“Christianity in 12 Words – New Testament Christianity” Series
Have you ever heard the expression "spittin’ image?" A person sees a new baby or a young child and says, "That baby is the spittin’ image of his (insert relation)." He is referring to the apparent visual likeness of the baby or child to whatever relative, most of the time a parent or grandparent. An example from my personal life comes to mind. My dad showed me a picture of two young boys that he had found. He pointed at one and asked if I knew who it was. I did not. It turned out to be my uncle and father when he was 6 or 7 years old. He then held up a picture of our second son, Benjamin, beside it. If it hadn’t been for the first one being black and white and the second in color you would have thought the two boys, my dad and my son, were the same, or identical twins. They were "spittin’ images" of each other. So many times in our lives we have a need for other types of images too. We want to save a breathtaking sunset, so we take a picture. If I wanted to keep this document here in a physical form I would print it out. I would want the printed version to look like this one on my computer screen. Exactly the same idea comes up when Warren and Jon put this into Expository Files (the July issue, then the book). How about when you look into a mirror? Don’t you want your image to reflect back at you? If it is not your image then we have the making of a horror story: NOT GOOD! Or a good laugh if it is the mirrors in the Fun House at the carnival.
You might also have heard the expressions "a chip off the old block," "like father, like son," or, as we find in Ezekiel 44, "like mother, like daughter." These don’t refer to the visual likeness so much, but speak to the same type of character or actions of the two people. (If the parent was liable to do dumb things the expression might be changed to "a chip off the old blockhead.") You know, both of these ways are used in the Scriptures, both Old and New Testaments. I would like us to explore these together and see if we can see how we as Christians today are images too. The real important thing to discover is images of "who" or "what." Let’s take a look into the Old Testament and see what we can discover.
Old Testament uses of "image"
There are many references in the Old Testament to images. Most of these refer to a pagan idol of some kind. These idols may have been formed from wood, stone or metal and may have had a visual likeness to an animal, a human or whatever the maker thought their imaginary deity looked like. In the book of Isaiah chapter 44, verses 19 and 20, we are told that these idols are cut from a piece of wood of which half had already been used to cook food and now the man is going to carve his non-existent god from the other half. The man does not understand that this is ludicrous (see also Is. 2:8). Habakkuk asks the question of these carvers and makers of idols, "What profit is an idol when its maker has shaped it, a metal image, a teacher of lies? (2:19a) There is no breath in it, so how can it talk? It can’t. These idol makers trust in something that they themselves formed into some kind of image. Crazy, isn’t it?
In the first part of Jeremiah chapter 10 we are told that an idol had to be carved. It was speechless and motionless until someone carried it to another locale. Not only did they have to be carried from one place to another but Isaiah 45:20 tells us that the people have no knowledge, who carry around these idols and keep praying to something that cannot save them.
Well, while they had a speechless, motionless idol formed by their own hands we have God.There are about 1700 times in the Scriptures where we are told that God speaks. In Jeremiah is an example that was not heeded by the Israelites very well. Jer 10:1 Hear the word that the LORD speaks to you, O house of Israel. Isaiah 45:22-25 tells that God alone can save. And, Jeremiah 10:16 tells us that He is NOT like those worthless works of delusion because he is not formed, but forms all things. How different is that?
There is one image God formed/created that is very important to us and that leads us to the next section in this article.
God formed man (Gen. 1:26-30)
Gen 1:26a Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.
We can look around us at all the many people that look so different and have a pretty good idea that when God made mankind in His image He was not speaking of the physical. The way image and likeness are used here have more to do with representation than a visual image. More the "like Father, like son" thing than the "spittin’ image." We can see that man is representative of God through at least 5 shared traits – personality, morality, rationality, emotionality and choice. Because of these shared traits we are capable of having fellowship with God. Also, we have laws to govern our actions and the choice to let them govern us or not. And, we can change our minds. The greatest mind change would be from following Satan to following God, yet we can also choose to go back to following Satan if we desire. These personality traits give us the capacity for worship, for loving God and serving each other.
Because God formed man in His image and likeness we should look at ourselves a little differently.WE ARE MADE IN THE IMAGE OF GOD! That should leave all kinds of feelings of awe in our minds. We should just walk around with our mouths open in wonder at what this great God has done for us. We exist in the image of God, in His likeness! No matter how good or bad we are those traits still apply to each one of us. Some of us humans actually put us lower than the animals. Can you imagine that? In their minds, we are what is wrong with this Earth, yet read what God did for us in Gen 1:28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth." The "them" spoken of here is mankind. We are not only different from the animals and plants that were created during those first 6 days but we are to have dominion over everything. God does have ultimate authority, but we were the ones told by Him to subdue the earth. He did not tell that to the "king of the jungle," but to us, the humans. We humans are the only ones made "in the image of God."
We, mankind, are called homo sapiens. This is Latin for "wise man." As a "wise man" we have the ability to think, to reason, to arrive at a conclusion. A good portion of that information that should be coming to us was mentioned earlier in Jeremiah 10:1 where we were told to hear the word of the Lord. Not all people take the same information and arrive at the same conclusion(s). Or, some do not care what God has to say and just ignore the word of the Lord so, of course, their conclusions are going to be different from the one God would like us all to come to, to follow Him. Romans 1:25 tells us that some, maybe many, exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator. It is easy to come to the wrong conclusion(s) when a person listens to the lies of Satan or his ministers as opposed to God and those who are spreading His word. Those who do hear the word of the Lord come to realize soon enough that they are not like Him. This should bring us to a desire to transform ourselves as much as we can into the image of God.
Transform ourselves into His image
Through the Gospels and up to Acts 11:26 those who followed Jesus and His teachings were called disciples. There are two parts to being a disciple. The first is that of a learner of the way of life taught by the Master. The second part is not just to learn it, but to live that way of life. A disciple shapes himself in the image of the Master. No one starts out from the very beginning instantly fully integrating the teachings of the Master into his life. It is a gradual process that is faster for some than others and easier for some than others, but nobody’s change is immediate.
For Christians, or disciples of Christ, we see that "He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature," (Heb. 1:3a). Jesus shows to us the nature of God. Colossians 1:15 tells us that Jesus is the image of the invisible God. And, in Romans 8:29 we have the word of God tell us that He wants us to be conformed into the image of His Son. II Cor. 4:4 tells us that Satan kept some from seeing Christ in the gospel message, but He is the image of God. And, in John 14:9, Jesus answers Philip who had asked for Jesus to show the apostles the Father. Jesus says in part, "Whoever has seen Me has seen the Father." So, part of what we need to do to make ourselves into the image of God is to understand Jesus and imitate Him to our greatest extent (I Cor. 11;1, I Th. 1:6). Peter tells us at least some ways we can imitate the Son. 1Pe 2:21-23 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. Jesus is our example. When tempted by the devil, what did He do? He resorted to Scripture. When reviled, what did he do? Again, he went to the Scriptures to defend Himself or announce Himself or tell them where they were wrong in their beliefs and/or assumptions. When threatened He could have brought down legions of angels, but did not because that was not the plan. He followed the plan that was in the Scriptures (Eph. 3:9). Can we do no less than to follow and resort to the Scriptures as the one who gave us the Scriptures did? How can we resort to the Scriptures except by testing, or examining those same Scriptures, to find out what the will of God is and in doing so being transformed into a new person that is holy and acceptable to God (Rom. 12:1, 2) We test ourselves and test the words of all our preachers and teachers (II Cor. 13:5, I Jn. 4:1), yes, even the words of our friends, to make sure we all are hearing the word of the Lord, not some philosophy of man, and then using it correctly. This will ensure that we are following the Creator not the creature. All of this ensures that we are transforming our character into the image of God.
I will not tell you that changing ourselves will be easy. For some it will be easier than others, just like shaking a bad habit is easier for some than others. But, it is still not easy. The New Testament writers sometimes describe the Christian and the changes in his life as the "new man." Paul writing to the Colossians and Ephesians uses this concept. If we are "new men," acceptable to God, then obviously there must have been an "old man" or "old self" that was unacceptable to God. We are told to put off the things of the old man that are not pleasing to God, those earthly things like sexual immorality, impurity, passions, evil desires, covetousness, anger, wrath, malice, slander, obscene talk and lying. If we take the time to compare the person who projects this "old man" or earthly image with that of Jesus shown earlier, in no way would we find a similar reflection. But these characteristics of the "old self" need to be erased out of our image as a Christian. Opposed to these we are told to add character traits that are much more like we would see in Christ, heavenly types of things: compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, bearing with one another, forgiving one another, loving one another, growing in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ (Col. 3, II Pet. 3:18). There is practical advice on how to live as a disciple of Christ in every Epistle whether it be to an individual or a church or a group of churches, in the Gospels, in the book of Acts and in the Revelation. We are told how to change our reflection so it does NOT look like some distorted fun house image of Christ, but a true reflection. Eph. 4:1 caps it all off when Paul encourages the Ephesian Christians to "walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called." Do you claim to be a Christian? Then live like a disciple of Christ is supposed to live! Put off the old self and put on the new man.
Sometimes imitating Christ might seem to be too lofty a goal. Or, we might believe that imitating the Master is lowering Him to our level. (Both of these would show a lack of knowledge of the Scriptures. We are told to imitate Him.) . Not a problem. Imitate an apostle (I Cor. 4:16, Ph. 3:17, I Th. 1:6, II Th. 3:7, 9). 1Co 11:1 Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ. Here is what Barnes says Paul meant by this phrase, "as I am of Christ:"
"I make Christ my example. He is my model in all things; and if you follow him, and follow me as far as I follow him, you will not err. This is the only safe example; and if we follow this, we can never go astray."
Paul certainly did not think it was wrong to try and imitate his Master. He was not perfect. He readily admits that he struggled in his life to make sure he did not fall after preaching to so many (I Cor. 9:27). Can we do less than to follow the beloved apostle’s example and imitate the Christ?
Now, again, if imitating an inspired apostle is maybe too high above us or too hard, then look to those Christians around you. Using Paul’s writings and that of the Hebrews writer we see them tell the brethren to look around and note those brothers and sisters in Christ that are walking as a disciple should and imitate their example (Ph. 3:17, I Th. 2:14, Heb. 3:7, 6:12, 13:7).
I did not write down everything that we need to put off in our lives nor did I enumerate all the traits to be increased or added to make ourselves into the image of our Master. A good suggestion would be to do like your English teacher told you all throughExpository Files 21.7 30
school. Have a notebook next to you as you read your Bible every day. As you come to a trait to put off, write it down. As you come to a trait that would be a positive reflection of Christ to add or increase in our lives, write it down. Work the lists; as fast as you can get rid of all the "old man" characteristics and add or put on all the Christ-like traits. "…Walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called."
You know, don’t you, that when all is said and done these are really just some specific ways to implement the two great commandments – "Love God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind" and "love your neighbor as yourself" (Mt. 22:37, 39)? Let’s take a look at some other practical applications of our being a reflection of the Master, Jesus Christ.
We mentioned earlier that if we are images of God then we will see ourselves differently. One way that this different thinking might manifest itself is how we look at suicide. A person might now, knowing he is made in the image of God and is working to transform himself into an accurate reflection of Christ, ask himself – How can I kill someone, ME, who God so wonderfully made? How can I put to death someone that has the opportunity to be a heavenly being (I Cor. 15:44, 52-54)? My understanding is that during the Cold War of the 1950’s and 60’s, many teens and early 20’s committed suicide because they felt nuclear war was coming and there was nothing to live for. WRONG! As Christians we do have something to live for. We have the hope of heaven promised to us by a God that does not lie. No matter how bad things get in our lives there is always the hope of heaven. Don’t have a job? There is hope. Limited food choices? There is hope. Do you have a dread disease or terrible injuries from an accident? There is hope. What about if nuclear war does come? No matter, there is hope.
How about the way we look at others? Should that be affected because we are made in the image and likeness of God? If we see them as brothers and sisters in Christ or possible brothers and sisters in Christ then there will not be a problem dealing with James 3:9. In this passage we are dealing with our use of the tongue and how it can be used to bless God and curse our fellow man. This should never happen to someone who is made in the likeness of God. If we see our neighbors, no matter how close or near they live to us, as being created in the image of God then we might ask ourselves some pretty important questions for any day and age. Will racism ever rear its ugly head between us? Will the amount of money a person has or doesn’t have separate us? Will national origins keep us apart? Peter learned a lesson from God in Acts chapter 10; verse 28 tells that he learned he should not call any person common or unclean. Galatians 3:28 tells the Christians that it does not matter what their previous condition was, they are all one in Christ. They are ALL just Christians.
Along with these new ways of looking at the people around us take a look at these thoughts too. If we all could see people as being made in the image of Christ then there would be no more child abuse or spousal abuse or parental abuse. There would be no adultery or stealing or murder or lying or coveting our neighbor’s possessions or wife. There would be no problem with revenge or just being cruel to people. If we saw all people as being made in the image of God there would not be a problem with being our brother’s keeper, now would there? If we saw all as being made in the image of God there would not be the need for a law called Roe v. Wade because a mother would not even let the thought enter her mind to have an abortion.
If this new way of looking at the world prevailed, then courtesy would be the rule instead of the exception. Pride and arrogance and the multitudes of sins they bring with them would be nonexistent. Humility would reign because there would be a desire to be exalted by God instead of a desire to tell Him to leave us alone (I Pet. 5:6).
There was an incident related to me while I was student teaching about a young elementary school age child sent to the principal’s office for using foul language. The mother was called in to conference about this. As soon as she was told what the problem was she turned to the child and started rattling off all kinds of bad language at the child. Apparently the "apple had not fallen far from that tree." The child had imitated the parent’s bad example too well. We have been given many great examples to follow and imitate from our fellow brethren and elders, to the apostles, to Jesus Christ Himself. Let us imitate thesepositive examples much, much better than the young child had imitated his momma’s bad example. Let’s use these examples from the New Testament, as well as, the many fine examples of faithful followers of God given to us in the Old Testament to transform ourselves into a pleasing aroma to the Father. We have one more example to emulate, the ultimate example; emulate it well. Eph 5:1 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.
By Mike Stubbs From Expository Files 21.7; July 2014