The goal of reflecting the image of God more truly and consistently cannot be achieved through passivity. Paul tells us that we must work out our salvation in fear and trembling, understanding that we are to labor alongside the Holy Spirit, the empowering agent of our sanctification (Phil. 2:12–13). Practically speaking, setting goals is one of the best ways to ensure we are not just spinning our wheels in our attempts to glorify the Lord and display His character to all creation.
Our Savior addresses the importance of goal-setting in Luke 14:25–33. In order that we might have a true grasp of what Christian discipleship means, Jesus compares it to tower-building and to fighting a war. If builders and kings need to know what is demanded of them, how much more should we be aware of what following the Lord of all creation actually entails? Those who want to construct a tower must understand what they will have to pay for building materials in order to finish the project (v. 28). Wise kings rightly understand the might of their army before they take it into battle (v. 31). We who are commissioned to fight the world, the flesh, and the Devil also need a strategy for success, and we must also know the equipment required for victory in our spiritual battle (Eph. 6:10–20).
Of course, as servants of the sovereign Lord, we understand that our plans in themselves can guarantee nothing. God ultimately determines our progress and provides the energy for our growth, maturing us in ways that we cannot anticipate. The Lord may use our actions and plans, and He is regularly pleased to do so; still, growth is ultimately due to His sovereign work (James 4:13–17).
Our Creator’s sovereignty includes the use of means, and He has provided several avenues through which He ordinarily advances us in our sanctification. We are referring to the means of grace — things such as the reading and preaching of God’s Word, the sacraments, prayer, and worship. Taking part in these means prepares us for the trials ahead and empowers us to persevere in our current settings. If we neglect what the Lord has given us, then even our best-laid plans will provide little help in making us into those who shine forth God’s image brightly.
Today it often seems as if the church is looking for the power of God everywhere except in the means of grace. Of course, the Lord often works in unexpected ways to bring about our growth in holiness. Yet He promises to work through Word and sacrament, prayer and praise, worship and fellowship to conform us to the image of Christ. Let us not neglect these tools, which are essential to forming His character in us.