Where the essence & essentials…
of discipleship, worship, & walking-worthy…
meet & commune…
a dance of Holy Love.
Where the essence & essentials…
of discipleship, worship, & walking-worthy…
meet & commune…
a dance of Holy Love.
Current events continue to emphasize for me something that I believe will introduce this topic well. As a Christian, have you ever found yourself excoriated and attacked for speaking the Word or proclaiming the Gospel? Or, perhaps it was that you acted or spoke with malice or resentment in your heart toward someone with a particular sin that was more offensive that you could tolerate. As a sinner, did you ever find yourself ill-at-ease, uncomfortable, or just down-right seething with anger in the presence of some holier-than-thou, self-righteous, do-gooder Christian?
Consider this …
A Christian need never be condemning of a sinner — indeed, we are warned strictly against such behavior. Rather — in their unbelief and by their own words, thoughts, and deeds — sinners are already condemned. Because God has faithfully and graciously revealed Himself throughout all of creation, through His Word, and by His prophets, the convicting work of His Holy Spirit is perfectly sure and effectual.
Yet, the claim frequently made by sinners is that Christians are always condemning them — yet, strangely enough, not necessarily because a Christian in any way spoke or acted to condemn them. By a Christian teaching Scripture or proclaiming the Gospel — or, even simply by the mere presence of a Christian, the work of the Holy Spirit is made more evident. The Christian is simply being the salt and light that the Lord Jesus has called them to be. Rather, what the sinner is seeking, is for the Christian to condone their sin, Even if the whole of Christendom were to condone their sin, these poor sinners would sense no less condemnation. There is an inherent condemnation in sin — a guilt that cries out for some sort of resolution — the reconciliation of the soul knows is broken. You see, sin separates us from the only One by Whom there is forgiveness and redemption — Divine separation anxiety … it can’t get any worse than that! This is something so deeply rooted in us that it can never be humanly resolved. Sin violates the very image in which we were created — the image of God.
Let’s explore this idea here — this image we bear.
15 Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle him in his words. 16 And they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone’s opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances. 17 Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” 18 But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? 19 Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. 20 And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness [image] and inscription is this?” 21 They said, “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” 22 When they heard it, they marveled. And they left him and went away.
Now, as you may have noticed, our money doesn’t bear the image of Ceasar — rather, it declares “in God we trust” … while bearing the images of any number of historically or politically significant people. For decades, we have pledged allegiance to the flag of our nation “under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” But, if anything, the past century or so has proven quite thoroughly that neither the words on our money nor those proclaimed in our pledge can make this a Christian nation … we are so far removed from that. Unborn babies murdered by the millions and many sold for body parts… rampant and flagrant immorality, no longer in shame, but celebrated publicly… Our national image is horribly corrupt.
When it comes to marketing, politics, public relations, and such, it’s not surprising at all to hear the phrase, “Image is everything.” In all my years of managing risk — regardless of industry, whether healthcare, finance, manufacturing, etc. — there is a particular form of risk that organizational leaders are keenly aware of … the risk of damage to their reputation. Their image matters to them greatly. They will make decisions about where to spend their money and who is allowed to speak publicly on their behalf and what verbiage is acceptable and appropriate — all this and more … all relative to projecting and protecting their image. Image and reputation are inextricably and unavoidably linked to one another.
But how did this all get started? Where did it all begin? Well, I’m glad you asked.
In the beginning, “God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” (Ge. 1:26) Isn’t it fascinating, even shocking, that God would take the risk of allowing His image to be embedded within and projected by mere mortal beings? By our very nature, designed in the image of the Divine, we are given the ability to will — to choose for ourselves. Mankind was given the freedom even to choose wrongly and in doing so to horribly damage God’s reputation … and, unfortunately, that is exactly what happened. Ever since that time, people have looked at other people — especially other people who claim to serve and know God — and blamed God for those who have so poorly born His image.
In Matthew 22, we read of the religious leaders coming to again attempt to trick Jesus — ironically enough, to try to get Him to damage His own image and reputation. Andrew Murray, in his work “With Christ in the School of Prayer,” reflects on this passage:
`WHOSE is this image?’ It was by this question that Jesus foiled His enemies, when they thought to take Him, and settled the matter of duty in regard to the tribute. The question and the principle it involves are of universal application. Nowhere more truly than in man himself. The image he bears decides his destiny. Bearing God’s image, he belongs to God: prayer to God is what he was created for.
Take note — Image decides destiny.
Now, we’re not talking about anything quite so shallow as some contrived facade — something you can put on and take off as needed. For we know, just as God told Samuel, “the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.”
(1 Sa 16:7)
In the world, we see how that concept of image is corrupted and perverted into an obsession with self and outward appearances. We see the entire human race reflecting something that, more often than not, bears very little resemblance to a God of Holy Love. We witness valiant human efforts to overcome the inherent flaws that are so readily apparent. Self-improvement spawns industry after industry … whether physical or emotional or spiritual self-improvement — from exercise programs to diet supplements to brain training to counseling and meditation. And don’t get me wrong, some of these are valid and do have their place. Some efforts are more successful than others. Some people just try harder. Some are simply gifted with upbringing or personality that is more disciplined or of better moral character. But others are discouraged, deceived, ignorant, foolish — or, as Paul said to the Thessalonians, some are even under delusion from God Himself because they’ve rejected the Truth they were given. (2 Th. 2:9-12)
In ourselves, we may perseveringly give it all our very best — or, give up entirely and live only unto ourselves. Either way, we remain desperately devoid of the one thing — the only thing — that will ever save us from ourselves … to be born again, restored to the image of God Incarnate — Jesus the God-man who gave His life’s blood on the cross, taking our sin and shame upon Himself — yes, bearing our corrupted, debased image.
Listen to how the Apostle Paul expresses this throughout his letters to the churches …
To the Ephesians:
17 Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. 18 They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. 19 They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. 20 But that is not the way you learned Christ!— 21 assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, 22 to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness [image] of God in true righteousness and holiness.
To the Colossians:
3 If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
5 Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. 6 On account of these the wrath of God is coming. 7 In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. 8 But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. 9 Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.
To the Corinthians:
45 Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. 46 But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. 47 The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. 48 As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. 49 Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.
(1 Co 15:45–49)
To the Philippians:
For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.
We who are in Christ have a tremendous responsibility — and that responsibility is sustained by a glorious and blessed hope! We can live abundantly today in the victory that Jesus secured by His precious blood. As we are faithful, we can know that Holy Love fills and cleanses us and overflows to the benefit of all those everyday whom God grants us the privilege of exhorting and encouraging and teaching and blessing. And we know that great and glorious day of the return of our Lord and King is drawing ever nearer when we will be restored perfectly into His image!
If you are not in Christ, you know just how deeply and greatly you need to be born again. I pray the Holy Spirit of God will move with mighty convicting power to draw you unto Himself and that you will humbly confess and repent and be restored. Don’t let Divine separation-anxiety be the ruination of your brief time here on earth and lead you to eternal death.
So, let me ask you: Whose image do you bear?
Remember, the image you bear decides your destiny!
Everyone is seeking something. It’s what we do. Let’s think of this perhaps in synonymous terms: seeking, pursuing, desiring, longing, hungering, chasing, wanting. These all require an investment of who we are—our resources—our time and money—our energy—even our very breath. Whether in the material/physical or emotional sense, these efforts can range from the bare essentials of life to the most extravagant expenditures. Yet, we all have a need for something that is much, much deeper—much more essential than any physical or emotional need—that of the spirit. Ever since Adam and Eve broke the perfect relationship, fellowship, and communion that they had in worshiping and enjoying the Creator, the human race has been plagued with what A.W. Tozer terms “spiritual amnesia”. We don’t know the who or what or why or how or where or when of our existence. Unless and until this need is recognized and responded to, we are nothing more than the living dead. In Matt 6:25-34, we see Jesus present in simple terms the anxiety that arises from being misguided in that which we seek. We are not to be anxious about what we’ll eat or drink or wear. Rather, we must “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” … but, what does that mean? What does that look like in real life?
First of all, Jesus identifies the audience herein whom He knows can receive this truth—“your heavenly Father knows”. If you’re still among the living dead, this teaching won’t resonate with you. Remember Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews, who came to learn from Jesus in secret. Nicodemus seems to speak to Jesus with a sort of consternation—recognizing Jesus mighty works, yet unable to understand Who Jesus is.
3 Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” 5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’
In the new birth, the re-birth of our spirit, we enter back into a right relationship with the Divine—the relationship Adam and Eve broke. Paul describes this to the Romans:
you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God,
If you have not been born-again … If your heart doesn’t cry out, “Abba! Father!” … please, don’t hesitate to confess and repent of your sin and be born-again into the life of Jesus today.
And that is only the beginning! Now, “seeking the kingdom of God and His righteousness” is personal. It begins to make sense in the light of Who my Father is. Yet, within me there is often a lingering conflict. The Spirit of God within me that bears witness to my adoption can feel like a foreign invader. The ambassador of kingdom of God is within me. He is Holy! Yet everything within me is so much less than Holy and so much a part of my very nature. Paul cries out, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Rom 7:24) The agony of knowing that Love Who has found us, redeemed us, and begun a good work in us, at the same time—by His presence indwelling us—reveals everything in us that is not of love.
The writer of Hebrews exhorts us to “Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” (Heb 12:14) Can we ever be free or are we left to live out our days on earth in this awkward bondage with an ever increasing knowledge of Holiness that increasingly exposes our unholiness?
Mildred Wynkoop [a theologian and evangelist to Japan in the 1960’s] has illustrated this by asking [us] to imagine [ourselves] as suffering from defective kidneys and the only hope of surviving is to go to kidney dialysis several times a week. If your kidneys don’t work, there is no hope in yourself; your blood supply is self-polluting. The only hope lies outside yourself. You must be attached periodically to a machine to cleanse your blood. But suppose you could avoid the tiresome trip several times a week for dialysis. Suppose you could be attached somehow to a healthy friend, so that your friend’s kidneys could cleanse your own self-polluting blood. Suppose that this friend was willing to be connected to you. As long as you stayed connected to this friend and walked step by step, your friend would insure a continuing perfection of your blood supply. Would you do this if it were your only hope in living? If you did, you’d have to develop an entirely different lifestyle wouldn’t you? You’d have to go everywhere your friend went.
(Drury, Keith (2009-05-01). Holiness for Ordinary People 25th Anniversary Edition (Kindle Locations 1815-1823). Wesleyan Publishing House. Kindle Edition.)
You see the picture that begins to appear. We have an active role to take in decisively choosing holiness and purity of heart. Paul exhorts the Corinthians to consider that they, as temples of the living God, must seek purity. “Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.” (2 Cor 7:1) You ask, but how am I to cleanse myself?
The sanctification of God’s people, the Body of Christ, is imperative–and essential to that process is God’s Word. In Paul’s instruction to the Ephesians on marriage (5:25-27) he draws the parallel of the profound mystery of our marriage to Christ. Just as a bride would go through a prenuptial ritual of washing which became known in Judaism as her sanctification, so we, as the Bride of Christ, are “cleansed … with the washing of water by the word” as Jesus, by His Spirit, makes us ready for His great wedding feast!
We must immerse ourselves continually in the living Word. We must read and search and study and meditate upon the written Word. Not only did we receive the Holy Spirit at our new birth, we must seek and receive the Holy Spirit of the living Word again and again in new and fresh fullness and anointing. “When asked why he constantly spoke about being filled with the Spirit, Dwight L. Moody responded succinctly, “I leak.” We all leak.”
(Drury, Keith (2009-05-01). Holiness for Ordinary People 25th Anniversary Edition (Kindle Locations 1800-1801). Wesleyan Publishing House. Kindle Edition.)
But my brothers and sisters, be assured and comforted—we are not abandoned to our own feeble resources. The same Spirit Who indwells, empowers. For He is the Spirit of the living God Who seeks and desires that we be restored to that for which we were created. Jesus said, “the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.” (John 4:23) If we doubt in any way our Father’s willingness and desire, hear the words of Paul to the Thessalonians. 23 Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it. (1 Thess. 5:23-24)