Monday, November 22, 2010

I am a Priest

Peter declares in 1 Peter 2:9 that one of the identities of the follower of Christ is as a priest. In the Old Testament the priestly role was a unique position between the holy and the common. Priests represented God's will to the community and represented the community before God.  Because of the Fall (sin), fallen image-bearers could not relate directly to God. They needed the priests to intercede on their behalf. This was the privilege and the responsibility of being a priest. The highest privilege and responsibility was left to the High Priest to enter the Holy of Holies on behalf of the people. This was the inner sanctuary that was marked off by a heavy duty curtain. Not just anyone was allowed in. It was where God's holiness dwelled. Once a year the High Priest could go in on behalf of the people but it required the High Priest to go through a lot of preparation so that they could be pure enough to meet with God.  God's presence was not a place where just anyone could go. 

But with Jesus, everything changed. Jesus came so that we did not need other people to be the go-between between us and God. When Jesus died a dramatic thing happened. The curtain the separated the common from the holy was torn in two (Matthew 27:51). No longer did humanity need other human beings to intercede on their behalf before God. The writer of Hebrews makes note of the new relationship that exists now when he writes,
Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. (Hebrews 10:19-22)
As followers of Christ we have an access to God that was previously unavailable.  We are as priests who bridged the gap between the common and the divine. In fact as people who have been granted access to God, we become God’s representatives, his renewed image-bearers, to the world around us. Because of the work of Christ on the cross, we have the ability to commune with God personally and without barrier. Part of who we are is as priests.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

I am a new creation

Have you ever met someone who doesn't like who they are? They may appear confident but at the end of the day, in those moments before sleep over takes them, they just can't stand to be alone with their thoughts. Or maybe the person who is coming to mind has self-destructive tendencies. Maybe they wish they could just start all over. Maybe this person is you. Unfortunately many people don't like who they are and who they are becoming. But they feel stuck, powerless to do anything about it. 

But the Bible says that it doesn't have to be this way. In fact it wasn't supposed to be this way. We were made in God's image to be defined by him. Instead, because of sin, we have tried to define ourselves in other ways that have left us feeling empty, dissatisfied, broken and stuck. When we try find meaning/happiness through relationships, sex, substances, material possessions, wealth, skills and other things, it may briefly give us a feeling that we matter, but really this is a mask. It doesn't help that deep longing inside us. Instead the Bible calls us to have the image of God inside of us cleaned up and made new again. This is the new life that we can have through Jesus.

 In 2 Corinthians 5:17-29, the Apostle Paul writes of this new life in terms of being made a “new creation” through Christ Jesus. As followers of Christ our lives are made new. The old life, the image that has been marred by sin, is put away as God is working to reconcile the world to himself through Christ Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:19). In Ephesians 4:20-24, Paul again writes about being made new. On the basis of what God has done in Christ is a new identity which is to be put on.  This new identity is to be like God in righteousness and holiness – a renewal of the divine image.  

This is the hope for us as fallen image bearers. That the image of God that is within us is redeemable and that a new identity is available to us through Jesus. Who we are as sinners is not who we have to be. God wants to change us. He wants to give us a new life that is characterized by love, joy and peace. He wants to take away that old life that makes us feel empty and stuck. Through Christ you can be a new creation!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

I am a child of God

As has already been mentioned in my last posting, the image of God is the key way of defining the individual’s worth and significance. The divine image is given to all of humanity, regardless of religious persuasion. At the core of each person lies the fact that they matter to God for they carry within them his image. But sin disfigures the divine image that is in each of us, meaning that while we have worth, the image needs to be redeemed. The redemption process gives further definition to the individual’s significance. Indeed it redefines us. In John’s gospel, John writes “Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God...” (John 1:12). Here John presents a new reality for those who put their faith in Jesus as a child of God.  This implies the concept of adoption which Paul picks up in Romans 8:14-17 and in Galatians 3:23-4:7. In the Romans text Paul informs us that our adoption into God’s family brings a renewed intimacy with God the Father (8:15) and makes us heirs with Christ (8:17). In Galatians Paul emphasizes our change in status. Where we were once slaves, alienated from God, through Christ we have been brought into God’s family. 

For some, the imagery of adoption brings up thoughts of being unwanted as we may have had negative experiences with the human adoption experience. But I challenge us to think about adoption in other terms - as being wanted so much that another person goes out of their way to bring a child into their family. Personally I think that adoption is a beautiful action that shows deep love and redemption as a child who had nothing is given a family, a home, love and a new life. It is a life changing event. This is what the Bible tells us happens to us when we put our faith in Jesus. Our lives change! 

In 1 John 3:1, John picks up on this theme of being God’s children as he marvels at the present status of believers as God’s children. John speaks of the lavish love of God like a gift that is to be received. The reality of God's love is that he sent his son to die so that we may have new, and eternal, life. Through Christ everything changes - we move from being alienated from God to having the status of his child,  from being an outsider who doesn't belong to finding our place in God's family, from being old and tired to being made into  a new person who has purpose, from having no hope to having hope. 

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! ~ 1 John 3:1a

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Image of God

I believe that the foundational Biblical doctrine that needs to be considered when we try to answer the question "who am i?" is that of the image of God. No other doctrine more fully explains our identity and nature as human beings. Specifically with regards to identity, this doctrine is foundational in helping the individual understand their value and place in creation as well as whom we are created to be in relationship to God and to each other.

The logical place to begin in understanding of the image of God is in Genesis chapter one. It is here that the reader is first confronted with the reality that humanity has a unique place in God’s creation. The text sets human life apart from the creation of other aspects of creation. In contrast to the creation of vegetation, birds and animals that were all created according to their kind, the text presents the intentional divine initiative to create humanity in a different way.

The God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created human beings in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.(Genesis 1:23-26)

Here the creation of humanity is presented as being a deliberate and personal decision by God. Up until this point each act of creation had been marked by the impersonal statement “let there be” (or its equivalent). But with humanity God speaks in more personal terms and says “Let us make human beings...” The divine decision to create humanity is declared as a personal decision which emphasizes humanity’s special place within creation.

The pattern in which humanity is created is the divine image. This is a unique humanity and  sets humankind apart - no other part of creation is given the distinction of being image-bearers of God. Being made in the image of God is not about physically looking like God nor is it being a duplicate of God. Rather being made in the image of God describes the idea of representation. It refers to the reality that in the whole of our beings that we are somehow like God. Some have suggested that the term refers to human life as a reflection of God’s spiritual nature. Consequently,t “humans have spiritual life, ethical and moral sensitivities, conscience, and the capacity to represent God.” 

God’s unique creation of humanity is further underscored in Genesis 2:7 where the formation of man is described in detail. The description of God forming Adam out of the dust of the earth is the language of a potter creating out of clay. This imagery further depicts the deliberate nature of humanity’s creation and also conveys a sense of artistry and personal touch that is not described with regards to any other aspect of creation in Genesis. In addition, the image-bearer of God is brought to life through the breath of God.  This act is a warm and loving act. It is a life giving intimacy as God gave of himself to bring life to Adam. But this breath is more than the breath that the animals breathe. It is the nature of God himself! One author, Allen P. Ross, points out that this breath is more than the breath of animation but that it also brings spiritual understanding and a functioning conscience.

The image of God is marred on account of sin in Genesis 3; where once communion with God was uninhibited, sin brought alienation and conflict. But the introduction of sin does not eliminate the image of God in humanity. In fact in Genesis 5:1-3, in the genealogy of Adam, the author repeats the fact that Adam was created in God’s likeness by God. The Fall did not destroy the image of God. The image of God continues through the family line so that all is given the breath of God and his image. Later, in his covenant with Noah, God appeals to the divine image as the reason for the strict punishment in the case of murder: “Whoever sheds human blood, by human beings shall their blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made humankind.” (Genesis 9:6). The narrator is suggesting that being made in the image of God gives human life special dignity and worth. This reality can be further seen in God’s vehement protection of human dignity and worth as God prohibits murder, adultery and other injustices throughout the Law. God does not stand for the defacing of his image by one human being towards another. The New Testament continues in this understanding in James draws on the humanity’s being in the image of God as an ethical basis of controlling ones tongue: “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness.” (James 3:9).

The apostle Paul takes the concept of the divine image and applies to Christ. According to Paul in 2 Corinthians 4, Jesus is the ultimate image of God. This point of reference allows Paul to include all believers to be considered being in the image of God. Paul points out that believers are being transformed into the image of Christ so that the believers life can reflect Christ’s glory (2 Corinthians 3:18). He encourages his readers to put on “the new self” which is to be created like God (Ephesians 4:24) and to be renewed in the image of the Creator (Colossians 3:9-10). For Paul, the image of God is made perfect in Jesus Christ. Where the divine image has been defaced by sin and is barely a shadow of its former self, Christ restores the image in the believer. The reality is that this image, while it is partially restored in this life through Christ, still only points us forward to a completely renewed image upon Christ’s final return.

The implications of the  image of God on who we are is important. First, in general terms, all people are created in the image of God. This means that every human being has been created with intentionality and care. This gives meaning and significance to the individual. We each matter to God.  Secondly, human beings have been created with purpose. God created us to rule the earth, but to more importantly have fellowship with him. God made us spiritual, relational beings so that we could have intimate communion with him. This is made possible through the work of Jesus Christ who redeems in us the divine image which has been marred by sin. Thirdly, being made in the image of God means that we need to be in community with others.  As the church is the body of Christ here on earth, the perfect expression of God’s divine image is found in relationship with other people who are being transformed by the Holy Spirit into the image of Christ Jesus (i.e. the church).