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!