The Image of God

Psalm 13: How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me? Consider and answer me, O Lord my God; light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death, lest my enemy says, ‘I have prevailed over him,’ lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken. But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, because he has dealt bountifully with me.

This past week, the world has seen evil. With numerous deaths and injuries, with families torn apart and devastated, and human life trashed, our voices resound with the Psalmist who says, “How long?” How long before evil is trumped? How long before sin and the effects of it are no longer? While the Scriptures inform us of the necessary patience of a Christian during trying times, it is moments like these where we pray earnestly for Jesus to return soon to call us home. Though the numbers slain are not all those who confessed to be followers of Jesus, I’m reminded of the cry of the martyrs in Revelation, when they cry out for vengeance upon evildoers (Rev. 6:9-11). It is surely a significant mark of a Christian to learn to dispense grace towards those undeserving of it, for this was how we were treated by our holy God. Still, I wonder how proper it is for us to assume a thoughtless position of automatically dispensing grace when those affected by the tragedy are still mourning and seeking for justice. Perhaps, words of comfort during these times is that vengeance is the Lord’s and he will repay (Deut. 32:35). He is a just God who deals justly with all things, and evil will be judged according to his time. The Christian faith is a waiting faith, a patient faith. Things are not as they ought to be, but we await for our God to make all things right at a future time.

Interestingly, during Jubilee’s leadership retreat this past weekend, the image of God was a large topic that I was able to present. Not only is this topic crucial in coming to understand people in the church, it goes forth to show that God values human life. Consequently, Christians are called upon to value others who bear an image, though an imperfect one, of God. The Fall of man in Genesis 3 had put Adam in a disconnect with God, where his image, while not “totally annihilated and destroyed,”[1] was corrupted and deformed. Thus, what we see today will not be what we see in glory. Thankfully, I will no longer struggle with this flesh, and sin will no longer have rule over my decisions and desires. 

CREATED IMAGES

In creation, God made man as male and female after his own image. Genesis 1:26 reads, “Then God said, ‘Let us make make man in our image, after our likeness.”[2] Westminster Confession of Faith 4.2 says, “After God had made all other creatures, he created man, male and female, with reasonable and immortal souls, endued with knowledge, righteousness, and true holiness, after his own image; having the law of God written in their hearts.” Thus, this was a special relationship between God and Adam, the first human, as one casts his image on another. To highlight the significance of God’s creation of man, we can note the differences between how man was created and how the other creatures were created. 

  1. Let us make man. When God created things into being in Genesis 1, the usual way of speaking things into being was him saying, “Let there be…” or “Let the…” However, in Genesis 1:26, the personal insertion of let us shows a difference between man and the rest of created things.
  2. Breath of life. In Genesis 2:7, God formed man by breathing into him the “breath of life” and man became a “living being.” This is obviously not a physical life, for other animals had physical life without having this “breath of life” given specifically to man. 
  3. Male and female. In Genesis 1:26; 2:18, 22-25, man is the only one given the specific creation of woman. Other creatures are not shown as much details, but there seems to be quite a significance for man to have woman as a companion. 

MARRED IMAGES
As stated before, the image of God was corruped in the Fall. However, God doesn’t abandon man even after the rebellion that caused man to have a marred image of God. Even in its imperfection, it is God that preserves all image bearers through his Covenant of Common Grace. After the Flood, in Genesis 9:6 God says, “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.” The preservation of life is kept through an eye for an eye principle (life for a life here). Then, it is not only Christians who carry this marred image of God. All human beings have the image of God; thus, all human beings must be treated with dignity and respect, just as God has.

We live in a fallen world, where all sorts of corruption takes place. As mentioned before, the result of what happened in Paris is a reflection of the sin-stained world that we live in. There is a devaluing of human life that is so contradicting to what the Scriptures state. ALL humans are in the image of God. ALL humans also have a corrupt image of God. However, not all humans will be in this corruped and fallen image for all of eternity. In fact, the one who repairs this image is the one who made man in his own image. He is the “radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” (Heb. 1:3), yet he became “flesh” to be among us (John 1:14). Would you like answers? The only one who can reverse the evil in this world, make all things new, and restore the image man had in creation is Jesus. But let’s not stop there. Let’s continue to see how he makes this possible for us.

REDEEMED IMAGES

The redemption of our marred image comes from the very Jesus. In Matthew 22:17-21, Jesus engages with the Parisees and the Herodians about the issue of paying taxes to Caesar. 

It reads, “‘Tell us, then, what you think. Is it not lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?’ But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, ‘Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin for the tax.’ And they brought him a denarius. And Jesus said to them, ‘Whose likeness and inscription is this?’ They said, ‘Caesar’s.’ Then he said to them, ‘Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.'”
Here, the word likeness is εἰκὼν, which is where the word “icon” comes from. This exact word is used in the Greek translation of the Old Testament (LXX) in Genesis 1:26, where God states that he made man in his own image (εἰκὼν). Then, the last statement is a telling statement of the image of God. Taxes were given to Caesar, because the coin had Caesar’s image on it. However, Genesis 1:26 shows us that man has God’s image on him; thus, if the citizens of Rome were to give to Caesar taxes as they belonged to him, then humans are to give our lives to God as the “living breath” of God cast his image on our lives. The Apostle Paul illustrates this in Romans 12:1 when he states the urge to present our bodies “as a living sacrifice.” Just as taxes showed one’s allegiance and obedience to Caesar and his law, offering up our bodies shows our allegiance to God our maker, who cast his image upon us. Yet, there is a glaring contradiction in the phrase living sacrifice, because sacrifices were never presented alive but dead. As the gospel serves as the greatest of contradictions, we are only able to present our bodies as living sacrifices because we, who have Christ, have been given redeemed images.  

Romans 1:22-23 reads, “Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the truth about God for images (εἰκὼν) resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Here, the usage of εἰκὼν brings us back to creation, along with the references to birds and animals and creeping tings. Though sinful man is made in God’s own image, he does not worship the creator but worships created things. In fact, these are the exact things in Genesis 1-2 that man is given rule over. In reversing the order of rule as it ought to have been, man in his marred image, sins against and offends the holy God who cared for man and thought for man to be most special amongst all of his creation. 

Yet, the promise of the gospel is not that God would forget those who have forgotten hijm; rather, he gives his own redeemed image by his own Son Jesus Christ. Romans 8:29 reads, “For those whom he foreknew, he predestined to be conformed to the image (εἰκὼν) of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” Jesus, the true image bearer, brings us to be conformed to his image as the firstborn son. Likewise, Colossians 1:15-16 reads, “He [Jesus] is the image (εἰκὼν) of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities — all things were created through him and for him.” Then, the one who redeems our image is the one who had made us in his own image. How does this beautiful conforming happen? It can only be done by a transaction, an exchange — precisely a Great Exchange.

This Great Exchange is elaborated upon in 1 Corinthians 15:49-50 which reads, “Just as we have borne the image (εἰκὼν) of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image (εἰκὼν) of the man of heaven. Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. The only we as those who have the image of the man of dust attain the redeemed image of the man of heaven is because he became the flesh and blood that we were. Indeed, Jesus “became flesh” (John 1:14), and he poured his “blood of the covenant” for the forgiveness of sins (Matt. 26:28). As he promises those who believe in his name “eternal life” and to never perish[3] (John 3:16), he exchanges our doomed fate with his deserved reward. Therefore, our redeemed image is found in the Great Exchange that made Christ “to be sin so that we might be the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). 

CONCLUDING THOUGHTS

The God of the Scriptures thought enough of humans to make the first human special, in distinction from the rest of creation, as the crown of creation. Even more, he thought enough of humans to give redeemed images to those who have corrupted the image cast upon them. It costs us us belief and trust, but it cost the Son of God his life. 

Therefore, when the image of God is disrespected through the likes of events as we have seen in recent days, hope is not lost but found in Jesus. May this reminder cause us to honor humanity with due respect, to be more eager witnesses to our neighbors, and to trust nothing more than the saving works of Jesus. “For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory.” (2 Cor. 1:20) We don’t have faith in faith, but we have in Christ, who redeems the broken and gives strength to the weak.

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[1] John Calvin, Institutes 1.15.4.
[2] Calvin makes a point to state that image and likeness assume the same meaning and intent. The second is to re-iterate and further clarify what the first is. Calvin, Institutes 1.15.3.

[3] Hence, be imperishable.

The Image of God

Ordination

On September 14, 2015, I was ordained to be a minister of the gospel in the North America Presbytery. Since my freshman year in college, being a pastor was a dream for me. Studying God’s Word had brought me the kind of passion and excitement that I hadn’t found in doing much else. So this moment was a monumental one for me. One thing that my senior pastor Steve Park said the Sunday before was that ordination vows cannot be undone; rather, one is merely unfaithful to them. I’ve said this before, but for some reason, this left a pretty big impression on me.

The ordination service was just one part of a series of items on the list for the fall presbytery meeting for the NAP. Thus, leading up to the ordination service, there wasn’t too much time to reflect upon and think of how this ordination service would affect my mindset as a minister of the gospel. One item lead to another, and the ordination service for brother Jonathan Na and me had come. I came to the Lord in prayer, originally intending to thank him for the night, but I got overcome with an ocean of emotions that I was swallowed up in for the rest of the night. I had a lot of questions leading

A couple of thoughts arose in my mind:

1. What changes?

Since 2011, I felt like I had already been doing the work of a minister serving the college ministry of my previous church and a campus ministry at UCSD. At one point, I was preaching, teaching Bible Studies, and holding counseling sessions on a weekly basis. Yet, I was an intern at the church, because I had not been ordained and I was still in the process of attaining my M.Div degree. Functionally, however, it didn’t seem like there was much of a difference between what I was doing and what I would be doing as an ordained minister. The main differences seemed to be what was on paper. As one of many serving in the Korean-American church (sorry for alluding to the stereotype), I think my question resonates with many who serve as intern pastors at their respective churches.

Though not exhaustively, these questions were answered on the night of the ordination service. I had been familiar with the presbyterian structure of the church. There was a plurality of leadership so that power is not misplaced on one specific person above all others. In addition, there was an added sense of accountability on many levels. Local churches were overseen by their respective presbyteries, and these presbyteries were overseen by the general assembly (or synod). Structurally, this all made sense in my head, but it didn’t really hit as to how amazingly powerful accountability was until that night.


Due to the ordination service being in the midst of the fall presbytery meeting, there were over thirty pastors present for the ordination service. As custom in the NAP, there is the laying of hands, where pastors pray for and lay hands on the brothers being ordained as ministers in the presbytery. There was this literal and figurative weight cast upon my shoulders when the surrounding pastors were praying for brother Jonathan Na and me. Not only were these brothers praying for our future ministry as those who trusted that the Lord would guide us, they were praying for us and inviting us into a true fellowship with them as laborers for the gospel ministry. Reflecting on this truly changed my perspective on being an ordained member of the NAP, the church for pastors.

I look forward to the meetings I’ll have with these brothers, and there’s a oddly strong connection built amongst brothers I had just met and would most likely only meet once a year. This is true fellowship and accountability. If I were to stray from correctly teaching and applying the Scriptures, these brothers would protect me from harming my sheep.

2. Why the process? 

The process was a long one, starting from my time as a seminarian. Amidst the years of training in seminary and my internship at a church, the ordination process was a strenuous one. Not only was the journey arduous from an academic perspective, spirituality on my end was severely lackgin. After the multiple 25 page papers, the sleepless nights reading Berkhof’s Systematic Theology repeatedly, and the process of memorizing the names of accomplishments of obscure historical figures, the motions seemed a little robotic to me. Sure, pastors need to be tested doctrinally and theologically to ensure proper teaching and application of the Word, but I was lost amid all of the work in the process.

Historically, one of the trends away from Protestant orthodoxy was a combination of drifting away from a focus upon the historical creeds and confessions along with lowering the position of the minister. An overemphasis on the priesthood of all believers has lead to the elevation of small groups above church, personal above corporate, subjective above objective, and the laity above clergy. This is not to say that the minister ought to take himself too seriously, because the presbyterian model seeks to ensure that no minister takes himself too seriously. However, the office of a pastor is one that must be taken seriously both by the one assuming the office and those affected by it. Pastors come with the authority of the Word and as servants of Christ, who was the greatest of all servants.
A couple of passages that humbled me in reflecting upon my call:

The Apostle Paul says in Ephesians 6:19-20, “That words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.” These words for the apostle come in times where gospel proclamation was not received as well as it is in today’s culture. For those of us who are Americans, we are shaken up by any kind of pushback given by today’s culture and those relatively opposed to the Christian faith. However, the first century imposed political consequences for faithfully preaching the gospel. The paradoxical image of an ambassador in chains goes forth to show that proclaimers of this gospel come in power but a power that is different from that of this world. As Christ came to serve, we as representatives of Christ come to serve. Contrary to what I often want, the pastoral ministry is not a pathway to earthly riches and glory. Rather, when properly assumed, it brings about a commitment to die so that the living Christ might be known. In this spirit, 1 Corinthians 4:9-13 reads, “For I think that God has exhibitued us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men. We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things.” Ought not pastors have this same mindset as the apostle had? The gospel ministry is not a place where pastors seek to mirror the glory of the resurrected Christ on high. Rather, we look to the Suffering Servant who was despised and rejcted by men, a man of sorrows. It’s a dangerous place to be, because it demands full submission but displays temptations for further self-glory.

I ask you for your prayers to be a faithful child of God to properly serve God’s people … In the words of Rev. Ryan Kim, I would “show them Christ” and not myself. Thank you, in advance, for dealing with my mistakes, failures, and insufficient moments as a pastor. May those moments of weakness display the grandness of our King, our Savior, our Shepherd, our Friend Jesus Christ the righteous.

Ordination