January 22, 2013

Identity: Restoring the Image of God Part 1


We are looking at what it means for us to gain our identity...to take our meaning and purpose in life from God instead of all the things we usually depend on to give us meaning.

So often we depend upon our jobs, our fashion sense, our intelligence, our physical abilities...any number of things to gain our sense of self-worth and our identity. The problem with this approach appears at some key moments in our lives...when someone loses the use of their arms or legs, their physical ability that at one time set them apart, they will often struggle. When someone’s mind begins to go, we say things like, “They aren’t who they used to be anymore.” When retirement hits questions about who we are apart from our jobs and where our life is going come into play.

We are not completely immune from gaining some sense of worth and identity from these things, but they should never form the foundation. In the midst of this, God keeps calling for us to remember that our identity does not depend on things that will be taken away, but rather on His Image stamped upon our lives.


We are Broken
Last week we spent some time looking at what exactly is broken in our reflection of the Image of God.

And not to re-preach last week’s sermon, but we said Our relationship with God is broken. Because of Adam and Eve’s first sin, humankind died spiritually. Eating the fruit of the tree turned a relationship that allowed intimate walks in the Garden into the man and woman cowering in fear and guilt.

Our relationship with Creation is broken. Animals were no longer friendly, they were now food. Though not completely a bad thing if you’ve ever had a good cheeseburger. But what was once a close and symbiotic relationship is now filled with fear. Human beings have turned God’s call for dominion into one of dominance and destruction.

And our relationship with others is broken. It is most evident in our most intimate of human relationships; the marriage. Adam took dominance over Eve and attempted to dictate her role and place and identity by naming her. Eve would struggle with the temptation to either dominate her husband or cower in submissiveness. Neither one living up to the Face-to-Face, prosopon, relationship which God had originally created them to live in.

Restoring the Image

Today we are looking at what it means to restore the Image of God in our lives. We are looking at some of the very practical things that will help us move toward that restoration.

My dream car has always been a 60’s era Ford Mustangs. I bought one when I was 14 for $400, and worked on it for several years to restore it enough to drive. Those who do restore old cars will usually strip everything off the car, take it completely apart, and start over from base of the car. I was not able to do that. My restoration was a little rougher. There was some major work, but it was not a ground up restoration.

I repaired the floors, did some body work, replaced the seats, the carpet, and the dash, and painted it. When I was finished I had a sleek looking 1966 white Mustang. I loved that car. It still had its issues. Because I hadn’t done a restoration from the ground up, after about a year, the suspension caved in. It is a pretty common problem, but I couldn’t afford to repair it. So I parked it my grandmother’s garage until I sold it a few years later.

What can be so frustrating for us as we start this journey to restore the Image of God in our lives is that we so often want to jump right to the beautiful finished product. We see ourselves cruising down the road in our “restored” self. We want to be whole. We want to be healthy. We want a strong relationship with God. We want all of these things, but God says, “Slow down. We have to start from the ground up if we don’t want this breaking down some where along the road.”

God is not content to take cheap and easy shortcuts...because those don’t work. Get-rich-quick schemes never make you rich, except for the person who dupes us into buying in. Lose weight fast programs never really keep the weight off. In spite of all the exceptions paraded across the screen...slow and steady always wins...spending less than you bring in, building a savings account, and investing wisely....equals success...learning to eat healthy and exercising more...accomplishes your goals..

The same thing happens in our spiritual lives. So often we pray things like “Lord, give me patience and give it to me now!” Or, “Lord just make me who you want me to be” and what we mean is right now. Quick transformation. Immediate.

But Slow, steady, consistent growth...that is what is required to truly transform our character and restore the Image of God in our lives. Eugene Peterson, who did The Message...calls it “a long obedience in the same direction.” Whatever we call it, spiritual formation, discipleship, growth in grace...it all means the same thing...God wants to work in our lives restore us into this Image.

God’s Plan to Restore our Brokenness
Near the end we mentioned that God has not left us in our brokenness. From the beginning He has had a plan to rescue fallen humanity from its sin.

Genesis 3:15 gives us a hint of God’s coming plan,
“And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” 
One day, a child of this woman will crush the head of the serpent. We know the child is Jesus Christ.

1 Peter 1:20 says Jesus “was chosen before the creation of the world...” to be our savior.

And then we read Galatians 4:4-6,
“But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.”
What an amazing thought! We who are broken, damaged by sin, alienated from God can have that relationship restored! A relationship the Apostle Paul calls “Sonship.” We are no longer slaves to sin, but now freed children of God!

In 2 Corinthians 5:17 Paul says it another way,
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!”
You see all that damage and brokenness. The mutilated Image of God...is made new in Christ. We are freed from bondage to our sins, and yet...it doesn’t happen all at once.

In 2 Corinthians 3:18 Paul says,
“And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”
Because of Jesus’ sacrificial death and resurrection we “are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory.” It is not immediate. It doesn’t happen overnight.

And we are being transformed into the Image of Christ because Jesus now stands as the example of what it looks like for a human being to function fully out of the Imago Dei.

The Process of Restoring the Image
So what is this process? What do we have to do? It is not enough to just say that we are being transformed because it helps to know something about this process.

We work in the power of God’s grace to repair our broken relationship through a cycle of events. If we are consistently growing in Christ this process will repeat over and over again throughout our lives.

Conviction...Confession...Repentance...Forgiveness

This cycle is the foundation of all growth in faith. Most simply speak of it at the beginning of our move toward Jesus. They describe it as the entryway into our Christian faith, but throughout the New Testament we are reminded that it must take place on a regular basis.

Let’s look at each one of these briefly...

Conviction...
1 Thessalonians 1:4-5,
“For we know, brothers and sisters loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction.”
John 16:8,
“When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment...”
Conviction is an word that has been used and abused and misunderstood in the church for a long time. Some have mistakenly seen it as a feeling of guilt. And while it may have some guilt associated with it...its purpose is not to leave us in our guilt, but to prod us on the next step in the cycle.

Conviction is God’s Holy Spirit working in our lives to point out an area where we are either committing a sin willfully or we are omitting a task God has for us to do. This is deeper than just a guilty conscience...this is God’s hand laid upon us in such a way that we know that what we are doing is wrong. No amount of bobbing and weaving will get us out from under the knowledge that we are in the wrong according to God.

You are sitting alone at the computer, and you bring up the pornographic images...God begins to prod your spirit. And deep within you realize that these are more than just images on a screen...you are damaging your relationship with God and your relationship with others.

You begin to curse at the traffic around you, and suddenly a deep sense that you have an anger or a patience problem comes to mind. It isn’t just a guilty feeling...you sense God calling you to change.

You know you should spend time in prayer each week, but you just don’t make the time. And then one day, you sense God expressly telling you that you are suffering spiritually by omitting this discipline from your life.

Conviction is God’s challenge for us to make a change. It happens at the beginning of our spiritual journey when the Holy Spirit reminds us that we have a broken relationship with God. But it happens on a regular basis as we are growing in our faith...because we don’t have everything figured out just yet. But conviction is simply the first step.

If we are to progress, we must move on to

Confession...
1 John 1:9,
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
Conviction gives us a deep sense that we are in the wrong, but there is a moment where we have to break down and realize that we truly are in the wrong and admit we are wrong with our words.

Our natural inclination is to do the same thing as Adam and Eve in the Garden. We do something wrong. We know it is wrong. And rather than admit to it we run and hide and evade. We go into self-protection mode to keep ourselves from really being guilty of something serious.

We see this every time a public figure does something wrong...It was wrong, but not really wrong because everyone else was doing it so I can justify it.

I know I shouldn’t have cheated, but I’m only human...

We like to make up excuses for our “mistakes.” We refuse to accept full responsibility for the fact that we have sinned, but before true healing can take place we must confess...we must own up...we have to admit that “I have done wrong.” And often this demands a verbal, outward recognition that we have done wrong.

This should lead us to

Repentance...
In Matthew 3 it says that John the Baptist came preaching, ““Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” and he told those who came to him to “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.”

Repentance simply means to make an about face. You are doing something...you are convicted that it is wrong for you to do that...you own up to the fact that it is a sin and you have been taking part...and then you turn 180 degrees and stop it!

This is what John the Baptist meant when he told the people following him to “produce fruit in keeping with repentance.” Show by your actions that you are going the opposite direction.

Conviction of sin by the Holy Spirit should lead us to confess our sin...which should lead us to repent or turn from it...and receive

Forgiveness...
In Acts 2:38,
“Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
In Matthew 26:28 Jesus tells His disciples,
“This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”
Throughout Scripture, forgiveness is always linked to our ability to receive it. We cannot receive forgiveness for something we won’t admit is wrong. We cannot receive forgiveness if we are unwilling to forgive.

But forgiveness is the ultimate goal. If we stall out anywhere else in the cycle we are left with an overwhelming sense of guilt...or a constant loop of know we are in the wrong...or attempting legalistically to get things right on our own simply by making ourselves do the right things...to turn from the bad things.

It is horrible to be caught in the loop and unable to get out...but so many people have found themselves caught in this cycle and either unable or unwilling to get out because they will not progress to the next stage.

But God wants to grant pardon and freedom from bondage to the old patterns and ways that drag us down.

Conclusion
These four very theological sounding words are the foundation of a very practical day-to-day process in God’s plan to restore His Image in our lives.

Conviction will take place...

God will work in your life to point out the sins and the omissions that need to be taken care of before you can go farther in your spiritual journey.

Confession must take place...

You have to own up to it. You have to see it as a problem, as a sin, as something you have omitted. Whether willfully or accidentally you are guilty of wrongdoing and must own up to it.

Then we must repent...
You know the wrong you are doing...you know the good you are not doing...and you turn from your chosen path and start doing what God calls you to do.

Then we can receive forgiveness...

God’s ultimate goal is not to leave us stuck in the cycle, but to truly free us and forgive us.

Dallas Willard once wrote, “Grace is opposed to earning not effort.” Don’t buy into the wrong belief that we are not meant to do anything...We cannot earn our salvation, but we can, empowered by the God and filled with His grace, put in the effort required of us.

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