…that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. –Philippians 3:10-11
Paul told us that his goal in life, what made him successful in his calling, was to focus all his energy, time, talent, and resources on knowing Christ. He also told us two specific ways we come to know Christ. First, by the power of the resurrection, where we are given spiritual life at salvation, and filled with the power of the Holy Spirit for this new life. Second, by suffering with Christ, where we surrender our lives to God’s plans, unwilling to hold back anything and refusing to cling to the comforts of this world, for the sake of Christ.
As we commit ourselves to knowing Christ, something happens to us. We find ourselves being conformed to His death. “Being conformed” is translated from the Greek word symmorphizō and means “to receive the same form as,” to “render like.” The present passive tense of the word indicates this is an on-going process, and it is something that happens to us, as a result of something else.
Paul is speaking about the death of our old self, our flesh. Our spirit is alive to Christ, but we still live in an unredeemed human body. Our soul (our emotions, will, desires) is torn between following the Spirit of God who lives in us, and the fallen, human flesh. Paul even calls it a war (Romans 7:23). We’ve all experienced it. Even though we love God and have given ourselves to Him, we fight a daily battle to put to death our flesh and be transformed into the image of Christ.
To understand the power of what Paul is teaching us we need to remember what Christ’s death accomplished. His death on the cross defeated the power of sin. Sin has consequences; it requires a blood payment (Romans 3:23-25). When Christ died, payment was made. When the blood is applied to our account at salvation, sin no longer has any power over us. But even though we are free from the penalty and power of sin, we still live in its presence, and are influenced by it. Being conformed to Christ’s death means that we are daily putting to death the deeds of the body (Romans 8:13). In essence, as we grow in our knowledge of Christ and are transformed into His likeness, we allow Him to “finish the job” in us personally. This is why Paul says we share in the suffering of Christ. He suffered to end sin’s power, and now our earthly suffering works to end sin’s lingering effects in our flesh. Thus, we are conformed to His death.
Elsewhere in scripture (Colossians 3), Paul gives the illustration of putting off the old life (suffering) and putting on the new life (resurrection). The physical act of Christ’s death on the cross, His burial, and His resurrection is played out again and again in every believer as we die to our old lives and are raised to live as transformed people. This new life is the abundant life, the life of truly knowing Christ.
The good news is that this is an on-going process, carried out in us as we fulfill the calling and mission God has given us. If we were running a physical marathon, we would have to train for months prior to the race. We would need to arrive at a certain level of physical fitness before we could even attempt to compete. But the Christian life is the race. The training, the transformation, happens during the race. The goal is knowing Christ, and our particular mission or task is simply the path that God has planned for us to know Him more today, until we know Him fully in eternity.
Philippians 3:20-21 – For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.
As a Christ-follower, in what areas of your life are you aware of God’s transforming work? How is He changing you, transforming you into His image? Are there areas where you are resistant to being conformed to His death? What will you do about them today?
Source: Let Us Run The Race, Day 5