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Imaging God

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I.       Introduction

God's desire for every man is that he learn Christ and be conformed to his image, and thereby give testimony through his very existence, of the nature and character of God, who created man in His image. It is only as we fulfill the purpose of our creation that we reflect His image.

Frank Bush illustrates the importance of being made in the image of God by telling about the day he called one of his students into his office.  He says,"He was there because his behavior was so much less than what I expected in a Bible college student.  After discussing the matter, he crowned his long recitation with the excuse, "After all, I'm only human." When he said that, I jumped to my feet, raised my voice about sixteen decibels, and fairly shouted, "Only human!  Do you realize what you have just said?"  He had moved back into his chair, and his eyes were wide with surprise.  I didn't wait for an answer. "Only human!  You mean 'made in the image of God,' made a little lower than the angels, and in Christ, given the power to become greater than the angels. Only human!  Someday you will be called on to judge angels.  Only human!  You have been given dominion over the earth and every living creature on the face of the earth. The greatest of all God's creations.  The only creature able to think the thoughts of God.  The object of his love, and the one for whose salvation he sent Jesus to Calvary.  What do you mean, 'Only human'?" Silence reigned heavily in the room.  For a long moment he stared at me in bewilderment, and I attempted to look through his eyes into his soul.  I was hoping that my words had driven home and important truth.  Soon he began to move uneasily in his chair, and he said, "I guess I've been less than what He wants me to be.  I'm sorry.  I will do better." I nodded my head, and he walked out. . . . I was disturbed then, and I am still disturbed that we expect so little from ourselves.  To use being human as an excuse for thoughtless and stupid behavior is an insult to God who made us.[1]

        We are not "only human" when we allow ourselves to be controlled by selfish desires and impulses. We are not "only human" when we promote ourselves, and the witness of Christ is harmed. We were created to reflect our creator. In as much as we are fulfilling our created purpose, we are human, and our created purpose is to reflect our creator "who chose us in Him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight."[2]  Many a Christian recognizes the call of God to be conformed to his image, but how is he to fulfill that call? The scripture we have read shows us how we can measure up to our intended design. First of all:

II.    Imaging God Requires The Abnormal Image Be Recognized.

Ever since the Garden of Eden, man has not properly imaged God as was first intended. Sin marred the image of God in man as a moral reflection of his creator. This flawed image must be recognized if it is to be corrected.

A.     The abnormal image is recognized as we learn of our corruption.

Our Scripture attests to a corruption within that is driven by our own desires, which deceives and misguides us. We are driven by our own selfish motives. This deviation is not normal. It is a corruption. If something is corrupt, it is altered from its original design. It is disfigured in some way. A.W. Tozer points out that:

Sin has many manifestations but its essence is one. A moral being, created to worship before the throne of God, sits on the throne of his own selfhood and from that elevated position declares, "I AM." That is sin in its concentrated essence; yet because it is [apparently] natural it appears to be good. "What shall we do?" (Acts 2:37) is the deep heart cry of every man who suddenly realizes that he is a usurper and sits on a stolen throne.[3]

When sinful man begins to see his disfigurement, he takes the first step in recovery from it. Unless man recognizes his corruption, it is impossible that he seek remedy for it. It is good news when men begin to recognize their abnormality. Johnathan Edwards said that:

The old original wounds must first be probed in their depth before there can be healing.  The Scripture compares sin with the wound of the soul, and says that an attempt to heal this wound without examining it first is vain and deceitful.  It is God's message to show men how awful their state is before he brings the comfort of deliverance and healing.  The gospel must be revealed as bad news before it can be good news. [4]

        We come to see our miserable state in our corruption, and that is ever so much more accentuated as we come to see Christ.

B.     The abnormal image is recognized as we learn Christ.

One of the best ways to teach a concept is to contrast it with something else. So it is with our abnormality. It is as we are taught Christ, and come to know his holiness, that our corruption comes out in bold relief. The truth is Jesus, but we are being deceived by our corrupting desires. There is a bold contrast between deceit and truth. As we learn the truth in Christ, the deceit becomes more evident. We are made aware more vividly than ever before, that we are far from the image in which we were first cast.

    The story is told of a woman in northern England who hung out her washing and

was so proud of its whiteness.  She thought it glistened!  Then snow came

making a beautiful blanket of white.  Seeing her clothes and the snow side by

side, she exclaimed, "What can a poor woman do against God's almighty snow?"

"So, in the white radiance of God's holiness, we are led to exclaim, 'What can

any man or woman do against the purity of God Almighty?"[5]

Christ, who is the image of the invisible God[6] defines what we should be, and it is our deviation from him that stands out like a sore thumb.

        It is important to note that it is not simply learning of Christ, as in learning certain subject matter that is necessary, but it is learning Christ, the person. It is not only about Christ that the Ephesians have learned, but it is the person Himself that they were taught. This speaks of  relationship. A relationship is not a bunch of facts about a person, but it is experiential knowledge of the person themselves that make relationship. Relationship takes participation. The Ephesians have seen their own corruption through their participation with Him in relationship. This relationship provided the grounds for their seeing themselves more clearly. The desire to replace our corrupt selves with the one we are taught in Christ is natural as we recognize our deficiency. Robert Webber wrote an article in Christianity today magazine puts this desire in words. He wrote:

                   Some time ago I was biking in Michigan and met another biker who, like myself, was a professor of theology.  In the course of our conversation by the side of the road he said something I will never forget:  "Bob, all I really want in life is for the Word fo God to take up residence inside of me and form me into Christ-likeness."  I think this statement hit me hard because my seminary training in the Bible was never that personal.  We were always asking "What does it say?" and seldom if ever made the step into a deep personal application of "How can that truth take up residence in me?"[7]

        Christ is a revelation of God, not only generally, but individually and personally. Through Christ, we learn not only a general truth, but a personal truth, and that truth reveals itself to us and addresses us personally.

        As we see Christ's nature, and our sinful nature side by side, the call often stirs from deep inside to be healed within. In order for that healing to take place, we need not only recognize our abnormality, but also that:

III.  Imaging God Requires The Appropriate Image Be Restored.

A.     The appropriate image is restored through voluntary rejection.

There must be a rejection of that which we discover within that is disfigured and deceptive. The Apostle states that properly learning Christ should result in a voluntary casting away of one's former self in favor of another self. The old self must be cast out so that the new may come. There is no harmony between the old self, and the new.  The old self is sinful and contrary to the new one, which is created to be holy and righteous, because sin and holiness cannot agree. 

        We understand our corruption and self-idolatry as we learn Christ. As we retain a relationship with him and participate in his person (See point II B), we become aware of our individualized and selfish desires and interest, and it becomes repulsive to us. As our knowledge is awakened, we must choose to reject that which God shows us in Christ to be repulsive and deformed.

B.     The appropriate image is restored through vital reconstruction.

A new self replaces the old self. One might ask where this new self comes from. The answer can be found in Romans 13:14 as Paul addresses another reading audience. Using the same metaphor of clothing oneself, Paul says to "clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature."[8] Our new nature comes from none other than Christ. We do not become Christ, thereby loosing our own identity, but we take on the nature of Christ. We do not become God, but are re-cast in His image. We still retain an individuality, or an identity of our own, but it is the divine nature that we receive. In receiving Him as the defining nature of our being, we are reconstructed according to the design of the perfected nature for man. The new Adam replaces the old adamic nature.

So it is written: “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. The first man was of the dust of the earth, the second man from heaven. As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the man from heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. And just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven./ [9]/

        This new self is created after the image of Christ, who is very God, and man. We are no longer subject to the sinful nature, which constituted the old self. "For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin—because anyone who has died has been freed from sin."[10]

        In cooperating with the grace of God extended to us, we are given the possibility of being released from the misdirected desires, and our whole inner self may be transformed by it.

His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.[11]

        What we have learned of the person of Christ through our relational experience is made a personal reality. His holiness is communicated to us. This answers the cry of our soul as we recognize our corruption and reject it in favor of Christ's nature. We are finally made whole. We have put on Christ. C. S. Lewis reflects on the need to put on Christ. He writes that ""Putting on Christ" ... is not one among many jobs a Christian has to do; and it is not a sort of special exercise for the top class. It is the whole of Christianity."[12]

IV. Imaging God Requires The Authentic Image Be Realized.

It is not only that the image be restored in us, but it must be realized by others and declare itself legitimate through the outward witness. Unless others become aware of a change, we must question if this change has taken place. . No man can rightly say that he is holy in character without that character expressing itself outwardly. Just as the sinful nature expressed its true essence through actions, so also does true holiness make itself known outwardly. God's holiness is not only communicated to us, it is communicated through us. There are two ways pointed out in this scripture passage that our new image gives witness to others of a holy God. The first is that:

A.     The authentic image is realized as it shows God's purpose for man.

Man reflects the image of God, as God is reflected in the purpose of man's re-creation. The restoration of man points the way to others still in the mud of sin, that God's desire for them is holiness. The image is created to be holy. That is the meaning of its creation. To have this realized in our life shows to others God's care and suggests to them the possibility of the same reality in their own lives. When other's see us as we were intended to be, they cannot but help to see the goodness of God's intent. If God simply left man alone in his sinful condition, one would have to question the holiness of such a God. Through the redemption of man from his sin, and the restoration of God's image in man, He reveals his holiness. Man's redemption is offered as the natural result of a holy God. God cannot see his creation ruined by sin and remain dispassionate. "God's purpose in wooing sinful people back to fellowship with Himself is to bring glory to His name. God is holy and all that will enter into fellowship with Him must be holy."[13]

B.     The authentic image is realized as it shows God's character in man.

Through the transforming of man by God, man enjoys the privilege of displaying God's holy character. The character of God within will manifest itself outwardly. There is no such thing as a singularly inward holiness without its attendant outward evidences. Man images God to others in true righteousness and holiness. As a result of his new nature, created after the image of its creator, man will conduct himself in a holy manner. He will be God's witness not in word only, but in truth. In true righteousness will he act, in true holiness he will worship God. There will be no breach of integrity as heart and actions coincide in the new nature. The practical application of the work within becomes evident without. This inner holiness will manifest itself in us the same way it was manifest to us. Through the reaching out and giving of ourselves for others.

V.     Conclusion

As a man is confronted with his abnormality in viewing the perfection of Christ, he is able to see what true holiness he lacks, and what true righteousness is. It is Christ. Through the ultimate self-denial and rejection of our sinful nature, and faith in God and the grace He bestows, man may be renewed in the image of God. He may participate in the divine nature, which is in Christ. It is as much the will of God now, as it was before the fall when he created man in His image. Ever since then, his relationship to man has been directed toward the restoration of that image. He wants to reveal us to ourselves through Christ and implant the nature of Christ within. Do you recognize your disfigurment in the light of Christ? Do you want to be changed? You may, if you utterly disenfranchise yourself, and allow God to restore His image in you. Then, you will truly reveal to others the nature of God, and you will be imaging God in true righteousness and holiness through all of your life, showing others God's purpose for them through His righteousness and holiness which flows from your life.



[1] The Catlin Christian Caller

[2] Ephesians 1:4 (NIV)

[3]  A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy. Christianity Today, Vol. 41, no. 5.

[4] Jonathan Edwards in Religious Affections.  Christianity Today, Vol. 30, no. 11.

[5] Stones with Fair Colors, Gary Bowell,  p. 36

[6] Colossians 1:15 (NIV)

[7] Robert Webber in The Covenant Companion (Jan. l990). Christianity Today, Vol. 34, no. 4.

[8] Romans 13:14  (NIV)

[9] 1 Corinthians 15:45-49 (NIV)

[10] Romans 6:6-7 (NIV)

[11] 2 Peter 1:3-4 (NIV)

[12] C.S. Lewis, Christian Reader, Vol. 33, no. 2.

[13] Enns, P., _The Moody Handbook of Theology_, Moody Press, Chicago, IL, 1989, p. 35

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