Anything that we want to do well at in life requires effort, including growing in Christlikeness. It takes work to consciously and deliberately develop godly beliefs, habits, attitudes, thinking, and behavior. It also calls for intentionally letting go of wrong beliefs, harmful habits, ungodly attitudes, erroneous thinking, and bad behavior.
Throughout the New Testament, we read about the concept of “putting off” or removing aspects of our lives—both inner thoughts and feelings, and the resultant outward actions—which fight against Christlikeness. Meanwhile, we are to be “putting on” or adding to our lives those things which develop godliness. Both ideas clearly call for a decision to be made and action to be taken.
Now is the time to get rid of anger, rage, malicious behavior, slander, and dirty language. Don’t lie to each other, for you have stripped off your old sinful nature and all its wicked deeds.—Colossians 3:8–9 NLT
Stop being bitter and angry and mad at others. Don’t yell at one another or curse each other or ever be rude.—Ephesians 4:31 CEV
Let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. —Hebrews 12:1 NLT
Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love.—Colossians 3:12–14 NIV
Put on the armor of light [and] clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ. —Romans 13:12,14 NIV
Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy. —Ephesians 4:24 NLT
These qualities are the fruit of a life transformed and empowered as we follow what Scripture teaches and apply our faith to our life. None of these happens easily, but once one has put in the time and effort to train, to break old habits, and to build new ones, it becomes more natural.
Of course, we must rely on God’s help or grace to develop new habits. But we can’t expect the Holy Spirit to change us without any effort or action on our part. While God forgives us for our sins, we are expected to endeavor to avoid sinning. We are to put away those things which draw us away from Christlikeness, to put on a new self, to live as best we can as the new creature that we have become in Christ. As we do so, we gain greater happiness, relationship with God, sense of fulfillment, and joyful living.
I recently read the analysis of a survey by Christian author Michael Zigarelli, showing comparisons between what the author called low-virtue, average-virtue, and high-virtue Christians.1 His results showed that most of the 5,000 Christians surveyed were average-virtue Christians. The minority he identified as high-virtue were those who put effort into doing specific things that resulted in Christian character growth.
Zigarelli pointed out that each Christian has a vital, active role to play in his or her own spiritual growth:
The more complete conceptualization of the growth process is that God has a role and we have a role. The interplay of those roles has been likened to the task of sailing a boat from one place to another. To get a sailboat from point A to point B, two crucial elements are required: we need some wind blowing toward our destination, and we need to put the sail into position to catch that wind. You can probably guess the analogy here. God’s Holy Spirit is the wind, seeking to gradually move us toward Christlikeness. We are the sailors, needing to raise the sail; that is, to do something that puts us in the position to catch God’s Spirit, so that the Spirit will move us along toward the desired destination. [[Ibid., 39.]]
If we seek more Christlikeness in our lives, we need to “raise our sails” by doing the things that help to develop Christlike character. Practically speaking, becoming Christlike means altering some aspects of our present character, and such change is difficult. However, it is well worth the cost.
Throughout the Gospels, Jesus taught that the kingdom of God is both future and present. Living within the kingdom in the present means that we allow God to rule and reign in our lives and seek to live in a way that honors and gives glory to Him.
In order to become more Christlike, to live more kingdom-centered lives, we need to align our lives, decisions, actions, and spirit with God and His Word. That means “putting off” some aspects of ourselves and our character, and “putting on” aspects of Christlikeness. It means cultivating the fruit of the Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.2 As we do our part to raise the sails, we grow in Christlikeness.