter what I accomplish for his kingdom. If I miss this one purpose, I have lived, preached and striven in vain.

You see, God’s purpose for me can’t be fulfilled by what I do for Christ. It can’t be measured by anything I achieve, even if I heal the sick or cast out demons. No, God’s purpose is fulfilled in me only by what I am becoming in him. Christ-likeness isn’t about what I do for the Lord, but about how I’m being transformed into his likeness.

In the disciples’ minds, the temple in Jerusalem was a great, godly work, a magnificent accomplishment. They took Jesus on a tour to show him the grandeur of the structures, the huge crowds who gathered daily, all the religious activities that took place there. They thought Christ would be just as impressed with it as they were.

Instead, Jesus threw a wet blanket on their enthusiasm. He told them, in essence, “This is all coming down. Not one stone here will remain. All these crowds are going to scatter, and even the shepherds will flee. Everything here that impresses you — everything that looks so religious — is going to be rejected. And it will happen because this is not Christ-revealing. It is man-centered, and it’s man-revealing.”

The fact is, the disciples had been focusing on the wrong temple. They had their eyes on this man-made temple. Their focus was on the religious activity. And they were being impressed by the wrong things. What happened there did not represent the Father. The temple had become a den of thieves and moneychangers. The prophets and priests were out for themselves. They even robbed and abused their own parents. The temple was not about Christ’s purposes at all.

In short, Jesus refocused the disciples’ attention on the spiritual temple. As Paul would later write to the church, “Don’t you know your body is the temple of the Lord?”

I believe that many Christians today are like the disciples. We’re impressed by huge church edifices, by multitudes who stream in on Sunday, by the uniqueness of the worship, by multiple programs and ministries. But Jesus’ message to us is clear: we are not to focus on buildings of stone and metal, on forms of worship or on how church is conducted. Those things will only distract us. Instead, our focus should be on our spiritual temple.

The fact is, the Holy Spirit is in his temple at all times. He abides in our bodies. And he is prepared at any moment to bring us into his purpose. That means we have to have our spiritual house in order.

There are times we are called to speak righteous judgment. Scripture calls every Christian to expose false doctrines and false prophets. Ministers especially are to denounce in God’s house that which is unlike Christ.

But Peter says judgment begins in the house of God. And “house” doesn’t mean just the church, but our human temple as well. I am to judge myself — to look at the condition of my own temple — before I’m able to judge anything I see in the church.

Jesus says, “Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away… If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned” (John 15:2, 6). Whatever in the church isn’t a reflection of Christ — whatever is corrupt or false, or doesn’t bring his people into his likeness — will be dealt with. Jesus will cast it out. And he’ll cause that ministry and its wicked perpetrators to wither. He’ll eventually expose it, bankrupt it and shut it down.

I’m convinced that if any Christian living today could have walked through the temple in Jesus’ time, he would have been grieved by what he saw. Priests pocketing money on the side, greed and corruption, money madness — all of it would be shocking. That Christian would wonder, “How long will the Lord endure such foolishness in his house?”

Yet, the truth is, the condition of the temple would have been nothing for us to worry about. Jesus did cast out the wickedness there. He brought in a cord and whip and cleansed his Father’s house. And he brought down all the corrupt ministries that were operating in it.

Today, we serve the same temple-cleansing Christ. And he’s faithful to cast out all corruption in his church, in his time and his way. If he chose, he could bring down every false prophet overnight. Therefore, we’re to trust him to take care of his church. Our part is to make sure that no worldliness creeps into our own human temple.

“We know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). Paul’s message here is simple: “All things ought to be working out for good in the lives of those who love God and walk in his ways.”

This truth causes me to wonder: why is there so much discouragement and distress among Christians? Why are so many pastors worn out, weary and leaving the ministry in droves around the world? Why is there such awful competition between ministries?

I see churches everywhere mired in materialism and deep in debt. And all the while, the people beg for answers in their lives. I ask you, how could this be the abundant life Paul says we’re supposed to enjoy? It doesn’t look anything like a good life. Honestly, it looks like a life of misery. Just go into any Christian bookstore and read the titles on the shelves. Most are self-help books on how to overcome loneliness, how to survive depression, how to find fulfillment. Why is this?

It’s because we’ve got it all wrong. We aren’t called to be successes, to be free of all trouble, to be special, to “make it.” No, we’re missing the one calling, the one focus, that’s meant to be central to our lives: to become fruitful in the likeness of Christ.

When I was twenty-nine years old, an older, well-known evangelist asked me to lunch. He advised me, “If you don’t make it by the time you’re fifty, you’ll never make it. I have five more years, and after that, my chances for success are gone. So, I’m going to start a national TV program.”

I thought to myself, “Make it? This doesn’t sound like the language of Christ’s calling.” Soon after that, God put this man on the shelf. He was lost in oblivion, all his dreams shattered. Sadly, I hear tales like his in my travels these days. Several ministers have told me, “I’m going to build a mega-church.”

A man who once attended our church told me, “I get so angry when I see everyone else making it big time, while I have so many financial needs. It’s my turn now. I’m going to do whatever it takes.” The last I heard of that man, the law was after him.

The truth is, many of us are called to be ordinary Christians. Yet we put such pressure on ourselves to keep up with the competitive spirit in the world today. We drive our children to be doctors, lawyers, prominent business people, even “successful” ministers. But we don’t have to produce anything to find our purpose in life. We don’t have to erect buildings, write books or draw crowds. Paul says we are predestined to be conformed to the likeness of Christ, and that is our one purpose: “For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren” (Romans 8:29).

Jesus was totally given to the Father, and that was everything to him. He stated, “I don’t do or say anything except what my Father tells me.” Paul is telling us that every believer is to follow the same pattern and direction, to have the same core interest: “I am here for my Lord.”

So, do you want to bear the “much fruit” that springs forth from becoming more like Christ? I asked myself that question as I prepared this message. And the Spirit whispered to me, “David, you have to be willing to look at how you deal with others.”

Simply put, bearing fruit comes down to how we treat people. We fulfill our life’s purpose only as we begin to love others as Christ has loved us. And we grow more Christ-like as our love for others increases. Jesus said, “As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love” (John 15:9). His command is clear and simple: “Go and love others. Give to others the unconditional love I have shown you.”

The Spirit impressed on me three areas where Christ’s unconditional love must begin:

Jesus’ command has to do with how I treat my spouse and children. For single people, it involves how you treat roommates, fellow Christians, the people closest to you.

This truth was at the core of Malachi’s prophecy to Israel. God said to the priests of that day, “This ye have done again, covering the altar of the Lord with tears, with weeping, and with crying out, insomuch that he regardeth not the offering any more, or receiveth it with good will at your hand” (Malachi 2:13). God was saying, “I no longer accept your offering or your worship. I won’t receive anything you bring.”

Why didn’t God accept these men’s ministry any longer? “Because the Lord hath been witness between thee and the wife of thy youth, against whom thou hast dealt treacherously… Take heed” (2:14–15). It all had to do with their marriages.

There’s no getting around it. If I am to become the man and minister God has called me to be, then my wife must be able to say honestly before heaven, hell and all the world: “My husband loves me with the love of Christ. He makes mistakes, but he’s growing more patient and understanding with me. He’s becoming more tender and caring. And he prays with me. He isn’t a phony. He is what he preaches.”

Now, I help pastor what would be called a mega-church. I conduct ministers’ conferences around the world, preaching to thousands at a time. I founded Teen Challenge, a Christian rehabilitation ministry for alcoholics and drug addicts, which now has 500 centers worldwide. I’ve written some twenty books, helped establish a Bible school, set up a home for abandoned mothers and their children. I’ve had honors heaped on me.

But if this isn’t my wife’s testimony — if she has a secret pain in her heart, thinking, “My husband isn’t the man of God he pretends to be” — then everything in my life is in vain. All my works — the preaching, the accomplishments, the charitable giving, the many travels — amount to nothing. I am a withering, useless branch that doesn’t bear the fruit of Christ-likeness. Jesus will cause others to see the death in me, and I’ll be worth little to his kingdom.

You can evangelize all you want, witnessing and passing out tracts. You can go to church week after week and sing praises to God. But what does your spouse have to say about you? What kind of life do you lead in your home?

A middle-aged pastor and his wife came to me brokenhearted and weeping. The minister told me through tears, “Brother Dave, I have sinned against God and my wife. I’ve committed adultery.” He shook with godly sorrow as he confessed his sin to me. Then his wife turned to me and said softly, “I’ve forgiven him. His repentance is real to me. I know he isn’t that kind of man. I’m confident the Lord will restore us.”

I was privileged to witness the beginnings of a beautiful healing. We can never make up for our past failures. But when there is true repentance, God promises to restore all that the cankerworm has destroyed.

Yet, the treachery that Malachi describes isn’t just about adultery or fornication. It includes everything that can be called un-Christ-like, such as mean-spiritedness, bitterness and dishonesty. These kinds of treacheries also void our lifetime accomplishments. God says to all who commit them, “I will not accept your works, your worship or anything you bring to me. I have a controversy with you.”

I deeply wish every couple who enjoys a Christ-centered marriage would rise up and tell the truth: “It isn’t easy.” Marriage is a day-by-day effort, in the same way the Christian life is. Like the way of the Cross, it means giving up your rights daily. Of course, Satan knows your heart is set on becoming more Christ-like in your home, so he’s constantly going to bring about trials.

In short, there is no other school as difficult and intense as the school of marriage. And you never graduate. God is making it clear to us: Our life with our loved ones is the pinnacle, the very summit, of all our testings. If we get it wrong here, we’ll have it wrong everywhere else in our life.

To be Christ-like is to acknowledge Jesus in others. In my travels, I meet many precious men and women whom I know are given wholly to the Lord. The moment I meet them, my heart leaps. Even though we’ve never met before, I have a witness from the Holy Spirit that they’re full of Christ.

I can still see some of their faces: pastors, bishops, poor street evangelists. And the moment I met them, I realized without a word being spoken, “This man has been with Jesus. This woman is satisfied in Christ.” In greeting them, I always say the one thing I would want others to say of me: “Brother, sister, I see Jesus in you.” I don’t mean it as flattery; it is the witness of the Holy Spirit.

We know that Christ-likeness means loving others as he loves us. Yet it also means loving our enemies — those who hate us, who despitefully use us, who aren’t capable of loving us. And we’re to do this expecting nothing in return. Of course, loving this way is impossible, in human terms. There aren’t any how-to books, any sets of principles, or any amount of human intelligence to show us how to love our enemies as Christ loves us. Yet we’re commanded to do it. And we’re to do it with ever-increasing purpose. According to Jesus, that’s the fruit we are to bear.

So, how do we do it? How do I love the Muslim who spat in my face a block away from our church? How do I love the people who run Internet Web sites calling me a false prophet? How do I love homosexuals who parade down Fifth Avenue carrying signs declaring, “Jesus Was Gay”? How do I truly love them in Christ? I don’t even know how to love other Christians in my own ability.

Very simply, it has to be the work of the Holy Spirit. As Jesus prayed to the Father, “That the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them” (John 17:26). Christ asks the Father to put his love in us. And he promises that the Holy Spirit will show us how to live out that love:

“Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come. He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you…. He shall take of mine, and shall shew it unto you” (John 16:13–15).

Do you hear what Jesus is saying here? The Holy Ghost will faithfully gather up all the ways Christ loved others and “show it to you.” Indeed, the Spirit delights in showing us more of Jesus. It’s the reason he dwells in our bodily temples: to teach Christ to us. “Ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you…. He shall teach you all things” (John 14:17, 26).

In apostolic times, the church was so filled with Christ’s authority, it caused kings and rulers to tremble. Paul and his young pastors and evangelists preached fearlessly. They filled entire cities and nations with the message of Jesus. Here was a church known for its Christ-likeness, its power to affect heaven and earth.

Yet today, much of the church has been left a weak, feeble institution, with little of Christ’s authority. It is being mocked and ridiculed the world over. As I travel from nation to nation, I can see why. I often find the church in a sad condition, marked by narrow denominationalism. Each group claims to be of Christ and to preach a biblical gospel. Yet in some cases, these groups can’t even sit down at a table together.

Happily, in many nations, Christian leaders cross denominational lines to help bring about our conferences. But a great divide often still exists between cultures and races. Certain groups are looked down upon and aren’t even invited to the meetings. Also, new religious movements are springing up everywhere, with true revival taking place. But some of these have become exclusive, claiming they alone have the truth.

Finally, there is another kind of division in the church that is absolutely un-Christ-like. It is the chasm between the large and the small: those who are doing big things in the Lord’s name, versus those who are called to smaller works.

God has a rebuke for this kind of division: “Who hath despised the day of small things?” (Zechariah 4:10). This was his word to the Israelites who despised the temple foundation laid by Zerubbabel. They looked down on the new work because it wasn’t as spectacular as Solomon’s temple.

Likewise today, many pastors’ conferences are emphasizing mega-church growth. Ministers from small churches are being told, in so many words, “Attend this mega-church pastor’s seminar, and you’ll find the keys to success. You’ll eventually have a church as big as his.” Yet this only causes pastors to become more discouraged. They end up convinced, “I’m not doing anything significant for God. He just isn’t using me.”

I honestly would love to attend a ministers’ conference where all the speakers were pastors from small or average-size churches. I don’t have any desire to hear about how to build a large church or raise a huge budget. I would rather hear twenty or thirty small-church pastors speak about what God is saying to them, about the revelation of Christ they’re receiving.

Maybe you’re thinking, “I’m one of those little people. The things I do in God’s kingdom are so small. I’m not involved in anything important for the Lord.” That is not the case. Let me tell you how I believe God sees this whole matter.

The most useful people in the church of Jesus Christ are those who have eyes to see and ears to hear. Yes, some people are doing great things that are seen and heard by many. But some of those ministers don’t have eyes to see the needs of hurting people. They are project-oriented rather than need-oriented.

The simple fact is, the Christ who lives in me is not blind or deaf. And his Word says, “Whoso hath this world’s goods, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?” (1 John 3:17). Jesus sees all the needs and hurts around me. He hears the groanings and cries of the distressed and bound. And if I am to be more like him, then I need his eyes to see the same things.

This is the love of Christ: to hear the distressing cry of the fatherless, the child of the ghetto…the lonely, muffled cry of the homosexual who’s sick of his sin, drowning his torment in alcohol…the agonized cries of the hungry, the poor, the imprisoned. Being like Christ is having such “eyes to see and ears to hear.”

Oh, Lord, give me a listening ear. Help me to quit telling people how much I know. Instead, help me to hear what you’re saying to those who have no public voice. Help me to be a student at the feet of unknown pastors and servants in the body who are truly bearing much fruit. Let me hear what you’re saying through them. And let me love others not in word only, but in deed and in truth.