Having a vision for who we want to be is crucial for all personal growth.
Therefore, such a vision is important for spiritual growth.
The Christian vision for human excellence and happiness is found most directly in the person of Christ and explained in differing degrees of clarity and intensity throughout Scripture.
In the first post in this series I wrote about what it means to grow in grace.
In it I explained Dallas Willard’s V-I-M paradigm for personal transformation.
In VIM, the V stands for vision. Our vision is our picture of what we want to be true about ourselves in the future.
Having a vision for who we want to be, what we want to do, and where we see the world going is very important for happiness and success in any endeavor. If this isn’t obvious let me know and I’ll write a post about how this is true.
Having a vision for strength, longevity, and durability can help you to joyfully endure the grind at the gym. Similarly, having a vision of future food (like the ant in Proverbs) can help us to ensure gardening little by little each day.
In the case of growing in grace, our vision is the character of a human being fully alive and conformed into the image of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
This is a powerful vision which has fed the souls of God’s saints for quite some time.
The Scriptural Vision of Christian Character
There are three important things to remember about this vision:
- It is about growing into somebody who is like Jesus and who does the kinds of things he said to do.
Jesus’ ministry cannot be replicated, nor should it be. It was his and his alone. Nevertheless, his character, which was on display in his life and explicated in the teachings of Jesus and his apostles is the goal for his disciples. We should want to be fundamentally strong, courageous, self-controlled, clever, confident, loving, humble, and forgiving in all the ways Jesus is in the gospels.
- The vision is not a vision of sameness of personality or calling.
In one sense, all Christians have the same calling: love God and love neighbor. In another sense, Christians have diverse gifts and callings insofar as calling refers to your unique life circumstance and whatever legacy you can leave that is unique to you. This is not the same for everybody. Christians might be scientists, farmers, plumbers, pastors, homeschool mothers, philosophers, artisans, waiters, slaves, and so-on. Jesus does not call all of us to be itinerant preachers like was. Similarly, we aren’t all to have the same personality and interests. Some people like novels and poetry, some people don’t. Some people love tidy desks, some don’t. Some people like spicy food, sarcastic jokes, and terrible music. The New Testament never prescribes conformity of gifts or personality.
- The vision of Christian character must be rooted firmly in Scripture.
Because the vision of Christian growth in grace is based on Jesus Christ, it must be rooted in Scripture. What this means is that our vision of Jesus is subject to change insofar as we understand Scripture more correctly (or by accident, less correctly) over time. The vision is not merely impressions about Jesus and his will (as in many super-spiritual versions of Christianity). Instead it is a robust picture of Jesus based primarily upon the gospels, but also upon the whole Scripture.
In the previous post, I showed how two passages Scripture support the idea that Jesus is the prototype for human character and happiness. Here I’ll add one:
18 Now while we all, with unveiled face, contemplate the glory of the Lord, we are transformed into the same image from one degree of glory into another (this is from the Lord, the Spirit). 4:1 For this reason, having this ministry, just as it was mercifully given to us, we do not lose heart, 2 but we renounce the shameful tricks, neither walking in trickery nor falsifying the word of God, but by shining light on the truth we commend ourselves to the consciences of all humanity in the presence of God. 3 But if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, 4 in their case, the God of this epoch has blinded the minds of those who are unfaithful so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For we are not preaching ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants on behalf of Jesus. 6 Because God is the one who said, “From darkness let light shine,” is he who shines in our hearts for the understanding of the glory of God in the face of Christ.
Observe the sections in bold. Christians are transformed as they contemplate the glory of the Lord into that same glory. But what, in Paul’s argument, is the glory of the Lord? It is related directly to the content of the gospel of Jesus Christ: the image of God. It is to this image that Christians are to be conformed (also see Romans 8, Ephesians 4, and 2 Peter 1:3-4). And this glory is found, again in the face of Christ. The meaning is clear: the human life of Jesus from birth to ascension which is contained in the gospel which Paul preached is the matter for Christian contemplation and personal transformation. In the exercise below, I will include passages that go beyond this, but this is because the whole canon of Scripture is a witness to the whole person of Christ.
I recommend reading passages of Scripture like Psalm 1, Psalm 23, Psalm 119, Proverbs 1-9 and 31, the four gospels and Acts, Romans 12-15, 2 Peter 1:3-11, and 1 John (all of it) in order to get a picture of the type of person that Jesus wants us to become as well as the results of that type of character. What is on offer (eternal life, entrance into the wonderful family of the church on earth, present happiness, strong character, joyful generosity, creative concern for others, a life based on love, justice, and wisdom, an infinite reference point for self-improvement, and experiential knowledge of God) is amazing. When you read these passages try this exercises:
- Write down the positive character traits mentioned (in teaching or on display in the lives of Jesus and the apostles in Acts).
- Write down the positive results the text uses to entice you and I toward those character traits.
- Write down the character traits you need to grow toward.
- Write down the character traits you need to grow from (lack of self-control, ungratefulness, irritability, pornography use, stinginess, thievery, and so-on).
- Now, simply pray for forgiveness for your sinful character traits and ask the Lord’s help in becoming more like Jesus Christ. If you’re concerned to put on Christ, then you’re precisely the type of person that Jesus is willing to assist in becoming like him (see especially Matthew 28:16-20).
Posts in the series
- What does “grow in grace” mean?
- Growth in Grace: Vision
- Growth in Grace: Intention
- Growth in Grace: Means
- Growth in Grace: The Feelings
 This might not seem very academic, but Arnold Schwarzenegger talked about vision in a very compelling way in: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bill Dobbins, and Arnold Schwarzenegger, The New Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1998), 437, “As I alluded to in Chapter 5, the first step is to have a clear vision of where you want to go, what you want to achieve. “Where the mind goes, the body will follow” is a saying I have always believed in. If you want to be Mr. America or Mr. Universe, you have to have a clear vision of yourself achieving these goals. When your vision is powerful enough, everything else falls into place: how you live your life, your workouts, what friends you choose to hang out with, how you eat, what you do for fun. Vision is purpose, and when your purpose is clear so are your life choices. Vision creates faith and faith creates willpower. With faith there is no anxiety, no doubt—just absolute confidence.”
 Kurt Aland et al., Novum Testamentum Graece, 28th Edition (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 2012), 2 Co 3:18–4:6. “18 ἡμεῖς δὲ πάντες ἀνακεκαλυμμένῳ προσώπῳ τὴν δόξαν κυρίου κατοπτριζόμενοι τὴν αὐτὴν εἰκόνα μεταμορφούμεθα ἀπὸ δόξης εἰς δόξαν καθάπερ ἀπὸ κυρίου πνεύματος. 4 Διὰ τοῦτο, ἔχοντες τὴν διακονίαν ταύτην καθὼς ἠλεήθημεν, οὐκ ἐγκακοῦμεν 2 ἀλλʼ ἀπειπάμεθα τὰ κρυπτὰ τῆς αἰσχύνης, μὴ περιπατοῦντες ἐν πανουργίᾳ μηδὲ δολοῦντες τὸν λόγον τοῦ θεοῦ ἀλλὰ τῇ φανερώσει τῆς ἀληθείας συνιστάνοντες ἑαυτοὺς πρὸς πᾶσαν συνείδησιν ἀνθρώπων ἐνώπιον τοῦ θεοῦ. 3 εἰ δὲ καὶ ἔστιν κεκαλυμμένον τὸ εὐαγγέλιον ἡμῶν, ἐν τοῖς ἀπολλυμένοις ἐστὶν κεκαλυμμένον, 4 ἐν οἷς ὁ θεὸς τοῦ αἰῶνος τούτου ἐτύφλωσεν τὰ νοήματα τῶν ἀπίστων εἰς τὸ μὴ αὐγάσαι τὸν φωτισμὸν τοῦ εὐαγγελίου τῆς δόξης τοῦ Χριστοῦ, ὅς ἐστιν εἰκὼν τοῦ θεοῦ. 5 Οὐ γὰρ ἑαυτοὺς κηρύσσομεν ἀλλʼ Ἰησοῦν Χριστὸν κύριον, ἑαυτοὺς δὲ δούλους ὑμῶν διὰ Ἰησοῦν. 6 ὅτι ὁ θεὸς ὁ εἰπών· ἐκ σκότους φῶς λάμψει, ὃς ἔλαμψεν ἐν ταῖς καρδίαις ἡμῶν πρὸς φωτισμὸν τῆς γνώσεως τῆς δόξης τοῦ θεοῦ ἐν προσώπῳ [Ἰησοῦ] Χριστοῦ.”