Posted On March 13, 2018

The Image of God and the Hope of the Gospel

by | Mar 13, 2018 | Featured, The Gospel and the Christian Life

Not long ago I was asked to give a biblical overview of “The Oneness of Humanity” at a Christian hip-hop album release party in Cincinnati. The more I thought about this subject, the more prominently I perceived it in Scripture. This issue is touched on all over the place in the Bible, but my task was to give a bird’s eye view of this topic, flying over it to hit some major points.

I hope that sharing a brief outline of my message will be like the ravens that brought Elijah food; I hope it leaves you hungering for more of what God has to give. So, here is a broad survey of what the Bible says about the oneness of humanity as image-bearers of God, and especially the greater oneness that can only be found in Jesus Christ.

Old Testament

We read in the first book of the Bible of God’s special creation of Adam and Eve: “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” Although there are distinctive characteristics and roles and gifts for men and women, they are essential and gloriously equal, both created in the image of God.

The Genesis narrative goes on to tell us, “And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth’” (Genesis 1:28). We see then that a huge number and diversity of people, all over the earth, is God’s idea!

Things quickly disintegrated, however, because Adam sinned and people filled the earth with wickedness, so God destroyed the earth in Noah’s day with a flood (Genesis 6-8). Every one of us comes, not only from Adam but also from Noah.

Yet the command to Noah, following the flood, is the same as to Adam: “And God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth’” (Genesis 9:1). So a huge number and diversity of people, all over the earth, was not merely God’s plan before Adam’s fall into sin in the garden. Multitudes of people, with all their different looks and talents and interests and personalities, was part of God’s great plan for humanity post-Fall and post-Flood.

At the city of Babel, in Genesis 11, the people achieve a particular kind of unity, but it is a unified effort to disobey God. It is for this reason God steps in to disrupt their sinful, man-made version of “oneness”: “And the Lord said, ‘Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do'” (Genesis 11:6). God was not concerned that humans would be overly productive at unified Babel; rather, God knew there is no depth of wickedness into which unified rebels will not sink. And so God confuses their language and actually separates them—a vital reminder that our goal is not simply unity divorced from biblical doctrine (a mistake often made in our day), but finding our unity and identity in relation to the one true God.

In Genesis 12, God calls out Abraham from paganism to start a new and special Jewish nation. But the point of this nation was not to be God’s special and pampered pets; it was to learn and live out the Word of God themselves and then share it with the rest of the world. As Isaiah would later remind Israel:

Thus says God, the Lord, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people on it and spirit to those who walk in it: “I am the Lord; I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you; I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness. I am the Lord; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols (Isaiah 42:5-8).

New Testament

To make a long story short, Israel did not do what God intended for them too. And that is why Jesus came into the world. Because God didn’t just love Israel, “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). This is the answer we are given throughout the entire New Testament, for every problem in the world, including wars, prejudices, selfishness—Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life and we become one in the right way only when we trust in the person and work of Jesus Christ for our salvation.

Christ is now our ultimate identity. I am first and foremost not a man or woman, not black or white, not American or Asian—but Christian.

Jesus doesn’t have a favorite team, a favorite country, a favorite music style, or a favorite world culture. He is not represented by any political party; he does not have a contract to wear any company logo. So when the disciples were tempted to think Jesus had come just to be a Savior to a certain nation or ethnic group, Jesus’ answer was: “I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd” (John 10:16). And Jesus would later—close to his death and looking into the future bringing in of many believers through the preaching of the apostles—pray “that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:21). The glory of Jesus Christ as God’s Savior is what is at stake when it comes to our unity as Christians!

When Peter was tempted to think he could not share the gospel, the church, or Christian joys and freedom with Gentiles (non-Jews), because they were “unclean,” God’s answer was: “What God has made clean, do not call common” (Acts 10:15). Do you see yourself as one of the unclean things in the sheet God let down and told Peter to touch and interact with? Because that is how God is describing you here if you are not an ethnic Jew! But in Christ we are all cleansed, we are no longer common or unclean.

When the church at Corinth was tempted to divide over minor issues, Paul’s answer was: “There is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist” (1 Corinthians 8:6). When the churches in Galatia were tempted to make their national identity their spiritual identity, Paul’s answer was, “In Christ Jesus, you are all sons of God, through faith. There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:26, 28).

The Christian gospel does not get rid of distinctives between sexes or cultures, which are beautiful and enjoyable in their God-given and Scripturally grounded bounds. But those things are not our chief identity anymore. To the church at Philippi, which was doing well, Paul sent this warning: “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ … that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel” (Philippians 1:27).

The fact is, ultimately, we Christians might as well get used to worshiping together; because that is what we are going to be doing forever in heaven! The song in Revelation 5:9 is “Worthy are you … for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.” The same God who created a huge number and diversity of people in the first place intends for that glorious diversity to continue throughout eternity.

Every believer will one day be made completely like Christ. But we will never, even in heaven, be completely like each other. Even in heaven, it is Christ who will be our common ground, our common song, our common joy. The multitude in heaven will worship together in sanctified diversity; and Jesus says it is God’s people doing that here and now which will prove to the world that Jesus is, indeed, heaven sent.

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