Conformed To His Likeness

Table of Contents


We Must Be Conformed To His Likeness

When?  Conformed Now, In This World, Or In Heaven?

Confirmation Of This Requirement By Other Scriptures

Can We Be Conformed To the Likeness Of Jesus?

What Was Jesus Like When On Earth?

Free From Sin

We Must Be Righteous

We Must Forgive

We Must Do The Will Of God

We Must Love One Another

We Must Remain In Jesus

Give Up Everything You Have

We Must Be Transformed  To Be Conformed To His Likeness

A New Self

How Do We Gain a “New Self”?

How Do We Recognize the “Old Self”?

How Do We Recognize the “New Self”?



This article concerns a facet of a saving faith – a qualification God established that must be met by those who will be saved.  A facet of a saving faith is easy to recognize because it establishes a requirement for salvation.   A facet of a saving faith will either (1) require something of those who would be saved, and say they will not be saved if they do not have it (or do it), or, (2) prohibit certain actions to those who would be saved, saying that if they do this, they will not be saved.

For convenience and ease of understanding, we call these qualifications and requirements God established for salvation “facets” of a saving faith.  We draw a parallel to the facets of a diamond – those various polished surfaces on the surface of a diamond.  When we look at a diamond, we see the many individual facets.  Yet each facet is an integral part of the diamond.  Likewise, though we can see and examine each of the facets of a saving faith, each facet is an integral part of a saving faith.

We know this analogy is true because Scripture says we are saved by grace, through faith, not of ourselves, it is the gift of God, not by works lest any man should boast (Ephesians 2:8-9).  We also know that we are not saved through faith plus additional requirements and plus additional prohibitions.  Because that is true, and we recognize that as a valid interpretation of Scripture, then each condition that qualifies salvation – be it a requirement or a prohibition – must be part of a saving faith for Scripture to be consistent.  Because that is true, any definition of a saving faith that omits these necessary facets is seriously flawed and may deny salvation to those who rely on it.

We Must Be Conformed To His Likeness

Perhaps you've never heard anyone teach that all true believers must be conformed to the likeness of Jesus.  It seems not widely known, yet there are many references to this requirement: 

For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he [his son, Jesus] might be the firstborn among many brothers (Romans 8:29. [1]

Let's look carefully at what this verse says.  It begins “For those God foreknew.”  What group of people are “those”?  That is answered from the prior verse:  “those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).  What is God's purpose?  That is answered in our primary verse: “that he [his son, Jesus] might be the firstborn among many brothers” (Romans 8:29).  Those who love him are those who obey him (1 John 5:3).  Those people God foreknew are those who have salvation.

God predestined that those people who would be saved would fulfill a certain qualification.  When God predestines (pre-determines) that something must happen, it will happen.  Thus, God has placed in this verse a concrete requirement that must be fulfilled by those who would be saved.  What is that requirement?  God will save those, and only those, who are conformed to the likeness of his Son, the Lord Jesus.

When?  Conformed Now In This World, Or In Heaven?

As with perhaps every important Scripture that identifies salvation requirements for those who would be saved, there are those who disparage the requirement, as if they were agents of Satan himself.  If something is a requirement for salvation but some teach that is not so, they can be party to the damnation of the person who believes them.

If  the requirement to be conformed to the likeness of Jesus pertains only to when believers get to heaven and are in the presence of the Lord, then this should not be a matter of study or concern in the here and now.  So we must ask if there are any additional Scriptures that support the interpretation that it is now, in this world, that we are to be conformed to the likeness of Jesus.

The Apostle John spoke to this issue at least two times.  John was telling believers of the need to be obedient.  He concluded by saying, “Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did” (1 John 2:6).  It is clear that John's exhortation was to believers as they lived their daily lives.  It had no reference whatsoever to some future time.  To “walk as Jesus did” is the equivalent of being conformed to his likeness.

On another occasion John was discussing God's love and those who live in love:

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.  In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him (1 John 4:16-17).

There can be no mistake about when John is saying we must be like him (conformed to his likeness).  It is in this world! 

In the following sections, you will see constant reaffirmation that it is in this world that we are to be like Jesus.  We will review some of the facets of a saving faith.  Each was lived out perfectly by Jesus.  We are also called to fulfill each facet of a saving faith in our lives, just as Jesus did, if we would have salvation.

Confirmation Of This Requirement By Other Scriptures

If there is only one mention of something in Scripture, we may not think it of extreme importance.  When God wants us to be especially aware of something, he repeats the message often in Scripture.  So it is with this requirement.  The Apostle John told us:  “Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did” (1 John 2:6).  Notice how forceful his language is?  He doesn't say they should walk as Jesus did, or they will gain more rewards if they do.  No, he also ties it to salvation by saying, “Whoever claim to live in him,” a claim everyone would want to make who will be saved.  He says such people (those who will be saved) must walk as Jesus did.  John made walking as Jesus did – conforming to his likeness – an imperative – absolutely necessary.

Peter acknowledged the suffering of some of the people to whom he was writing as he said,

“If you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. 21 To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps” (1 Peter 2:20-21).  Peter also is exhorting his readers to follow in the steps of Jesus – to be conformed to his likeness.

Jesus taught, “A student is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the student to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master” (Matthew 10:24-25). Jesus also said, “A student is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher” (Luke 6:40).  In both cases, Jesus is saying in effect that the student who is fully trained will be conformed to the likeness of his teacher.  Who is the teacher of those who will be saved?  Jesus answered that:  “Nor are you to be called ‘teacher,' for you have one Teacher, the Christ” (Matthew 23:10). Again the Lord Jesus affirmed that he, the Christ, is our teacher:  “You call me ‘Teacher' and ‘Lord,' and rightly so, for that is what I am” (John 13:13 ). 

Can We Be Conformed To the Likeness Of Jesus?

Paul seems to claim that he was conformed to the likeness of Jesus during his earthly ministry.  He told the Thessalonians, “You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed” (1 Thessalonians 2:10).  Doesn't “holy, righteous and blameless” personify Jesus?  Paul said much the same to the Corinthians:  “Our conscience testifies that we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially in our relations with you, in the holiness and sincerity that are from God” (2 Cor. 1:12).  Paul did not say that he was this way only before the Corinthians, but also in the world!

Super-saint Paul may have been able to be conformed to the likeness of Jesus, but can we – you and I?  Paul seemed to think so.  Again, he exhorted the Thessalonians, “May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones (1 Thessalonians 3:13).  Paul told the Colossians that Epaphras was wrestling in prayer for them “that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured (Colossians 4:12).  Those scriptures sound like Paul and Epaphras expected the believers to be conformed to the likeness of Jesus – blameless, holy, standing firm in all the will of God, mature, and fully assured. 

What Was Jesus Like When On Earth?

If we are to be conformed to the likeness of Jesus, we must know what his likeness is.  There are many scriptures to tell us this.  As we examine some of these, we will see that each of these is usually a salvation issue in itself – another facet of a saving faith – each of which must be satisfied by those who will be saved.  Each is further corroboration that we must be conformed to the likeness of Jesus if we would be saved.

Let's look at some characteristics of Jesus that define who he is and what he was like when he was on earth – the model for who we are to be and what we are to be like.

Free From Sin

The Apostle John described Jesus:  “But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin” (1 John 3:5).  Then John made the application to you and me.  Note that he made this a salvation issue:  “No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him” (1 John 3:6). 

Is John saying that a person who continues to sin has no salvation?  Yes, indeed.  That is corroborated by the writer to the Hebrews: 

If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God (Hebrews 10:26-27).

This is not to say that believers become perfect and never sin.  Sadly we are confined to human bodies that have habits of sin, sensual desires, and a sin nature.  But we are not to continue to sin.  We are to break those habits.  Jesus exhorted us:  “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).  When a believer has sinned, he is immediately to repent – turn from the sin and turn to God. 

We Must Be Righteous

Jesus made this requirement a salvation issue when he said, “For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20). 

John called Jesus the Righteous One (1 John 2:1).  He later said, “If you know that he is righteous, you know that everyone who does what is right has been born of him” (1 John 2:29).  That would be consistent with the need to be conformed to his likeness.  If we are conformed to his likeness by doing what is right, we have been born of him – we have salvation.

But the Apostle John was concerned about those in his day who were seeking to undermine this teaching, just as they do today.  He said, “Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. He who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous” (1 John 3:7.  John defines righteousness as doing what is right.  Then he speaks again to being conformed to the likeness of Jesus – being righteous, just as he (Jesus) is righteous.

There is an opposite side of this, again dealing with the issue of salvation.  What about those who are not righteous, who are sinful?  John continued, “He who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil's work (1 John 3:7-8).  Is there salvation for those who are of the devil?  Of course not.  At least not until they repent and turn from their sin and turn to God.

John stated a test:  “This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother” (1 John 3:10). 

We Must Forgive

Few seem to realize that forgiveness is a salvation issue.  We know that Jesus modeled forgiving for us in a way that none of us likely will ever have to.  He was betrayed, scourged, beaten, and then crucified.  What was his response toward the people who had so wrongfully abused him?  He said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). 

What a great model Jesus was for us.  We wonder if we could do the same.  Later, however, we see the example of another disciple, Stephen, who was being wrongfully stoned to death.  While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep (Acts 7:59-60).

Is forgiveness a salvation issue?   Jesus taught that forgiveness by God is conditional.  All of us should know that we must be forgiven by God if we would be saved.  If that were not so, Jesus died in vain – his death on the cross was unnecessary.  But we know it was necessary.  We can not be forgiven except for the shed blood of our Lord Jesus who atoned for our sin.

Even in the Lord's prayer, Jesus taught we are not to simply pray that our sins be forgiven, but that we are to pray they are to be forgiven as we forgive others (Matthew 6:12).  Then he revealed to us how God's forgiveness is based on our forgiveness of others: 

For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins (Matthew 6:14-15).

Scripture has established beyond doubt that we must forgive if our sins are to be forgiven by God.  But are you convinced that you will be damned if you do not forgive?  Let's look at the proof of that assertion.

Jesus told a parable of a king who brought before him his servants to settle accounts with them.  One servant owed millions and could not pay, so he was ordered sold, together with his wife and children and all that he had.  The servant begged for mercy.  The king responded by forgiving the entire debt.  Later, however, this same servant found a man who owed him a small amount, grabbed him and began to choke him, demanding that he repay the debt.  The man begged for mercy, but the servant had him thrown in prison until he should repay the debt.  When the king learned of this, he called the servant before him and said, “You wicked servant,' he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn't you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?' In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.

Did you note that the King called the servant wicked?  The critical part for you and me is what Jesus said next:  “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart” (Matthew 18:35).  

Being turned over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed is a parallel to you and me being thrown into hell by God if we do not have God's forgiveness of our sins provided through the shed blood of our Lord Jesus.  We can NEVER pay to God the debt of our sin.  We depend on God's mercy and grace to be forgiven. 

No child of God will ever be turned over to the jailers to be tortured.  Yet some say this does not mean what we have just seen.  They say we are only tortured in our minds by regrets and unhappiness if we do not forgive.  That is not at all the sense or meaning of the passage.  Jesus is describing the experience of hell for those who refuse to forgive.

We Must Do The Will Of God

Did Jesus do the will of God?  Jesus said that everything he did and said while on earth was what his Father told him to do and say (John 8:28, 12:49-50, 14:10, 14:24, 14:31).  Jesus modeled perfect obedience to the will of God.  We are to be conformed to Jesus' likeness, also doing the will of God.

Is doing the will of God a salvation issue?  Of course it is, as you doubtless expect.  Jesus made this clear when he taught, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21). 

When we become conformed to the likeness of Jesus, we become like Jesus in our willingness to do God's will, whatever it may be.  In the garden of Gethsemane, when the Lord Jesus had full foreknowledge of the events that would transpire in the next few hours, he prayed fervently to his Father to be spared the ordeal, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).  Yes, we also may pray that a trial be taken from us, but we must always conclude our prayer with “yet not my will, but yours be done.”

The writer to the Hebrews spoke to the positive side of salvation when he said that Jesus became the source of salvation for all who obey him (Hebrews 5:9).  Paul warned us of the negative side of disobedience when he wrote, “He [God] will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the Gospel of our Lord Jesus” (2 Thessalonians 1:8). 

Is the punishment Paul speaks of simply discipline by God of his children?  No, it is damnation.  Paul continued, “They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power” (2 Thessalonians 1:9). 

The disturbing question that must arise from Paul's warning is, “Do you know the Gospel of our Lord Jesus?”  We have learned that there will be everlasting destruction for those who do not obey it.  If you don't know it, how can you obey it?

How are you to learn what the Gospel of our Lord Jesus is?  Jesus told us how he intended you learn it in his great commission to the church, just before he ascended into heaven.  He told us that we, his disciples, are to go into all the world and make disciples (not converts).  He told us two things – and only two – to do with these disciples: 

(1)  Baptize them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit and

(2) Teach them to obey all that I have commanded you (Matthew 28:19-20).

Jesus intended that as you learned the Gospel you would learn what he commanded and to obey his commands.  Have you been taught by your church to obey all that Jesus commanded?  Do you know what Jesus' commands are?  If you don't, how are you to obey?  Will you be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord because you didn't know and therefore could not obey?  Was this because you relied on the teachers in your church, but they did not obey Jesus' command?

Nevertheless, each of us will be without excuse before God.  Our church may have failed us, as most churches have. But likely each of us has a Bible or access to one.  If Jesus is our Lord and Master, we should be poring over his instruction manual (our Bible) to determine how we are to live and what our Master commanded us to do.  Though I specifically look for this, I still do not know of even one church that intentionally teaches the teachings and commands of Christ to fulfill Christ's command to his church (except for the house church I taught in Christchurch, New Zealand where our Bible study was centered on the teachings and commands of Jesus).  If you would like to know the commands of Jesus and how to obey those commands, I have written a Bible study that can be found on the internet at | Bible Studies | Teachings and Commands of Jesus.  It is free.

Do you see how narrow the gate becomes, and why Jesus said only a few will be saved?

We Must Love One Another

Jesus gave us a new command:   “A new command I give you: Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35).  Jesus made his love for us the standard by which we are to love one another.  Did you notice the imperative?  We must do this.

Again Jesus commanded, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.  Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:12-13).  As our model, Jesus did exactly that – he laid down his life for his friends.  Who are Jesus' friends?  He said, “You are my friends if you do what I command” (John 15:14). 

Is this a salvation issue?  Yes.  First, it is obedience to the will of God (Matthew 7:21) – only those who do the will of God will be saved.  Second, John made the connection very specific:

We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death.  Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him. (1 John 3:14-15.  See also 4:7-12, 16, 19-21).

We have evidence that we are part of the Kingdom of our Lord when we love our brothers.  Jesus said that loving our brothers is evidence to the world that we are his disciples.  Not loving is also evidence – that the non-loving person is not part of the Kingdom.  John goes further, stating that those who hate their brothers are murderers – without salvation.

John then comes full circle:  “This is love for God: to obey his commands” (1 John 5:3).  As we obey his command to love one another we show God our love for him.

As you can see, Jesus personifies the love of God for us as well as the love we are to have for one another.  When we are conformed to his likeness, we will love our brothers from our heart.

We Must Remain In Jesus

Jesus taught about the vine and the branches.  He is the vine.  We are the branches.  Without him (the vine), we (the branches) can do nothing.  He goes on:  “Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me” (John 15:4).   Note what Jesus does not say.  He does not say that he will remain in us, therefore we should remain in him.  NO!  We are given the responsibility to remain in him.  Then, if we obediently remain in him, he will remain in us.

Then Jesus speaks of the result of remaining in him:  “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).  Jesus shows that it is the combination of our remaining in him and he in us that causes us to be fruitful for the Kingdom.  If we try to do it on our own, we can do nothing. 

What happens if someone does not remain in Jesus.  Jesus warned, “If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned” (John 15:6).  We must remain in him.  Even worse, he shows the eternal result of not remaining in him – being thrown away, withering, picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.  Surely that is a figure of speech for condemnation to hell.

Jesus spoke of his words remaining in us:  “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples” (John 15:7-8).  Just as we saw that loving one another is evidence to the world that we are Jesus' disciples, bearing much fruit is also evidence to the world that we are his disciples.

Finally, Jesus uses himself as an example of both obedience and perseverance:  “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love” (John 15:9-10).  Jesus loves us just as the Father loves him.  Now he says not only to remain in him, but to remain in his love.  Then he tells us how to remain in his love; by obeying his commands we will remain in his love.  Finally, he sets himself up as our standard again by saying that just as he has obeyed his Father's commands and remains in his Father's love, so we are to obey his commands and remain in his love.

As we are conformed to the likeness of Jesus, we will obey the commands of our Lord Jesus and remain in him and in his love, just as Jesus obeyed his Father's commands and remains in his love.

Give Up Everything You Have

What did our model, the Lord Jesus Christ do?  Paul told us:

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very natureGod, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very natureof a servant, being made in human likeness.  And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross! (Philippians 2:5-8). 

I suspect we rarely take into account what Jesus gave up to come to earth, to be rejected by his countrymen, to be falsely accused, and crucified.  Jesus was in heaven with God before he came to earth.  Then he was known as The Word  (John 1:1, 14).  Jesus gave up his heavenly glory as God and his equality with God to become a man.  Just that alone would be an incredible sacrifice.  But in addition, he permitted himself to be crucified – killed, so our sins could be forgiven.

What does our Master, the Lord Jesus, require of those who will follow him, his disciples?  He tells us:  “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple.  And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. . . any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26-27, 33). 

Is this a salvation issue?  It surely is.  ONLY those who are disciples of the Lord Jesus will be saved.  We must be willing to give up everything – family, possessions, even our own life if our Master asks that of us.  Many former Muslims, upon converting to Christianity know they are likely to give up their families; they often are regarded as dead by their families who consider them dead and sometimes kill them.  In dominantly Catholic countries, when a Catholic converts and becomes a believer, that convert is often ostracized by the family. 

We Must Be Transformed
To Be Conformed To His Likeness

Can we simply put on Christianity, like we would put on a coat, over the rest of our lives?  Does Christianity simply add a spiritual dimension to our lives we didn't have before?  Jesus taught otherwise:

“No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch will pull away from the garment, making the tear worse.  Neither do men pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved” (Matthew 9:16-17).

We are not to sew the unshrunk cloth of the Gospel on the old garment of our lives.  Likewise, a new life (wineskin) is needed for the Gospel (new wine). 

A New Self

A transformation must take place if we are to be conformed to the likeness of Jesus.  Paul expressed it this way to the Ephesians:

You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness (Ephesians 4:22-24).

We are to get put off the old self – the old wineskin, the old garment.  It is no longer to be part of us.  We are to put on the new self.  Our new self is created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness – to be like our Lord Jesus, God the Son, who modeled for us true righteousness and holiness, when he, like us, was in a human body. 

This same theme was taught to the Colossians:  “You have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator” (Colossians 3:9-10).  How can we be renewed in knowledge?  It is by being in the Word of God.  There we are constantly reminded of the character and the image of our creator – the image (his likeness) that we are to be conformed to.

How Do We Gain a “New Self”?

The “new self” comes from the concept of starting over – being born again.  Those who are familiar with Christianity know the words “born again,” but may not know how this happens. 

Jesus told Nicodemus, a teacher of the law in Israel:

“I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”

“How can a man be born when he is old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother's womb to be born!”

Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.  Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. 7 You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.' The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” (John 3:3-8). 

Again we see another salvation issue, another facet of a saving faith:  We must be born again. 

The clue to how we are born again comes from phrases in Jesus' explanation (above).  We must be born of water and the Spirit . . . the Spirit gives birth to spirit. . . born of the Spirit.  This is not a physical rebirth, of course, as Nicodemus asked.  How can we be born of the Spirit?  Peter taught:  “For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God” (1 Peter 1:23).  

Jesus told us how we would receive the Holy Spirit, which is how we are born again:  “If you love me, you will obey what I command.  And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever – the Spirit of truth” (John 14:15-17).  It is through the living and enduring word of God that we learn to love the Lord Jesus and to obey him.  There is an order in which this happens:

  1. We learn the need to love and obey Jesus through the Word of God.

  2. We commit to love and obey Jesus as our Lord.

  3. Jesus asks the Father to give us the Holy Spirit. 

  4. God gives us the Holy Spirit. 

Note the precondition:  “If you love me, you will obey what I command” (1 John 14:15).  If you fulfill that precondition, then Jesus will ask the Father to give you the Holy Spirit.

I learned first hand that this does not mean we must first be obedient to what Jesus commanded before we can receive the Holy Spirit.  If that were so, how long would we have to practice obedience before we could receive the Spirit?  In my life I came to the point where I asked the Lord Jesus to be my Lord and pledged that I would obey him the best I could the rest of my life.  It is then that my life was flooded with the fruit of the Spirit – the evidence of the presence of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer.  What Jesus required was a commitment – a firm mindset – to obey him and his commands. 

Jesus explained what happens when a person commits to obey his commands:  “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him” (John 14:21).  Note what else happens besides receiving the Holy Spirit.  God the Father and Jesus will love us and Jesus will show himself to us.  Jesus made at least one other point worth noting in this scripture:  “Whoever has my commands.”  How can we obey if we do not have his commands?  Isn't that the first step?

Jesus expanded upon this to make sure we understand:  “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” (John 14:23).  Different than before, Jesus said the person who loves him will obey his teaching as well as his commands.  Jesus added that God the Father and Jesus will come to us and make their home with us.  We understand this is through the indwelling Holy Spirit. 

What of those who do not obey?  Jesus spoke to that as well:  “He who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me” (John 14:24).  Do you obey Jesus' commands?  Do most professing Christians obey his commands?  Sadly no.  Both Gallup and Barna polls show that the vast majority of professing Christians are indistinguishable from those in the world who do not know the Lord Jesus.

We've learned from Jesus' talk with Nicodemus that being born again is a requirement for those who will be saved.  Likewise, as we would expect because they are inextricably linked to each other, we are told separately that receiving the Holy Spirit is essential to salvation.  Paul told the Romans, “You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ” (Romans 8:9).  No one can be saved if he does not belong to Christ.  True Christians are bond-slaves of the Lord Jesus.  Paul taught:  “You are not your own; you were bought at a price”
(1 Corinthians 6:19-20).  Paul later added, “He who was a free man when he was called is Christ's slave.  You were bought at a price” (1 Corinthians 7:22-23). 

We also learn from Scripture that when God implants his Spirit in us and we are born again, God becomes our Father.  God is jealous of that relationship.  Jesus told us, “Do not call anyone on earth ‘father,' for you have one Father, and he is in heaven” (Matthew 23:9).  We are to call no person on earth “father,” including our natural father.  Doubtless that is why substitute names were devised for our physical fathers such as dad, papa, etc.  Early Christians were eager not to violate Jesus' command so they substituted other names.

How Do We Recognize the “Old Self”?

Paul wrote much about the characteristics of the “old self.”  He said it is whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. . .  anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips (Colossians 3:5,8). 

How important is it that we put off the “old self”?  Paul did not merely suggest that it would be a good idea to rid yourself of the old self.  He commanded the early Christians to rid themselves of their old self:

Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body. 26 “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold. 28 He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need.

29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice (Ephesians 4:25-31). 

3 But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God's holy people. 4 Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving (Ephesians 5:3-4).

What about those who disobey Paul's strong commands about putting off the old self?  What about those, even today, who are taught their actions can't affect their salvation if they have once believed and made a confession of faith?  Paul was just as forceful in answering such questions:

5 For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a man is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.  6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God's wrath comes on those who are disobedient. 7 Therefore do not be partners with them (Ephesians 5:5-7).

Those who fail to, due to false teaching, or deliberately refuse to put off their old self are disobedient and will find themselves the object of God's wrath instead of his mercy.  Contrary to the assurances of many false teachers, their destination will be hell instead of heaven.

How Do We Recognize the “New Self”?

Of those who had put on the new self, Paul said they are light in the Lord. He exhorted them to live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord (Ephesians 5:8-10).  He exhorted them to be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.  Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God (Ephesians 4:32-5:2).  Note again the need to be conformed to the likeness of Jesus – imitators of God.

The new self is also recognized by fulfilling other commands:  Surely obedience to the command to love one another is the visible sign of the followers of the Lord Jesus – those who have put on the new self.  Likewise those who remain in Jesus (and he in them) bear much fruit – another visible sign of those who are faithful followers of the Lord Jesus.  Those who have put on the new self walk as Jesus did (1 John 2:6).  They are conformed to the likeness of Jesus.


By this time you may have worry lines on your brow as you think how difficult it is for anyone to be saved.  Peter agreed:  “If it is hard for the righteous to be saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?” (1 Peter 4:18).  You can see why Paul said “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). 

You may also wonder how many people will be saved if these are the standards established by God for salvation.  Jesus told us that only a few will be saved:  “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it” (Matthew 7:13-14).

There is no reason you and I cannot be one of the few who find that small gate and narrow road.  But we have to stop thinking we can do it our way or the simple, easy way some preachers have popularized.  There is only one way to be one of the few – to do it God's way, to do God's will.  But it will mean ridding ourselves of “self” – actually dying to self, and giving up everything we have to be Jesus' disciple.  Those who will be saved are those who are willingly bond-slaves of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Bond-slaves own nothing; they are slaves.  But they are special slaves – those who have willingly made themselves slaves, knowing they are making an obligation that is to be for life.  In biblical times in Israel, such slaves were often given a gold ring they wore in their ear.  In the Kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, such slaves will be given the crown of life after they have persevered to the end.

As you have read this article, you may have cringed as you read about certain facets of a saving faith.  You may have said, “I am guilty of this,” or “I don't fulfill that requirement!”  If you did say that, perhaps that is why the Lord led you to read this article.  Just because you haven't fulfilled the requirements of a saving faith, including being conformed to the likeness of Jesus, doesn't mean you can't in the future.  It does mean you should take a close look at the requirements God has set forth.  You should think long and hard about them.  Are you willing to give up your self, your present preoccupation with the world and instead turn to God through faith in our Lord Jesus?  Are you willing to become a bond-slave of the Lord Jesus Christ and to obey him as your Lord?  If you are, just tell the Lord Jesus that.  Ask him to be your Master and Lord.  Then watch how he begins to reveal himself to you and floods you with the fruit of the Holy Spirit.  Then study his Word daily.  It is your daily spiritual bread.  There is a continuing cleansing through the Word as we read and study it on a day-to-day basis.  That is how we learn to be conformed to his likeness. There is no way to remain in the Lord and his love unless we do. 


[1]The Holy Bible : New International Version. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984.

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