Imago Dei

“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness…So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” –Genesis 1:26a, 27

What in theological terms is called the Imago Dei, is the truth proclaimed in Scripture that humans beings are created by God in His own image. The rejection of this truth has led to terrible transgressions against people throughout history. Even transgressions nearer to our current time, such as:

  • Slavery in America
  • The Jewish Holocaust in Nazi Germany
  • Abortion: The termination of life in the womb
  • Abuse of the more vulnerable by those in power
  • Inequitable rights for some based on race, gender, or class
  • The denial of dignity in end of life care with the elderly and those with terminal illnesses
  • Objectifying and using others (Two quick examples of this are lust and greed, both instrumentalize others for self-gratification.)

Unfortunately, we could easily compile a much longer list. Yet, at the same time, that is exactly the point. Rejecting or even ignoring (same thing?) this truth leads to all kinds of ugly sin and destruction against others. Conversely, acknowledging this truth and seeing the inherent dignity in others brings God glory and good to our neighbors.

Writer, Hannah Anderson, has said:

Imago dei means that your life is sacred because He (God) has stamped His identity onto yours. (Made for More, pg. 33)

Listen to how theologian, Anthony Hoekema explained this truth:

When one looks at a human being, one ought to see in him or her a certain reflection of God…To be sure, other creatures, and even the heavens, declare the glory of God, but only in man does God become visible. Reformed theologians speak of God’s general revelation, in which he reveals his presence, power, and divinity through the works of his hands. But in the creation of man God revealed himself in a unique way, by making someone who was a kind of mirror image of himself. No higher honor could have been given to man than the privilege of being an image of the God who made him. (Created in God’s Image, pg. 67)

“No higher honor” indeed! As we saw this past Sunday in Psalm 8, God has crowned human beings with “glory and honor” (Ps. 8:5). All people possess inherent dignity because all people are created in God’s image. Early Church Father, Irenaeus said:

The glory of God is a living human being.

Let’s ask the Lord to change the way we view others because Irenaeus is right, the person you are tempted to look on with contempt is in fact, “the glory of God.”

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“Needy and Needed”

“Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel,” –Phil. 1:27

This past weekend we had a discipleship workshop aimed at discussing how we can better walk “side by side” and help one another follow Jesus. We used language borrowed from Ed Welch, that we are all needy and needed. In his book, Side by Side, he wrote:

Your neediness qualifies you to help others. Your neediness, offered well to someone else, can even be one of the great gifts you give to your church. You will inspire others to ask for help. (pg. 15, emphasis mine)

He writes about how showing our neediness invites others to do the same. When this begins to happen in the church something beautiful happens. Welch explained:

When…this happens, the myth that we all have life figured out is exposed, and we begin to share one another’s burdens, which is the way God intended it to be. (pg. 15)

Not only are we needy, but we are also needed. Think about Paul speaking of the church as a body in 1 Corinthians 12. Each part is needed for the whole body to function properly. When one member suffers the whole body responds to the hurt. Don’t believe me, think about how your body reacted the last time you stubbed your little toe. So it should be in the church. On being needed, Welch wrote:

We are needed. This is the way the church moves forward—through mutual love and care…we move toward others when they are in need, we get to know them, and we pray. (pg. 65)

In another book, he wrote the following:

God takes initiative and moves towards us; we take initiative toward others. This is simple teaching with endless applications…Too often we are silent when we know of someone’s trouble. Silence is the same as turning away. (Caring for One Another, pgs. 17, 19)

Yes, “simple teaching with endless applications” indeed. First, we must be together if we are going to help one another follow Jesus. This begins with the main gathering of the church for worship on Sundays. It works out from there as we move toward one another because we are both needy and needed. Borrowing from Sam Allberry, if we don’t recognize that we are needy we are being arrogant. If we don’t recognize that we are needed we are being selfish. I would encourage you to pick up one of these books from Dr. Welch and learn better how to do this. After all, we are all called to:

“Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” –Gal. 6:2

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Justified Sinner

Tim Chester gives a good quick explanation of the teaching coming out of the Reformation that Christians are simultaneously sinners and justified.

I’m a sinner, but I’m a justified sinner. The Reformers had a Latin phrase to capture this truth: semper peccator, semper iustus: “always a sinner, always justified.” I still sin, but in Christ God declares me to be righteous here and now. So we needn’t and shouldn’t despair. If we think of ourselves only as failed sinners, then we may feel disqualified from Christian service and settle for a compromised life. You are a justified saint, equipped for battle, capable of adventurous, risky discipleship on the front line of God’s kingdom.

Sin is never the last word for the children of God. Grace is always the last word. If we confess our sins to God, he is faithful. He’ll keep his promise to forgive. (You Can Change, pgs. 176-177)

If we don’t understand that we still battle indwelling sin, we will pridefully undermine progressive sanctification falling prey to a form of perfectionism. This misunderstanding leads us to battle sin only externally instead of battling our sins at their root (our sinful desires and idolatry). In doing this we are infinitely reducing God’s holiness by creating sub-standards we can live up to in our own strength. By the way, if mere external righteousness was God’s desire for us, Jesus wouldn’t have had such harsh rebukes for the Pharisees.

If we don’t understand our justification and our new identity in Christ, we will give up in our pursuit of holiness due to despair. Here are two reasons understanding justification keeps us from throwing in the towel. First, understanding our justification gives us the security of resting in our forgiveness and acceptance in Christ. Therefore, when we sin we don’t run from God, but instead we run to God in repentance knowing we are accepted because of Christ. Second, understanding our new identity in Christ, we know that new life means a new way of living.

The reality of our indwelling sin keeps us humble.

The reality of our justification keeps us hopeful.

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“Holiness is a Harvest”

Every week there are things that don’t make it into the sermon because, well, attention spans and posteriors can only endure so much. I know, you’re thinking; “really, your sermons could actually be longer than they already are!?”

Well, in all seriousness, John Stott has an excellent quote on Galatians 6:8. I didn’t want to press forward and not share it with you. He wrote:

To ‘sow to the flesh’ is to pander to it, to cosset, cuddle and stroke it, instead of crucifying it. The seeds we sow are largely thoughts and deeds. Every time we allow our mind to harbor a grudge, nurse a grievance, entertain an impure fantasy, or wallow in self-pity, we are sowing to the flesh. Every time we linger in bad company whose insidious influence we know we cannot resist, every time we lie in bed when we ought to be up and praying, every time we read pornographic literature, every time we take a risk which strains our self-control, we are sowing, sowing, sowing to the flesh. Some Christians sow to the flesh every day and wonder why they do not reap holiness. Holiness is a harvest; whether we reap it or not depends almost entirely on what and where we sow. (The Message of Galatians, pg. 170, emphasis mine)

We are all sowing. The question is, are you sowing to the flesh or to the Spirit?

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The Local Church, a Miracle?

In his book, Why Bother With Church?, Sam Allberry wrote:

…your church is a miracle. Next Sunday, look at those sitting around you. It’s amazing that they’re there. It’s amazing that they’re still trusting Jesus this Sunday—another week of God’s grace to them. It’s amazing that you’re there, trusting Jesus this Sunday—another week of God’s grace to you. And it’s amazing that you, with all your differences and sometimes disagreements, are sitting in the same room, serving the same God and encouraging each other—a wonderful visual aid of God’s grace to his people. Your church is imperfect. And that makes your church all the more miraculous. Its imperfections are in themselves exciting, because they show just how powerful and loving the God who has brought you together must be. (pg. 83)

To that, I say, amen! If you want to see a miracle, come to church this Sunday.

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A Flourishing Church

Jesus has called us to deny ourselves by taking up our crosses and following Him (Matt. 16:24). At the end of the sermon Sunday, I posed the following question: Could it be, that if more church members were committed to dying to self, less of our churches would be dying? Not only would there be fewer churches dying, but pseudo-churches would evaporate in the radiant light of Spirit-wrought and empowered churches, serving one another through love (Gal. 5:13).

Here are a few examples of what this self-denial would look like:

  • If we deny ourselves, we will be able to let go of our self-sufficiency and see that we need one another.
  • If we deny ourselves, we will be able to better give our time and talents for the mutual building-up of one another.
  • If we deny ourselves, we will see that we are both needy and needed, leading us to be committed to gathering with the church regularly.
  • If we deny ourselves, we will be less concerned for our own glory and more concerned for the Lord’s Glory, thus fueling our evangelism.
  • If we deny ourselves, we will be less selfish and instead happy to give our energy toward helping a new believer follow Jesus.
  • If we deny ourselves, we will be able to see that we aren’t awesome, but Jesus is and everyone needs to look like Him and not us.
  • If we deny ourselves, we will not sit back expecting everyone to serve us, but will be ready and willing to serve others as Christ has served us.

Remember, we serve and love by denying ourselves because Christ first served and loved us by denying Himself on the cross.

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George Liele: A Historical Baptist Figure You Need To Know

In light of our recent Missions Emphasis Sunday, I wanted to introduce you to an early, arguably the first, Baptist missionary. In their Baptist history text authors Anthony Chute, Nathan Finn, and Michael Haykin provide a good introduction. They wrote:

About two years before the outbreak of the American Revolution, a slave in Georgia by the name of George Liele was converted. Given his freedom shortly afterward, he was ordained in 1775 and went on to plant a work in Savannah, Georgia, which claims to be the oldest African-American Baptist church. With the defeat of the British cause, however, Liele and his family were in danger of being re-enslaved. Liele decided to relocate to Jamaica as an indentured servant, where he formed a small congregation in 1783. Liele was able to follow his calling as a preacher, and within seven years he saw around 500 conversions under his preaching, with 300 of those converts joining his church. Ten years later he had secured enough funds…to build the first Dissenting chapel on the island, Windward Road Chapel. By the time William Carey and his family set sail for India in 1793, Liele had been laboring as a missionary for a decade. He should, therefore, probably be considered the first Baptist missionary…by 1814, Liele’s ministry had produced a rich harvest, some 8,000 Baptist in numerous chapels throughout the island. (pgs. 97-98)

For more on George Liele see this excellent article.

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Make, Mature, and Multiply

With our Missions Emphasis Sunday approaching this weekend, hear the concluding words of Andreas Kostenberger and Peter O’Brien’s, Salvation to the Ends of the Earth. They said:

This mission of God’s people within the world is to be understood with…an eye on the final goal – the gathering of men and women from every nation, tribe, people and language before the throne of God and the Lamb. (pg. 269)

They continued:

In this era between the ‘already’ and the ‘not yet’ God’s people are a body of pilgrims and resident aliens. They suffer and are persecuted for the sake of Christ’s name, but in the midst of this they are to follow his example, demonstrating patience and a gentle spirit and showing that ultimately they do not belong to the world. Moreover, the gospel must be preserved pure if it is to be proclaimed persuasively and with God’s saving power. And Christians should adorn that gospel with their godly lifestyle and proper relationships, if their spoken words are not to have negative effects on unbelievers. (pgs. 269-270)

There is a lot of good stuff compressed in these few lines. As we seek to make, mature, and multiply disciples we must:

  • Do so in light of the hope we have that God’s missions will be successful.
  • Persevere through all difficulties.
  • Not alter the message but hold fast and proclaim the unadjusted Gospel.
  • Be sure that our own lives are in line with the Gospel.
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Comfort vs. Covenant

Brandon (my wife) and I were recently watching a game show where the contestants were asked; “If you knew you were going to die tomorrow what would you do tonight?” One of the first answers given was, “I’d go shopping.”

“Shopping…really!” I thought to myself. I almost blurted out, “you wouldn’t even have time to enjoy your purchases,” as if they would hear me on the other side of the LED screen. I don’t know, maybe this person wanted to buy an outfit for their wake?

However, the more I thought about that answer the more it made sense. (By the way, the responses given by other contestants weren’t much better.) The answer makes sense because we are becoming (have become?) more and more a culture of consumers. Skye Jethani says;

…as contingent beings we must consume resources to survive. The problem is not consuming to live, but rather living to consume. (pg. 157)

The distinction is clear, we are increasingly becoming a society marked by consumerism (living to consume). Often we don’t shop because we need something, we shop simply to shop. And that gets to the answer given by the contestant on the game show. There was no time for a thoughtful answer. The rules of the game demanded an immediate answer and the visceral response was, “go shopping!” You might expect a religious answer like pray, or seek counsel from a religious leader, or do good deeds. Yet, don’t miss it, the answer given was religious, it was, “go shopping.”

In a culture of consumerism; comfort, choice, and convenience are king. This means when consumerism infiltrates the church, often undetected, Christ is no longer King. He is instead, in the words of Jethani, demoted “from Lord to label.” Now Jesus is in service to the consumer and their project of self-fulfillment.

In his book, Uncomfortable, Brett McCracken contrasts the worldly hunger for continual comfort with the Biblical calling to covenant. He wrote:

If the church is going to thrive in the twenty-first century, she needs to be willing to demand more of her members. She needs to assert the importance of covenants over comfort, even if that is a message that will turn off some. She needs to speak prophetically against the perversions of cultural and consumer Christianity, seeker-unfriendly as that will be. She needs to call Christians away from an individualistic, “just me and Jesus” faith, challenging them to embrace the costliness of the cross and the challenge of life in a covenantal community. (pg. 183)

Why covenant over comfort? McCracken answered:

…covenants do something that is far more constructive than anything comfort can do. Covenants challenge us to bear with and sacrifice for the sake of others, for the glory of God. (pg. 183)

This is why at Redeemer we practice covenant membership. We believe that God has called us to commit to walking together (Phil. 1:27), to guarding one another (Heb. 3:12-14), and to encouraging one another (Heb. 10:23-25). Put simply: we are committed to helping one another follow Jesus. We do this because Christ, not comfort, is King and He is worthy. I’ll conclude with this from McCracken:

Covenants teach us that keeping promises to others is more important than being true to yourself. (pg. 185)

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Unsinkable Hope

What is hope?

Typically when used today, the word hope means nothing more than wishful thinking. Examples of this would include, “I hope it doesn’t rain today” or “I hope my team wins tonight.”

In stark contrast is the Biblical meaning of hope. When the Bible speaks of hope it is speaking of the concrete certainty God’s people can have that He will make good on His promises. Paul, speaking of our future glory, in Romans 8 writes:

For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. -Rom. 8:24-25

Our hope as Christians is in the fullness of redemption to come. What will this fullness include? The return of Christ and Him setting all things right. No more sin. No more death. No more sorrow. God dwelling with His people for eternity.

We have great hope! Therefore, our hope should orient our present in light of our future. This hope is what keeps us afloat in the midst of life’s storms. When I’m at the beach I like to watch the buoys placed just off the shore to direct all the recreational activities of banana boats and parasails. No matter how rough the waves become, those buoys dance on top of the churning waters. Yet, at the same time, because they are anchored, the buoys stay in place without drifting off into the chaotic sea.

Christian, our hope is like those buoys, both buoyant and anchored. Yes, the storms of this life are real, but because of our hope we can remain afloat and tethered. On our behalf, Christ has endured the ultimate storm of God’s wrath defeating sin and death in the process. If our hope is in Christ, then it is truly unsinkable! Christ’s victory in the ultimate storm gives us the hope we need to weather all lesser storms, no matter how severe. Let me end with this great reminder of our hope:

For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. -2 Cor. 4:17-18a

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