Results tagged “image of God” from Reformation21 Blog

Adoption and the Image of God

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When I was in my early 20s, I met a college friend of my parents for the first time. After a short conversation, she smiled and commented, "You're just like your dad!" She wasn't just referring to my appearance, but to my personality, mannerisms, and demeanor. She was talking about what I was like. I took it as a compliment. My dad had passed away several years before, so it was especially gratifying to have someone recognize him in me. I love my dad and am thrilled to reflect something of him. That's one way that love works. There's something built-in and natural where children should be pleased to reflect their parents and where parents delight in passing on their likeness to their children.

Sadly, my wife and I are in a position where we may never enjoy that feeling. We have not been able to have children of our own. I wonder if I'll ever see any of my wife's loveliness or personality in our children. Because we've not been able to conceive on our own, we've begun to wade into the complicated, emotional world that is adoption. We had always intended to pursue adoption at some point, infertility just moved up the clock. This article arises partly out of the realization of how much there is to sort through, both emotionally and spiritually.

One of the early hurdles in the process of educating ourselves about adoption was to reckon with the loss of what is commonly called "genetic children." Before living through it, I had (naïvely) thought it would be as simple as coming to a fork in the road and going left instead of right--the other direction was simply closed. I had even felt a mild reproach towards others who were hung up on the issue. It had seemed like a vanity to fixate upon genetics when the world is full of children who need loving parents. After all, adopted children would be just as much "our" children as genetic children would be. What's the big deal about genetics?

It is unquestionably true that adopted children would be "ours" in the fullest sense of the term. Nevertheless, the thought that losing genetic children would be simple or painless was far from the reality we encountered.

The Reality of the Loss

I have come to realize what many others already know that--real or only perceived--there is an emotional and even spiritual sense of loss when a couple cannot conceive their own children. While we can adopt and intend to, it's a reality that any children my wife and I do adopt won't physically look like us, have that genetic connection, share with us whatever is nature as opposed to nurture. To put it in biblical terms, they will not bear my "image." Genesis 5 describes the birth of Adam's third son, Seth, with that terminology: "[Adam] fathered a son in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth" (Gen 5:3). The loss of genetic children feels like the loss of image. They won't have my wife's eyes. They won't have my smile.

There is a Christian truth that underlies that sentiment. God created Adam in his image and only then did he declare his creation very good (Gen 1:31). Likewise, Jesus, the image of the invisible God (Col 1:15), is his beloved in whom he is well pleased (Matt 3:17; 17:5; Mark 1:11; 9:7; Luke 3:22; 2 Pet 1:17). God delights in seeing his likeness in the world. There's something of that same inclination in any mother who sincerely loves her husband and delights in seeing his characteristics in her children. We are meant to delight in the likeness of the people we love.

That sense of loss is real. But, I'm writing this article to try to refocus the question and put the loss in a broader context.

Refocusing

While the sense of loss is real, it is important to not misunderstand what is actually lost for what cannot be. Yes, adopted children may not have my smile or physiological characteristics. But, is that the most valuable thing I have to pass on?

I quoted Genesis 5:3 above which describes Adam having a son in his "image" and "likeness." At first we might consider that unremarkable because we tend to take it physiologically. Of course, Adam's son looked like him. But that same language was also used in Genesis chapter 1 of God creating mankind, where God said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness" (Gen 1:26). What God imparted to man by making him in his image was not physical at all. He imparted characteristics, but they weren't eyes or a smile. God is spirit. The characteristics he gave were far more valuable. They are the spiritual virtues of true knowledge, righteousness and holiness.1 God made us to reflect his true and perfect thought. He made us to reflect his justice and character. He made us to reflect his sinless perfection. Simply put, he made us to be godly.

Godliness was the very quality that was tarnished in the fall. Mankind stopped reflecting God in his thoughts and behavior. In that light, we can say that God knows what it is like to lose his likeness, far more than I do. In fact, the reason God sent Jesus, his son and image, was so that he could restore it in the people Jesus came to save. Romans 8:29 says, "those whom [God] foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers." God's concern in redemption has nothing to do with preserving physical characteristics of any kind, but with restoring mankind's godliness and glory.

Conclusion

The loss of genetic children is a real loss. But, that loss is only physiological. The most valuable image I have to pass on is not my smile or my wife's eyes, but my likeness to Christ. He is restoring his image in me day by day. Godliness has nothing to do with my genetics and everything to do with my heart. There are many commands in Scripture to train children for godliness (e.g., Prov 22:6), but no clear commands to perpetuate our genetics for their own sake. Would it not be vain of me to inflate the value of my image and diminish the value of God's? Because God has shown me grace, I am in the position to raise children in the knowledge, righteousness, and holiness of God. I can raise them in the Lord and call them to godliness.

I have two images to share. I can narrow the focus to my own genetics or recognize that my reflection of Christ is of vastly greater value than any likeness to myself alone. The privilege of seeing my wife's eyes in my children (as wonderful is that would be!) cannot be compared with the privilege of seeing even a hint of the beauty of Christ in them.


1. Cf. WCF 4-2; WLC 17; WSC 10.


Rev. Dr. David Barry is an Assistant Pastor at Midway Presbyterian Church in Powder Springs, GA and Adjunct Professor of New Testament for Reformed Theological Seminary, Atlanta.

No Mere Morality Issue

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I was gutted this week when I heard that the New York State Senate passed the Reproductive Health Act, giving women the right to abortion up to the point of birth. I welled up with grief imagining the thousands of boys and girls who will be killed as a consequence of this expanded abortion law.

Why am I experiencing such grief over this? The answer is simple. I believe in the sanctity of human life. I believe that human life is carefully fashioned by God as a reflection of Himself (Genesis 1:26-28) and is to be treated with dignity and respect--and that dignity and respect extends to the baby in the womb.

The historic Christian perspective of life beginning at conception has been the position of the church throughout the centuries. Why has the church believed this? Because the Bible teaches it. No place is this more clear than in the Psalm 139. David writes, "For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother's womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them" (Psalm 139:13-16).

Notice how David speaks of his preborn self as being personally and intimately formed by God Himself. Before he was born, God was intimately acquainted with all his ways and days. Even when he was an "unformed substance" (i.e. embryo), he speaks with the personal pronoun "me."

The prophet Jeremiah uses similar language. Jeremiah writes, "Now the word of the Lord came to me saying, 'Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born, I consecrated you; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations" (Jeremiah 1:4-5). Remarkably, before he was formed in the womb, Jeremiah was known by God and set apart as a prophet. His life and calling as a mouthpiece for God were in place before Jeremiah took his first breath.

These words from Jeremiah remind me of that wonder filled moment in Luke 1 when Mary visits Elizabeth. In utero, John the Baptist leaps at the presence of Jesus Christ, who is also in utero. It's as if preborn John is already fulfilling his prophetic mission by preparing the way of the Lord with that leap inside Elizabeth (see Luke 1:39-43).

Behind David's words, Jeremiah's call, and John the Baptist's leap is this settled biblical conviction: life and personhood exist before birth. And since that's the case, every child in the womb deserves the respect and dignity of being treated like a human being made in the image of God.

Before I close, something needs to be said. I realize that for some believers, the topic of abortion is no mere morality issue or a piece of legislation. It's a personal and painful part of your story. If that's true for you, please don't think I am condemning you for having an abortion. Nothing could be further from the truth. Let's remember that the Apostle Paul was once named Saul. He was a persecutor of the church and responsible for Stephen's murder in Acts 7. He wrote these words: "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" (Romans 8:1). No matter what you've done, if you are in Christ, those words are true of you. Walk in the freedom of knowing that your abortion is no match for the atonement won for you in Christ's blood. Rejoice in knowing that your sin has been nailed to the cross, and you bear it no more. And let's together praise the Lord.

[Editorial Note: This is the tenth post in a series of posts in which we have invited the authors of "The Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel" to expound upon the statement's affirmations and denials. We encourage our readers to take the time to read through our prefatory editorial note at the beginning of the first post prior to reading through subsequent posts in the series.]

Article 10:

Sexuality and Marriage

WE AFFIRM that God created mankind male and female and that this divinely determined distinction is good, proper, and to be celebrated. Maleness and femaleness are biologically determined at conception and are not subject to change. The curse of sin results in sinful, disordered affections that manifest in some people as same-sex attraction. Salvation grants sanctifying power to renounce such dishonorable affections as sinful and to mortify them by the Spirit. We further affirm that God's design for marriage is that one woman and one man live in a one-flesh, covenantal, sexual relationship until separated by death. Those who lack the desire or opportunity for marriage are called to serve God in singleness and chastity. This is as noble a calling as marriage.

WE DENY that human sexuality is a socially constructed concept. We also deny that one's sex can be fluid. We reject "gay Christian" as a legitimate biblical category. We further deny that any kind of partnership or union can properly be called marriage other than one man and one woman in lifelong covenant together. We further deny that people should be identified as "sexual minorities"--which serves as a cultural classification rather than one that honors the image-bearing character of human sexuality as created by God.

Article X of the Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel encapsulates two thousand years of basic Christian belief on the nature of sexuality and marriage. For the vast majority of generations of Christians down through the ages there would be nothing at all controversial about these assertions, and past generations would have wondered why we even took the time to include it.

But we live in 2018 and the revolution in Western culture is undeniable. That revolution has extended to such behaviors as homosexuality or "gay marriage" or transsexualism the very status of "human rights," so they must be addressed by any statement speaking to the topic of justice in light of biblical norms and revelation.

In direct contrast to the spirit of the age the statement affirms the goodness of the so-called "male-female binary." Maleness is not something that is "toxic," but something good and right and necessary in God's design. Likewise to be a female is to be created by God with a good, proper, and beautiful purpose. Rather than being ashamed at being so "backward," we should be openly celebrating these good elements of God's creation.

We do not show love to confused, or even rebellious, individuals who transgress God's creative categories of male and female. Though a tiny percentage of people are genetically impacted by medical conditions that lead to gender ambiguity, the vast bulk of "transsexuality" is a matter of the mind and heart, not the body. But our gender is determined by God's will in our creation, and is not subject to alteration based upon our feelings, wants, or desires. There has rarely been a time in history when mankind has displayed such an open and wanton rebellion against God's right to rule over humanity than in the modern transsexual movement.

In the same vein God has the right, as Creator, to not only make His creatures male and female, He has the right to determine the proper parameters within which that divinely-ordained sexuality is to be expressed. Due to the fall of man into sin, some experience disordered and confused attractions for the same sex. A small percentage experience these desires from their earliest memories, while the large majority are impacted by later sexual experiences resulting in a disturbance of normal sexual desire. The consistent teaching of Scripture is that homosexual behavior is opposed to God's will and destructive of human flourishing. The Apostle Paul identified numerous sinful behaviors in writing to the church at Corinth, among them the sin of homosexuality, but then he wrote, "and such were some of you, but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God" (1 Corinthians 6:11). The verb is inarguably past-tense which is why the Statement, in the denial portion, rejects the terminology of "gay Christian." As offensive as it is to cultural elites today, the Bible offers hope in the gospel to those who will repent and seek God's ways with their whole heart.

If God, as Creator, fashions mankind as male and female, and then orders the expression of that sexuality as He sees fit, it follows necessarily that His institution of marriage is the logical outcome of the preceding exercises of His divine rights. Marriage is, in fact, a divine institution, biblically revealed to have been designed by, and established by God directly without human cooperation or assistance. No governmental entity existed when God ordained marriage, and, therefore, no later governmental institution has the right to alter, change, or make void, that institution. It is rooted firmly in the created order of male and female, is oriented toward the fulfillment of both the man and woman, together, and toward the raising up of families with children who have in their parents models of how they should live in the future. There can be no question that the most radical and foundational changes in Western culture that have led to the greatest denigrations of human dignity all stem from the collapse of a culture-wide focus upon the sanctity and propriety of Christian marriage as taught in the pages of the Bible.

The truly radical nature of the revolution in morality and ethics sweeping Western culture today is seen most fully in the adoption of so-called "same-sex marriage," a phrase that would have puzzled every generation of humanity globally only a few decades ago. It is, of course, a massive redefinition of the term and the institution based upon a revolution in worldview. Utter human autonomy is now the watchword of the social elites, so that any person is what they think themselves to be. The resulting moral and ethical chaos is all around us. Biological males using bathrooms for women resulting in children either living in fear using the facilities or simply having to "wait to get home." Female athletes left panting in a distant second and third by a "transgender female" who is actually biologically male winning the gold medal in record fashion. Children being adopted into same-sex families, purposefully being denied the model of a father and a mother in relationship to one another. Surgical and chemical mutilation of healthy bodies of both little boys and girls all because of either real (and rare) gender confusion or due to "copy cat" socially-encouraged experimentation. Parents refusing to "gender" their children but to "leave it to them to figure out." Governmental entities allowing for birth certificates with "other" as a gender option. The proper, good societal roles of mothers and fathers mocked and ridiculed and identified as being "backward." The list goes on and on and on. Each society that embraces these revolutionary concepts finds it impossible to stop the acceleration into utter moral and ethical anarchy.

The source of all of this chaos--chaos that is damaging to human happiness and flourishing? As the Statement puts it, it is a refusal to "honor the image-bearing character of human sexuality as created by God." Our secular age has rejected the Creator and therefore has no room for "image-bearing" or transcendent value or objective truth. The downward spiral only spins more tightly as it descends to disaster. God's Word calls us to the upward spiral of life that is based upon the gospel and God's revelation of His purposes in creation. The Scriptures are clear and compelling in their teaching in this vital area, and we would do well to pay very close attention and heed their admonitions.

This is the eighth post in a twelve-part series on the current Christological confusion taking root in China's emerging Reformed community (see part 123456, and 7)


Fourth Statement: The Recast Image of God

Recast by the concept of Christ's eternal humanness (see part 5), the image of God is no longer just about the way humans were originally created in God's likeness but now also about how humanity's original form eternally exists "within God's being." He reasons that "the image of God is Christ and therefore Christ in eternity is the original form of human nature."[1]  Turning the imago Dei on its head, he proceeds from the claim that "humanness is the essence of Christ and . . . Christ is the image of God" to the conclusion that "this image contains within it the original form of the essence of human nature. Perhaps," he proposes, "this could be called the 'Un-known humanity of God in Christ'."[2]

Orthodox Reformed theologians sometimes speak of Christ as the essential image of God (imago essentialis) in the sense that, as the Son, he is co-essential with the Father. When they do, however, they carefully distinguish this sense of the divine image from the sense in which humans are created in God's image (imago accidentalis), and deny that humans possess the essential image of God.[3]

As the incarnate Son, Jesus Christ in some sense makes the invisible God visible. Hence he is "the image of the invisible God" (Col 1:15) and "the exact imprint of his nature" (Heb 1:3) in a way that surpasses anything that could be said of mere humans. Only the incarnate Son bears the essential image and it cannot be transmitted, lost, or damaged anymore than he could be duplicated or fail to be the second person of the Trinity.

The image of God in mere humans, however, is a natural gift originally given to Adam at creation. From him, it has been passed on to the whole race and, in the fall, was also severely damaged and partly lost. The damage was done to the intrinsic aspect of the divine image, which is how humans are, like God, spiritual beings with intellect, will, and affections. Though damaged, these faculties survive the fall and in this sense humans continue to bear the divine image. The extrinsic aspect of the divine image, which is how Adam and Eve, also like God, were originally righteous, holy, and pure, was lost in the fall.

To confuse the Son's essential image with the image of God given humanity is to confuse the divine and human natures. Our speaker is aware of the danger:
Here, I do not intend to confuse Christ's human and divine natures. What I mean is that Christ's human nature [or humanness], which is the original form by which human nature is created, is within him.[4]
The statements on the image of God above, however, fail to maintain any distinction between the essential image of God in Christ as the divine Son and the divine image given to humanity as a gift. Consequently, they fail to prevent this kind of confusion between the divine and human natures. On the contrary, by tracing the imago Dei in humans back through "the ontological being of Christ" to "God's being," this sort of confusion seems unavoidable.

Notes:

[1] First Recording

[2] Second Recording. The phrase "Unknown humanity of God in Christ" is originally given in English by the speaker and thus not translated, and for that reason offset here in quotation marks

[3] This sense of the imago essentialis should not be confused with, for example, G. C. Berkouwer's use of that term in Man the Image of God: Studies in Dogmatics (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1962), pp. 38-41, to refer to the constitutive aspect of the image of God in humanity. Note also that Lutheran theologians draw a similar distinction between the substantial image of God (imago substantialis) uniquely in Christ as the divine Son and the accidental image (imago accidentalis) originally in Adam.

[4] Second Recording