A BETTER WAY (3)

The revelation of the Bible is a revelation of God. It is not just a revelation from God, or a revelation about God. Although it contains both these, it is more than these. It is more than a list of requirements by which we approach God and fulfill his will for us. It is not a bunch of disconnected sayings and stories. It is a revelation of the person of God. It is a revelation of his nature and of his character. It is God making himself known to mankind. It is more than words on paper. It is the revelation of and through the living Word who is himself God (John 1:1-14).

If the Bible is God’s self-revelation, then in order to understand its message to us we must understand the one with whom its message is concerned. If it is a revelation about the nature of God, then it is not just a book of rules and regulations. And it is not a road map from earth to heaven. It is not primarily a book about how to be saved. It is not just another devotional book. Although the Bible contains the truth about these subjects, none of these ways of looking at the Bible will enable us to get out of it what God put into it for us.

First and foremost we must know God as he has revealed himself to us. (Jeremiah 31:31-34). Peter shows that the things that pertain to life and godliness come to us through the knowledge of God.

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence,” (2 Peter 1:3).

This is not knowledge about God, nor knowledge of his commands but knowledge of the person of God. How do I know that? Because Peter tells us – he “called us to his own glory and excellence,” indicating that this is not only what God is like, but that this is that to which he is leading us through his call. The object of being called “to his own glory and virtue” is that we come to experience and express his image in ourselves – we become “partakers of his divine nature”(2 Peter 1:4).

Knowing God in the sense of which I speak is not an easy thing from the perspective of people living in the 21st century. It doesn’t fit our concept of how God exercises his rule or authority over us. We have not been trained to think in this way.

I am not talking here about his divine attributes such as omnipotence and omniscience or how he is the divine-human manifestation of deity in flesh. Those may be interesting and profitable studies in theology in their own time and sphere. I am talking about knowing him in the way he intended Adam and Eve to know him as he walked with them in Eden – knowing him in the way a man and woman come to know (not sexually) one another in the relationship of marriage – knowing him even better than a friend knows another friend. It is only by knowing God in this way that we can understand what, I believe, is his grand purpose for our lives. It is only by knowing God in this way that we can begin to sensibly and adequately approach the subject of his authority and how it is to be applied to our lives today

Only by knowing God in this way can we understand the next question and begin to understand how God is going about to achieve what his purpose is for us. The next question is inseparably linked with that about knowing God. That question of course is, “What is God’s purpose for my life as a human being?” The answer to this question takes us back to the moment of our creation when God said …

Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.

So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them
.” (Gen. 1:26-27).

This is not an incidental statement. It is key to our understanding of ourselves and the purpose God has for us in this world as well as the “destination” to which he is leading us. It is absolutely foundational to our understanding of the question of authority for our lives and how that authority operates in our lives. Most people I have ever heard comment on the idea of image/likeness simply state the obvious – that that likeness is spiritual, not physical, and has to do with intelligence, free will and such like. While this is no doubt true, it is far from the whole truth.

Why is it so difficult for us to understand the idea of man being in the image of God and understand why we must get some grasp on this before we can ever get anything else right? Without doubt, the main reason we do not get this right is because of what our first parents did in the garden of Eden. Sin must be seen as touching and marring everything in creation, including our understanding of the nature God made us to posses. Sin clouds our perception of what the ideal life should be and of how we are to reach that goal.

We were made in the image of God, made to possess and manifest his glory unto all creation. We don’t do that by obeying commands per se. The commands (dominion, subdue, tend, multiply) he gave Adam and Eve were not arbitrary dictates of an imperious God, but the way he as the loving creator and ruler intended them to manifest his likeness. By this they would enter into his creative activity by completing creation – bringing it to be what he intended it to be – subdued to the rule of God for his purpose in its creation with mankind as co-regents with him. Through exercising dominion, rule, responsible development, they would be elevated to their their rightful place as joint rulers with him over his creation, caring for it and developing it into what God wanted it to become.

It is such an honor to be made in God’s image. The idea of being in the image of God is such a powerful concept for man. This is why man is the pinnacle of his creation. This is such a great truth but so alien to our way of looking at things that we just don’t get the importance of it. We have not seen this as having anything really to do with what we are to be now and what we are to become in the future. We have been trained to look for authority in other places and other ways.

There are two things (maybe others, but principally two) that have prevented us from seeing the full meaning of being in the image of God and making that the primary goal of our existence. One is our concept of salvation as merely the forgiveness of sins and the other is our concept of our eternal destination. These two things are essentially tied together. The way we generally think about these two things is that God has saved us from our sins so that we can go to heaven when we die.

But when we see salvation not only as forgiveness – which it certainly does include – but also as the beginning of God’s restoration of his image within us that is carried out in the continuing process of sanctification – of manifesting the “new man” – then salvation takes on a whole different dimension. This is what Paul is getting at in Ephesians 4:20-23

But that is not the way you learned Christ!— assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds.”

He had just described the way of the Gentiles and the results of their religion and philosophy as it had led them into all kinds of immorality and debauchery. They had learned Christ. Not another philosophy or doctrine – Christ. They had seen the image of God. They had seen in Jesus, the ideal man, the reflection of God. They had seen what God wanted them (and us) to be. When we gaze upon his image, we see ourselves as we were always meant to be and we are increasingly transformed into the same image.

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18).

This statement about man being in God’s image is authoritative. How so, you ask? No, it wasn’t spoken to us. Yes, it is in the Old Testament. Yes, Gen. 1:26-27 can be authoritative to us. Through this story – that is what this is – God states both his purpose and through that story begins to works out his purpose for human beings throughout the ages. That story is still authoritative today. The imperatives of that account have never been rescinded and neither has the objective of man being in the image of God.

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).

Even though sin has marred the image and thorns and thistles plague our efforts to just wrest a living from the face of the ground we still have responsibilities toward creation.

It is also difficult for us to understand this because of the assumptions we have made about the nature of the Bible and how it operates to accomplish God’s purpose – how it is authoritative. Our idea of the Bible being primarily concerned with the salvation of man from sin so we can all go to heaven when we die is incomplete to say the least. It has limited our concept of ourselves, of God and his expectations for us and how he goes about achieving his purpose for our lives.

More tomorrow …

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