We have been thinking about man being made in the image of God and about the new creation or the new man and how we come to manifest the image of God in our lives. Today we will look at the role of the church in bringing us to the place we are supposed to be as the image of the Son of God.
That to be the image of his Son is is God’s plainly stated purpose for us.
“For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” (Romans 8:29).
“Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.” (1 John 3:2).
But how do we reach that ideal? Yesterday we saw that as individuals we are increasingly conformed to his image by “beholding” Jesus. But it is not altogether up to us. We are to have help in this process. The Lord has given provisions for this purpose.
In Ephesians 4:7-8 Paul wrote that “grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it says,
“When he ascended on high he led a host of captives,
and he gave gifts to men.”
The specific gifts to which he refers are listed in verse 11… “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers…”
Then he tells why these gifts were given in verses 12-14. He says it was to…
“…equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”
The purpose or work of the apostles, prophets, etc., is to equip or “train” the disciples of Jesus in the work of “ministry” or service so that they might be like him. This is what Jesus said Luke 6:40.
“A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher.”
How do the ones whom Paul mentions accomplish this? How do they “train” others to be disciples? One way is obvious – they do so by teaching. But what are they to teach? Again it should be obvious. If they are to train people to be like Jesus they must teach Jesus. They assist people to “behold” Jesus so that they can be transformed into his image.
They also do this by showing the image of Jesus in their own lives. Peter told elders to not be “domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.” (1 Peter 5:3). They themselves are under-shepherds of the “chief Shepherd.” Being such, they have much the same kind of responsibility as their Lord in revealing God to people. They have the responsibility of modeling the image of Christ before their flock.
Disciples, when they have been thoroughly trained, are then to teach others. This is the pattern shown in Ephesians 4:15-16
“Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”
This is also what Paul told Timothy to do.
“…and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” (2 Timothy 2:2).
What had Timothy heard from Paul? Had he not heard just what Paul said he had determined to preach? Here is what he said he preached…
“For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:22-24).
When the saints are equipped, trained, prepared, having achieved something of the “measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” they are to continue the process by “speaking the truth in love.”
What is this truth? It is the same truth Jesus said would make men free (John 8:32). This is not just any truth, nor is it all truth. He had just told the Jews that if they did not believe a certain truth they would die in their sins. What was that truth? In John 8:24 he says;
“I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.”
It is unfortunate that the wording of this passage is not as clear as it should be because of the interpolated pronoun “he.” This word was supplied by the translators because they thought it would make the reading smoother, but it really obscures what Jesus was saying. If we omit the interpolation and stop at the I AM we have the exact truth Jesus intended to convey. See these versions as a few illustrations of what is truly meant here. There are more but these will suffice.
(ERV) “Yes, if you don’t believe that I AM, you will die in your sins.”
(GNB) “And you will die in your sins if you do not believe that ‘I Am Who I Am’.”
(LITV) “For if you do not believe that I AM, you will die in your sins.
(MKJV) “for if you do not believe that I AM, you shall die in your sins.
(CJB) “for if you do not trust that I AM [who I say I am], you will die in your sins.”
(CEB) “If you don’t believe that I Am, you will die in your sins.”
This expression, “I AM” is how God refers to himself. When Moses asked “Whom shall I say sent me?” God said that he should tell Pharaoh that “I AM” sent him. He is the self-existent one, having no beginning and no end. He is before all things and the one in whom all things consist. He is eternally God.
So the truth the disciples are to speak in love is the truth that Jesus is I AM. He is one with the Father. He is the exact representation of the Almighty. He is the truth saints are to look to, to believe and to trust in in order to become perfected. It is his image we are to take on. When our minds are focused on him we will not be disagreeing over what “truth” is on a thousand and one “issues” of controversy we have invented. The truth that he is is enough to build us up. It is enough to keep us busy for a lifetime. It is enough to answer all our needs.
It is the truth Jesus said He is.
“Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6).
He is the truth Peter confessed in Matthew 16:16…“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” He is the truth that believers confess as they come to obedient faith and then step down into the watery grave of baptism to die to the old man and to be made a new creation. He is the bedrock foundation of the church which is itself the “pillar and ground of the truth.” (1 Timothy 3:15 KJV).
We as the church are the pillar and ground of the truth when we preach him, when we become like him, when we serve like him. This is how the church is the “body of Christ.” We, together, as a living body are to reflect in our combined capacity the same image to the world. We are to be to the world in the 21st century what he was to the world in the 1st – the image of the living God. In this respect, he is very much the model – the pattern – for the church.
May God ever be magnified by the way the saints reflect God’s likeness into the world. May we commit ourselves without reservation to him and to him only to bring him glory, honor and praise now and forevermore!