Living as the Image of God

Background Passages: Genesis 1:27; John 14:9; Matthew 5:1-12

I pored through a number of old 35mm slides, pictures taken by my parents when my siblings and I were small. I enjoyed sharing those captured memories with my children and grandchildren. Fascination grew as we recognized family resemblances across generations…the power of genetics, I suppose. If I heard it once, I heard it several times, “I see your Dad in his eyes.” “You look so much like your uncle at that age.” “She is the spitting image of your mother.”

There is some measure of joy in knowing that we physically resemble those most dear to us. Then, I wonder, when others look at us, do they see how closely we resemble Christ in spirit and deed. Can the world see Jesus…see God…in us?

“So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.”

On the surface, being created in the image of God seems such a complex theological concept requiring a deeper understanding of the nature and spirit of the Creator himself. But, it’s really not that hard. Jesus told his disciples, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.” In other words, we find in the character of Jesus Christ, the very nature and spirit of God. The image of God reflected in the life of Christ. To be the image of God in our world, as we were created to be, simply requires us to be like Jesus.

So, how are we to know what that looks like?

Every gospel story reveals the character of Christ. We can identify in Jesus God’s compassion, love, faith, humility and honesty. We find in his teachings keys to living as the image of God.

People flocked to Jesus early in his ministry in Galilee, drawn by the candor and consistency of his teaching and the power of his healing. As he left Capernaum one day, the crowd pressed around him to hear his words and feel his touch. Eventually, somewhere on the northeastern shore of the Sea of Galilee, he sat himself down on a rocky hillside and began to teach. Matthew records this event as the Sermon on the Mount.

Rather than being a single event, the Sermon on the Mount may be a collection of ideas that Jesus taught over and over again throughout his ministry captured by Matthew as a summary of his teaching themes. William Barclay, in his commentaries, suggests as much.

One of the most beloved segments of this passage is known as The Beatitudes, a passage that unveils the character demanded of those who desire to be a part of the kingdom of God. When you look at the passage and look at the life of Christ, you’ll find that Jesus modeled each characteristic in his daily walk.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness,
for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus teaches about kingdom living. Think of them as proverbs or declarations. Assuring us that we will feel blessed as a result of our actions or attitudes that align with the expectations of the Father. That demonstrating these character traits leads to promised rewards.

Consider the word “blessed.” Some translations substitute the word “happy” rather than “blessed.” But, “happy” feels too frivolous. Too superficial. Think, rather, in terms of the contentment, joy and peace that comes from being in right relationship with God. It cannot be dampened by external circumstances. Happiness may be a part of the equation, but take it deeper into the heart of our relationship with the Father. One commentary called being blessed “a pledge of divine reward for the inner spiritual character of the righteous.” I like that. Jesus promises that if we live in such a way as to reflect the character of Christ, we will be filled with inner peace and joy.

Let’s discuss the specific character demanded of those who would be a part of the kingdom of God and the promise that follows. Blessed are…

…poor in spirit.
To be poor in a financial sense is to be destitute. To be poor in a physical sense is to be oppressed. To be poor in the spirit is to be humbled, to live without arrogance or self-sufficiency. It speaks to the person who recognizes his or her sinful nature; who comes to God each day with a contrite heart; knowing that God’s grace is an unmerited gift that promises a life within the kingdom of God.

…those who mourn.
Everyone in this life will experience sadness and grief. Such mourning is a natural part of the ebb and flow of life. Here, Jesus speaks of those who mourn for a lost world; for the sinfulness that serves as a barrier separating us from God…from the relationship he desired with us when he created us. If we don’t grieve for the lost we will never feel compelled to share the love of Christ with a ruined world. God will provide comfort for those whose hearts break when confronted by sin and disbelief. Comfort which allows us to continue the hard work of reconciling a lost world to the one who loves them so much.

…the meek.
Think of meekness not as passivity or weakness. That is the world’s definition. Its first century meaning carries an idea of self-control…gentleness…kindness…all fruits of the spirit identified by Paul. The meek control their instincts and impulses, harnessing the passion and power within them to build and edify, to lift up rather than tear down. They see all things through the eyes of empathy, hearts free of evil intent and purpose. These are people who treat everyone with respect and dignity regardless of their station in life.

…those who hunger and thirst after righteousness.
Hunger and thirst represent our most primal needs. When truly hungry and thirsty, a body will do almost anything to secure food or drink. Little else seems to matter. To hunger and thirst for righteousness is to demonstrate that strongest spiritual desire to understand and act upon the will of God. Our passion to live for him takes precedence over anything else. Therein lies the promise. The one who seeks after God will have those needs satisfied. His or her life filled with the joy of knowing who walks beside you.

…the merciful.
Mercy is an act of grace. Despite our sinful ways, God offers his forgiveness, requiring only a contrite heart. It is pure, unmerited grace. Mercy is not a quality limited to God alone. As believers in Christ discover his forgiveness, mercy toward others ought to be a natural outgrowth of our hearts. People hurt us. Ignore us. Sin against us. Hate us. Persecute us. We face a choice: retaliate or redeem. Mercy finds expression in the kindness and compassion we extend even to those who hurt us. It is a quality borne out of the mercy God extended toward us even when we hurt him. As we forgive, so are we forgiven. That is the promise of God.

…pure in heart.
When the Bible speaks of the heart, it speaks to the center of will, the choices we make. Pure in heart means the decisions we make, the desires we hold, the intent of our thoughts and deeds must be unblemished with sin, wholly pleasing to God. The purity of our hearts lies at the center of every characteristic proclaimed in the beatitudes…our mercy, our quest for righteousness, our meekness and humility. Jesus told Nicodemus, “You must be born again” to suggest a spiritual change in his heart. To take that which was unclean and purify it from all self-interests and desires.

Jesus promises those who would listen that the pure in heart would see God. There is certainly within this statement a promise of our life eternal in the presence of the father. It might also suggest that the pure in heart have within them the capacity to see God in every circumstance…seeing his presence in life’s heartbreaks and horrors as well as its blessings and bounty.

…the peacemakers.
The kingdom of God is a kingdom of peace and yet we are too often at war with one another. The broken relationships, the societal divisions, the political acrimony, the racial bigotry drive a wedge between God’s people. Joy comes to those who find ways of bringing people together in the love of Christ, reconciling others to God and to one another. This statement promises the peacemakers will be called Sons of God.” The Old Testament called angels the Sons of God. Angel may be an apt description of those who act as God’s peacemakers.

…the persecuted.
Living a lifestyle exemplified by the characteristics listed in the beatitudes puts one in a precarious place. The life God demands of his children is a life the world opposes and rejects. All who identify with Christ face a hostile world that tolerates in the best of times and terrorizes in its worst. God offers a promise to those who face such opposition. Hold on. Run the race. Keep the faith. God’s kingdom is yours forever.

I go back to the beginning. We are to live as the image of God. That’s how he created us. We discover how to do that by looking at the life of Christ and paying attention to his teachings. Throughout his ministry Jesus taught us how to live and modeled those choices every day of his life. He lived and breathed every action and attitude he taught in the beatitudes. If we are to live like him, as the image of God, we ought to do the same.

The promise of the beatitudes is not a pie-in-the-sky, wait-for-it, kind of promise. Barclay writes, “…the beatitudes are not pious hopes of what shall be; they are not glowing but nebulous prophecies of some future bliss; they are congratulations on what is…It is a blessedness (a joy and peace) which exists here and now.”

Blessed are those who live as the image of God. Live it and claim the promise.


God is Faithful

Background Passages: Lamentations 3:22-23; Hebrews 10:23

I recently connected on Facebook with Jesse Owens, a friend of ours from college. We’ve had no contact really since those days long ago. Our lives have gone separate ways. Still, the one good thing about the social platform comes when we find opportunities to connect and reconnect with family and friends.

Jesse and I attended different churches while in school. He went to the Student Ministry program at First Baptist Church, Lubbock, and I served as youth minister at First Baptist Church, Wolfforth. We first met through the Baptist Student Union at Texas Tech. The man’s voice was one to be envied and he was not afraid to use it. If you ever heard him sing, “My Tribute,” backed up by the Student Ministry choir at First Baptist Church, you surely found yourself kneeling before God’s throne.

I guess all of us use the New Year as a way of refocusing our lives. We naturally gravitate toward personal and spiritual reflection. During these first few weeks of the year, I found myself…unsettled. The world seems in chaos with turmoil boiling around us. I keep finding myself trying to see into the future and what the world holds for my four grandchildren. To be honest, I’ve been worried…until this week.

Worrying about tomorrow is not biblical. Losing faith in God’s goodness damages the spirit. Drives me away from doing the things I can do in my part of a troubled world to make it less troubled. Trusting in God, even in an uncertain world, brings peace in the midst of chaos. I was reminded of this truth by a song Jesse posted on Facebook this week. It hit the nail on the head and slammed the 2 x 4 across the bridge of my nose.

“He’s Been Faithful,” sung by the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir, resounds as a wonderful wake of call to walk daily in faith. Reading the lyrics without the melody speaks loudly to God constant faithfulness.

In my moments of fear,
Through every pain, every tear,
There’s a God who’s been faithful to me.
When my strength was all gone,
When my heart had no song.
Still, in love, he’s proved faithful to me.

Every word he has promised is true.
What I thought was impossible,
I’ve seen my God do.

He’s been faithful, faithful to me.
Looking back, his love and mercy I see.
Though in my heart, I have questioned,
Even failed to believe,
He’s been faithful, faithful to me.

We hear our pastors encourage us to “Have faith in God.” And, we should. God remains in control of a chaotic world around us. Though our sinfulness rests at the heart of the world’s ills, God provides a path through the darkness, enabling us to find ways of turning the bad to good…time and time again.

He does this not because we are faithful, but because he is faithful. The writer of Lamentations described it this way: “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” (Lamentations. 3:22-23)

The writer of Hebrews echoed that sentiment when he said, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.” (Hebrews. 10:23)

I watched our grandchildren play in our house this week. Followed them. Chased them. Hugged them. Let their laughter warm my soul. Celebrated the uniqueness in each of them in ways I seldom had time to do with my own kids. Being a retired grandparent has its advantages.

Most importantly, this week, I prayed for them. I prayed that on the day they accept Christ as their savior that they grasp, at least in part, the unfailing faithfulness of God. For, if they hold even a smidgen of understanding, it doesn’t matter what’s happening in the world. They will have the only resource that matters as they find their way through life.

So, thanks, Jesse, for the reminder.

You read the lyrics without the melody. Now, listen to the two together. May it speak to you today as clearly as it did for me this week.