~ By the Testimony of The Saints ~
Maybe it’s because popular psychology has infused popular theology. Maybe it’s because “building self-esteem” and being “politically correct” has become more important than speaking truth. Or perhaps dropping a cherished and self-serving premise in favor of a demanding but redemptive one is just too mentally and emotionally disturbing. But we have not been created (or conceived and born) in the image of God, and can’t seem to let go of the constantly repeated belief that we have been.
To understand this is not having to ask “Why would a loving God allow all this violence and suffering?” when scanning all of human recorded history and contemplating the current affairs of this world. To understand this is to grasp the full power and meaning of Gospel (Good News) of the Christ; that “being saved from hell and going to heaven” is not the whole Gospel or even the essence of it.
A half-truth is worse than a full lie. (Satan, interestingly, used partial truths in persuading Eve in Eden and tempting Jesus in the desert.) Half-truths are like fish bait on a hook. Yes, it’s real food, no lie, and the fish eagerly swallows the whole thing. Full-blown lies are too easy to spot, unless they are very self-serving. Then you pretend they are true, preach they are true, and eventually by mere mental conditioning (and a lot of people agreeing with you) you start believing it, and kill or jail the prophets who express intolerance of lies.
Anyway, getting back to the genesis or beginning, indeed “God created man in his own image…” (Genesis 1:27a). Humans then fell from that grace (as did one-third of the angelic beings). The fifth chapter of Genesis begins with a genealogy from Adam to Noah, citing the above first creative act in God’s image. Then the genealogy flow is interrupted with a crucial note: “[Adam] had a son in his own image and likeness” (Genesis 5:3, emphasis mine). Zooming ahead a few thousand years, Jesus calls the religious leaders of His time “sons of Satan” (John 8:44), obviously implying they weren’t created quite in the image of God.
On the other end of the religious leader spectrum were Jesus’ own apostles. To His frustration and pain, they were arguing (again) who among them would be the greatest in the heavenly kingdom, and this was during their last meal together on earth! So Jesus, who is the Greatest, tried to teach them a little more about the image of God by washing their feet as the servant would.
Just a few hours later, during His most painful and profound struggle ever, Jesus asked a couple of them to just stay by Him silently. Twice He rose from prayer to check in with them, perhaps for some final intimate sharing, finding them asleep. He rhetorically asked, “Couldn’t you keep watch with me for just even an hour?” Considering Jesus’ state of mind and heart, I cannot imagine a face of disdain or admonishment. I picture Jesus’ lips curved downward, trembling with hurt, tears flowing over the previous ones, muddying the dirt on His sandaled feet, the same feet previously washed by the tears of a prostitute, dried by her hair, and anointed with a year’s earning worth of fragrant oil. The image of God rested in the person of Jesus, not in the sleeping apostles, oblivious that He was preparing to totally empty Himself for them.
Paul wrote the bottom line: “He [Christ] is the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15a, NIV). It isn’t us. We abandoned that image and no one can restore it except God, “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross” (Colossians 1:19-20, NIV).
This biblical exegesis isn’t a matter of throwing my personal spin on Scripture. The sacred text is presented with no ambiguity. Bravo to the few preachers and teachers who proclaim we no longer bear the image of God and that is precisely the reason for His incarnation in Christ. So Paul writes we “…have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator” (Colossians 3:10, NIV). Furthermore, “the god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4, NIV). Our purpose and destiny is to be conformed to the likeness of Christ (Romans 8:29), and thus Christ is called the Second Adam, calling us back to God’s image, forward to Eden.
However, there is great mystery here. It isn’t about getting saved from eternal damnation and waiting for His Second Coming: “It was revealed to them [the prophets] that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even the angels long to look into these things” (1 Peter 1:12, NIV, emphasis mine). Paul explained, he had “to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past were kept hidden in God who created all things. His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Ephesians 3:9-11, NIV, emphasis mine).
We must never neglect the Judaic ethic of community. Throughout the Old Testament we see God dealing with the Jews as a people, with little emphasis on a personal relationship with individuals other than those chosen to be God’s conduit for His “people” or nation. There are so many lists of sins in Jewish prayers of repentance because they are primarily lamenting as a community rather than individuals. Jesus prayed ardently for unity among His followers (John 17) and the Pauline letters consistently stress the need for unity among and in the Christian communities. Through Jeremiah, God tells Israel, “Return, faithless people…for I am your husband” (Jeremiah 3:14, see also 31:32). Christ assumes the same title of Bridegroom to His Church. His seven letters warning of spiritual adultery in Revelation were addressed to communities.
What stuns me is God using the Church, us, to disseminate wisdom to heavenly communities for which even the angels are hungry! “Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say,’Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of His Christ. For the accuser [Satan] of our brothers [and sisters], who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down. They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb [Christ] and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death’” (Revelation 12:10-11, NIV, emphasis mine).
You probably heard sermons mentioning how those in Christ will reign with Him as a royal priesthood, but how about the teamwork of Christ and the Church, His brothers and sisters, in cleansing the spiritual realm described in Ephesians 6 of Satan? More poignantly, it will be the community, through Christ and its own word, who will be doing this task, giving the call, “Therefore rejoice, you heavens and you who dwell in them!” (12:12a). This requires the image and likeness of God upon and in us!
Such a community can be formed only by the redemption and re-creation of each individual member: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17, NIV). Is this true of you and me and those we call Christians? “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” (Romans 6:6, NIV). Is this also true of us? “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20a, NIV). True? “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:24, NIV). True of us? “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me [Christ] will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, for I am going to the Father” (John 14:12, NIV).Have we? “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you” (John 15:12, NIV). Do we?
The “old version” of this command was to “love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus upgraded it drastically. How can we possibly make these statements and mandates true for us as individuals and as His Church? We would die first. But that is the point of the Gospel. We cannot contain that kind of love in our hearts, or learn to, on command. But Christ can in us. Paul writes, “Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves, but on God, who raises the dead” (2 Corinthians 1:9, NIV).
The “Lord and Savior” titles that come after “Jesus” cannot be separated. We like the “Savior” part, and we have nothing to do with that, being a matter of faith, an inexplicable gift. The “Lord” part requires our participation, our willingness, our surrender. We have trouble with that one. That in us which resists His complete Lordship must die…in the sanctifying fire of His love. The Good News is Christ suffered, died and rose again to life. And He did all that on this earth, this side of heaven. We are summoned to do the same. The mystery of redemption is so simple that children can embrace it, and so marvelously profound and ultimately unexplainable in words that illumined angels ardently desire to explore it.
“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen” (Ephesians 3:20-21, NIV).
Let us pray and live so that whatever ego-fat that clogs the spiritual arteries in our souls that impedes the flow of that power of love and His Holy Spirit in us is made lifeless and washed clean by His sanctifying blood. Then we will be the living sacrifices God calls us to be.
John S. Hilkevich, Ph.D.
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Weekly Reflections © July 20, 2002
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