The Christian in the Image of Christ

A. E. Long, Nutley

Despite the teaching of evolution, the Bible teaches that all species of animate life are separate and distinct. Paul writes, "All flesh is not the same flesh: but there is one flesh of men, and another flesh of beasts, and another flesh of birds, and another of fishes", 1 Cor. 15. 39. Moreover, Scripture teaches that man is God's unique creature on account of his likeness to God and his dominion over the lower creation -"And God said. Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle . . . And God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him", Gen. 1. 26, 27. As originally created in a state of innocence, in that sense Adam could be said to have been a visible image of the invisible God, for there was that about him which reflected God's image and likeness. For example, God is a Trinity, as the "us" of Genesis 1. 26 foreshadows, and man is tripartite, composed of "spirit and soul and body", 1 Thess. 5.23.

Even after the flood which was the direct consequence of the fall, God commanded Noah, "Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man", Gen. 9, 6. Murder, forbidden in the decalogue and confirmed by Christ, destroys a credible likeness of God in the murdered person. On supposedly humanitarian grounds, man in his folly passes laws which mitigate the ultimate sanction of death for murder, but in this, as in other matters, he "sows the wind and reaps the whirlwind" in an ever-increasing incidence of murders. The ancient law said that a murderer "shall surely be put to death", Lev. 24. 17,21, and this still represents God's view of the gravity of murder, the heinousness of which consists in a desecration of God's image in the unfortunate victim; sec also James 2. 9.

Of Seth, born to Adam and Eve after the fall, it is recorded that he was begotten "in his (Adam's) own likeness, after his image", Gen. 5. 3. Adam, originally made in God's image and after God's likeness, could not, by reason of the fall and the entail of a sinful nature in him., transmit to his son the full image and likeness to God that he himself had originally borne, but more particularly passed on his own sinful image and likeness. The intervention of sin had blurred man's likeness to God and defaced God's image in him. Thus of Seth and indeed, of all born of Adam's race, it was a case of "like father, like son".

The more remote in time his descendants were from Adam, the less became God's image and likeness in them, insomuch that man, originally made in God's image and after His like­ness, actually made images to represent God to himself, "thou . . . madest for thee images of men", Ezek. 16. 17. Such was the essence of Paul's indictment of the pagans of the first century, "they . . . changed the glory of the incor­ruptible God for the likeness of an image of corruptible man, and of birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things", Rom. 1. 23. That man should have made images of the lower creatures to represent God to himself was the nadir of his spiritual descent, for what he was originally created to dominate became objects of his veneration and worship.

The Bible offers no hope for the human race as such recover­ing its image and likeness to God. There is much in Scripture to suggest a different paternity from that of God in men, a likeness in them different from that which is of God. The Lord disabused the Jews of His day, who supposed that God was their Father -"Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father it is your will to do", John 8. 44. They bore the image and likeness of Satan, rather than that of God, in that they would have killed the Lord who was "the image of the invisible God" and preferred Satan's lies to the truth of God, of which Christ was the embodiment, 14. 6.

But however remote the hope of men in general recovering a likeness to God, there is every hope of that image and likeness being restored in the Christian. In conversion it is God's purpose to restore His image and likeness, by recreating this anew in the believer. Paul made much of this theme in his Epistles. To the Christians at Colosse he wrote, "ye have put off the old man with his doings, and have put on the new man, which is being renewed unto knowledge after the image of him who created him", Col. 3. 9, 10; cf. Eph. 4. 23-24. In other words, they had shed that kind of conduct which had plainly marked them as Adam's descendants, as being partakers in his sinful nature, and had taken on that kind of behaviour which marked Christ, some of the aspects of which are given in Colossians 3. 12-17. Before the prodigal of the Lord's parable could don the "best robe", he must needs first have doffed the filthy rags which symbolized his debauchery in the "far country". The exchange of these garments expressed a deeper exchange of the selfish attitude of "give me" for the unselfish mood of "make me", in which mood he had turned his steps toward home, Luke 15. 12-19.

The "new man" of which Paul wrote is God's creation, "Wherefore if any man is in Christ, there is a new creation"; "we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus", 2 Cor. 5. 17 marg.; Eph. 2. 10. Just as Adam was God's creation in the realm of nature, so the believer is God's creation in the sphere of grace, "the new man, which after God hath been created in righteousness and holiness of truth", Eph. 4. 24.

The image and likeness of God in the Christian is formed by the process of renewal. Naturally, men are alienated and enemies in their mind by evil works. Col. 1.21. Their "thoughts" are not God's thoughts, neither their "ways" God's ways, Isa. 55. 8. Conversion, therefore, begins with the renewal of mind, in which it is given a new orientation, whereby "the old things are passed away; behold, they are become new", 2 Cor. 5. 17. "The old things" belong to Adam's sinful image and likeness; the "new" to Christ's image and likeness. Paul emphasizes the importance of this process of renewal. Con­version is through the "renewing of the Holy Ghost", Titus 3. 5. The Ephesians were exhorted "be renewed in the spirit of your mind", Eph. 4. 23. Consecration proceeds in being "transformed by the renewing of your mind", Rom. 12. 2, renewal expressed in conduct which conforms to Christ's image and likeness, a putting on of the "new man", which is after Christ. In 2 Corinthians 3, Paul draws a parallel between and a contrast with, Moses' experience of God at Sinai in connection with the giving of the law, and the Christian's experience of God under grace through the Gospel. When Moses was closeted with God in mount Sinai, "the skin of his face shone while he talked with him", Exod. 34. 29 marg., of which phenomenon Moses was at first unaware. The radiance upon his face reflected God's glory in the law, but it was a fading radiance which expressed the impermanence of the law itself, as Paul's words suggest, "Moses . . . put a veil upon his face, that the children of Israel should not look stedfastly on the end of that which was passing away", 2 Cor. 3. 13. While Moses was in the mount with God, he removed the veil and the radiance was renewed, but when he came down to com­mune with his fellows he put on the veil, not only because they were afraid of his appearance, but to conceal the fact that it was a passing radiance.

The contrast under grace appears in verse 18, "But we all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are transformed, into the same image from glory to glory...", marg. This is not the experience of but one person, as of Moses, but of us "all". Nor is the glory a fading one, as under the law, but an increasing radiance, "from glory to glory". Nor is there need as with Moses, of a veil to conceal a transient glory, for it is "with unveiled face" that we behold it. Moreover, the glory on Moses' face was only "skin-deep", in that "the skin of his face shone", but the gospel of the glory of Christ results in a moral transformation, changed "into the same image". The word is the same as "transfigured" in Matthew 17. 2 and "transformed" in Romans 12, 2. As we stedfastly behold the moral glory of Christ in the mirror of the Word of God, we are transfigured into that "same image".

In his trial and martyrdom, Stephen illustrates this experi­ence. When he was arraigned, "all that sat in the council . . . saw his face as it had been the face of an angel", Acts 6. 15. Before they stoned him, "being full of the Holy Ghost, (he) looked up stedfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God", 7. 55. When they stoned him, "Stephen, calling upon the Lord, (said), Lord Jesus, receive my spirit", v. 59, words which compare with those uttered by the Lord on the cross, Luke 23. 46. Further, just before he died, Stephen "kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge", Acts 7. 60, words which echo the Lord's own words of forgive­ness recorded in Luke 23. 34.

The ultimate of God's purpose is that "whom he foreknew, he also foreordained to be conformed to the image of his Son", Rom. 8. 29. Conformation to Christ's image belongs to our glorification which predestination had in view, "whom he foreordained . . . them he also glorified", v. 30. To this ultimate purpose present events are shaped; the "all things" are part of that purpose which they serve, to bring about a moral conformation to Christ even in this life. Of the consum­mation of God's purpose, it is true that "as we have borne the image of the earthy (Adam), we shall also bear the image of the heavenly (Christ)", 1 Cor. 15. 49.