Image and Likeness

A Fresh Look at Scripture - Part II

I invite you to take a fresh look at our spiritual heritage with me.  As the book of Hebrews says, scripture is living and active.  It’s alive!  It’s like a fruit tree, birthing seed bearing fruit in its’ season. The Word is like fresh earth mingled with Christ’s spittle placed on our eyes that we might see.  Truths in the Word are an unending treasure chest of revelation and understanding.  Each generation has the opportunity to find something new!

There’s nothing else that brings life like fresh manna from heaven.  I love when the Word seems to jump off the page and speak to me.  It may answer a question I’ve asked God, give guidance, or comfort in a painful situation.  Then there are those times the Holy Spirit comes unannounced and unexpected, revealing mysteries in the Word or brings scriptures of his delight and love for me (and you).  The Word of God is a most precious gift.  Of course, I’m not only talking about the written word but Jesus himself.

God’s word continues to unfold, reveal and bring us into deeper communion and intimacy with Jesus that we might be complete and mature in him.  The body of Christ’s current knowledge and understanding of the Word and our “being known and knowing God” surpasses our spiritual ancestors.  That is the natural order of things.  Even Christ himself will hand everything over to his Father after having subdued all his enemies.      

There are five events of particular note that stand out in our spiritual heritage.  The common characteristic is the transition of eras.  The events are: the “fall”; the flood; the Abrahamic covenant and the giving of the Law; the life, ministry and sacrifice of Jesus Christ; and the church on the threshold of the millennium.

Each period witnesses a paradigm shift in God’s relationship with man.  Each threshold prepares man for a closer relationship with man and God.

The Flood

In 1 Peter 3:19-20, recounting the flood, Peter says “through whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison, who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built…”(NIV)  And in 2 Peter 2:5, referring to the flood, he says “…but protected Noah, a preacher of righteousness, and seven others”. (NIV)  Note – the “he” in first Peter refers to Christ.

God gave Peter a revelation of Noah not mentioned in Genesis.  Not only did Noah prepare the Ark but he also preached.

I believe Noah had greater intimacy and relationship with God than his ancestors, even Adam and Eve.  God was starting over again and it would be through Noah’s seed the earth would be replenished.  There must have been something unique about Noah to catch God’s eye.  What was it about Noah that distinguished him above all others, God choosing him to cultivate righteousness?

In spite of never seeing rain he built an ark.  And not only built an ark, but preached in the face of a very hostile world.  This was quite an invitation by God to journey.  One can only imagine the deep waters (no pun intended) Noah experienced in his heart.

How did Noah handle hostility, mocking, rejection, abuse, threats, possible acts of sabotage, fear, family issues, etc., and still keep his heart open to God, secure in his love, dependent in his protection?  Surely he faced some persecution given the condition of people’s hearts.  My word, things must have gotten pretty bad for God to kill everyone, save Noah and his family. Imagine going to bed at night wondering if the whole community would rise up and kill you and your family.  One can only imagine the terrible thoughts and words he faced from others.  In all likelihood, Noah had to make choices like no one before him.  He was given the stewardship of saving mankind’s heritage of the earth.  His charge was an enormous undertaking.  Only Christ after him faced such a challenge.

Preparing for the flood was Noah’s season of testing and trial – initiation into a new level in his journey with God.  Can you imagine the spirits of accusation attacking him?  The spiritual warfare at times must have been terrific.  One can be assured the Devil was right there to make things as difficult as possible for Noah and his family.  Certainly, God used those times to invite Noah into deep dependence on him.

Can you imagine building something for decades, preaching, believing you will be saved and others lost in the coming deluge?  What a reverent heart for God and people God must have formed in him – even in his likeness!  And think about the possible “death bed conversions” in the flood; the thankfulness in their hearts as they stood before God the other side of this life (the scripture in first Peter seems to infer there were those who drowned and were saved).

Thank God, Noah and his family persevered.  Noah was a forerunner, an evangelist – a person ahead of his time.  He transited two eras.  He revealed a greater revelation of God’s plan for man and of God’s nature.  He stood out among his generation and God used him in unprecedented ways.

The key I take away from Noah’s journey is:  Unprecedented changes occur in the lives of those called and chosen by God to transit the boundary separating two different eras.  And, their obedience to God ushers in the change and brings them to a new place in God. 

To those watching, new moves of God may seem strange, fanatical and maybe even evil.  Imagine being told by Noah a flood is coming and everything will be destroyed.  And, that God was the one doing it!  What would you think?  I suppose many would be thinking, God would never do that – it must be the devil talking to Noah.  God could not possibly be planning this – it breaks every convention and norm we know.  God is the author of life – Noah, this is the devil.  Why, our marriages, finances and hopes of the future will be destroyed!  Our family lines will cease – who will carry our name forward?

God’s great love and mercy brought man’s increasing wickedness to an end.  I wonder how many repented and cried out to God during the flood and found heaven their home?

John the Baptist weathered his storm before Christ succeeded him.  And the Church will weather its storm before the Millennium.

Yes, God used Noah in an unprecedented way, to warn, to build, to transit two eras, and to replant.  The plan of God was moving forward into deeper waters.

The Tree of Life – 1 John 1:1

Seed Bearing Fruit

“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched – this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.”(NIV)

I love this passage of scripture.  The imagery is amazing.  John is giving his testimony of eating from the tree of life, Jesus Christ.  In the Gospel of John, the apostle records the ministry of Jesus Christ.  In this letter (1 John) he is testifying to the transforming power of Jesus Christ.  John is eating from the tree of life and it is transforming his life!

The imagery in 1 John is strikingly similar with the account of Eve in the Garden of Eden at the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  Can you imagine what it was like for her to be there, probably hungry, being wooed by the tempter?  Can you see her handling the fruit, smelling its fragrance, feeling its texture, and eyeing its substance?  Can you imagine her thoughts, wondering why something so appealing would be forbidden?

As Eve heard the voice of Satan, John heard the voice of Jesus Christ.  As Satan’s voice began a process of moving Eve toward him, so Christ’s voice invited John toward him.  And as Eve saw “…that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye…”(NIV), John sees, eyes and looks upon the living Christ, the living, breathing word of God in Jesus Christ.  To paraphrase, one might say John stared at Jesus Christ and his life, clearly discerning the dependence of Christ upon his Father for life and perceiving the intimacy Jesus had with his Father.  So much so he “eyed”, figuratively envied, jealous for a similar relationship with God.  John saw the fruit and it looked good!

John was awestruck by Christ, his life, his words, the authority of his words, his treatment of people, his ability to invite people from all walks of life and sin problems into relationship with God.  He loved his peaceable spirit and nature, his quickness to forgive, his gentleness in correction and his kindness.  He also loved the strength of his character in being true to his heart and his Father’s heart – piercing the heart of self righteous works.

As Eve caressed the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in her hands, and was overcome by its presence, so is John overcome by the fruit of the Word of God in Christ – “his presence” – caressing the Word of God in his hands.

John’s testimony goes beyond the relationship he had with Jesus when Christ walked on the earth.  It is much more.  His testimony is of Christ’s indwelling spirit, the Holy Spirit, bearing fruit in his (John’s) life.  As Eve confirms Satan’s words of knowing good and evil by eating the fruit and her nature being changed for the worse, John confirms Christ’s words of life by eating the Word of God and having his nature transformed for the better.  That is the testimony John heralds in the Epistle of 1 John – Jesus Christ has come in the flesh – I am no longer obligated to serve the lower nature!

What the Apostle John is saying in essence, “Look, I’ve eaten from the tree of life, its fruit, and I have a new life, no longer a slave to sin and condemnation.  I have fellowship with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.  My flesh, my lower nature, no longer separates me from intimacy with God.  In fact, my lower nature is being put to death.  I am being transformed.  The tree of life is available each and every day in Christ, eat and be filled with its fruits!  Handle, touch and eat freely of the tree of life!  Eat God’s word, let its seeds be planted in your heart and it will produce fruit for you and others.  I, John, am an open letter to you of my life in Christ.  An open letter from Jesus.”

John’s tree is still producing seed bearing fruit!  The Word of God, penned by John’s hand is living and active in our lives.  We are being transformed by the Word as John was transformed by the Word.

And oh, by the way, John warns of eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  To remind everyone where we came from and the battle before us, he says to stay away from the world and the lusts thereof.  In 1 John 2:16, John says, “…the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does – comes not from the Father but from the world…”.(NIV)  In other words, don’t continue to be deceived believing the things of this world are good for food, pleasing to the eye, and desirable for gaining wisdom.

John is heralding a hidden treasure he’s found.  Saying, in so many words, “You know the tree in the Garden Adam and Eve missed, the tree of life, well, I’ve found it, eaten its fruit, and it’s brought me from the darkest of darkness into the glorious light of Christ.”  I believe John would also say, “As with any treasure, there is a cost my friend, a painful sacrifice, but it is well worth the price.”

Like Paul, John apprehended what he was apprehended for.  His hands have handled – they’ve touched the living God.  John is inviting all to come and eat of the tree of life and enter the journey of intimacy with God and his Son, Jesus Christ, being made into Christ’s likeness.

Image and Likeness

A New Nature - Prophetic Declaration

First in a series.

A number of years ago I attended a men’s conference on finding our “call”.  It stirred up hope and hunger for fellowship with others in our  common spiritual journey.  Like so many other stirrings of the Holy Spirit, there’s the ebb of the Spirit after such an awakening.    It seems the Spirit stirs our heart, whets our appetite, and then daily life attempts to suffocate our brief encounter with God.

Today we hear much about “story”.  The story of adventure, battle, and rescue.  The desperate cry of our heart to find meaning, risk, challenge, and fellowship in some grand adventure and undertaking.  To be a part of something that has impact, changes lives, and changes the course of history.  To wage war against the enemy and snatch victory from him and make it ours.  Is this not what Jesus offered to us, that we might have abundant life, and have it to the full?

The heart is a very complex thing.  There are a lot of moving parts to our story.  It takes time for God to move people and places into position, to arrange opportunities, to help us open our heart and be prepared for him, to hear his call and rightly discern, and to wisely respond.  There’s a confluence of emotions, feelings, history and expectations that all come into play in one form or another.  Then there are the current circumstances of our lives, health, relationships and even finances.  To stir the pot up a little further there is the enemy, the cravings of our fallen nature, the pull of the world, and many other magnets tempting us one way or the other.

As I wrestle with my story, and all that it entails, I am reminded there is a “master plan” at work in my life and I can find rest in Him.

In Genesis 1:26, God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea…”(NIV)   In Genesis 1:27, the account states “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”(NIV)

The Hebrew word for image is Strong’s Number 6754 to shade; a phantom, illusion, resemblance, figure, idol.  The Hebrew word for likeness is Strong’s Number 1823 resemblance, model, shape; fashion, manner, similitude.  It appears image has more to do with the “outward” form – what you see.  Likeness appears to have more to do with the “inward”, its’ nature.  Some have likened “image” to walking uprightly (authority), intellect, sight, hearing, speaking, touch, etc.  Likeness, in contrast, would be things like thoughts, attitudes, beliefs, words, mannerisms, motives, etc.

God creates man in his image, but what about likeness?  Why did he not mention likeness as well?  Is likeness something that can be created or is it a creative process?  And in verse 26 the account says “let us make…”  So not only does verse 27 exclude likeness, it also uses the word create, instead of make.

Perhaps, before the fall, there was not much difference between image and likeness.  Adam and Eve were naked and not afraid. As we say today, what you see is what you get.  It is probably safe to say Adam and Eve lived out of wholeness, complete at their level of maturity in the various aspects of their lives.  Sinless, the inward and outward form of their lives were in relative harmony.  Being created as adults (other than babies or young children), their “image” would be further along, as it were, than their “likeness”.  Just as 21 year old may have very little physical change over the next decade, his or her heart could have significant changes, to the better or the worse.

At the fall Adam and Eve’s inward nature changed for the worse, a progressive degradation.  Their outward formed changed as well, with physical death looming ahead.

One of the big differences between the Old and New Testaments is the possibility of transformation and sanctification.  In the Old Testament there were many sacrifices.  They were stuck in their old nature, having no hope of being transformed into the image and likeness of God as prophetically declared in Genesis.  The Old Testament men and women of God were anointed but not transformed.  There does appear to be a few exceptions, such as Moses, Elijah, and Enoch (and only because of Christ’s future sacrifice).  But overall, the Old Testament saint did not have the opportunity to be partakers of the divine nature through the new birth.

In the New Testament, there is only one sacrifice, Jesus Christ, who died once and for all.  His sacrifice, being perfect, without sin, rightly and justly satisfied all the legal requirements of the law.  His sacrifice made available to us the opportunity to be transformed into his image and likeness.(Romans 8:29, II Corinthians 3:18)  A significant part of our transformation is the healing of our wounds, the restoration of life and relationships.

Your story may seem pretty bland right now, maybe even a prison sentence.  But remember, great things come out of prison.  Joseph came out of prison and became second in charge in Egypt.  David came out of the wilderness and became King of Israel.  Paul wrote scripture in prison.  So your story may not be the one you would choose right now, yet the fruit of your story may produce the divine nature.  The same prophetic declaration that existed over Adam and Eve exists over us, in Christ.  We, like they, are created (born from above) and are being made into the image and likeness of Jesus Christ.