I’ve often found that children ask the best questions and I think that is particularly true when it comes to faith.

Many years ago, I worked as a teaching assistant in a primary school. To try and gain experience I was running an after-school club that gave pupils a chance to explore the Christian faith. During one session we were discussing what it means to become more like Jesus. I thought I’d done quite a good job of explaining what this meant and why it was important. Yet one question from a 10 -year-old girl (I can’t remember her name, but let’s call her Sophie) demonstrated how wrong I was, and how insightful she was. The interaction went something like this:

Sophie (with her arm raised): Mr Powney, please can I ask a question?

Me: Go for it Sophie.

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Sophie: You’re saying that we should all be like Jesus.

Me: Yes, that’s what I’m saying.

Sophie: But don’t you think that all sounds really boring?

Me: I’ve never thought about it like that Sophie, can you explain to everyone what you mean?

Sophie: Well, if we all become like Jesus, then we all become the same and if everyone is the same, then that sounds pretty boring to me.

Me: That’s a great question Sophie and when you put it like that, I can see your point. I’m going to need to think about that more as I don’t have a good answer to your question. But thanks for asking.

Sophie’s question has stuck with me ever since and it’s one that I’ve revisited as I’ve thought about the Christian vision of what it means to be human. Central to this vision for humanity is the idea of an image. Our imaginations are sparked by the words in Genesis 1 : 27 that say humanity was created in the image of God. Fast forward to the words of the apostle Paul in Colossians 1 : 15 and we discover that Jesus is the image of the invisible God. At the same time, Paul tells the church in Rome that we (human beings who follow Jesus) are being conformed to the image of God’s Son, Jesus.

Taking these three passages together, we can understand that as human beings created in the image of God, our purpose is to fill the world with God’s image. Jesus is the image of God; He has shown us both what God is like and what an authentic human being is like, and our goal is to be conformed into His image. And so, we’re brought back to the idea that sparked Sophie’s insightful question.

Thankfully, being conformed into Jesus’ image doesn’t mean we all become identical Jesus-bots. Sophie was right — that would be boring. The key is found in how we understand Jesus’ humanity. As Jesus, empowered by the Spirit, followed his Father’s will for his life, He became more the person He was created to be. He became more fully Jesus. In the same way, as the Spirit conforms us into the likeness of Jesus, we become more of our true selves. The Spirit of God grows and develops in us our true character; I become more fully Rich as I’m conformed into the likeness of Jesus.

Our calling to be like Jesus leads us to seek to live in relationship with the Spirit as we follow the Father’s will for our lives in the same way Jesus did, not to become a first-century Jewish carpenter. Paul’s analogy of the body is helpful for understanding this idea. The body wouldn’t get that far if we were all trying to be fingers. The body works best when all aspects of that body are aiming to be the foot, eye, hand, mouth or other part they were created to be. As missiologists Male and Weston argue, God wants to use us as we are and not as we think we should be. God wants to work through our character, background, personality and interests… We don’t have to become someone else or a caricature of ourselves.”

As we grow like this, our words and actions towards God, other people and creation become more like the kind of things Jesus said and did. We grow Christlike character which is expressed through our own distinct personalities. Our words and actions have a distinctive flavour that only you or I can bring. We see this concept in the four gospels. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John all offer different portraits of Jesus, they give emphasis to aspects of Jesus’ ministry, yet they all point to Jesus. Our understanding of Jesus is all the richer for the varying flavours of the four gospel accounts.

The church is a community of people who are united with Jesus and being conformed into the likeness of Jesus. This conformity to Jesus brings about a Spirit-enabled diversity in which together we fill the world with God’s image. I think this is something of what theologian Lesslie Newbigin meant when he wrote, the only hermeneutic of the gospel, is a congregation of men and women who believe it and live by it.”

Sophie’s great question suggested that becoming like Jesus would lead to a very monochrome existence. The more I’ve reflected on her question, the more I’ve realised that becoming like Jesus is the way towards the technicolour existence we were created for. It gives us glimpses into the eternity God has set in our hearts, or to paraphrase C. S. Lewis: the land we spend our lives looking for but won’t fully know until the day we finally arrive there.

The more I’ve reflected on Sophie's question, the more I’ve realised that becoming like Jesus is the way towards the technicolour existence we were created for.