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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:Made and Re-made in the Image of God
Text:LD 3 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God and our Creation
 
Preached:2020
Added:2020-03-01
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 33:1,4                                                                                          

Ps 96:1,2  [after Apostles’ Creed]

Reading – Genesis 1:26-2:7; Ephesians 4:1-5:2

Hy 47:2,5

Sermon – Lord’s Day 3

Hy 50:1,2,3,4

Ps 51:3,4,5

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Brothers and sisters, in the very beginning God created us in his image. As human beings—male and female—we were made according to his likeness. In remarkable ways we reflected God’s glory, we could even live in God’s presence and do his will. But now the image of God in mankind has been shattered. At a very basic level, what God gave us as his image-bearers has been lost—or, rather, what God gave us we have thrown away.

You might compare this sad story to what happened to cathedrals across Europe during World War 2. These cathedrals were several hundreds of years old—some built in Middle Ages over many decades and even longer. If you’ve ever toured a grand old cathedral in Europe, then you’ll know how beautiful these buildings can be: towering pillars and arches, amazing stonework and stained glass, a nave and aisles that are impressive in length—and over top it all, a huge dome, or perhaps soaring towers. Almost every square centimeter of these vast churches has received the loving attention of an architect and builder and artist!

So what a terrible loss when during the war, bombs rained down on them. In just a few hours of heavy bombing, an ancient cathedral might be smashed beyond repair. Perhaps the rough footprint of the building could still be seen, or the remnants of what used to be the dome and towers, but in some cases the destruction was complete.

So for human beings, once lovingly hand-crafted in God’s image, once created in excellence and beauty—now utterly ruined by sin’s destructive power. We’re no longer a house of worship, a place for God to dwell. Like that ruined cathedral, just a shadow of what it once was, no longer fit for its purpose, we’re in dire need of restoration. But good news! God is busy working on this project, regenerating dead sinners by his Holy Spirit and conforming us to Christ, his perfect Son. I preach God’s Word to you as it’s summarized in Lord’s Day 3,

 

We are created in the image of God:

  1. the forming,
  2. the deforming, and
  3. the re-forming of this image

 

1) the forming of this image: Why are we speaking about the image of God anyway? The Catechism has just asked an important question. Having learned that we are “inclined by nature to hate God and [our] neighbour” (Q&A 5), it asks whether this is how God made us: Did He make us sinful? Hateful? Is there a design flaw to blame, manufacturer’s error?

The answer is emphatic: “No, on the contrary, God created man good and in his image” (Q&A 6). And the footnote to that answer, of course, points us back to Scripture and Genesis 1 and 2. For there, out of all the many creatures God made, only one is formed in God’s image—and that is man, male and female. We don’t want to self-centred, but the importance of mankind in these early chapters is obvious.

First, see how the entire account climaxes in this final creative act. After creating light and land and water, and filling his creation with stars and animals and fish, God turns his attention to his last and greatest work. Mankind stands at the very pinnacle of what God does in the six days of creation.

Notice what comes before the creation of man: a deliberation of God within himself,  as He says, “Let us make man” (Gen 1:26). For no other aspect of God’s work do we see this: a resolution within the Godhead, among Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In divine wisdom and perfect foreknowledge—which at that moment foresees even the fall into sin and all its misery—this is what they will do: they will make mankind.

Third, there’s a special blessing, “Then God blessed them” (v 28). The LORD blessed them, granted his special favour. And that’s because God gave man and woman a holy task: to be fruitful and multiply, and to have wise dominion over all the world that God created.

Then consider a final aspect of our creation, when God says, “Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness” (v 26). The Creator wanted to put this last touch on his masterpiece, this very personal touch. The Artist wanted the central subject of his masterpiece to be just like him—to reflect the Creator himself.

The idea of being made in God’s image needs to be understood correctly. Let’s say first of all that it doesn’t mean we physically we look like God. We read a few verses later that “the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground” (Gen 2:7). But when He formed us bodily, God wasn’t using himself as the model, copying his own appearance by giving us eyes and mouth and ears, hands and feet and head.

We know that, for Scripture tells us that God has no physical form or shape. In John 4:24, Christ says that “God is spirit.” The God of heaven has an entirely different mode of existence than we do. He doesn’t have a physical form, but in his majesty He’s invisible. Being infinite, He can’t be limited to this or that shape, restricted to this or that form.

So “being created in God’s image” isn’t physical resemblance. Yet the Hebrew word for “image” does speak of something that is a copy—not the same, but another version of the original. Think of how a son can be like another version of his father, how he might closely take after him in looks and character and outlook. God our Father created us to be similar to himself in some key ways, for He gave us abilities and responsibilities like the ones that He himself has.

Just think of a few of God’s perfections or attributes: God’s love, his justice, his faithfulness, his truth, his purity, and his wisdom. This was the God whom our first parents resembled: like him they could love, and like him they could be faithful, and be pure, and wise. We reflected God’s glorious, heavenly image—we were created according to a perfect prototype.

And because of this resemblance, mankind was well-equipped to represent their Creator. Remember, this was their mandate, to be God the King’s appointed representatives on earth. They were given the noble mission to glorify God in the place He put them. As the Catechism says, our first parents were created by God to “praise and glorify him” forever (Q&A 6).

In Psalm 8 we find a beautiful echo of Genesis 1-2. This Psalm speaks of the glorious works of God’s hands, and about mankind’s humble place among them. On the one hand, we humans are puny, so small and insignificant compared to the grandeur and immensity of mountains and stars and oceans. Yet at the same time, Psalm 8 says, we’re more exalted than anything else that has been created in all the universe. We were made to be “a little lower” than God himself, “crowned with glory and honour.”

The Catechism sums this up by saying that we were originally created “in true righteousness and holiness” (Q&A 6). Being righteous describes the status of being on right side of God’s commands. It’s when his Word doesn’t condemn us, but it commends us—when God says, “This person has done all things well.” Made in God’s image, we were righteous and holy. Holiness describes how we used to have an inner character that was good and sound and devoted to purity: we were holy, even as God is holy.

That is hard to imagine, for we recognize how deeply sinful we are today. As Romans 3:23 says, we have “fallen short of the glory of God.” We were his great masterpiece, crafted in love and wisdom so that we would give God worship forever. From being so elevated in glory and great privilege before God, we have tumbled so far.

 

2) the deforming of the image of God: So how did things go so wrong? Once again, we return to the beginning. For the Catechism asks, “From where did man’s depraved nature come?” And the answer we know so well: “From the fall and disobedience of our first parents, Adam and Eve, in Paradise…” (Q&A 7).

There was a fall, disobedience—an atomic bomb was dropped right at the heart of God’s good creation. So what happened to God’s image? Through sin, the image of God in us has been utterly ruined and corrupted. Yet like with a destroyed cathedral, there remains a jagged memory of what once was; there’s still an outline of former glory.

We see this in Genesis 9:6, where God lays down the law about murder. There God says: “Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed. For in the image of God He made man.” Recall when God says this. It’s post-Fall, and it’s right after the Flood, sent to wipe out the wickedness that had become so rampant on earth. Even at this moment, God reminds everyone how He made mankind to be the bearers of his image. Despite all their sin, this gives humans a nobility, a lasting value in God’s sight, a worth to be protected. In the New Testament too, God forbids us to curse other people for this reason: “they have been made in God’s likeness” (Jas 3:9). Don’t despise someone whose soul God made precious.

Yet how fully this image has been deformed! No longer do we rightly know God. No longer do we heartily love him. No longer do we desire to live with him in blessedness. No longer do we want to praise and glorify him by carrying out our kingly mandate on this earth. We have lost our holiness, and forfeited our righteousness. Like the Catechism describes the terrible effects of the Fall, “There our nature became so corrupt that we are all conceived and born in sin” (Q&A 7).

This tells us we’re not dealing with a surface problem. The path back to God and righteousness isn’t simply a matter of correcting our outward behaviour. There’s no quick fix to this trouble. We know that, but we still tend to think that our sin is firstly about behaviour. And so holiness is all about changing behaviour: “If I just stop doing this bad thing, and if I replace it with doing something good, then I’ll be on the right way again.” We like this kind of solution, because it’s usually something we can do ourselves.

But we forget that sin begins deep within—it’s our very nature as humans—and it seeps out from there. In every aspect of our life, God’s image in us has been deformed. As it says in Ecclesiastes 7:29, “Truly God made man upright, but they have each turned to follow their own downward path.”

Think of any of God’s good gifts, any of his blessings, and we can speak of how they’ve been degraded. Our intellect is now corrupted by falsehood and misunderstanding. Our speech is no longer truthful but dishonest. Our relationships with each other are now governed by selfishness instead of love. Our bodies as male and female have been turned into sexualized objects. Our material blessings are now used to build our own kingdom instead of God’s. So when it speaks about the fall into sin, the Belgic Confession states that mankind has “lost all his excellent gifts which he received from God” (Art. 14).

Paul’s words to the Ephesians fill out this picture. Keep in mind that he’s writing to a people who used to be pagans, far from the true God. That’s why he tells them to abstain from that former way of life, “This I say… that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God” (Eph 4:17-18).

That’s a powerful way to put it: sinners and unbelievers are “alienated from the life of God.” Without a fundamental change in our lives, without a radical new beginning, we’ll always fall short of God’s glory. Without a dramatic change, we’ll forever be separated from God and the life that He first intended for us. It’s a strong reminder of just how badly we need God’s amazing grace, and how desperately we need God’s renewing Spirit.

 

3) the re-forming of God’s image: Try to imagine the sense of hopelessness that people felt on the morning after another bombing raid, walking into what used to be a glorious cathedral—now a smoking ruin. Where would you even start? How can you ever recover centuries of skilled labour? Now think about mankind—ruined and shattered—deserving nothing but “the most severe, that is… everlasting punishment of body and soul” (Q&A 11). It looks hopeless, yet we’re not without hope.

For there can be change, a marvelous and miraculous change. There can be a renewing and rebuilding. There can be, otherwise God wouldn’t say what He does in Ephesians: “I beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called” (4:1). What’s this talk of a “worthy walk?” Will God command the undo-able? Because God is God, we know He won’t. We can walk worthy!

So how is re-formation possible? The answer is just briefly revealed in Q&A 8: “Are we so corrupt that we are totally unable to do any good and inclined to all evil?” That’s what you’d think. But the Catechism is a Book of Comfort, even in this section on “our Sin and Misery.” We are hopeless and lifeless, “unless we are regenerated by the Spirit of God.” Don’t you love how that glimmer of hope shines through the broken window? It’s just four words, but they are loaded with promise: “unless we are regenerated”—unless we’re given a fresh start, a second birth, a new heart.

It’s the same thing Paul tells the Ephesians. He says that these even ex-pagans and sinners can “be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and… [can] put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness” (4:23-24). Did you notice what he says? We can become a new man—a new person—“created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.” Or as another translation says: “put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” For our restoration, the template and the standard is the LORD. After being created in his image, and seeing this image ruined, we’re now being remade in his likeness.

It’s a return to how things were in the beginning. Where before there was only death, now we can have life. Where before there was hatred towards God, now we can have love for God, and peace with God.

And not for a moment can we separate this amazing renewal from the work of Christ. Think about how Scripture describes our Saviour. In one place, He is said to be the image of the invisible God (Col 1:15). In another place, He is said to be the one who reveals the heavenly Father (John 1:18). Jesus was—and He is—the pure reflection of God.

Jesus came from heaven as God’s Son, but as a man also made of our flesh and blood He did what we could not. He led a perfect and righteous life. He fulfilled his God-given mandate here on earth, for He obeyed God and served God in everything. And He had dominion—showing his authority over creation by telling the storm to be still, showing his authority over Satan by commanding his demons to leave. Jesus did exactly all the things that we were always intended to do. In everything He was the true man—the true image of God—and the Son who perfectly reflected the glory of his Father!

And now by faith, we can accept all that Christ has done: his obedience, his suffering, his cross and death, his resurrection—it can be all ours. By faith, we unite ourselves to him and we claim all his benefits and blessings as our very own. By faith, we embrace Christ as our representative and substitute, and the heavenly Judge declares us righteous in his sight.

Righteous in Christ, and now also made to be like Christ. For this purpose the Father has redeemed us, Paul says in Romans 8, that we might be “conformed to the image of his Son” (v 29). God calls us grow again into his divine likeness. And the way we do that is by conforming to the likeness of our Saviour.

We find the same thing in Ephesians, “Be imitators of God” (5:1) Paul says—that is, “Be like God, just as God created you to be.” Then he adds to it a reminder of how our Saviour lived, “and walk in love, as Christ also has loved us” (5:1-2). Be like God, and more specifically, be like Jesus his Son. So walk as He did. Talk as He did. Love as He did. Even suffer as Christ did, in humility and without complaining. When the Holy Spirit regenerates us, that’s the image into which He re-forms us and conforms us: the image of God, and the image of Christ, the true man.

What does this look like? Ephesians 4 describes how a re-formed image-bearer will live. A re-formed image-bearer will speak the truth with his neighbour. A restored image-bearer won’t let the sun go down on his wrath (v 26). A new image-bearer will steal no longer, but will work, that he may have something to those in need (v 28). Someone conformed to the image of the Son will let no corrupt word proceed out of his mouth, but only what is good for building others up (v 29). A righteous and holy image-bearer will put away all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamour, and evil speaking, and all malice (v 31). And a re-formed image-bearer will be kind, tender-hearted, forgiving others, even as God in Christ forgave us (v 32). See how Paul speaks of our model, the one in whose image we’re being remade: “Forgive, even as God in Christ forgave you.”

Progress in our restoration is frustratingly slow for you and me and everyone. Sometimes we wonder if we’re getting any better, if the rebuilding will ever be complete. Yet we’re confident. We know that one day the job will be done, fully and completely.

Just as we’ve been like Adam in sin and disobedience and corruption, so we’ll be like Christ in righteousness and perfection. Writes Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:49, “As we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly man.” We will bear the image of the heavenly man—Jesus Christ!

Imagine perfection. Imagine being completely free from sin and temptation and worry and all the brokenness of our condition. Hard to imagine, but we know it’ll happen. Says John in his first letter, “Now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when [Christ] is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is” (3:1-2). That’s his promise: We shall be like Him.

For today, God wants us to live the kind of life we were first designed for. He wants us to get back to our life’s original purpose here on earth: “that we might rightly know God our Creator, heartily love him, and live with him in blessedness… to praise and glorify his Name.” How is that for you, brothers and sisters? Do you rightly know God? Do you heartily love him? Do you live with him each day? Do you aim to praise and glorify him in all good things? Are you becoming a beautiful temple for his Spirit?  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2020, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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