Divide the Image

Personal Matters

REFLECTIONS ON THE REAL ISSUE OF CHURCH UNITY.

We are already separated over prosperity, baptism, the Sabbath, the Pope etc., now Satan is using same sex marriage to divide the Church. To a fractured Corinthian congregation Paul appeals, “Is Christ divided?” (1 Cor 1:13). Of course not!

But to look at the Bride, called to be the likeness of her Bridegroom who is the full Image of God, no one would know this (2 Cor 4:4; Col 1:15). This situation is a disaster for the ministry of the people of God in a broken world. How can a splintered Church, for instance, speak into the lives of the escalating number of young people, so divided against themselves that they are committing suicide in record numbers (cf. Matt 12:25).

The call to Christian unity has deep spiritual implications. I was in a breakfast meeting the other day where a Pentecostal pastor and a Uniting minister at our table differed amicably over same-sex marriage. How would they publically stand together if the state prosecuted one of them for his religious views; or is division simply necessary to highlight those who enjoy God’s approval (1 Cor 11:18-19)?

To understand what is at stake in situations like these we must return to the creation story.

Recognised Image

“Then God said, vs.26 “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness… vs.27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. vs.28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion”” (Gen 1:26-28).

The plural “let us” of divine speech, whether an agreement within the Trinity or a dialogue between the LORD and his angels, shows that the original glory which humanity is meant to image is an undivided and fully shared glory. The plurality of P/persons involved in creating humanity is in perfect unity.

This undivided glory was imparted in the beginning to the original image of humanity as man-woman = husband-wife = God’s people in Eden.

A clear sign of this unbroken image was Adam’s response to the forming of Eve; ““This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh;” (Gen 2:23).

As parents are recognised in their newborn babies, “He/she looks just like his/her mum/dad.”, so Adam recognised himself in Eve and this gave him great joy. Such joyful recognition was an essential part of the “one flesh” of marriage (Gen 2:24).

The power of image-recognition continues down the ages; e.g. “Adam…fathered a son in his own likeness, after his image…Seth.” (Gen 5:3).

If the undivided image of God in humanity had never split the earth would have been “filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.” (Hab 2:14). Satan’s strategy in Eden was to prevent the greater glory of God.

Dividing the Image

The devilish suggestion, “you will be/become like God knowing good and evil” subtly implies that because Eve lacks the full knowledge of good and evil she cannot be in the true divine likeness (Gen 3:5).

It seemed like the limited knowledge of good and evil she had about the tree was evidence that God, who knows all about good and evil, cannot recognise his complete image in her. Satan implies that if the Creator had wanted his full image to be in humanity he would have had joy in sharing with them all his knowledge from the beginning. Surpassing God, Satan offers humanity knowledge of good and evil equal to the LORD’s.

This would initiate Eve and Adam into a moral dominion denied them in God’s original plan (Gen 1:28). They would share in the measure of the glory of God without God.

However instead of finding moral greatness they lost God’s glorious presence and were plunged into shame (Gen 3:7; Rom 3:23). They now knew they were not in the likeness of the Lord. With his Word no longer abiding in them God could no longer recognise his pure image in humanity as his delightful likeness (Prov 8:30-31).

The unity of God and his image had been divided. This fragmented all other relationships; the snake became a beast perpetually at war with those made to be his masters,

Adam speaks of the woman as if she were a burden rather than a joy and she is told her husband will rule over her; death will be the final division spoiling everything (Gen 3:14-19).

From now on every argument, in marriages, families, churches, between nations etc. is a form of; “You should be like me in your thinking and behaving” i.e. you should be in my image and likeness. We cannot stop taking the place of God.

One

Jesus is different from us for as abiding Word of God he always sees how the Father sees him. Since the Father has “given all things into his hands” and given him the “Spirit without measure” Christ rejoices in the Father’s recognition of his Sonship (Luke 10:21-22; John 3:34; 13:3).

Testifying, ““I and the Father are one””, Jesus knows he is the express image of God dwelling in undivided glory with the Lord (John 10:30). Unlike us, when Jesus calls others to be like him his conscience is completely clear, for he points to himself as the one who points to the Father as his ultimate reference point; ““the one who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and in him there is no falsehood.”” (John 7:18).

For the sake of lost sinners the cross is the place where Jesus must lose the joy of being recognised in the image and likeness of his Father. Taking on “the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering” it is as if the Father has no pleasure in his Son making him feel utterly “forsaken” (Mark 15:34; Rom 8:3; 2 Cor 5:21).

The resurrection reverses all this, “declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness” Jesus is now the undivided “radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” (Rom 1:4; Heb 1:3). To share and reflect this glorious divine unity is the essential nature of the Church (John 17:22).

Is Christ Divided?

The multiple divisions in the Church arise when we seek to make God in our own image and likeness, and then want other Christians to be like us! Tragically, many modern forms of comfortable Western Christianity desire to return to the image of God in Eden rather than in Christ.

This is to deny the power of the gospel for now the true Image of God, Christ, is the likeness of a suffering  as well as manifestly glorious human being. The new dominion of humanity over all things is a rule in Christ exercised through sacrifice for the sake of others.

The expression of the image of God which is the essential nature of the Church will remain radically incomplete in the eyes of the world until we lay down our lives for one another (John 17:21; 1 John 3:16).

Conclusion

There will always be Christians whose views on predestination, baptism, speaking in tongues, prosperity, politics, Mary, Sabbath and same-sex marriage are different from (y)ours.

There is only one way forward to witness the restoration of the manifestation of the true image of God in the Church; “Above all, love one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.” (1 Pet 4:8). Such love does not exclude discussion, debate and correction but it must be free from every assertion or accusation that the other party in the dialogue is responsible for the divided image and should think and act like us.

It is Christ alone to whom we must all conform and we must never shrink from pointing others to him as, “the express image of God’s person” (Heb 1:3).

MESSAGE DELIVERED: 08, April 2017 | Location Unknown

Author: Dr. John Yates


MESSAGE PODCAST: 08, April 2017 |   


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