Endure International: Promoting the Welfare of the Church in the Middle EastEndure International

The Centrality of God vs the Centrality of Man

Tower

Many have the notion, though it may not perceived or admitted, that God exists to create, provide, bless, save, judge and do everything else for man and to man. In the end man has made himself, if not the beginning, then definitely the end of all things.

The Bible is clear in stating that man did not just happen. He did not talk himself into existence. There was a time when man did not exist and there will be a time when man will also die. According to the Bible, God is part and parcel of man's parameters. God gives definition to man. Take God away from man's life and man ceases to exist. Man without God is a candle without light. A candle exists to light, and that light is God.

Men can question God's existence; find answers to it, perceive it, believe it, deny it and do everything else with it. That will not add to, or take away from God's existence. Man's perception of God's existence is not the criteria to prove He exists. Neither is man's faith. This is because man does not give definition to God. We don't set His parameters, not even with, or by our faith. This resembles a child's perception that he did not just happen; that he has a father and a mother who have existed before he did, and are the reason for his existence!

At what age does a child perceive and understand the existential relationship he has with his parents? The elements that can affect this development, in a positive or a negative sense, are innumerable and varied. To therefore make a father's or a mother's existence dependant upon a child's perception is awfully misleading, extremely dangerous, and totally absurd.

The bottom line is that man does not question God. Man cannot question God. Yet, questioning God's existence is the symptom, not the real problem. The real problem is essentially the fact that man has replaced the centrality of God with his own. Man has made himself, his interests, his ambitions and everything else about him the center of gravity for the universe and beyond. This is the real problem. And unless man comes to the realization of this sinful attitude, he will for ever be caught in a web of questions that lead nowhere.

One wonders: Why did God create the angelic beings? Why did He create man? The most profound answer to these questions is simply the following: for His glory and His good pleasure. Everything God does, denies, predicts, allows, executes, and every other verb one can think of, He does for His glory and good pleasure. Matthew wrote in the gospel bearing his name: "He hides things from the wise and learned and reveals them to little children for His good pleasure."[1] In his letter to the Ephesians Paul states: "He adopted us as His sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with His good pleasure."[2] He goes on to say shortly after that: "He made known to us the mystery of His will according to His good pleasure."[3] The author of the letter to the Hebrews stated it this way: "He works in us what is pleasing to Him."[4]

Man was not, is not, and will never be an end in himself. Man was not, is not, and will never be the end for God. God created man for His good pleasure. God, not man, is the beginning and end of all things. His good pleasure is, not man's good pleasure.

Satan succeeded in dragging man into the same sin that He had fallen into, namely to refuse God's uniqueness and authority over him; to covet to become god by his own right. Man's sin is often identified as disobedience. That term tends to be diluted in the mind of its hearers or readers. The image most present in their imagination is of a child disobeying his parents. Whereas the true meaning of disobedience here is rebellion, insurgency and revolt. Adam and Eve chose to become entangled in nothing less than a mutiny against their Captain.

Man thus robbed God of His centrality, and replaced it with his own! God lost His rightful place in man and in what has now become man's universe. Man stole the deity over his destiny and that of the universe. With that he stole the glory and became the object of his own worship.

This is where man has bowed to the painting at the expense of the Painter. This is where he has worshiped the sculpture at the expense of the Sculpturer; where he has loved the copy at the expense of the Original. It is true that man carried God's image, but we were never to worship images. We left the true God and worshiped images.

What effects, what consequences, did man's sin have? What effects did it have on him and on his relationship to God? The words that scream in man's face are far from pleasant: Punishment! Judgment! Hell! Eternal damnation!

These words and their synonyms are gradually disappearing from everyday use. They are being deleted from the church vocabulary. Nobody wants to say them, let alone hear them said to him. They are not nice words. As a matter of fact they are pointed, hurtful, judgmental, repulsive, and above everything else unfair. That is, to man they are.

Man wonders and asks: How could and can God justify punishing temporal sin, with eternal judgment? If punishment is in proportion to sin, how can He equate between even a lifetime of sinning, and an eternity of punishment? Our courts of law take special care to make punishment proportionate to crime. Can that be untrue of God? Of a just God?

The first book of the Bible describes how God "banished man from the Garden of Eden."[5] Man lost his place in the garden with God. He had a desert of a world to work in. The worst part of it, and the farthest reaching was that man could no longer have fellowship with God. Not only was death in waiting for him at the end of the road, it began eating at him immediately. To God, man was declared as good as dead, spiritually dead, separated from Himself.

Man gambled. He gambled and lost. He lost and became lost. He sowed independence and reaped death. That has been his story. That is his story as he continues to sow independence from God, and as he continues to harvest death.

It is worth noting that what God has pronounced eternal judgment on was not necessarily those things man normally identifies as sin, such as lying or stealing or such other acts. God is not punishing even the sin of murder with eternal damnation. What he is punishing with eternal death, judgment and damnation is the sin of man's refusal of His authority, which manifests itself in all kinds and types of sinful attitude and action. Said differently, eternal judgment and damnation was not pronounced against sins of ignorance, but the sin of arrogance, of idolatry, of self-worship.

God implanted His image in man because it was with man that He sought fellowship. Without that image fellowship could not continue. Without that image man's death journey began, for the simple reason that life exists only in God, in God's image, of which man was made a steward. God is eternal. God's image is also eternal. Without God's image in him, man had to die. This is the death that God had warned Adam of. It is man's separation from God.

It is worth noting that death was as much a consequence as it was punishment. I don't mean to take away from the seriousness of man's sin against God and God's right to punish it in any way He pleases. I am only affirming one important aspect, one side to the same coin, and it is the following. Life exists in God. Take God away and what you have is a handful of dust, lifeless and useless. This is man without God. This is how it was before God breathed life into the dust. This is how it will be when God takes His breath away. It is only normal and natural that dust returns to dust. In other words, man himself is pronouncing judgment on himself by choosing death over life; by choosing to live away from God who is life, rather than under Him.

In light of the above one dare not question the eternal destiny of man without God! As a matter of fact it would seem totally unreasonable and completely foolish to expect anything less or different. To claim another destiny for man without God borders blasphemy. There cannot be another eternal destiny for man without God but eternal separation or death. Life can only exist in and with God. And since God is eternal, life in Him is also eternal, and without Him death is also eternal.

Bible commentators, preachers, theologians and teachers have differed widely as to the meaning of the term "in His image" as it appeared in Genesis 1:27. What they all agreed on though is that the reference here is not to physical appearance, for God is a Spirit.

What most commentators and Bible expositors also agree on is that while both the first and the second chapter of Genesis talk of the creation of man, the latter tends to do that in a more detailed fashion. We are therefore left to discover how and in what manner the term referred to in Genesis 1:27 in His image is presented in chapter two of the same book.

Though this is not the place to engage in an exhaustive study of this term, or draw upon what many theologians and Bible scholars have discussed relative to it, yet it is important to note that our concern in the following paragraphs is to seek to understand the term "in His Image" in its Biblical connotations.

Since God in His very nature is a Spirit, imparting His image refers principally to imparting His Spirit, or elements of His spiritual nature. Understanding it in this way, we can assume that the term in His image, in Genesis chapter 1:27, may well have been explained in the words, "..the Lord God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life,"[6] in Genesis 2:7.

In other words, God's image was implanted in man when God breathed life into man's nostrils. God's image in man is God's Spirit, God's Life in him. It follows that should God's Spirit cease to abide in man, should God's Spirit depart from man, God's image will also stop being reflected in man. Such a situation is properly identified as death, spiritual death, of which God had warned Adam.

We all understand physical death to mean the separation of the soul from the body, and the decay of the body that follows. In that same way, spiritual death refers to the departure or separation of the Element giving spiritual life, and that can only mean the Spirit of God, from the object in which He dwelled, in this case man.

This explains the warning that God gave to Adam and Eve should they disobey Him and eat from the forbidden tree of knowledge of good and evil. "The day you eat of it", He said: "you will surely die."[7]

The reference here is definitely not to physical death, rather to the fact that should man disobey; should he make himself the center of all things and decide to refuse the authority of God over him, God's Spirit will depart from him.

Genesis chapter three describes the onset of spiritual death of man. Man does not die physically that day. Yet spiritually he does. God's Spirit had abandoned him altogether. Man had allowed another Spirit to invade his heart. Fellowship between him and His Creator could not go on. He is therefore thrown out of the garden. That act, the banishment of man from the presence of God was symbolic of the separation, of the death that has set in.

Similarly to the first creation, when God first formed Adam and Eve and breathed Life in them; so it is with the new creation as Paul writes to the Colossians: "Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator."[8]

The Bible leaves no doubt as to the spiritual condition of man in his physical birth. It clearly states that man is born spiritually dead. See John 3:16, Ephesians 2:1, Ephesians 2:5, Colossians 2:13. We are born separated from God. See Ephesians 4:18. We are born under eternal judgment. See Romans 5:12, Romans 5:17, Romans 6:23.

Spiritual death requires a resurrection from the dead. Spiritual death requires a new birth; a new creation. See John 3 & 1 Peter 1:23. Neither religion, nor any other human endeavor will be able to restore life to spiritually dead people. And since God first breathed Life into the first Adam when He first formed him from dust, so also He breathes New Life into those that are born into the lineage of the 'Last Adam',[9] even Christ. As Paul clearly affirms: "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!"[10] The sole Agent in the new creation in Christ is God's Holy Spirit. The Scriptures affirm this truth time and again. See John 3:5-8, Acts 5:32, Acts 15:8, Acts 9:2, Romans 5:5, Romans 8:11, 1 Corinthians 6:19, Ephesians 1:13, Titus 3:5. It is at this time that God restores his Image into us, even His Holy Spirit. See Romans 8:29.

At heart, mission is God's initiative at restoring His Image in man, claiming what is rightly His. Such divine mission necessitates confrontation with idols and the general spirit of idolatry that man has fallen into when he robbed God of His centrality. Mission is God claiming that ownership back to Himself, and the stamp of that ownership is His image in man.

We are confronted in the Gospels with a fascinating encounter that sheds light on this important issue. We read in Matthew 22:15-21 the following testimony.

Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words. They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. "Teacher," they said, "we know you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren't swayed by men, because you pay no attention to who they are. Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?" But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, "You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? Show me the coin used for paying the tax." They brought him a denarius, and he asked them, "Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?" "Caesar's," they replied. Then he said to them, "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's."

What Jesus is saying to these two groups is that in the same way that a coin belongs to Caesar because it bears his image, so also should man belong to God because God has also left His inscription on him. Mission is God in the business of placing that Image back in man and thus claiming man back to Himself.

Are you at a point in your life to admit your self-centerdness and all the sinful actions, attitudes, expectations that followed? Are you at a point to confess the fact that you are spiritually dead, separated from God both here on earth and for eternity to come? Are you willing to accept the fact that you deserve God's just judgment on you? Are you ready to give up your claims to self-independence and submit to the authority of God in your life? Are you willing to allow God to take central place?

If you answered yes to all the questions above, God is ready and willing to come into your life and take over. He is ready and willing to restore His Image, His Spirit in you. Jesus has bore the penalty of your sin and mine and has endured death on your behalf and mine. He rose from the dead proclaiming victory for you and for me. We, in Him, can claim that victory over spiritual death--our separation from God--by accepting his redemptive work on the cross, and thus be reconciled to God through Him. Our fellowship with God can be restored and at that instant His Spirit would come and dwell in us afresh.

Take a few moments now to reflect on the above. Follow that by lifting your heart up to God in prayer. Confess your situation, and accept the forgiveness that He has made available to you in Jesus Christ. Once you do that, you will be born again, in the Spirit, and thus become a child of God as promised in John 1:12. You will be a member in the family of God.

Notes

  1. Matthew 11:25-26
  2. Ephesians 1:5
  3. Ephesians 1:8
  4. Hebrews 13:21
  5. Genesis 3:25
  6. Genesis 2:7
  7. Genesis 2:17
  8. Colossians 3:9-10, italics mine
  9. 1 Corinthians 15:45
  10. 2 Corinthians 5:17