The Gospel and the Beauty of God’s People

We have established that God in himself is uncreated and eternal beauty. Man made in his image is created beauty intended to reflect him. The image of God in man is essential to understanding the pinnacle of created beauty in the world. The whole of creation speaks to us about the glory and beauty of God. But none of this beauty is comparable to that of the human being.

This beauty, however, has been marred since the image of God within us has been fractured. As broken image bearers we stand in need of God’s mending work. The solution to our distorted image is found in Christ, the true image-bearer, who comes to restore us. There is a strand of New Testament thought that links together Christ, the image of God, and our salvation.

The apostle tells us explicitly that Jesus is “the image of God” (2 Cor 4:4, 1 Cor 15:49, Col 1:15, 2 Cor 3:18). Jesus was a perfect man who yielded to no temptation (Heb 4:15), never sinned (1 Pet 2:22) and lived a life of unbroken worship and obedience before the Father (Rom 5:18-20). This means that Jesus was and is the perfect image bearer. When we look at Jesus we see what a human being was intended to be.

His life of perfect image bearing was lived in our place as our representative. His perfect life and his sacrificial death are equally necessary for our salvation (Heb 2:5-18, Rom 5:17-21). His life and death are in fact a dual substitution. He lived as a blameless image bearer and died in the place of broken image bearers. In his death he received in himself the punishment due every fractured image bearer (Note the connection between Romans 1:18-32, Rom 3:23-25, and Rom 8:28-32).

The problem with a fractured image is that it no longer gives a true reflection of that which it was created to reveal. We tell horrendous lies about God with our lives though we were created to reveal the truth about him. Jesus, the true image bearer, lived a life that told nothing but the truth about God.

In his death, however, he died like the biggest liar in the world. God piled upon him all the sin of our broken imaging. Indeed, he became sin for us (2 Cor 5:21). He took this upon himself and the Father consumed him with wrath, punishing him in our stead. Then the Son rose from the grave with a glorified body (1 Cor 15: 42-48) to complete our justification (Rom 4:25).

The New Testament teaches that the Spirit of God regenerates men and creates faith in them in order to unite them to the Jesus (1 Jn 5:1, Eph 2:8-10). Once united to Christ all that is his becomes ours and all that is ours becomes his (Rom 6:1-12). His righteousness and perfection is now ours while our sin and filth is swallowed up in him (2 Cor 5:21). Through Christ we are considered perfect and blameless (Col 1:22). God sees us in Jesus as perfect image bearers once again.

The reality of our perfect standing before God progressively becomes a reality in our experience here and now. Paul tells us that this was God’s predetermined plan. “Those whom he foreknew he also predestined to become conformed to the image of his son” (Rom 8:29). Through the gospel and suffering the Spirit molds us into the image of Christ. As we behold the glory of the Lord in the gospel we are “transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor 3:18).

As we suffer hardship God works all these sufferings for our good that we might finally be molded in to Christ’s likeness (Rom 8:28-32). The Spirit labors within us aiding us in putting off the old man and putting on the new man, which is “being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator” (Col 3:10, Eph 4:23-24). At the final resurrection we will put off forever our mortal bodies and be clothed with immortality. It is here that the image of God within us will be fully and finally renewed. For it is at the resurrection that we will “bear the image of the man from heaven” (1 Cor 15:49, see the larger context of 1 Cor 15:42-58).

Implications   

  • Jesus is the one in whom the beauty of God is deposited. Since Jesus is the perfect image bearer it follows that he is the fullest expression of God’s beauty. Once again we see that an accurate definition of beauty must be centered in Jesus.
  • Since Jesus is fully and perfectly human it follows that he shows us what human beauty genuinely looks like. What does this mean for beauty? It means it is not restricted to gender, it is not preoccupied with the physical (though it includes this), it is tied to character, it is not static but active, and at heart it is sacrificial service for another’s good.
  • The beauty of God in Jesus Christ saves the world. The place where beauty is most clearly displayed is the same place where God restores the beauty of this fallen world. Begbie puts it like this: “In Jesus Christ is the measure of divine beauty, so also of created beauty. In Jesus Christ, divine beauty has, so to speak, got to grips with the wounded and deformed beauty of the world; in the incarnate Son, crucified, risen, and now exalted, we witness God’s re-creation of the world’s beauty.”[1]
  • Jesus provides all that is necessary for broken image bearers to be restored. By faith in Christ we are reckoned righteous, clean, and whole before God. Jesus makes us beautiful by saving us. The beauty of humanity is once again a gift that comes from outside of us. The work of both creation and new creation are the work of God. God alone creates and recreates beauty.
  • Beauty is here connected to the saving work of God in our lives. The Spirit is laboring within us with the tools of gospel and suffering to make us more and more like Jesus. It is a beautiful thing to be regenerated, justified, sanctified, and ultimately glorified. We are God’s workmanship and we reflect the beauty of his handiwork. Beauty is not something we strive after it is something given us in Christ. In position, we are considered beautiful because we are united to Christ. In experience, we are progressively being conformed to the image of Christ. In other words, we reflect who we are in Christ more and more as we follow after God. The beauty of the Christian does not fluctuate. Gregory of Nyssa nailed it on this point. “He has transferred unto himself the filth of my sins, and communicated unto me his purity, and made me a partaker of his beauty.” We are participants in his beauty and this cannot be altered. As the Spirit sustains our faith in the gospel and produces the obedience of faith in us he works out the beauty that is already ours in Christ. We do not become more beautiful we simply manifest what we are in Jesus. Through Christ we hold the position of beautiful image bearers and it is this reality that works its way out in our practice.
  • Glorification is the final stage of restoring the image of God within us. This is significant for a few reasons. First, this confirms the fact that the image of God includes the whole person. It is not enough to be renewed within we must also be renewed from without. Apart from restored bodies the image of God would still be broken. Second, it follows that beauty is also external and physical. There is a unique beauty to the resurrected existence of Christ. Paul refers to his resurrected body as “glorious” (Phil 3:21). At his return our bodies will be conformed to the beauty and glory of his (Phil 3:21, 1 Jn 3:2). One day we will “shine like the sun” in the Kingdom of God (Matt 13:43). Just like the angels and Moses reflected the light of God’s beauty when coming from his presence so shall we. Our bodies will reflect the luminescence of Christ’s glorified body. Third, all of this points to the fact that even physical beauty is a reflective beauty that comes from God. There are three components to the physical beauty of glorification: conformity to the glorified body of Christ, the reflective radiance of seeing God and residing in his presence, and the restored cohesion of both internal and external elements of an individual.

This exploration into the theme of beauty has not been comprehensive. But it has provided us with the necessary anchor points for constructing a framework for a theology of beauty. We can identify these anchor points as the nature of the Triune God, the image of God, the person of Christ, the cross of Christ, union with Christ, the church and the doctrine of glorification.

We have viewed each of these doctrines under the umbrella of God’s nature, dwelling, and people. By taking this angle on the question of beauty we have learned some new and fresh things. It is my hope that your thinking on beauty has been challenged, shaped, and sharpened. Now we need to put this framework to action—hence the next posts on the theology of beauty in action.


[1] Jeremy Begbie in The Beauty of God: Theology and Arts, 27. Bruno Forte agrees. “Crucified beauty leads us back to Beauty at the end victorious.” The Portal of Beauty, 119.

 

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A Biblical Framework for Encouragement: Creation

In the previous post we launched a blog series on encouragement. We explored the foundation of a framework for encouragement as we observed that God himself is the most encouraging being in existence. In the next few posts, we will look at the four pillars of encouragement. Today, we take a look at creation and the image of God that has been imprinted upon us.

You are the one thing in all creation that God stopped, stooped down into the dirt, formed you carefully and breathed life into you. You alone bear the image of God. Not animals, not angels, no other created thing. You alone were declared “very good” at creation. The first encouraging act of our Creator towards you was to create you and to make you in his image. To be an image-bearer is to be deeply valued and even delighted in…it is to be given qualities, gifts and attributes unique to you. There is only one you. The image of God is an encouraging truth. The image of God is also grounds for encouraging one another.

Check out this verse in James.

“With (our tongue) we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so” (James 3:9).

How can we curse an image bearer? It is completely contrary to what should be done. Blessing, encouraging, building up—this is the only way to engage an image bearer. When we align our view toward one another with God’s perspective, everything changes. There is so much intrinsic value and dignity to every human being on this planet. The image of God in each other beckons us to the work of affirmation.

Screen Shot 2016-08-01 at 6.03.45 PMEncouragement is the intentional gaze of one image-bearer toward another—a recognition and affirmation of what God has put in the other. Think about the unique gifts, talents, skills, personality, character, and perspective of every individual. There is so much to appreciate about one another if we see through the right lenses.

Encouragement takes the extra step from observation to affirmation. When seeing mercy, patience, kindness, joy, strength, or compassion in someone—encouragement speaks what is seen into the individual. When gifts and skills are recognized they are affirmed. Encouragement recognizes the reflection of God in the image bearer and reminds them of what is true about them.

Being an image bearer is an encouraging reality. To encourage is to be a good image bearer as we reflect the Great Encourager.The image of God in others is an invitation to see God in them and affirm what you see.

The Youthfulness of God

Human beings are made in the image of God. This is an inescapable reality for every living person. It is true for the infant in the womb, the new born baby, the toddler, the child, the adolescent, the young adult, the adult, and the elderly. The image of God is something that encompasses the entire lifespan of a person. It is something that permeates everything about a person. The implications of this are staggering on many levels and in many arenas. Today my thoughts were drawn to thinking about the image of God in children. God designed the developmental process to instruct us about himself. He is imaging himself to the world through his creatures in their every stage of life. Thus, children teach us profound things about God. But, what things?

Jeanette Fernandez is an artist that recently posted a blog about creativity, the image of God, and children. Here is an excerpt.

“The younger the child is, the more profound their ability to express who they are in God’s image by simply being themselves. I’ve taught preschoolers for a very long time, I especially like them because I am better able to flow with their constant creativity. A spoon becomes a baby when wrapped in a washcloth; taking what is on hand and creating something of beauty and/or usefulness. A stick becomes a sword, gun, any weapon of choice, (it’s just a boy thing), taking what is on hand and creating something of beauty and/or usefulness. My daughter put a boot on her head when she was around 3 years old, in her mind she looked like a giraffe, what a great expression of imagination. This ability to create is part of who we are in God’s image. We are all made this way and in our ability to be creative, we are only limited by our own lack of imagination and self-consciousness. Pablo Picasso says, “All children are born artists, the problem is to remain an artist as we grow up.”

G.K. Chesterton has a brilliant quote on the ability of children to rejoice in the ordinary and monotonous. Here is an excerpt from his book, Orthodoxy.

“Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, ‘Do it again’; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, ‘Do it again’ to the sun; and every evening, ‘Do it again’ to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.”

So, these two authors point to creativity, joy, freedom, and enjoyment of repetition when meditating on children and the image of God. Jesus seems to focus on on humility and uncomplicated trust (Matt 18:4). I have observed in my children wonder and awe over simple things. My daughter saw the stars for the first time this month. She was astounded. Now she constantly asks me “do you remember the stars?” She wants me to take her outside all the time in the evening so she can look at them. Her awe about the stars is humbling to observe as I so easily pass over their beauty.

I have also observed in my children an inclusive posture toward people. They are so warm and welcoming to everyone. They have not been conditioned by stereotypes and cultural baggage. Their arms are wide open to the world. I also love to watch their carefree existence. In their vocation of play they demonstrate how to engage the moment with glorious indifference to past or future. They also seem to get over things quicker than adults. Grudge holding seems to come with age.  What things have you seen in children that instruct us about God? Do you have any further thoughts about God’s image as it relates to children? I would love to hear your thoughts.

Delight in Creation and Restoration

Genesis 1:27

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

Luther’s Commentary
“The purpose of Moses was probably to represent God as not so much delighted with any of, or with all, his other creatures as with man, whom he created in his own likeness. For other animals are termed traces of God, man alone is said to be the image of God. For in all the other creatures God is known as by his footsteps only, but in man, especially in Adam, he is known truly and fully; for in Adam is seen that wisdom, righteousness and knowledge of all things, that he may rightly be called a microcosm or little world in himself; for he understands the heaven, the earth and the whole creation. God therefore, as Moses would here represent, is delighted in his having made so beautiful a creature.”
 
“Without doubt therefore, as God was so delighted with this his counsel and workmanship in the creation of man, so he is now delighted in the restoration of that his original glorious work, through his Son our Deliverer, Jesus Christ. It is always profitable to consider that God is always thinking thoughts of good, yea the best thoughts towards us, Jer. 29:11, and that he is ever delighted with these his thoughts and this his counsel in our restoration to a spiritual life, by the resurrection from the dead of those who have believed in Christ…And well indeed may we wonder and render thanks unto God, as indeed we do, that we, so deformed by sin, so dull, so stupefied, and so dead by it, should be enabled through the merits and benefits of Christ to look with assurance for that same glory of a spiritual life, which Adam might also have looked for with all assurance, without the dying merits of Christ if he had remained unfallen.”
 
Martin Luther. Luther on the Creation: A Critical and Devotional Commentary on Genesis [1-3] (Kindle Locations 2403-2412, 2392-2397).
 

Divine Deliberation and the Creation of Man

Genesis 1:26

“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.'”

Luther’s Commentary
“Moses is here celebrating the formation of man as having been wrought by a peculiar design and contrivance of the mind of God; my own opinion is that all the other animals of the earth stood forth created in a moment, as the fishes were made on a sudden in the sea…let us now approach the last and most glorious work of God: the creation of man! God says, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.’ Here again Moses adopts a new phraseology. The divine expression is not in this place, ‘Let the sea be moved,’ or ‘Let the earth bring forth grass’ or ‘fruits.’ But the remarkable Word of God here is, ‘Let us make, or form, or fashion, or fabricate man.’ Wherefore this expression implies manifest deliberation and counsel; the like of which is found not in the creation of any former creatures. In those cases God says simply without any deliberation, counsel or particular design of mind, ‘Let the sea be moved;’ ‘Let the earth bring forth,’ etc. But here where God wills to create man, he turns himself as it were to deep thought and enters into profound counsel and deliberation…All three Persons here concur and speak unitedly when they say, “Let us make.” For neither does the Father make any other man than the Son makes; nor does the Son make any other man than the Holy Ghost makes. But the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, the one same God, are the one same author of the one same work and are the one same creator.”
 
Martin Luther. Luther on the Creation: A Critical and Devotional Commentary on Genesis [1-3] (Kindle Locations 2090-2095, 2103-2104, 2170-2172).