Concretization of the Abstraction of God

Jesus concretized God. Man is supposed to concretize Jesus.

When God created the universe and the earth, he did not consider it to be complete unless he gave the creation a way to know him and what he is like. God is a real person. He is invisible, yet concrete. But to most of us he is more of an abstraction. We can’t see him. We can only see evidence of him. His kingdom, the kingdom of God, is such an abstraction that Jesus never explicitly defines it, rather saying what it is like: a mustard seed, a man on a trip, a father with two sons…

But in the days of creation, God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” (Gen 1:26). Not being a Hebrew scholar myself, I can look up the word and see that the word God uses for image is the same as that of idol. The kind of thing we are not to do, make an image of God to worship it, God has already done in man, not so that we could worship it, but so that we and the rest of the creation could know something of what God is like.

In man in his unbroken, un-fallen state, we can see what God is like. He may have been only a concept before, but now he is concrete.  Righteousness is an abstraction, but the way man was called to live on the earth was concrete.  The same goes for holiness, justice, and love.  To see these abstractions in a concrete reality, one should be able to look at any human on the earth.  

But that is not what we get from looking at humans on the earth, because the image is broken.  Now, to try to see what God is like from looking at his creatures will be misleading, to say the least.  God is love; we hate all the time.  God is joyful; we are often depressed.  God is purposeful; we are purposeless much of the time.  God is selfless; we are selfish.  God is truth; we are liars.  

Because of this difficulty, humans who wanted to know God had to do the best they could by looking at the best of humans, the goodness of creation (broken though it was), and studying the law he gave to Moses with their depraved minds and experimenting with ways to keep it.  

So, understandably, by the time Jesus arrived on the earth, there was much confusion about what the Father was truly like.  But when the Word became flesh and dwelt among us (Jn 1:14), the world got a clear picture.  Philip said to Jesus, “‘Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, “Show us the Father’”? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me” (Jn 14:8-10)? Philip was a disciple of Jesus. Imagine the confusion of those who would oppose Jesus.

Nonetheless, Jesus came and restored the image of God in man, by showing the Father by his life and his own nature, which was the Father’s nature.  In 1 Corinthians 11:3 it says that the head of Christ is God, and the head of man is Christ.  

Our Part in Concretizing the Abstraction

Once again, the world is faced with the problem of abstraction.  Many things are said of Christ, and he has been portrayed in many ways, some more faithfully than others.  The Church has the responsibility of being the body of Christ, the physical expression of him in this age.  Christian men and women who make up the Church are also called to continually grow in their capacity to image Christ and so image the Father.  

I like what happens in Acts 4:13:

Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.

I pray that others could see my boldness and my actions, my commonness, and recognize that I am with Jesus!  I pray that for you too. 

Here is how Jesus said it: “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn 13:35).

Boldness and love are two of the ways in which we can demonstrate the image of Christ and his Father in us, and these we display by receiving the free gift of life in Christ on the cross, and by walking according to his Spirit that he has put in us.  

Then, when they recognize you are different, that you have “been with Jesus,” share the gospel, which is the power of God for salvation (Ro 1:16).

A Christian Approach to Relating to Others Part 2, Justice and Value

Yesterday I wrote about horizontal versus vertical relationships and Jesus’ call not to “exercise authority” over others in part one of a multi-part post about how Christians should relate to other people.  Today I want to talk about the concept of “Justice,” a word that I’m sure we misunderstand quite a bit. 

Justice (Value for Value)

After part one of this discussion you might be thinking, “I understand that we aren’t supposed to dominate others, and that we are equals with everyone we meet, but what about all the verses that say I’m supposed to make myself lower than everyone?  Aren’t I supposed to put everyone above me?”  Philippians 2:3 says, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.”  And Jesus said, “Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant” (Mt 20:26).  You already know that no one is supposed to be your head, that no one is supposed to personally dominate you.  But how should you see others?  How should you look at other men and women who you are supposed to “consider better than yourselves?”  

The word justice is the right word for beginning this thought process. God has created us in his image. He is perfect.  A key part of the Gospel message is that God’s justice is impeccable, perfect.  Because of this, he had to send his Son to die for us, to redeem us, justify us, save us.  The fact that God’s justice is perfect means that the justice in the universe is perfect.  It doesn’t always seem like it, and indeed, the Psalmists complain about that (Ps 58). But time is the key ingredient. No one ever gets away with anything.  This is why confession and repentance is so crucial. By confessing and repenting you can clear the decks. Your confession is your not getting away with it.  The universe, that is, the creation is a just place because the Creator is just.  When we live in his image and pursue abundant life as his delegates, we are to pursue justice.

Justice is a misunderstood term.  Social Justice means many different things to many different people, but very often it has the unfortunate circumstances to be misapplied.  When there is a perceived injustice, often well-meaning people seek to correct it. There is nothing wrong with the desire to correct injustice, but because we are so twisted and broken, we often create greater injustices by our attempts.  Social justice and how to go about it are beyond the scope of this post, but for my current purposes, I’d like you to see justice in light of how we relate to all people around us.  

Honesty, integrity, and love must go together in each and every single, solitary interaction that you have with a fellow image-bearer.

Your spouse, your children, your friends, coworkers, neighbors, highway sharers, shoppers, and anyone else, deserve your integrity and love.  This means that when you face them, whether it is for one half of a second, or until death do you part, you must be just in your interactions.  You must be honest.  You must trade with them horizontally, value for value.  You must remember that God loves them more than you do.  You must see them as God sees them, an image-bearer with the potential to be saved.  You must show up on their radar screen with total integrity.  

Those Closest To You

Remember that part of what we have been created for was relationship.  Everyone you interact with is a relationship of some distance.  You cannot be equally close with everyone, so you have had to make some choices.  One the one hand, you should treat everyone the same.  Everyone deserves your honesty, your courage, your kindness and love, your exhibition of the image of God, that is, your Christlikeness.  Everyone deserves your integrity and your authenticity. And this is not for their sake alone, but for the sake of justice, and for your sake. If you have to pretend in any sphere of your life, you will be damaged. The less time you can live being your true self, the more difficult it will be to live the life that Jesus was trying to give you when he died for you and told you to lose your life to find it.  When you are being your most honest yet loving self, you are “finding your life” (Mt 10:39).  

Let’s see what this looks like with your spouse. If you don’t have one, imagine that you do.  You approach the relationship as someone whose identity is in Christ.  You know who you are. You know where your happiness lies. You did not get married in order to become happy. You got married in order to share your happiness with another, and to accomplish God’s purposes with someone who you have entered into a one-flesh, permanent-for-this-life union, most likely (but not definitely) for the sake of producing godly offspring for the glory of God and the good of the world.

With your identity, that is, your sense of self, and your purpose and happiness rooted already in God, you come to this person ready to give love and support and ready to trade value for value. Does this sound like a business transaction?  It is similar in kind in that true value is not a zero sum game.  Capitalism gets a bad name because of those who engage in it dishonestly in order to steal from others.  But that is not capitalism. It is theft. It is crime. True capitalism can and should be perfectly loving.  Consider that you have an old drill you don’t need because your friend gave you a new and better one. You don’t have room in your garage for two, so you decide you need to get rid of the old one.  You thought you might give it to your other friend, but it turns out he has a better one already.  You also realize you’d like to take your wife out for dinner, but you don’t have the money set aside for that. Maybe you could sell that drill you don’t need anymore to someone who needs it and has expendable income he’s been saving for a drill.  You advertise online and within a day you get an offer that is acceptable to you. You meet up and trade the drill for dinner with your wife. You no longer have the problem of an extra drill and no money for dinner.  Your “customer” no longer has the problem of no drill.  Value has been created by the fact that not only has neither party taken advantage of the other, but dinner for you and your wife is more valuable to you than the drill was.  The drill is more valuable to the other guy than his money was.  To top it off, your wife, who gave up nothing at all, gets treated to dinner.  

This is how capitalism should work, on the basis of justice and value for value. Why is this so?  Because that is how God designed all just relationships to work.  I’m not saying that a marriage or friendship should be modeled on a business transaction. I’m saying that a right relationship is a right relationship.  An honest relationship is an honest relationship. It makes no difference whether two people are married or meeting one time in a parking lot to trade cash for a drill.  How you show up as a true human is the very same. The only difference is in the degree of closeness.  

So with my spouse, everything should be totally honest.  I also believe that I should love everyone, especially her.  So all my interactions with her are not only to be honest, but loving.  I should want the very best for her for the sake of justice and righteousness in all our interactions.  This costs me nothing, because no godly transaction is zero sum, meaning it is not win-lose.  It can only be win-win, and value can only be created, not diminished, when conducted this way.  If you conduct all your relationships the same way, the only difference being the commitment to closeness with those you’ve chosen to be closest to, you will have all great relationships, especially your marriage relationship. 

Tomorrow let’s look at the word “discrimination” and see if there is not a good way to discriminate that is just.

A Christian Approach to Relating to Others Part 1, Horizontal vs. Vertical Relationships

Relating to Others

In the beginning God created a man.  He was alone. God said that it was not good that the man was alone, so he gave him a wife.  You might think that having a wife was the answer to the problem.  It was not. It was the beginning of the answer. It was step one.  But the real answer came about two hundred years later when these two had built a society.  God made man in his image to lovingly relate to other people.  Adam and Eve had to create other people, who would create other people, who would create other people. In their long lives they had time to see most of the known world populated with their family before they died.  This was God’s plan when he said in Genesis 1:28, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.” 

Part of being human, then, is doing life with others.  God in himself is three persons, so he could not make man, who is one person, like him in his image without giving him community. So that is what he did, starting with Eve.  Then he gave him children, grandchildren, great grandchildren for many generations.  These families formed communities.  After the flood and the Tower of Babel, these communities spread over the face of the earth.  Now there are continents, countries, regions, states, cities, suburbs and villages, neighborhoods, and households.  At every level the principles of relating to one another are the same, but the distance between people is closed as you work your way inwardly, both because of the number of people at each stage, and the geographic location of people in relation to one another. Even in our modern globally connected world, this still applies.  

So it is important for the Christian, the image bearer, to learn the principles for relating at each of these levels. Psychologists have said that every emotional problem humans face is an interpersonal relationship problem. Remember my earlier post about the man who escaped his problems by hiding in the woods for over twohttps://formyownsake.com/2020/05/https://formyownsake.com/2020/05/15/manifestations-of-a-broken-image-pt-3/ decades. He knew all his problems were interpersonal relationship problems, but he just didn’t know what to do about it. God helps us if we are willing to listen and do the hard and courageous work of transformation. If we allow God into our lives in these areas, relationships will become a source of joy and a part of our abundance of life.

Horizontal vs. Vertical

In the kingdom of satan, relationships are hierarchical. Everybody knows it. Jordan Peterson, a psychologist of recent internet fame, says people are like lobsters, looking for their place in the status ladder, always challenging for a position higher. He is completely correct. In this world it is ‘dominate or be dominated.’ Human history is the history of who dominated whom. Many of us are evaluating people as soon as we meet them. Unconscious or consciously we are asking, “How do I measure up to this one? Could I win a fight with him” (Guys ask this, women might ask, “Am I prettier than her”)? Our real question is, “Am I any good?” And the vast majority of us will use the people around us to answer that question.

This is what the disciples were getting at when they argued about who was the greatest.  Yet somehow they knew Jesus wouldn’t like it (Mk 9).  This is what James and John were getting at when they had their momma come and ask Jesus to give them the two highest positions in their kingdom.

20 Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came up to him with her sons, and kneeling before him she asked him for something. 21 And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” 22 Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” They said to him, “We are able.” 23 He said to them, “You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.” 24 And when the ten heard it, they were indignant at the two brothers. 25 But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 26 It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, 28 even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mt 20:20-28).

After telling them that they have no idea what kind of burden such a position would bring, that of drinking from the same cup of suffering as Jesus, he says to the disciples who were indignant because they didn’t think to get their own moms involved to get them a position (not really, but maybe),“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them.”  Notice he doesn’t say that they are too domineering, or that the Gentiles necessarily abuse those who they lead. What he says is they lord it over them, which means they take a position of lordship, and they “exercise authority.” They take a position of authority.  What’s so bad about that?  It sounds perfectly natural. There are leaders, and there are followers.  Don’t there have to be?  Well, yes, and no. 

Jesus says, “It shall not be so among you.” You will not lead that way. You are different from the world. The world does what is perfectly natural for people and lobsters, but you are not natural people, you are spiritual people, supernatural people. Your relationships will not be characterized by dominance.  Your identity will not be characterized by your place in a hierarchy.  This will have massive implications for how church should be done, but rarely is.  Jesus has made a powerful statement about the way humans are to relate to one another.  

Even in a situation where positional authority is recognized, personal authority is not proper.

In short, no man should have another man as his leader, meaning, as a person who can dominate that man with his personal power, especially not in the Church. Early twentieth century psychologist, Alfred Adler called this the difference between horizontal relationships, and vertical relationships.    

According to God, all relationships should be horizontal, except for our relationship with him.  That one is completely vertical. His ways are higher than our ways. His glory is and always will be greater than our own.  He is in charge, we are not in charge of anything except what he alone gives us charge over.   But with other people, it is a different story.  When I am face to face with another man or woman, we are equals in dignity. We are equals in intrinsic value.  Why? Because we are both created in God’s image, and that is a great honor.  We don’t share dignity with animals. They are lower than us.  Even the majestic ones who would eat us, are considered by God to be lower than us (Gen 1:26).  In a relationship with an animal, all humans rank above them.  Your dog is not your son.  He is your dog, and he will thrive if you treat him like one.  But the people in your life should be treated as humans, equals, and you should expect, demand, that they will treat you the same. 

Are their hierarchies?  Yes. Are their rulers and governments? Yes.  Does God call us to obey authority? Yes.  Ok, so how then are these people over us our equals?  

Because their authority over you is not personal, and has nothing to do with who you are intrinsically.

It has to do with what power has been vested in them by God.  If the state gives someone authority over you, like a police officer, then it is actually vested by God.   If the company gives a manager authority over you, then it is vested by God. It is true that the company CEO or board of directors is the one who gave that manager authority over you, but it is institutional, and limited in scope.  You may have to submit to him concerning the job, but only under certain moral parameters, and only according to what is reasonable under the contractual agreement that you have with the company.  Though this is your boss, you have a horizontal relationship because you are trading value for value.  You might be allowing him to direct you, but only if he (or she) keeps up his end of the bargain and pays you what he agreed to pay you, and treats you in a way that is appropriate.

Being in a horizontal relationship with this person means that he or she is not better than you just because their institutional position is higher.

Even the police man only has authority over you within certain parameters. The laws of the United States don’t give him absolute power over your life. The laws, in fact, protect the individual from the power of the state. The state, including the police officer, must be just, or they lose their authority. Your relationship with the police, the judge, or the President of the United States, is horizontal. They are not personally over you. They are not better than you intrinsically. They may be more competent, for now, or they may represent a higher institutional authority than you, and representing the institution, they represent God so long as their rules are just, which means that they are in accordance with Scripture and logic, whether they acknowledge that or not. But, they are not over you.

But why do we feel like they are? Because it is natural to feel that way. It is natural in our flesh to feel our lack in the face of a stronger personality. That is why Jesus had to teach the disciples a way of thinking about leadership that went opposite of the world’s way. Not so with you. You will not “exercise authority.” No using natural means to gain power over others. No standing between people and God, which is what happens when one lords it over another, and exercises personal authority, human, natural authority.

The head of Christ is God. The head of man is Christ. 1 Cor 11:3-13 says it is disgraceful for a man to wear a head covering, because it is a sign of authority, such as a wife would wear who has a husband, who is her “head.” But no man has another human as his head. No man is to have another human standing in between himself and God. Some of those in ministry see themselves as holding that position, we’ll discuss this more in a future post, but for now I’ll say they are sorely mistaken, and they do a great disservice to the people they serve if they think that way. Jesus said it would be different in his Church.

I will continue this series in several parts about relating to other people. I hope you’ll come back tomorrow to continue the conversation. I welcome your comments.

How Jesus Restores Mankind Part 3, on Lust and Sexuality

Yesterday we took a look at how Jesus redefines the severity of the anger problem, tying it to the heart behind hatred and murder. After his discourse on anger, Jesus moves to the topic of lust with an equally devastating redefinition.  

27 You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart (Mt 5:27-28). 

For obvious reasons, this is devastating to those who, while they haven’t acted on their desires, have entertained thoughts and fantasies.  But why?  Doesn’t it mean something that we control our impulses to act, and relegate lust to feelings and thoughts? Perhaps, but again, let’s not assume that Jesus is only saying this in order to make us see how bad we are and drive us to the cross and our need for a savior.  Let’s assume that he wants us to have total freedom in this area.  

Why does it matter to God what we do with our minds and hearts?  The answer is that God doesn’t just care what we look like. He cares about who we are. He made us in his image to show the world what he is like, especially those of us who he has saved and filled with his Holy Spirit.  To entertain lustful thoughts, we must forget all that.  We must be like animals who don’t think, just move by instinct.  We must suspend our God-given abilities to step back and consider what is best. Not what is easy, fun, or what would satisfy our momentary craving, but what is best.  Is it good for us to forsake in our minds God’s desire for us to be pure?  Should we rebel against God by ignoring his instruction on sexual purity?

God created sex, and he designed the idea of romantic relationships.  How happy Adam must have been when God woke him up and presented him with the wife that he created from Adam’s own body.  “This is now flesh of my flesh, and bone of my bone” (Gen 2:23). I can’t even imagine the joy of discovery that ensued.  This is God’s desire for all of us unless he specifically calls us to singleness (Mt 19:12).  It is a gift, a mind blowing gift.  There is no reason whatsoever to pervert that gift by using it in a lesser, cheaper way than how he intended it. Pornography is cheap. It does damage to us in so many ways, not to mention exploiting the brokenness of some young woman who doesn’t know God and has sold herself cheap.  Prostitution is even worse.  But even just plain old fashioned premarital sex doesn’t come close to the good design God has for love and relationship in a marriage.  It is a pathway to destruction of a relationship, to mistrust, to conflict. If you get married to the person you are crossing those lines with, there will be years of pain and mistrust to overcome together. Nothing is impossible with God, but it is usually very difficult to overcome. 

Jesus doubles down on this point and says that to look “at a woman with lustful intent” is to already commit adultery with her.  The same goes for women looking at men with lustful intent.  When you do that, man or woman, what does that say about the position of your heart?  What does that say about the belief that God is in your mind and sees what you see, hears what you think, and knows what you are?  If you can know Jesus’s words and ignore them, then I have to assume there is a good chance you don’t actually believe any of it.  God is watching. Always. To fear God is to believe that is true. To love God is to care what he thinks and love to please him.  But there is more to it than the fact that perversion dishonors the God who watches.  

Jesus is showing us the way to freedom.  

Do you want sexual freedom in the area of your actions?  Then get sexual freedom in the area of your thoughts.  The good news is not that God doesn’t want you to think about those things, perverting your spirit and dishonoring his, but that God has actually set you free from the compulsion to do those things, to think those things. Furthermore, he has something much, much better for you if you are married, especially if both of you are believers.  Do it right, and learn this.  

But maybe you aren’t married. Maybe you have no spiritually viable outlets for sexuality. Neither did Jesus. He was a single guy. Do you think he kept himself in check by repression? I don’t think so. I think Jesus understood reality well enough to know that even sex that is within the confines of holy matrimony is not the end all be all of abundant life. He knew that the love of a woman is not the greatest love of all; it is not the key to happiness and joy that our current culture believes that it is. This is one of Satan’s greatest lies. From what the Bible says, there will be no sex in heaven. No marriage (Mt 22:30). So, that tells me that what there is in terms of love and fulfillment is much, much greater. Jesus would have us see that now, take sex off of its current pedestal and start living. Romantic love pales in comparison to agape the love of the Father, the love for God with all our heart, soul, and strength, and the love for our neighbor as our self. It is the love that we must subordinate even the romantic love of our spouses to, if we are to have a godly, and healthy, even a romantically fulfilling marriage.

If all this sounds difficult and sacrificial, remember that Jesus is talking about freedom. What’s not to love about freedom? He came, lived, and died to set you free from sexual sin. Believe, and go free. Let’s talk more tomorrow about the sermon on the mount and what Jesus had to say about giving, praying, and fasting in secret

How Jesus Restores Mankind

A virgin teenage girl, named Mary, was visited in her room by an angel, Gabriel. He told her that the Messiah, the savior, that the Jewish people had been awaiting for centuries was finally coming, and she would be his mother.  This was startling and more than a little puzzling, because, as she said, “I am a virgin”. The messenger explained that God, the Holy Spirit, who is the third person of the Trinity, would overshadow her and she would be impregnated with the Son of God. In this way her son would be fully God and fully man.  Whether or not Mary realized it at the time, this fact was crucial to the whole rescue plan that God had had since the beginning.  

Jesus would come to save the lost, and that means a whole host of things beyond that we will go to heaven for believing — no small thing.  But it also means that we can be restored to the image of God according to his original intention, and that we can be a part of restoring the world in the same way, both here in this age in some limited capacity, and certainly in the next when Jesus returns.  Let’s look at four main aspects of Jesus’ ministry to see what he has done, and how we can apply it to our lives in order to begin living the life that God has called us to.  These are the atonement, the teaching of Jesus, particularly in the sermon on the mount, the understanding of losing our life to find our Life, and coming of the Holy Spirit for empowerment and abiding in Christ. 

The Atonement

The first and most important aspect of Jesus’s life is that he was born to die. In my very first blog post I said that God is the great I AM. This means that he not only exists, he is the source of all life, goodness, and laws about the way things are, from physics, chemistry, and math, to philosophy. In the beginning was the Word, the Logos, The Greeks may have thought of this as simply reason, but it is much more than that. John 1:14 says this Logos, the “Word, became flesh and dwelt among us.” All that God is, and all that is true is embodied in this. Truth flows from God. That two plus two equals four flows from God. Love in all its forms flows from God. Justice flows from God. Value flows from God. Life flows from God. Light flows from God. Glory flows from God, who is the standard of all glory.

God is the source of all truth and justice. As such he can only be perfect.  He is perfect in every way, but particularly in the realm of justice.  He does all things in a way that is right, or righteous.  It is very hard for humans, who are not perfect, to grasp this fact and why there needed to be a substitutionary sacrifice for the evil that is in the world, the imperfection which is an affront to the Creator.  The Father, like the father of the prodigal son, waits and longs for our return to him and to his way of existing, which is not only perfect, good, and righteous, but designed for human flourishing to the glory of God. 

There must be a just way to restore creation without himself acting unjustly. This is why Jesus had to be fully man — so that as a man he could restore men — and fully God — so that he could actually accomplish a sinless life, making himself the only proper sacrificial lamb for all time. The Bible says the law could not accomplish it because men could not keep the law. But the righteousness of God was manifested “apart from the law” in Jesus Christ (Ro 3:21) so he could be the just and the justifier (Ro 3:26), meaning God could be the one who demands justice, but also, lovingly, provides justice. Jesus lived a life of perfection, though he was tempted like us. He never once sinned. Satan tempted him and he never once gave in to temptation.

Then, he allowed sinful men to arrest him. He watched his friends abandon him like cowards. He stood silently as his enemies mocked him, beat him, and gave him a farce of a trial, a formality, and then they killed him by crucifixion, hanging him by nails in his hands and feet up on a Roman cross. The Lord of Glory was killed for our transgressions, uttering with his last breaths, “Father, forgive them. They know not what they are doing.”

And so his followers could later go back to Jesus’s words to Niccodemus in John 3:

14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. 16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.

Whoever believes in him, meaning, whoever believes that they are a sinner and in need of a savior, and puts their faith in Jesus, will have everlasting life. They will go to heaven forever when they die, or Jesus returns. Whoever does not believe, will remain condemned. As John the Baptist would say in the same chapter,

“36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him” (Jn 3:36).

So we are saved for eternity from the justice of God to come, but too often this is thought of as, eternal life will start when I am dead. But this is not the case. Eternal life begins at regeneration. This is the nature of this eternal life. The first and most important step is to trust Jesus for salvation and new life. The Bible says that when we are saved we are made into a new creation, to walk in the newness of life.

Later we’ll start a multi-part series of articles that get into the Sermon on the Mount in order to think through some of the key teaching points in Jesus’ ministry. These have great significance for how we deal with the problem of being fallen and broken in the image of God

Manifestations of a Broken Image Pt 3

In the first two posts we talked about some common ways that our brokenness negatively affects our ability to bear the image of God in the way that he originally intended when he dreamed up and created mankind to reflect him and represent him on the earth. Because of sin we have never been able to pull it off, but because of Christ we can begin to learn what God intended for us, and we have the tools: truth, redemption, the Holy Spirit, and the example of Jesus to make it possible.

But today I want to explore some of the more insidious ways that our broken image can manifest so that we can not only watch for signs of these in our own hearts, but also know them when we see it in others around us. 

Crooks

A crook is a person who does not understand that according to the true knowledge of good and evil handed down by God, it is an abomination to steal from others.  As we said in an earlier post, God institutes the sacredness of property rights in the Ten Commandments.  In order to elevate one’s status, some will become thieves of one kind or another, whether by breaking in and stealing physical property, online theft, identity theft, scam business practices, false advertising, cheating, or other such activities.  This violates the very principles we’ve been discussing about the sacredness and dignity of human beings.  God says our stuff is our stuff to dispose of any way we see fit, hoping we will look to him for direction.  Crooks deny his existence by denying the necessity to follow his ways and by trampling his image in their victims. 

Liars

A glance at Scripture may make it seem like it is a sin to be rich. But a careful and balanced study of the Bible will show that the issue is not how much money one has, in itself a neutral thing, but how one acquires it, and what one does with it.  Many of the passages that seem to condemn wealth assume that those with wealth will have gotten it by means of oppression (Ja 5:4).  Indeed, to acquire wealth by oppression violates the principles we’ve been discussing. It fails to see the inherent dignity of the oppressed and is wicked. 

Closely related to crooks are liars. Remember we are discussing the manifestations of the shame that began in the garden (Gen 3:10). Why do people lie? They lie in order to project a false image, or to gain something. If when we were kids, we were expected to be perfect, at least outwardly, we may have discovered that lying was easier than being good. In a sense, this whole blog is about being good, but not like you think. Not looking good. Not pleasing anyone. Not gathering other people’s opinions that you are good, but actually being good, which is a major key to the abundant life of being a glorious image-bearer. Since no one teaches us that as kids, we find out that the rewards are for looking good, and getting other people to recognize that. Well that is difficult, but we can short-cut the process by lying when we fall short. This can go with any of the other categories of the manifestations of shame.

Recluses

Any of the above characters could choose to escape all that shame and interpersonal complexity by becoming a recluse. There was an article in GQ called “The Strange and Curious Tale of the Last True Hermit” (Aug 5, 2014; Finkel). Christopher Thomas Knight lived in the woods of central Maine for twenty-seven years.  He was affectionately known to the locals as the North Pond Hermit, and when he was finally caught stealing by the police, he admitted to around forty robberies over the years.  He’d go into the town when he needed food, or batteries, or clothing, fattening up on Smarties and Oatmeal pies in the fall against the harsh Maine winters (never lighting fires to avoid being seen).  

When they finally caught him it eventually came out that, while he felt a fair amount of shame for being a thief, it was ultimately worth it to him because it meant that he could avoid interacting with people.  When he was twenty years old, he had just had enough. Not that he’d had a bad life, but interpersonal relationships made him anxious and uncomfortable, so he ran, and though it was really tough to survive out there in the woods all those years, he said the anxiety and stress just stopped the day he left, and started up again the day he returned, twenty-seven years later.  But God made us to be in relationships. It is healthy and good to become a self-reliant person who is emotionally resilient enough to spend lots of time alone, but not forever.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer said in his book, Life Together, “Let him who is not in community beware of being alone” (pg 77).  

The recluse can manifest on a spectrum, like any of these.  Some just have a tendency to stay home and avoid people most of the time.  Some go into the woods for twenty-seven years.  But either way, it is still a function of our brokenness when we are unable to deal with being around other people. 

Tyrants

Tyrants come in all shapes and sizes, but what they have in common is that their favorite mode of coping with people is to dominate them. Jesus was clear that God created us for what psychologist Alfred Adler called, horizontal relationships.  No one is meant to be above us, and no one is meant to be below us.  This does not mean we cannot have or be a boss, a teacher, a police officer, or some other such authority. Christians are called to submit to authority (Ro 13:1). But none of that is ever meant to be personal authority. If we have authority over another person, there is some higher entity that they are actually submitting to: the state, who has the power to protect rights; the company, who has the power to fire, or promote; or even the parents, who are invested by God.  

But no person is supposed to dominate another person because it violates that person’s selfhood. It does violence to the image of God in them.  A Tyrant, because of his shame, will seek personal power over people, rather than trade value for value as a servant leader.  A boss, a parent, a friend, or the worst, a pastor, may use you to soothe their insecurity and the anxiety of their self-doubt by seeking dominance over you.  

But this is the broken image of leadership as God intended it and as Jesus described it to his own status-hungry disciples (Mk 10:42-44).  All relationships should start with the acknowledgement that here before you is an image-bearer of the Almighty.  To seek dominance is to destroy that image.  The techniques vary from obvious and physically violent, to subtle and highly manipulative. Either way, as Jesus said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 43 Not so with you.” (Mk 10:42-43 emphasis mine).  

Followers

On the opposite end, are the extreme followers.  There could be no tyrants if there were not those who were prone to give over the keys to their identity and their responsibility for thinking to these tyrants.  People long for heroes and infallible leaders, because they long for God.  Many people did not quite get what they needed or wanted from an earthly Father, and so they are susceptible to any fatherly type of tyrant.  Others just like having someone to trust in, who will take care of them, of everything, and sometimes, who they can blame when things go wrong.  

You don’t have to look all the way to the cults like Jonestown and Waco. There is some level of a sinful willingness to follow in every sphere of human life, and at most otherwise good churches.  Consider the teenager who lets the cool kids get him into trouble. Why is he doing what he knows to be wrong? Because of the powerful desire to follow the one who will give him status by association.  Isn’t this what happens in spiritually abusive churches?  Men and women seek status, so they seek to hitch themselves to the highest status leaders in the church. These followers will eventually become tyrants if they can, and for the same reason.  

Gangs, online communities, clubs, secret societies, and pretty much any grouping of people has great potential for this sort of thing, but none is more destructive than when it happens in a government. The extreme version of this might be seen in fascist (Hitler) or communist (Mao) countries, but even democratic political systems will bring out the sinful tendency to want to give over thinking responsibility to an all powerful leader who has tapped into a need in the masses and become a cult of personality.

So What Do We Do?

These are just some of the ways that our sin manifests to break down the image of God inside us and derail us from living the life we were made for and to live for God, ourselves, and others. Sometimes, to look around, or to even look at yourself can feel hopeless. Does anyone come to earth and live like an image-bearer, fulfilling the purpose God had for humanity when he lovingly created us? There was one. And his work on earth has made possible the restoration of us all, if only we will have eyes to see what he has done, and ears to hear what he has said. His name is Jesus. He knows you and loves you, and he was everything he is calling us to be.

Manifestations of a Broken Image Pt. 2

In part 1 we discussed how we were made in the image of God to work.  Work was meant by God to be a rewarding experience for us.  God worked in the creation of the world and he is still working (Jn 5:17).  Because of the fall, work became difficult, but because of Christ, work can be restored to its proper place of glorifying God and being an aspect of the meaningfulness of our lives.  This meaning in the pursuit of life for our own sake, for his sake is what will drive us when we become mature.  It is something we will do perfectly in eternity.  

Today and tomorrow I’ll consider some of the things that can drive us instead of the pursuit of righteousness and abundant life. Because the world is in sin, working in the way we are discussing, in a redeemed way, is rare. We have already discussed in part 1 the cycle of working hard to seek comfort and pleasure. Consider now the following drivers of the people of the world.

Status Chasing Treadmill

If you have managed to outgrow pleasure seeking and comfort chasing, then there is a good chance you are driven by status seeking. Remember what happened in the garden (Gen 3:11)?  Shame.  Fear of our own nakedness means that we don’t like who and what we truly are.  

Sadly, the way most sinful humans deal with this is to compare themselves with others, hoping to find some reason to believe that they are higher somewhere on the ladder of status than those with whom they are comparing.

The worst part about this is that the way the vast majority of us choose to do this is to mine the world for the opinions of others. Everything we do asks the question: “What do you think of me in comparison with them?”  You can live your whole life this way and never quite realize it, or know how to stop.  Why? Because only one person at a time can achieve the highest place.  There can only be one best person. And the secret is that even that person won’t know they are the best.  

Consider how this happened: You are a bright kid with lots of potential.  Your parents are proud of you, a little too proud.  Every time they hear about the achievement of someone else’s kids, they feel anxious and begin to push you a little harder than before to succeed at everything that you do. When you win, or succeed, they seem to really love it, and love you. When you don’t, they say something about how it’s OK, and they love you no matter what, but somehow it doesn’t feel the same.  They get so very elated when you succeed, and you can hear the joy oozing from their voices as they brag to their parents and friends about how great of a kid you are.  

You pick up on this and learn that the most important thing you can do is impress them.  You also learn that impressing others impresses them the most.  You are good at piano. They like to hear you play, but they love to hear you play for their friends.   If you’re young enough, your parents were on Facebook and projected this unhealthy pattern to hundreds, if not thousands.  And you? Somehow you have become the same way. You can’t wait to tell them about the A that your kid, the grandchild of their loins, got on his math test.  You may have mild discomfort about all of it, but you ignore it, because everybody is like this. Not everybody, but the vast majority.  

Where did this start? The garden.  I was ashamed because I was naked, so I hid myself. The image of the little creators was broken and hopelessly screwed up.  The history of humanity has shown the sad results, starting with the murder of a brother because he was envious of him and not able to master the sin that was crouching at his door (Gen 4:7), and right on until today.   Here are some ways we can turn out as a result.

Second Handers

Some philosophers have called them second handers, others call them agreeable, and most call them people pleasers. These people have no idea who they actually are. They’ve learned from an early age to become experts at reading others to find out what they should value. These are non thinkers who often get possessed by ideological positions, either on the left OR the right, probably depending on who they most interact with.  They make up herds, crowds all driven by the same idea.  How great that I don’t have to think in a herd!  A thousand people can’t be wrong!  They make up mobs, crowds all driven by the same emotion. Again, I don’t have to think, feelings make me feel alive! And they make up gangs, all driven by the same idea and emotion.  These are all ways of experiencing groupthink, and they can be virtual online crowds, or actual physical crowds.  

One sad example of a second-hander is the overwhelming number of young people today that aspire to become celebrities.  In surveys of young people, the number one aspiration tends to be fame of some kind.  Famous for what?  For being famous! If all the people that want to become famous, become famous, then none of them will become famous. Fame truly is a zero-sum game. 

Emotional Dependents

These people don’t bother thinking very much.  They chase the feelings, or at least they run from the bad feelings.  Consider the idolization of romance.  God made us male and female and created sex and romantic love for the purpose of godly families and joy in marriage. Those who are addicted to romantic relationships, making it their highest purpose, tend to go from relationship to relationship searching for a feeling.  If they do stay with one person, the codependency will be certain to cause distress for both parties. 

Emotional dependents may find one person to depend on emotionally, or they will depend on everyone to varying degrees.  Consider the overbearing mothers who felt distant from their father, so they married a man just like him who they also feel distant toward, and then she has a son.  This baby boy will fulfill all her dreams of connection and closeness, and will grow up to have a codependent relationship with her, ruining his future marriage, as he looks for another mom in his choice of spouse. This person has been taught that he is a bad boy if his mother is not happy with him.  This translates to everyone must be happy with him and all the time.  He will never have an enemy, because he will look to win everyone he ever meets.  Someone upset with him will consume until he can win their approval, or find a reason to write them off and try to forget they ever existed.  

This doesn’t just happen to boys.  In fact, women struggle with this more than men. Remember the overbearing mother.  There are books and books written about how we got this way, but for now, remember that the main source is the knowledge of good and evil that came, not from God, but from man’s disobedience to God, which led to shame.  Shame drives the behaviors and emotionalism that keep us from being who we actually are as image-bearers of the great I AM who made us to be creators.  Emotional dependents create nothing except validation pipelines from themselves to everyone.  

Performers

Once in a great while a musician, or an actor, or some other kind of entertainer will come around who truly seems to be doing what they do for the art itself.  These people, in my experience, are one in a million.  Most of them, like 98%, were driven to perform because of shame. Actors probably are especially prone to this because of the allure of becoming someone else in a performance.  But more than that, spend time with them (I am speaking from experience as a former singer-actor), and you will see that they are always on. Do they know they are always on?  Not usually.  Sometimes those who have been driven by the most pain will eventually come to terms with this.  Those who find God will begin to see the idol of the opinions of others as what drives them.  Cultivating a relationship with God can help someone to stop getting the reward from performing that they were getting, as they learn to worship God alone, but this will likely be a lifetime struggle.  

But one doesn’t have to become a professional entertainer to live their life as a performer.

Consider the rise of social media and the tendency to curate an image.  People can carefully consider everything they post, designing their online personality to be exactly what they want it to be.  Or consider those people who do that in person.  They are salesee. They always have some agenda. You never quite know what is behind their words.  You get the sense that you don’t really know anything about them, even if you have “known” them for years.  

Have you ever seen someone who smiles all the time, but you sense they are wound up so tight that they could explode at any minute?  Have you ever caught someone like that when they don’t know anyone is watching, and their face returns to the look of desperation that was hiding behind the huge smile all along? Then when they see you looking, BAM, smile is back.  This is a performer.  They don’t even know themselves, and they probably think they don’t want to know. Sadly, I think a lot of clergy fall into this category, forgetting we are called to be truth-bearers, not salesmen, and that people are God’s children and sheep of his pasture, not potential customers and clients. 

Hope

It doesn’t have to be this way. Jesus did not die just so that we could go to heaven some day. He died to heal us, to restore our broken image back to the glory under God that we were meant to have as we reflect our creator. I’ll come back tomorrow to talk in part 3 about a few other more dangerous ways that our broken image can manifest.

Manifestations of a Broken Image Pt. 1

How do most people think of work?  Most people think of work as something that you have to do, so that you can afford the things that you want to do.  They work for the weekend.  But the weekend is often just as hard, if not harder, at least for those with families.  There are kids to raise, notoriously difficult and labor intensive.  If it isn’t labor intensive then you are doing it wrong!  There is a house and lawn to keep up. Don’t forget about the fact that all week, spouses have been able to avoid one another while one or both of them were working outside the home.  Remember what God said about the curse on marriage?  Will it be fun for the wife to have a “desire [that] shall be contrary to [her] husband?”  It is potentially no fun for either one of them.    

And so much of the work is in the hopes of gaining enough to spend on pleasures. But those pleasures always fall short of being worth the effort.  When one lives for comfort and pleasure, the best part is the anticipation and the work to achieve them.  Getting the comfort and pleasure is never as great as we anticipate that it will be. Why? 

Because pleasure seeking is not actually what we’re made for. 

Think about something pleasurable, like eating cake. Anticipating it is great. Smelling it is great. The first two or three bites are great. But the third through the seventy-fifth bites become increasingly not great. In fact, they start to impact our emotions negatively as we begin thinking about the pain that is coming, the weight that will be gained, the early death that we can expect if we keep doing this, how disgusted with ourselves we are for not stopping. If cake is not your thing, insert sex, drugs, alcohol, shopping, and you’ll see that emptiness and depression are the result of all of it. Right now in history is the worst time to be dealing with this, because we are so prosperous. If you didn’t have time for any of these things, because you spent all your time on toil in order to survive, you’d have other problems, but you wouldn’t have this one. The current age is the most dangerous in history in terms of having the time and resources to seek pleasure and comfort to our hearts content, which is actually impossible, though we are killing ourselves to learn that.