How the Doctrine of the Image of God Changed My Life

Growing up in a Presbyterian family, it was always assumed that theology was important for me to know. Some of my earliest memories are of my dad doing extended Bible lessons on Sunday afternoons and my mom teaching Bible stories and children’s catechism using flannelgraph during the week. There was one lesson in particular that we repeated several times about being made in God’s image. The doctrine of the image of God—in Latin Imago Dei—originates in Genesis 1:27, which states that God made humans, male and female, in His image—His likeness.

Starting in first grade, I had the privilege of attending a Christian school where I lived in Davao, Philippines. Each year we studied the Bible, worldview, apologetics, or theology. My teachers, like my parents, assumed that it was the most natural thing in the world for me to learn about my faith—that biblical knowledge and good theology was important for all people. I generally was quite interested in my Bible classes, sometimes doing research on my own and enjoying in-class debates and projects.

When I got to college in South Carolina, the strong foundation built by parents, teachers, and my own study served me well in my pursuit of degrees in Bible and early childhood education. In one of my classes on education, we spoke of our future students as being image-bearers and the implications that had. Students had an intellect, were capable of learning, were relational, and had immeasurable potential. We ourselves, as image-bearers, were to reflect God’s character and steward our responsibilities by treating our students well, even when they posed educational or behavioral challenges.

However, after I finished college, instead of becoming a teacher, I became mostly-housebound due to chronic illness. My intense physical suffering was concurrent with a growing awareness of some of the great evil believed and practiced within the Christian community and the immense damage this caused; together, these two things shook my faith, making it difficult to listen to sermons, read my Bible, or participate in corporate prayer.

By this time, I was living in Mississippi and starting to learn about the realities of racism. As part of this, I listened to a few episodes of a podcast called Pass the Mic. Though mostly engaging topics related to race relations in the United States, biblical anthropology and emotionally-healthy spirituality were frequent topics as well. I remember crying as I realized there were indeed Christians teaching that lament over evil and pain was an important part of the Christian life, things don’t always turn out to have a happy ending, and it’s okay to take trauma seriously.

In one podcast, Mr. Jemar Tisby asserted that aside from beliefs about God and salvation, believing in the image of God is the most important doctrine in Christianity and that its implications were enormous and far-reaching. I couldn’t stop thinking about this for weeks! Now, years later, it continues to have a profound impact on my thinking and life.

But what does it mean for humans to be made in the image of God? Much has been written on the topic, but here is a summary. Humans are like God in some limited ways, including being rational beings, having moral agency, and being relational. Humans are also God’s viceroys on Earth, here to steward the natural world for God’s glory. Likewise, though all of God’s creation is precious and valuable, humans have a special place of honor and value; only they bear God’s image.

In Psalm 8, King David hyperbolically writes of humans as being made “a little lower than God,” describing them as being crowned with glory and majesty, made to rule over all of God’s works:

When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers,
The moon and the stars, which You have ordained;
What is man that You take thought of him,
And the son of man that You care for him?
Yet You have made him a little lower than God,
And You crown him with glory and majesty! (Psalm 8:3-5)

(I’ll briefly note that in Hebrews 2, we learn that this Psalm is also prophetic, pointing to Christ as the ultimate human to whom God subjected all things and crowned with glory and honor. This “image of Christ” in salvation is an important doctrinal development upon the image of God doctrine of creation.)

To summarize, being made in the image of God means 1) that humans are like God in some ways, 2) that humans are to act to fulfill God’s purposes on Earth, 3) and that humans have immense and intrinsic worth. This doctrine makes a huge impact on the Christian understanding of anthropology—the study of man.

One caveat: as humans, we are image-bearers, but we are not just image bears. We are also sinners, both in our nature and in our behavior. This has marred, though not erased, God’s image in us. Some humans, in addition to being image-bearers and sinners, are also saints; this is how the New Testament writers describe all those who are in Christ by faith. Saints, by the power of new life through the Spirit, are empowered to grow in Christlikeness, progressively growing in reflecting God’s original design for image-bearers. As Romans 8:29 says, “For those whom he foreknew, he also predestined to become conformed to the image of his Son.” (See also Colossians 3:10.)

Meditating on the doctrine of the image of God has shaped many of my beliefs, convictions, passions, and behaviors over the past few years. For example, it gave theological validation for calling out and grieving the profound evil of race-based chattel slavery, rape, and murder. Furthermore, it buttressed my calls for justice to be done in the face of evil done to image-bearers (because evil done to those who bear God’s image is very serious). However, in my pursuit of justice, believing in the image of God also undercut thoughts of revenge, because even humans who perpetrate great evil deserve to have their humanity respected.

This doctrine impacted me in other ways too. It gave words to my concerns about how some New Calvinists emphasize the sinfulness of humans almost to the exclusion of acknowledging the image of God in humans. It gave me joy in seeing how much humans can achieve. Simultaneously, it assured me that though my health struggles limited my productivity, my value as a human was not diminished. It encouraged me to have an accurate view of myself, one that was neither too high nor too low.

It gave me the clarity to say that one of the reasons pornography and abortion are wrong is that they both exploit image bearers for the sake of another’s sexual gratification. It made me more compassionate towards animals, feeling responsible to care for them as I am able. It made me passionate in proclaiming that more important than people respecting a leader’s authority are leaders respecting other’s humanity. It meant that all human life has value, even if young, old, or disabled. It gave me a framework for learning from, honoring the accomplishments of, and seeing the good in those who hold differing beliefs than I do. It renewed my belief that the Christian’s roles in work, society, and culture are good because they reflect aspects of who God is and how he works in the universe. It provided a litmus test for myself as I sought to think of each person first as an image-bearer, whatever else they might also be.

I continue to suffer from health struggles and to grieve over many things, but most days, I feel more at peace with myself, with God, with his church, and in society. Correctly understanding doctrines such as the image of God has made a practical difference in my life. It has provided a foundation and guidebook for navigating the complexities, evils, joys, and sorrows of life. It is often a weary and weighty task, yet I am immensely thankful for God’s truth as an anchor for my soul.

I am grateful that he has revealed his truth to us in his word. I am grateful for the people throughout my life who have taught me good theology. And I’m thankful for the Holy Spirit, who continues to apply God’s truth to my life, forming my mind, heart, and actions to be further in accordance with his will.

So let us press on to know and serve the Lord and to equip others to better know and serve him. And let us rejoice in the honor of being made in God’s likeness, taking seriously his call upon our lives, and treating others as the valuable masterpieces that they are.

(Special thanks to Joshua Torrey for helping me edit this article and for sharing a portion of it on the Torrey Gazette.)

Jesus: The Ultimate Example of Biblical Manhood?

The question was first posed when I read a Twitter thread asking questions about biblical manhood and womanhood, particularly as relates to being like Jesus. Soon afterwards, I heard someone assert that Jesus is the ultimate example biblical manhood. And these things got me thinking…

Christians are called to follow the example of Christ in some ways. We are not God and we are not called to die to save humanity from sin, but we are called to Christlikeness. In 1 Corinthians 11:1, the apostle Paul says, “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.” And again, Romans 8:29 says, “For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son.”

In some ways, it makes sense to say that Jesus could be described as the ultimate example of biblical manhood: Jesus was, of course, the perfect human, and he was a man. Thus it seems reasonable to tell men to follow the example of Christ as a way to live out their maleness in a healthy and holy way.

However, there are at least two potential problems. First, nowhere in the Bible are men in particular called to emulate the example of Christ as an example of godly masculinity. That doesn’t necessarily mean that it is wrong to do so, but it’s important to note that the Bible itself does not make this call. Second, if men are to follow Christ’s example as the ultimate example of biblical masculinity, then who are women to look to as the ultimate example of biblical femininity? To ask it in a different way, if women follow Christ, will they not be walking in obedience? Are women to follow Christ only in some ways?

I don’t have answers to these questions (yet), but I do think it’s worth considering. I’m curious if you all have any thoughts on this.

Here’s what I do know: Jesus Christ, God become human, is not primarily our example; he is primarily our Savior. He knew neither sinful nature nor particular sins, yet he (in some mysterious way) took on our sin and the punishment we deserved for it, so that we could, by faith, receive the gift of the righteousness of God. 2 Corinthians 5:21 says, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.That is the most important thing to know about Jesus.

And secondly, we are called, once we are saved, to live out our new identity as ones who are forgiven and adopted children of God. This is possible because of Christ in us, making us new. And it is reasonable in light of the great work of salvation God has joyfully wrought for those who trust him.

So let us all–male and female–press on to know, love, imitate, and serve our Savior today and every day.

Lift Up and Abide

LiftUpandAbide

Growing up in the Bible Belt religiosity that I did there was always an emphasis on fruit bearing. I can remember countless youth rallies where the evangelist would ask sugar high teenagers, “What are you doing for God? Are you a missionary to your school or in the locker room? Is God calling you to the mission field somewhere? What big things are you doing for God? Is there sin in the camp? (which if you grew up in the stanch Baptist background may be a term you’ve heard more than you care to admit). But if I was honest my thought was always “No. I love God, I am resting in Christ, but I’m a sinner. I know that I continue to sin, though I don’t want to. Nor am I doing these great and mighty things for God. I’m just a seventeen-year-old football player who wants to listen to Hawk Nelson and drink Full Throttle.

One of the passages in Scripture that has always terrified my soul is the Vine and Branches section of the Upper Room discourse in John 15. I know that sounds odd, but when we get to verse two, we come to this teaching, “Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away” We ought to feel the weight of this. The logical question that follows here is often “Am I bearing fruit?”- which is a good question. Good works are the natural fruit of our salvation and a proper evidence of it. But I struggle to accept that this passage is focused on fruit bearing. Rather, the issue rests on our union with Christ. If we look at the passage, we see that the repeated phrase is “in me”, specifically “abide”. In fact, “abide in me” is said more than fruit in this discourse. The word often translated as “takes away” has an alternative meaning, to lift up. What we are dealing with here is vines, not trees. I know that sounds like much ado about nothing, but it does matter. Branches that don’t have proper support won’t get sunlight and thus won’t continue to grow. Very often, gardeners would see these branches that had lost their support and would steak them up, much like what my grandfather does with his tomatoes. So then when we come to this word in John 15:2, we must ask if “take away” is the best translation.

Here’s why I don’t think, at least for this passage, it is.

The point here is to speak about the location of the branch in relation to the vine, because that is where the fruit bearing comes from. If we connect the dots with verse four and five, we see that apart from the vine, no branches are bearing fruit. Christ is specifically saying that only those branches who abide in Christ are those who are producing fruit. The word “abide” in verse four carries with it a command- Abide! But it is also a continuous action. It is Christ calling us to continue to abide in Him. But look at what is said about those branches in verse six.

“If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.”

Those branches that are being cast aside aren’t those who aren’t bearing fruit, rather they are those that do not abide in Christ. The point of the passage is not so much fruit bearing, but rather the location of the branch in relation to the vine. But what does this have to do about anything? I know you’re sitting having your morning coffee or your evening beer and thinking, “What does this obscure Greek translation issue have to do with anything?”

But it has everything to do with everything!

Our continuing and growth in the Christian life is not then based on fruit bearing, though those are good evidences. But you do not stay a Christian throughfruit bearing. You bear fruit and are growing because you are united to Christ. We see through this whole section- abide, abide, abide in Me. The imperative here is not to bear fruit, but to abide in Christ. Fruit bearing, that is good works, are the natural outcome of our abiding in Christ. Yes, God is glorified in our good works (v. 8) Yes, we ought to resist sin and walk in holiness. But the main way we do that is by being united to Christ by faith. It is only when we walk away that we show that we haven’t been united to Christ, and we wither and dry. Do you want to bear fruit, and thus glorify God? Then the way to do that is to abide in Him. Rest in Him. Find your peace in Him.

But so often we find our faith weak. We find the sins that cling so closely to us to be far sweeter than the fruit of obedience. We find that we aren’t bearing fruit, though that is our desire. We are wrestling, we are struggling with sin, and yet we find ourselves deep in the dust. What can we then say? United to Christ, yet not bearing fruit, is there no hope?

Absolutely there is hope! God does not cast away those united to the Son. Rather He cares for them. He reaches down to them. He lifts them up. He takes them away from that which hinders their growth and props them up so that they will bear fruit. He does not abandon His people, but rather lovingly cares for His branches so that they may glorify Him. Yes, God desires us to walk in holiness. But He does not bring us to Himself and not give us everything that we need to do so.

So then, let us not look to God as the dresser who will cast us aside. Rather, let us abide and keep abiding. Let us seek to glorify God and pray as Augustine did: Command what you will and give what you command!

Who is This Fellow? Is he an Arch-heretic? Let’s Hope Not…

Hello there, reader of Late Night Theology. I’m a new contributor here on this blog, and I’m grateful for any time taken by you to not only read this blog, but any tedious, meandering drivel I manage to produce for it. My prayer is that our Lord will open the foolish, sinful mind of this, the author whose article you are reading, and fill it with wisdom from above. May this writer pen (or type) the truth, unsullied by the falsehoods of uninformed teaching.

To be upfront and honest with you, my reader, I find it necessary to disclose a few things which, if found out after more than a couple readings of any future work, might shock you, and even cause you to have a bad taste in your mouth, fall ill, or find yourself in any number of stress related medical emergencies. Such emergencies may include, but are not limited to, toxic shock, gastrointestinal distress, hemorrhage, bursitus, or clinical depression.

  1. I am a Baptist
  2. I won’t agree with all of what the other contributors write (and they won’t always agree with what I write). 
  3. I’m not here to fight the culture. I’m here for the sake of the gospel. 

 

I am a Baptist.

Yes, I am a Baptist. (Insert gasp, spit-take, primal shriek etc. here) I am a member of a local church in the Baptist Missionary Association, thereby making me one of those types of Baptists known as “Missionary Baptist”. The local church I attend has adopted the BMAA Doctrinal Statement as well as the 1833 New Hampshire Confession, for guidance in interpreting the Bible, which we believe to be God’s only revealed word to His people.

To answer a few questions, yes, I believe in calling them ordinances. I’m not fond of baptismal regeneration doctrine. I believe in dunking folks (so long as they’re saved). I believe the principle of closed Communion. I think it’s weird and very romish to call it “Eucharist,” but I won’t give you a weird look for more than a few seconds should you call it that. No, I’m not an Armenian, but I wouldn’t call myself a Calvinist either. No, I’m not a Molinist. Yes, I’m aware of the organizational tie of the SBC, ABA, and BMA to the English reformation. Yes, I believe doctrines held by Baptists existed pre-reformation, but I don’t subscribe in whole to the landmarkist “Trail of Blood” line of thought. No, I’m still not a Calvinist. I jest in saying so, but where I’d consider myself mildly covenantal, I’d say my Presbyterian brethren are wildly covenantal. I believe in the Five Solas.

Conflict With the Brethren (and sister…en?)

Since I’m in a different denomination than the other contributors on Late Night Theology, conflict is sure to arise. I shall make a concerted effort to avoid such conflict, by focusing on the things I believe I have in common with my fellow contributors, unless prompted by the group to express views that could be considered uniquely “Baptist”. By focusing on what makes us different to an unhealthy extent, all we accomplish is division.

Where shall we then unite? Upon which hill shall we die? Despite disagreement on secondary and tertiary issues, may all the contributors continue in grace and love on this site.

Focus: The Gospel

8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: 9 Not of works, lest any man should boast.

– Ephesians 2:8&9

One thing I hope all here have in common is the doctrine of justification, that we are saved from wrath by grace alone, through faith in Jesus Christ alone, as revealed to us in the scriptures, for the glory of God alone.

It should also be known here, that not one of my articles will be geared to fighting or changing the culture. The apostles didn’t go about, decrying the society in which our God had placed them, calling for social change either from the conservative side, crying out for the false godliness of a nominal patriotism, nor from the liberal side, crying out in favor of the idol worship of social justice. They preached the gospel, planted churches, and discipled men to lead churches and plant more churches. Forcing the culture to follow our warped, godless sense of godliness was never the scriptural model for Christianity, and I won’t personally be a party to it here or anywhere else. Voting one way or the other never saved any person’s soul, but hearing the gospel faithfully taught from God’s word, and repenting before God, putting on faith in the death, burial, and resurrection of the God-man Jesus Christ sure did, continues to do so, and shall continue, should Christ tarry in bringing that great day of judgement.

 

Dearest reader, I believe that is all I am able to produce for you at the moment. I hope that despite the meager effort on my part in this pitiful introductory article, something was gained in the reading of it. I look forward to the joys and discomforts of writing for your internet literary consumption, and I hope you take as much enjoyment in reading as I do writing. May you never experience the same discomforts, though.

Ministry Matters: Ministry That Unites // Ephesians 2:11-22

Ministry Matters 3

Text: Ephesians 2:11-22

Introduction:

The most significant wall of modern times was the Berlin Wall, which was tangible evidence of an “Iron Curtain” separating communist East Germany from democratic West Germany after World War II. The 97-mile wall was constructed of stone and concrete. It stood for more than 25 years and hundreds of people lost their lives trying to cross it.

In 1988, a Lutheran pastor started holding weekly “Prayers for Peace” services at his church of St. Nicholas. Rev Christian Führer (führer is the German word for “leader”) was significantly influenced by the teachings of Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He advocated non-violent change.

Numbers increased every week till tens of thousands gathered in his church courtyard for weekly prayer vigils. The movement culminated with the “Peaceful Revolution” on November 9th, 1989, when the Berlin Wall came tumbling down. The oppressive government was experiencing a time of great weakness and the strength of the Christian witness and desire for the God given gift of freedom contributed to lasting change. [1]

There’s not a greater physical illustration of separation than that of a wall. A wall is a barrier that separates two areas or parties.

When someone is closing themselves off or separating themselves, we often say that they’re building walls and they’re not letting anyone in.

Well, this is what’s going on. The Jews are building walls and saying that the Gentiles have to conform to their culture and be circumcised first, then they can be saved, and the Gentiles are saying, “No way! You Jews had your chance at the Gospel and you blew it, and now the Gospel is coming to us!” And Paul is saying, “Both of you are wrong! Jesus came to destroy the barriers that separate you both, and take you both into Himself, and out of Himself create one new man.”

And what I really want us to see today is that what Paul is saying is relevant to us. Paul may have initially wrote this concerning Jews and Gentiles, but you might as well have Caucasians on one side and minorities on the other, and the meaning is still the same. There’s no denying that we have racial tension in this country on both sides. Both sides need to tear down their walls. Both sides need to understand that Jesus died to create one new humanity within Himself, and when we hide behind the walls that we build with our own prejudices then we attempt to build up the very thing that Jesus came to destroy.

Jesus died and rose again primarily so that we could be in relationship with God the Father through Him, but also so we could be in relationship with one another.

So, this morning I want to pose that three things are necessary if we’re going to tear down the walls that we’ve built to keep others out.

We have to think of the past, we have to think of our present, and we have to think of our future.

 

Thinking of the Past (v. 12)

“Remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.” – Ephesians 2:12, NRSV

Paul tells us right off the bat that he wants us to think about where we were.

We were without Christ, aliens, strangers, no hope, and without God.

If you were here Wednesday night then you remember that a couple of you talked about how you felt before you were saved. You didn’t care about God, you didn’t care about the Church. If someone said, “I’m praying for you,” you were just like, “Okay, whatever, have fun with that,” but in reality you were in danger and if you had died in that condition and had never repented and came to faith in Christ then you would be burning in hell, still cut off from Christ.

You can also think about it this way: you were relationally cut off from God’s people. Circumcision was a sign of the covenant between God and His people. Gentiles weren’t circumcised unless they converted to Judaism.

And you had Jews who had been circumcised and they were holding it over the heads of Gentile believers. And Gentile believers were getting puffed up because they didn’t have to be circumcised.

  • And now under this new covenant, none of that matters. Circumcised or not, your new sign of covenant community is now baptism.

I’m going to read Colossians 2:11-12, and I want you to keep in mind that this is all one sentence. This is all one cohesive thought that I believe ties into Ephesians 2.

“In him also you were circumcised with a spiritual circumcision, by putting off the body of the flesh in the circumcision of Christ; 12when you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.” –  Colossians 2:11-12, NRSV

So, what Paul is saying is that you who were once separated from one another are now raised up together through baptism. Circumcision is no longer the standard of acceptance, baptism is and baptism is available for everyone. Jew or Gentile.

If Judaizers had their way, then you would be allowed to be baptised because you’re not one of them. You would be cut off from the signs and seals of God’s promises to you unless you became a Jew first.

  • Naturally, we’re all Judaizers whether we realize it or not. We want to make people jump through hoops to see whether or not they’re really worthy of our love or our fellowship.

  • “Well, I just don’t know about so and so.” Did Jesus love them enough to die for them? Then you have no right to withhold love or fellowship. It’s really not that complicated.

“Remember that at one time you were without Christ… strangers to the covenants of promise.”

We were cut off from Christ, and as a result we were cut off from God’s people.

Thinking of the Present (v. 13)

“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” – Ephesians 2:13, NRSV

Whenever Paul wants to think about how we should treat one another he always appeals to what God has done for us in Christ.

If God treated you based on how you treat others whether it’s customers, your boss, those who are in authority over you, how would you fare?

What about people of other races, ethnicities, or even people on the other side of the political aisle? Or maybe you would never actually mistreat them, so what if God thought about you the same way you think about them?

Thankfully, He doesn’t. God always treats us better than we deserve. That’s grace, and that’s grace that we should show to others.

Now, like I said, Paul appeals to what God has done for us in Christ when he wants to think better of one another, and he does this at least twice, once in Ephesians and then in Romans.

 

  • “…be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.” – Ephesians 4:32, NLT

  • “Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” – Romans 15:7, NRSV

 

Paul is saying that at one time you weren’t forgiven, at one time you weren’t welcomed, but now you are and you have a responsibility to one another.

“For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. 15He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, 16and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it.” – Ephesians 2:14-16, NRSV

Jesus died and shed His blood to break down division and hostility. The Gospel, the good news, is about the creation of a new humanity. We see this idea most prominently in Ephesians 4:4-6.

“There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, 5one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.” – Ephesians 4:4-6, NRSV

The body of Christ is one new living body that is made up of Jews and Gentiles. We are not a Jewish body, we are not a Gentile body, we are one new body. We are one new building that Jesus has framed together.

As a matter of fact, there’s three ways that Paul thinks about the Church in Ephesians, and it should be easy for you to remember because they all start with “b.”

  • In Ephesians 2, Paul says that we are God’s building.
  • In Ephesians 4, Paul says that we are God’s body.
  • In Ephesians 5, Paul says that we are God’s bride.

Look at verses 19-22.

“So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, 20built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. 21In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; 22in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.” – Ephesians 2:19-22, NRSV

I preached this passage this passage this morning at Hector along with the lectionary reading from the Old Testament in 2 Samuel 7.

  • In 2 Samuel 7, David is high on victory. God has given David’s enemies into his hand. He’s at peace in his house and he’s at rest from his enemies, and he says, Why should I live in a house of cedar and God’s ark dwell in a tent?

  • And Nathan the prophet doesn’t even let him finish his thought, he says, “Yeah, Buddy. Do whatever you want!” But God comes to Nathan that night and tells him to give David a message.

  • God tells David through Nathan: I have never once asked for a house not even since the day that I led my people out of Egypt.

  • I have never once commanded a judge or a leader to build me a house of cedar. And God goes on to tell David I’ve brought you from the pasture tending sheep, and I’ve been with you wherever you went.

  • In verse 10, God says, “I will build a place for my people Israel.” And then in verse 11, He tells David, “I will build a house for you.”

David wants to build a house for God, and all this time God has been working throughout redemptive history to build a house for David. Eventually, David’s son Solomon would come along and build the temple, and God would keep His promise and He was a father to Solomon.

But then eventually, a greater son of David would come along and build a better house. Jesus the Messiah, the son of David who sits on His throne has established a better house than Solomon’s temple, and that house is made up of the body of Christ. In Matthew 16, Jesus said, “I will build MY church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

If you want the church to succeed then let Jesus build His Church! Get out of the way, and let God be God!

The Foundation of God’s house is laid with Jesus Christ as the chief cornerstone.

[Illustration: You don’t see cornerstones anymore, but they were the first block to be laid on a building. A lot of times when churches would build a new building they would put a Bible in the cornerstone at the groundbreaking that they those in attendance would know that the Scriptures were going to be at the heart and soul of the congregation.

Central Presbyterian Church in Russellville still has the cornerstone that has the letters CPC on it from when it was a Cumberland Presbyterian Church

Clarksville First Presbyterian also used to be a CP Church. They still have the stone sign that says, “Cumberland Presbyterian Church.” But you can go to the University of the Ozarks and read the minutes of the dedication service that they had in that beautiful building. The first hymn that was sung in that building was ‘How Firm a Foundation.’]

How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
Is laid for your faith in His excellent word!
What more can He say than to you He hath said—
To you who for refuge to Jesus have fled?

God has built His house on His son, Jesus as the chief cornerstone, and on the testimony of the Apostles and Prophets as the foundation.

The Bible that you hold in your hands is their testimony that God has and always will have a house for His name and that house is the Church. That house is made up of God’s elect people of all tribes, nations, races, tongues, democrats, republicans, independents, Presbyterians, Baptists, Methodists, and yes, even Pentecostals.

Which brings us to our final point.

Thinking of the Future (Revelation 5:6-10)

“Then I saw between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders a Lamb standing as if it had been slaughtered, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. 7He went and took the scroll from the right hand of the one who was seated on the throne. 8When he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell before the Lamb, each holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. 9They sing a new song:

“You are worthy to take the scroll
   and to open its seals,
for you were slaughtered and by your blood you ransomed for God
   saints from every tribe and language and people and nation;
10you have made them to be a kingdom and priests serving our God,
   and they will reign on earth.” – Revelation 5:6-10, NRSV

God in Christ has purchased for Himself a people from every tribe, language, people, and nation.

While we were at PAS, we visited McKenzie First Cumberland Presbyterian Church. They had a traditional service and a contemporary service. We visited the traditional service the first week, and the contemporary service the next week.

In both services, I noticed something that you don’t see in many churches around here. There were people of all races, all ages, all backgrounds. There were more older people in the contemporary service than young people. There are were about as many young people as there were older people in the traditional service.

And I thought, “This is the kingdom of God.”

All of these bloodlines of race, ethnicity, and tribe, they all come together and meet at the bloodline of Jesus the Messiah who has brought both Jew and Gentile into Himself and made one new man.

I’m going pray for us, and we’re going to sing one more song.

Closing Prayer

Heavenly Father, send Your Holy Spirit to apply Your Word to our hearts. Make us desire the same things that You desire. You sent Your Son to put hostility to death so make us hate hostility. You sent Your Son to break down the dividing wall between races whether that be Jew or Gentile or between any other races. You sent Your Son create unity among all of those who call upon Him for complete salvation. So, I pray that You would give us Your heart, and let us desire the things You desire. In the name of Your Son who who taught us to pray:

Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.


[1] Sermon Illustration taken from this document: http://www.augsburgfortress.org/media/downloads/0806695951_session2_preaching.pdf

Three Guiding Principles for the Church

Sometimes it’s good to get back to basics. Doing so may reveal that we’ve gotten off track. Or it may affirm and empower us in the way in which we are already going.

With so many voices and competing truth claims pulling us this way and that, it behooves us to recall what it is that we are to be about as Christians, both individually and collectively. And when we turn to the Bible, God has given three main guiding principles. They are:

  • The Creation Mandate
  • The Great Commandment
  • The Great Commission

Let’s look at each briefly.

The Creation Mandate

Otherwise known as “The Cultural Mandate,” this is the nickname given to Genesis 1:28 which says: “God blessed them and said to them,Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.'” Christians throughout the ages have seen this as a call to cultural, familial, and societal participation. It calls people to get married and have children. To work to provide for yourself. To contribute to society. To pursue creative endeavors. To grow food. To take care of animals. To build cities. To seek the good of your community.

These ideas are echoed elsewhere in Scripture. To The Jewish exiles, the prophet Jeremiah passes on a message from God, urging them to “seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” (Jeremiah 29:7) The Apostle Paul also reminds the Thessalonian church: “make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.” (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12)

This guiding principle tells us that God assigns dignity to the mundane, to the normal parts of life. God does not call us only to evangelism or only to loving one another; he calls us also to work in the contexts of creation and our families and communities.

The Great Commandment

We see this spoken by Jesus in Luke 10:27. “He answered, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'” It is the call to be guided by love in all we do–first by love for God and then by love of other people. We love God by learning about him, using our energy to serve him, and communing with him. 1st Corinthians 13 lists ways that we can love our fellow humans–by treating them with kindness, being patient, assuming the best, and speaking the truth. This principle, the call to be guided by love, reminds us that God cares not just about our knowledge, but also about our affections and motivations.

The Great Commission

In Matthew 28:18-20, Jesus commissions his disciples specifically and the church generally, saying, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Similar ideas are expressed in Acts 1:8, which quotes Jesus as saying, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

The idea is that Christ wants his church to grow—in breadth (making new converts) and in depth (creating mature disciples). Another component of “breadth” is that Jesus wants disciples of all kinds of people. Following the pattern of Acts 1:8, Christians are to evangelize and disciple those near to them (Jerusalem), those unlike them (Samaria), and those far away from them (the ends of the earth). This guiding principle reminds local church bodies to look beyond themselves in the cause of bringing people to maturity in Christ. It may require immense effort and discomfort, and yet it is what God has called and empowered the church to do! Christ will build his church, the Gates of Hell will not prevail, and he calls us to participate in such a work.

Conclusion

When the church neglects any one of these principles, it becomes unbalanced; worse, it fails to live according to the call that God has given. On a corporate level, various denominations may tend to focus on one principle while neglecting another. On individual level, a person’s culture or personality may lend itself more towards one over the others. The point is not that everyone needs to apply these principles in the same way, but rather that all three should be pursued in some way–individually, yes; but even moreso, corporately.

On the other hand, to those who feel discouraged, unsure if their tasks matter, may these principles offer encouragement. Whether you are caring for children at home, making beautiful YouTube videos, teaching missionary kids, holding the hands of the sick, praying with a co-worker, or participating in local government—what you are doing matters for God’s Kingdom! Press on, dear friends!

So, in closing, let us remember the dignity of work, the beauty of creativity, and the weight of our duties to society and family. May we be guided by holy affections and motivations. And may we live out the vision of the expansion and maturity of Christ’s church.

Let’s get back to basics, shall we?

~Hannah 🌸

The Gospel for Cynics, Doubters, and Skeptics

GospelForCynics

The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” And he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” – John 1:43-51, NRSV

I’m going to have the privilege of teaching over this passage in Bible Study at my church in a couple of weeks and the more I read this passage, the more I can’t help but think about the different personalities that come into play here.

Philip

In the passage, Philip is mentioned first. Jesus said, “Follow me” and that’s exactly what Philip did. Philip followed him without question or hesitation. Now, what does Philip do? He finds Nathanael, and he tells him that they’ve found the Messiah. We’ll touch on Nathanael’s response in a bit, but notice Philip. He seems enthusiastic about telling people about the Messiah. This same enthusiasm is a common personality trait of his. It’s why he’s able to be an effective witness to the Gospel of Christ.

In Acts 8, he witnesses to and baptizes a eunuch and in Acts 21:8 he is given the title of ‘Evangelist.’   I think it’s fair to deduce from what little the New Testament has to say about Philip that he is someone who is optimistic, and he’s someone that we might refer to as a ‘go getter.’

Personally, I can’t relate.

However, pay attention to what Philip says when Nathanael tries to argue with him – “come and see.” I think modern Christendom can learn a thing or two simply pausing and reflecting on this passage. Philip doesn’t try to argue with Nathanael, he just says, “Come and see.” He’s saying, “Alright, find out for yourself.”

You see ads all the time that have money-back guarantees and they say, “If you’re not completely satisfied with the product then send it back and you’ll get your money back.” Now, we know that’s not entirely true. Before you’re able to get your money back, there’s a lot of bureaucratic red tape that you have to go through, but what Philip says to Nathanael is better than a money-back guarantee. He simply says, “Come and see.”

Honestly, I think that’s the most effective way to evangelize. You not see a boost in church attendance by evangelizing like that, but that’s because we’ve defined success by the numbers, but that’s another blog post for another time.

Nathanael

I can relate to Nathanael. Notice his response to Philip – “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Why would Nathanael say this? I would say that Nathanael is being realistic.

As we’ll see later, Nathanael is a student of Old Testament. There’s not anything mentioned about the Messiah coming from Nazareth. Nazareth was also a poor village and possibly known for its moral corruption. Usually poverty and crime go hand in hand so it wouldn’t be a stretch of the imagination to think of Nazareth as such a town.

Nathanael is having a hard time conceiving the notion that the Messiah that he believed was going to be coming to bring political revolution to the Jews was going to be coming from a place like Nazareth.

When He sees Jesus, Jesus says, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” Before Nathanael fully recognizes Jesus for who He is, he’s probably thinking, “Alright, this guys is trying to sell me something so he asks, “Where did you get to know me?”

He wants to be sure that Jesus is really the Chosen One of God, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with wanting to be sure. Notice what Jesus says – “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” This is where we learn about Nathanael being a student of the Scriptures.

Cultural context is important because things in Scripture aren’t always as they appear on the surface. When we read this without cultural we might, “Oh, Jesus had a vision of Nathanael chilling out under a fig tree.” It’s not that simple.

According to the NIV First Century Study Bible, ‘under the fig tree’ was a euphemism for studying the Hebrew Scriptures. Jesus pointed out that Nathanael was a ‘true Israelite’ because he had been studying the Scriptures. We see this taken a step farther whenever Jesus mentions that they would see “angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” There’s only one other place in Scripture where that phrase is used and it’s in Genesis 28:10-15 where Jacob has a vision of a stairway going into Heaven and angels ascending and descending on the stairway.

In Genesis 28, after Jacob has the vision, God reminds him of the promise to bless his seed. Jesus was communicating to Nathanael the promise to bless his Jacob’s seed has been fulfilled in Himself. He is the stairway to Heaven between God and man.

Jesus

Finally, we come to the personality of Jesus. If I were going to fully talk about how Jesus is, it would take too long so I simply want to look at how He is portrayed in this passage.

First, Jesus is humble. Although His humility is not directly alluded to in the passage, I think it’s something that we can still deduce when we consider Jesus coming from a town like Nazareth. I already mentioned that the town itself was probably a ghetto filled with poverty and moral corruption.

It would’ve been enough for Jesus to put on human flesh and live on earth, but it wasn’t enough for Him. He knew the kind of life He was getting into. He chose to be born to Joseph and Mary. He knew they would live in Nazareth – that little podunk village that nothing good can come from. He chose that life. Jesus is of more value and worth than we could ever attribute to Him and yet, He chooses to live among the meek, the lowly, the humble, and the outcast so that those meek, lowly, humble, and outcast could see that He relates to them.

Second, Jesus is understanding. When Nathanael asks Him how He got to know him, Jesus doesn’t have to give Nathanael an answer. Jesus doesn’t him anything, and yet he understands Nathanael’s desire for an explanation.

Jesus seeks us out as we are, not as we’re going to be. He looks into our souls and He sees us – the real us, not the mask we put on for the others, but the real, broken, insecure us that has a an existential crisis at least three times a week at the most inconvenient times.

Jesus understands us, and that is why the writer of Hebrews says, “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:15-16, NRSV)