In this message we will cover the matters of conformation and glorification. It is not easy to present the truths. Augustine said that if you try to comprehend the Triune God, it is like using a small ladle to measure the ocean. It is really so. Just as the truth concerning the Triune God is profound, so also is the truth concerning conformation. Not only do we need to be transformed and built up, but we also need to be conformed.
Being Conformed to the Image of God’s Firstborn Son
To whom or to what are we to be conformed? Are we to be conformed to the likeness of the Chinese or Americans or Japanese? We are to be conformed to the likeness of the Son of God. Romans 8:29 says, “Because those whom He foreknew, He also predestinated to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the Firstborn among many brothers.” God’s predestinating us to be conformed to the image of His Son is for His Son to be the Firstborn among His many sons.
God’s Firstborn Son Being Christ as the God-man
Concerning the Son of God, there is a very difficult question in theology, that is: How many sons does God have? Hebrews 12:23 mentions the church of the firstborn. The firstborn sons here refer to us, the saints. But how can we say that the saints are the firstborn sons? James 1:18 says that God “brought us forth by the word of truth, purposing that we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures.” As the constituents of the church, we are the firstfruits of God’s creatures. To say that the firstfruits refer to the firstborn sons is a relative way of speaking. The day will come when both the Gentiles and the Jews will turn to worship God. Although that situation is not here yet, today we believers take the lead to worship God. Hence, in this sense we are the firstborn sons, the firstfruits of God’s creatures.
On the other hand, John 1 says that Christ is the only begotten Son of God (v. 18), whereas Romans 8 says that Christ would be the Firstborn among many brothers (v. 29). Christ was the only begotten Son of God, and then He became the firstborn Son of God with many brothers. Hence, as the Son of God, Christ has two statuses, one being the only begotten Son and the other, the firstborn Son. What is the difference between God’s only begotten Son and God’s firstborn Son? God’s only begotten Son has divinity but not humanity, whereas God’s firstborn Son has both divinity and humanity. When God became flesh, He brought divinity into humanity; when the Lord was resurrected, He brought humanity into divinity, that is, He mingled humanity with divinity. The mingling of humanity with divinity produced the second status of the Son of God, that is, the firstborn Son of God.
In eternity the Lord was the only begotten Son of God. In time He became flesh to be a man, but He was not yet the firstborn Son of God. When did He become the firstborn Son of God? Romans 1:3-4 says, “Concerning His Son, who came out of the seed of David according to the flesh, who was designated the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness out of the resurrection of the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord.” There are two “accordings” here: according to the flesh, He is the seed of David, a man; according to the Spirit of holiness, He is the Son of God. He was designated the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness out of the resurrection of the dead.
When and how was the designation done? This requires a little explanation. First Peter 3:18 says, “For Christ also has suffered once for sins, the Righteous on behalf of the unrighteous, that He might bring you to God, on the one hand being put to death in the flesh, but on the other, made alive in the Spirit.” This verse tells us that after He died in the flesh, Christ was still active in His Spirit. What was He doing? In John 12:24 the Lord said that He was the grain of wheat which bears much fruit by falling into the ground and dying. When a grain of wheat falls into the ground, its outer shell dies and decays, but its life within is active. The grain on the one hand dies and on the other, lives. When the grain dies, this death gives the life within an opportunity to operate to bring forth tender sprouts. This is resurrection. When the Lord was buried in the tomb, His flesh, the humanity that was with Him, died. However, His divinity, the Spirit of holiness, had a great opportunity to work. First, He resurrected the humanity of Christ. At the same time, He uplifted the humanity of Jesus into divinity. It was at that moment that God said, “You are My Son; today I have begotten You” (Acts 13:33). “Today” here refers to the day of the Lord’s resurrection. Hence, it was at the time that the Spirit of holiness uplifted the humanity of Christ and resurrected His flesh that God said, “Today I have begotten You.” From that time on, He has been the firstborn Son of God.
Since He is the firstborn Son, there must also be the brothers. Otherwise, how can He be called the Firstborn? His brothers are we the saved ones. Actually, we and He as the firstborn Son were all brought forth in the same delivery. We were born in His resurrection. First Peter 1:3 says that at the time of Christ’s resurrection, that is, in His resurrection, God regenerated all of us. You should not think that you have been regenerated for two months, or that you have been regenerated for sixty-seven years. You were regenerated two thousand years ago by being resurrected together with Christ. Some may not be able to accept this word. Again, this is a problem of the mind. God has His timetable and you have your timetable; the two timetables have different ways of counting. We need to take God’s way of counting. According to His counting, He chose us before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4); furthermore, Christ was slain from the foundation of the world, that is, from the creation of the heavens and the earth (Rev. 13:8). According to God’s way of reckoning, at the resurrection of Christ, that is, about two thousand years ago, we were resurrected with Him and were regenerated (1 Pet. 1:3).
After regeneration, we became children of God, the many sons of God, who are the many brothers of Christ. However, we still need to be conformed to the image of God’s Son. We are to be conformed not to God’s only begotten Son but to God’s firstborn Son because God’s only begotten Son does not have humanity, but God’s firstborn Son has both divinity and humanity. Why is it that after we were regenerated to become the sons of God, we still have to be conformed to the image of God’s firstborn Son? Although we were regenerated to become sons of God, we are not yet like sons of God. Perhaps this morning some of you husbands and wives still had a quarrel, and after the quarreling you came to the meeting. Therefore, we need to be conformed to the image of God’s Son that He may be the Firstborn among many brothers. In the United States today about one hundred twenty million, which is half of the population, are Protestants and Catholics. However, wherever you go today, as you observe, can you discern the Christians? If you listen to people’s talk in the offices, especially on Mondays, it is all about where they went to dance or went for pleasures over the weekend, and many filthy words are spoken. Many among them are Christians, yet they have not been conformed to the image of Christ. Hence, today we urgently need to be conformed to the image of God’s firstborn Son. To be conformed to the image of God’s firstborn Son equals to live out His image. When we all live out His image, the world will see Christ as the Firstborn of God because all His brothers will be manifested here.
(The Organic Aspect of God's Salvation, Chapter 5, by Witness Lee)