THE IMAGE OF GOD RESTORED
Before we look with hopeful eyes at the moral and social problems that confront us, we have an even more sure and steady hope upon which to gaze. The image of God has not been destroyed; it has been broken. Into this brokenness, God himself comes, assuming the likeness of man in order to set things right: He “emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant,being born in the likeness of men,” (Philippians 2:7). The One who is called “the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” (Hebrews 1:3) has “been made like his brothers in every way,” (Hebrews 2:17). The very One in whose likeness we are created has now been made like us so that “he might taste death for everyone,” (Hebrews 2:9). He has come to put back together what lies in pieces. He has come to restore that which has been broken. In the incarnation, the in-fleshing of God the Son, the Father is enacting his promised plan to redeem and restore the image of God through the Seed of the Woman.
REVERSING THE CURSE
In the Garden, God warned Adam of the consequences of disobedience, “[The fruit] of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Genesis 2:17). This word of warning was the Tempter’s first target. “Did God really say?” he asked, unleashing doubt about the trustworthiness of God’s Word and God himself. Perhaps Adam’s temptation-induced doubt was reinforced when, after eating the forbidden fruit, he found himself still breathing long enough to hide from God. If that’s true, the mere fact that Adam hides shows that he fears God’s judgment and feels the sting of shame and guilt.
In truth, while God mercifully allowed Adam and Eve to live beyond that day, they diddie a real death the moment they sinned. Paul tells us that all human beings are now “dead in trespasses and sins,” (Ephesians 2:1) yet he says we still “walk” in sin and “liveaccording to the passions of the flesh,” (Ephesians 2:3, 4). There is a kind of death that clings to a man throughout his life. There is a kind of living that bears the stench of death. The moment they sinned Adam and Eve died spiritually, and all of their descendants have been born in this same state of spiritual death. Paul tells us, “[B]y a man came death,” and “[I]n Adam all die,” (1 Corinthians 15:21, 22).
This is because Adam, made to represent God, also represents all his offspring. He is the covenant head of the human race; his fallen nature is passed on to all of us. His deadness livesin all of us. His guilt is our guilt. His condemnation is our condemnation.
“[M]any died through one man’s trespass… For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation…[B]ecause of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man… [O]ne trespass led to condemnation for all men… [B]y the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners…” (Romans 5:15a, 16b, 17a, 18a, 19a).
We might say that Adam’s guilt was credited to our spiritual bank account and that his spiritual deadness became the defining inherited trait of his posterity. Theologians call these realities, considered together, the doctrine of original sin. Adam, because he represents all mankind, brings death (spiritual and physical) as well as guilt upon all people.
But, as surely as the offspring of the first man are condemned in him, the Offspring of the woman has come into the world to bring life and justification (credited righteousness and forgiveness) to all those in him.
[M]uch more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many…[T]he free gift following many trespasses brought justification… [M]uch more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ… [O]ne act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.[B]y the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous… (Romans 5:15b, 16a, 17b, 18b, 19b)
Jesus has come into the word as another Adam, so that he can put the pieces back together. He has come to redeem God’s image-bearers and to restore his likeness in us. He will fix what is broken and repair what has been defaced.
Jesus does that by bearing the curse of death and enduring God’s wrath in our place. “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us,” (Galatians 3:13). Paul tell us, “For our sake [God] made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God,” (2 Corinthians 5:21). So, the curse of death came upon humanity because of Adam’s sin (and our own), and through Christ this curse is removed. Of course, all of us still die. Much as Adam’s death was delayed even while spiritual death set in, freedom from physical death awaits those in Christ while spiritual life becomes a present possession. Spiritual life is ours now, and freedom from physical death has been secured for the future.
“For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality.When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “’Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?'” (1 Corinthians 15:53–55).
Thus, we are told that Satan’s work is undone by Christ because Jesus “partook of [flesh and blood], that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil,” (Hebrews 2:14).
Death has been defeated. But the Devil is far more dangerous in God’s courtroom than by our deathbed. This is because Satan stands as man’s chief accuser in God’s court. He is called “the accuser of our brothers… who accuses them day and night before our God,” (Revelation 12:10). Indeed, the name Satan means Accuser. He knows God’s judicial sentence against those who sin, so he draws us into sin and then rejoices to remind the divine court that “the wages of sin is death,” (Romans 6:23) and that there is a “day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed,” (Romans 2:5). His delight is our damnation. Our main problem is not the specter of physical death, but the reality of God’s just judgment: “[I]t is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment,” (Hebrews 9:27). So, the ultimate threat against us is not Satan orphysical death, but what these usher us into: God’s judgment.
God’s judgment flows from his love for and commitment to the most valuable thing in the universe: himself. His anger is provoked by his delight in the greatest good: his glory. God is passionately committed to the pursuit of his own glory. That’s why he created his image-bearers in the first place. God made us for his own glory (Isaiah 43:7), and he is jealous to maintain that glory. “I am the LORD; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols,” (Isaiah 42:8). As a wife is jealous for the affections of her husband, and angry when he showers them upon her rival, so God is jealous for his image-bearers to give him the glory he deserves, which they were made to reflect.
Our sin is our refusal to give God the glory he deserves (Romans 3:23). God’s righteousness is his “unswerving commitment to preserve the honor of his name and display his glory.”Therefore, his own holiness and justice demand that he punish every image-bearer who refuses to give him the glory that belongs to him. That’s all of us! We are made for his glory, but we sin by refusing to give him his due. Paul tells us, “[T]he wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men,” (Romans 1:18). He then describes the “ungodliness and unrighteousness of men” as “suppressing the truth” about God (Romans 1″18-19), refusing to “honor him as God or give thanks to him,” (Romans 1:21), and “exchang[ing] the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things,” (Romans 1:23). He informs us, “[F]or those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury,” (Romans 2:8). So, the main problem we sinners face is that God’s wrath hangs over us. The curse is not mainly about death or toil or pain, but God’s wrath. These things are glimpses of God’s wrath; the full weight of what we deserve for the rejection and belittling of the infinitely glorious and good God is unimaginable.
But Christ came into the world to bear this unimaginable weight. He came to remove wrath from those who deserve it by taking it upon himself. He can do this because he stands as our substitute, receiving in himself the penalty for our sin. This is why the One in whose likeness we have been created emptied himself and was made in ourlikeness: “Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people,” (Hebrews 2:17). A propitiation is a sacrifice that absorbs and removes divine wrath. The reason that Christ came to earth and took on flesh was that he might suffer in our place, taking the punishment that we deserve. This was so that God could forgive sinners and uphold his righteousness at the same time.
“[F]or all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus,” (Romans 3:23–26).
God forgives us because he loves us. He pays for our forgiveness with the life of his Son because he loves his own glory. This why John can say, “For God so loved the world,that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life,”(John 3:16).
RESTORING GOD’S IMAGE
Re(made) for the Love of God
Eternal life is a precious gift. But it is more than duration of days. It is more than everlasting existence. Allhuman beings will exist forever, so that can’t be the meaning of eternal life. Jesus tells us, “an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voiceand come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment,” (John 5:28–29). So, those who trust in Jesus and receive eternal life will be raised, and those who have “done evil” and are destined for judgment will be raised. Those who belong to Christ will be raised to a resurrection of life, while those who do not will rise to a resurrection of death. So, the “life” of eternal life is more than existence and more than bodily life. In his high priestly prayer Jesus tells us what eternal life really is: “And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent,” (John 17:3). Eternal life consists mainly of the restoration of the relationship between human beings and the God they were made to love and enjoy. Eternal life, then, is not something that awaits us in the future. It is ours now as we are reconciled to God and given a new relationship with him through his Son.
That would not sound like good news if our hearts remained in opposition to God and his Word. To be left slaves of sin while being freed from the guilt of sin would mean that the new believer has just begun to walk down and eternal road of frustration and failure. But the Bible tells us that God is in the process restoring his likeness in the followers of Jesus by making them more like Jesus. “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers,” (Romans 8:28–29). The good that God is working in the lives of those who love him is not increased wealth or better health. It is that we be “conformed to the image of his Son.” He is melting down the broken glass and reshaping and reforming the mirror of his image. This mirror, as it takes shape, will increasingly reflect the glory of Christ as we are “transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another,” (2 Corinthians 3:18). Omnipotent love is using everything in your life – your mean boss, your cranky kids, the flu, flat tires, painful relationships, cancer, and even death – to make you more like Jesus. He is recalibrating your heart so that you can experience his presence and goodness with ever-increasing joy. Jesus’ prayer is being answered so that you can fulfill the greatest commandment.
“The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one,I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me… I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them,” (John 17:22-23; 26)
Transformed for the Love of Others
Jesus prays that we will know that God has “loved them” and that his “love may be in them.” He also prays that “they may become perfectly one.” God loves us by making his love dwell in us. When that happens, we are transformed into a people loving one another and the world around us. Because we are “being transformed,” our minds are in the process of being “renewed in knowledge” and our newly alive hearts are learning to “walk in love.”
Sometimes we think that we are saved by believing the Gospel and that we then live the Christian life by following rules. But that’s not true! Saving faith requires a new, Spirit-created delight in who God is for us in Christ. But delighting in God – loving God – eventually spills out onto the people around us because we love the image of God in all people and we love the renewed image of Christ in other Christians. If there is a kind of camaraderie between strangers wearing the same football jersey, then there has to be a connection between people who are being transformed into the same image by the same Spirit. Over and over the Apostles tell us that the Christian life is not about lists of rules, but a relationship of love for God that spills out in love for others.
“For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love,” (Galatians 5:6).
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another,” (John 13:34–35).
“Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.For the commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,’ and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law,” (Romans 13:8–10).
“For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’
“If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing well,”(James 2:8).
Loving others means setting aside our preferences for the sake of unity and for the good of those around us (Romans 14:15). Loving others means sacrificing our own comforts when that will bring comfort to someone else. This is what we have been called to do: “[God] comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God,”(2 Corinthians 1:4).
Now, even those outside of Christ, apart from the transformational work of the Holy Spirit, sometimes make great sacrifices for those that they love or for those with whom they feel some sense of connection. Jesus urges us to go further. The Holy Spirit enables us to go further. “I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you,”(Luke 6:27–28).
This kind of radical behavior starts when we stand on the only truth that can bring life; when proclaim the truth to the world. Indeed, that is the mission Jesus has given to his people: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations,” (Matthew 28:19). Paul says that we grow up into Christ – we become more like Christ – as we “speak the truth in love,” (Ephesians 4:15). Love doesn’t shut people up in the prison of death and doom them to judgment by silence. No one, holding the cure for cancer, can claim to love those stricken with cancer if they withhold that cure.
The world is broken. We are broken. Our neighbors are broken. Our relatives and coworkers are broken. But the followers of Jesus are being restored and have been given the message that brings restoration to others. Our relationship with the God whose image we bear is being repaired, and God has given us the task of drawing others into the same operation.
“All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation,” (2 Corinthians 5:18–19).
It is to self-sacrificial, Gospel-centered, neighbor-serving, truth-telling love which we have been called. We were made to reflect God’s glory, and we do that by laying down our lives (and comforts and preferences) as we race across the mountaintops proclaiming Good News. “As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the [tired, worn, dirty, sore, and swollen] feet of those who preach the good news!'” (Romans 10:15). Our pursuit of the glory of God in a fallen world should produce real, practical, cultural misfits whose goals and ideals are shaped by the Gospel of the glory of God in the face of Christ. We won’t resemble any political party. We won’t fit into the molds made for us by a lost world. We won’t find our primary identity in the places we are from, the color of our skin, our economic experience, our educational background or any other common identity marker. We will be defined by who we are in Christ. All of us have been made in God’s image. All of us are broken mirrors. But those who belong to Christ by faith in him alone have been made alive and are being transformed so that the glory of God might shine forth in this fallen world.
John Piper, The Justification of God: An Exegetical and Theological Study of Romans 9:1-23, (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1993) 119.
This is not to say that rules play no part in the Christian life. God’s law is “holy, and righteous, and good,” (Romans 7:12). The aim of the Christian life is love. Love fulfills the law. So, we don’t aim at the law, but because our minds are still being transformed by God’s Word, our understanding of what love is and what loving behavior looks like will be shown to us by the law.