More Like Jesus: In God's Likeness (Part 2)

July 26, 2016

by Peter Amsterdam

(This article is based on key points from the book Classical Arminianism, by F. Leroy Forlines.1)

Part one of “In God's Likeness” touched on how we were created in the constitutional and functional likeness of God. As rational and moral beings, like God, we think, feel, and act in similar fashion to God. We have thinking minds, feeling hearts, and self-determination. The entrance of sin into humanity destroyed the ability of humans to not sin, and our sin separates us from God. But through Jesus’ life and sacrificial death, the bondage of sin in our lives has been broken, and through God’s grace and the work of the Holy Spirit, we can be transformed in our inner being.

When the apostle Paul speaks of our inner being,2 he isn’t trying to draw a distinct line of separation between our physical body and our spirit/soul, for as persons we are a unity of both body and soul. The soul has a body and the body has a soul, and people are both.3 Paul writes specifically about the mind, heart, spirit, soul, and body; often in ways in which a part, like the heart, represents the whole inner being. For example, when we read present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God,4 we understand that the mind and will are also active in the offering of the body; and we are presenting our whole self as a living sacrifice.

In similar fashion, we reason and understand with our mind, but our heart may also be “enlightened.”5 Obeying from the heart is the same as obeying from the soul. We can see this unity expressed when Paul wrote:

Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.6

Two key words in this verse are completely (sanctify you completely) and whole (whole spirit and soul and body). The Greek word holoteles, translated as completely, means complete in all respects; so, sanctify you completely means through and through, all of you. The Greek word holokleros means complete in all of its parts. Paul is saying, “May the whole you—spirit, soul, and body—be kept blameless.” He joins spirit, soul, and body in a way that emphasizes the oneness of our spirit, mind, heart, will, soul, and body.7

While all these elements form a unity, there are differences between what goes on inside us (our thoughts, desires, decisions, feelings, etc.), which are incorporeal activities, and our physical actions, which are corporeal activities. We internally (in heart, mind, spirit, soul) make a decision, and then put that decision into action in our physical world through our body. Throughout the rest of this article when referring to incorporeal activities I will use the word spirit to represent the heart, mind, soul, and spirit—our inner self or inner being.

Our body is our presence in the physical and social world. We interact with the world through our bodies, and our internal choices and desires play out externally through our bodies. For example, when we learn to speak a language, ride a bicycle, or drive a car, we train our bodies to do these actions; and once the body is trained, it’s no longer necessary to think about how to do them, as that information is stored in the mind, and the body is able to perform them without much conscious thought.

Our character, our actions, the decisions we make and enact, all mirror our inner being. Over time, by consistently making the same types of decisions, desiring the same things, developing thought patterns, which are then enacted in the physical world, we train ourselves to be a certain way. Our outward actions within the social world are the external manifestation of our inner self.

Because of sin, our spirits have been damaged and we are inclined toward sin, which affects us at both the conscious and subconscious level. We are inclined to think, feel, and act in a manner which is in contradiction to the nature of God.

I don’t particularly like to talk about sin, its grip on us, how it damages relationships, and especially the separation it brings about in our primary relationship with God. However, when our goal is to be more like Jesus, it’s necessary to understand sin and confront it, however it may manifest in our lives.

Sin is spoken of in Scripture as both an action and a power. The apostle Paul often describes it as a power that entered the world and established its rule through Adam’s sin8 and resultantly held all of humanity in bondage as slaves to sin,9 living under sin.10 Within Paul's writings, he often uses the word flesh (sarx in Greek) to express man’s being and attitude as opposed to and in contradiction to God and God’s Spirit. The flesh has sworn allegiance to another power: with my flesh I serve the law of sin.11 By the means of the flesh, the power of sin subjugates the whole person, body and spirit.

This can be seen when Paul writes about the “works of the flesh,” in which he includes sins of the flesh as well as sins of the mind and spirit. In one list he includes what would be called sins of the flesh, such as sexual immorality and drunkenness, but the list is dominated by sins of the mind and spirit: hatred, discord, jealousy, anger or fits of rage, quarrels/rivalries, dissension/division, factions, and envy.12 Clearly, sins aren’t only transgressions in the body, but there are sins of the spirit as well. And sin not only separates us from God, but can separate us from others as well.

Salvation breaks the power of sin over us, and God’s grace helps us in our fight to overcome sin in our lives. Paul wrote:

Just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life…13 We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin—because anyone who has died has been freed from sin…14 In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires...15 Sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace…16 Thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.17

We are not free from all sin; that is impossible, as we will never be perfect in this life. But we are free from having sin as our master. By receiving Jesus we have become new creations: if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.18 From that point on, we begin the process of growth in godliness and Christlikeness.

Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.19 Now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.20 We all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.21

If we are to become more like Jesus, to be transformed into His and His Father’s image, then we need to strive to be in His likeness at both the conscious and subconscious levels of our personality. This progressive transformation, technically known as sanctification, is a work of God’s grace through the Holy Spirit, designed to change our basic inner nature so that our thoughts, words, actions and attitude of heart reflect Christ.22 This work of God’s grace through the Holy Spirit is a lifelong process, because we will not achieve full sanctification until we are in heaven.

In the verse quoted above (2 Corinthians 3:18), the Greek word metamorphoō, rendered as transform, refers to an internal change rather than a mere external change. The same word was used when Paul wrote:

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.23

This is not superficial change but a deep, basic, inner change which causes outward life to be a manifestation of the inner reality.

The book Classical Arminianism (which I’ve based this article on) includes the following:

The meaning is that the Christian confession demands that the entire bent of one’s mind be changed. The entire clause may be rendered as “permit God to change your inside by giving you a completely new mind” or “by making your mind and heart completely different.”24

Here the mind includes not just what we think with but also our heart, will, spirit, and soul—our whole being. We are to be transformed by the renewing of our complete inner selves, so that our actions spring from the inner realities of our spirit.

This doesn’t happen automatically. Salvation frees us from the bondage of sin, but it doesn’t immediately transform us into being Christlike. We have the fruit of the Holy Spirit in our lives, but it’s not as if salvation brings an immediate change to our patterns of thinking, feeling, or acting. Our spirit doesn’t suddenly revert to the “original righteousness” which Adam and Eve had before the fall. We are still sinful, still broken, and always will be throughout our earthly lives. However, as we yield to the Holy Spirit and align ourselves with God’s Word, we become the kind of people who manifest the fruit of the Spirit: people who have joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.25

We cannot be passive in this transformation process. We can’t expect the Holy Spirit to automatically renew our mind, heart, will, spirit, and soul without cooperation or effort. We are to be active participants, partnering with the Holy Spirit, and play a role in our transformation. We are responsible to recognize our sinful nature and strive purposefully to live as God instructs us through His Word.

When speaking of sin in our lives, the apostle Paul used the phrase Put to death therefore what is earthly in you.26 Elsewhere he listed some sins and said they must not even be named among you.27 Every day we are tempted to sin, but in our desire to become Christlike, we must put effort into the process of transformation by recognizing this temptation and taking a stand against it. We do this by the grace of God and the help of the Holy Spirit. Our motivation, based on our love and gratitude toward God, is to draw close to Him, to please Him by applying what He has revealed in Scripture to our lives. As we do, it brings change to our spirit, and gradually rewires our inner being.

Jesus spoke about the state of our hearts when He said,

From within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.28 The apostle Paul added to the list with impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness;29 and impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness.30 

Clearly, as Christians who want to be more like Jesus, we face challenges.

We are human, and are faced daily with temptations to sin, both in thought and action. But through God’s grace and in cooperation with the Holy Spirit, we can continually grow spiritually so that our heart, will, emotions, mind (conscious and subconscious), soul, spirit—and therefore our actions—can gradually be transformed and become more Christlike. It takes prayer, spiritual discipline, and the commitment to be more like Jesus, but the good news is that if we choose this path, by God’s grace, we will day by day spiritually grow into more of the likeness of God.

(Upcoming articles will address how to enhance the process of sanctification in our lives.)


Unless otherwise indicated, all scriptures are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

1 Nashville: Randall House Publications, 2011.

2 Ephesians 3:16, 2 Corinthians 4:16, Romans 7:22.

3 Gerald F. Hawthorne, Ralph P. Martin, Daniel G. Reid, eds., Dictionary of Paul and His Letters (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 770.

4 Romans 12:1.

5 Ephesians 1:18.

6 1 Thessalonians 5:23.

7 Hawthorne, Martin, and Reid, Dictionary of Paul, 770.

8 Romans 5:12–21.

9 Romans 6:20.

10 Romans 3:9.

11 Romans 7:25.

12 Galatians 5:19–21.

13 Romans 6:4 NIV.

14 Romans 6:6–7 NIV.

15 Romans 6:11–12 NIV.

16 Romans 6:14 NIV.

17 Romans 6:17–18 NIV.

18 2 Corinthians 5:17.

19 2 Peter 3:18.

20 Colossians 3:8–10.

21 2 Corinthians 3:18.

22 F. Leroy Forlines, Classical Arminianism (Nashville: Randall House Publications, 2011), 283.

23 Romans 12:2.

24 Barclay M. Newman and Eugene A. Nida, A Translator’s Handbook on Paul’s Letter to the Romans (New York: United Bible Societies, 1973), 235.

25 Galatians 5:22–23.

26 Colossians 3:5.

27 Ephesians 5:3.

28 Mark 7:21–23.

29 Colossians 3:5.

30 Galatians 5:19–21.