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The Image of God
The Covenant with Abraham
IN THE BEGINNING
If you have seen the start of a race at a track meet, you know what happens just before the runners sprint from their starting blocks. The official raises a small pistol in the air and shouts the following words: "Runners to your mark" ... "set" ... and then he squeezes the trigger, sending the athletes on their way. Every race has a beginning. It's exactly the same with everything we know to be—all of creation.
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. (Genesis 1:1)
This is perhaps the most important, and the most controversial, sentence of the entire Bible. There was a time when there was nothing—no creation, no life, no earth, no solar systems, no universe—and then, suddenly, like the gun starting a race, there was action, life ... something.
The word Genesis means "beginning, a starting point in time." What it underscores is that life has a starting place, a critical element in a biblical world-view. From the instant of creation, life became linear, not cyclical. We are not, as the nineteenth-century philosopher Friedrich Nietzche claimed in his "myth of eternal recurrence," caught in an endless cycle like a scratched record, clicking back to the previous groove and playing the same thing over and over again. And because we're not caught in an incessant replaying of the same tune, as with the irrational idea of reincarnation, life has direction and meaning. And mankind's existence has purpose. He is charged with ultimate responsibility for his own thoughts and actions, unable to escape the ultimate excuse of simply reliving life as a victim of his ancestors.
In his novel The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway picked up this pagan notion. The sun rises and sets and rises and sets ... with no discernible beginning or end to the orbit of human history. If this were true, it would naturally lead to the position that there is no specific starting place and no purposeful end to our lives. We would be, in a cosmic sense, running around in circles.
Contrary to this thought, even contemporary theories of evolution affirm that there was a beginning—a time when things were not and a time when things were. Of course, these theories hold that by blind chance, all matter in the universe gathered into a single point and then exploded, leaving us with swirls of matter that would eventually condense into suns and planets and all living things.
These theorists have more faith than I do. To believe that all of this took place with no Creator, no grand designer, and no one shouting, "Runners to your mark," takes a great deal of confidence in pure speculation. In fact, scientists' own law of inertia makes a case against them. Even Captain Von Trapp in The Sound of Music knew better than this when he crooned, "Nothing comes from nothing ... nothing ever could."
The presupposition that "things at rest tend to stay at rest" begs the case against this sleeping nothingness suddenly and without notice coming together to create something: and not just something. Nothingness exploded, spontaneously formed light, billions of galaxies, the Grand Tetons, alligators, and eyelashes. Although they would not like to be given this distinction, these are people of great faith.
The opening sentence in Holy Scripture also tells us that there was Someone Whose voice was heard throughout the vast emptiness: "Runners to your mark."
The Bible does not simply say, "In the beginning ... ," but God's Word makes it clear that in the beginning, God was. He was not the result of His own conception, He was clearly separate and apart from it. God is eternal. He has no beginning and no end. He was not created; He was the Creator.
When our children were small, sometimes they would argue with my decisions, especially those decisions that affected them. Sometimes, after my unsuccessful attempts to build my case, I would simply say, "It's going to be this way, just because it is."
This is not an argument for the existence of God that I'm fond of making, but the fact of the Creation and the reality of the Creator are true just because they are. Given the alternatives to these truths—like the "Big Bang" or natural selection—my sincere hope is that you will simply come to the point of believing that God is and that He was the Creator ... just because. For there to be a beginning, there must be something or someone who has the very power of being itself first to start the cosmic process in motion.
In the beginning God did something. We're not told of a static existence of Divinity, but of a God in action: God doing something. And what He did here is the most fantastic work that has ever been done, work that will never be done again.
You and I use the word create to describe what entrepreneurs do with businesses, what architects do with buildings, or what artists do with painting or music. Actually, my closest friends know that I dabble in some of the arts myself—especially painting and music. Over the years I have read about the ways great men and women have used these mediums to communicate and express themselves and their ideas. I have been completely taken with their brilliance. When I get out tubes of paint—and don't forget, I'm a rank amateur—and face a clean, white canvas, I feel like a kid playing in the mud.
But, even though some would call what the world's great artists do with their paints—even what I do—"creative," it's not truly that at all, not in the Genesis sense of the creative acts of God. All I am doing is taking what already exists and rearranging it into something different. This is not true creativity but mediated creativity. The biblical view of creation is more startling than this.
The biblical concept of God's creativity presents an act of creation where there is no medium except the sound of Someone's voice. It's not as though God came down with His palette and began to mix and paint and draw. There was no paint. There were no brushes. There was not even a blank canvas. There was only endless emptiness.
In fact, this is the reason why we theologians use a special phrase to talk about God's creative works: ex nihilo. These words, literally meaning "out of nothing," explain that there was no preexistent matter that God used to create. All of His art, that which we know as tangible and intangible reality, did not come from rearranging anything, it came from scratch.
No amount of study that describes those things that are going on around us can account for creation ex nihilo. This act goes beyond the natural, into the supernatural realm. This act takes us above and beyond the theater of nature, to the beginning of nature, to the Author of nature and His creation out of nothing.
Much to our chagrin, the Bible does not give us a scientific description of how He did this work, the specific times, or how many watts of power were needed. The only thing we are told is that creation happened by the power of God's spoken word. Saint Augustine called this simply, the divine imperative or fiat—not to be confused with a small Italian automobile.
Thoughtful and convincing arguments among Bible scholars swirl around the exact amount of time God used in creation. Were the six "days" of creation a form of poetry and symbolism, or were they literally twenty-four-hour days? I certainly encourage you to join me in the exploration of this issue. However, as I have done with my students over the years, I find that it is always dangerous to shout where God has whispered. Either way, the Bible is crystal-clear as to the "Who" of creation, and ultimately that will have to be enough.
In the beginning, God created. These are foundational words of Scripture because they point us to right thinking. God is the all-powerful, all-wise Creator of the universe. This is the beginning of our journey.
The Image of God
The Covenant with Abraham
Almost as soon as she could speak, Darby, one of my granddaughters, began learning the answers to questions from the Children's Catechism. When I would ask Darby, "Who made you?" she would smile and say, "God did."
But my favorite question to ask her—and I think her favorite one to answer, given the sparkle in her eyes—was the one that speaks of God's ultimate purpose in creating humanity.
"Darby," I would ask our precious little girl, "why did God make you?"
"Fo His gwowy," she would respond.
Underdeveloped pronunciation skills, brilliant theology—I hope she never, never forgets this.
God created the animals, the birds, the fish, the brilliantly colored vegetation and the earth teeming with His creation. But God looked down and saw that none of these creations bore His image. Even though He pronounced all of these creations "good," none of them were made in His likeness. So God created a special being, with a unique capacity to be like Him. This extraordinary work of creation would have the ability to reflect God's glory. He would have the ability to display His character. Although mankind could not be exactly like God, there would be points of analogy, enabling mankind to have a special understanding of God and, amazing though it may seem, please Him by loving and worshiping Him.
When we read the Scriptures, we are reading a book that is unfolding on every page a divine purpose for your existence and for mine ... for His glory.
With this foundational idea in place, let's look at the story of how God created mankind.
Then God said, "Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth." (Genesis 1:26)
Just as with Genesis 1:1, we see God in action as a Creator with a purpose. Within the Godhead—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—there is a conversation, an agreement, a plan. None of this came about by accident. The origin of mankind was founded through the ordered, intelligent decision by a supernatural Being Who has a supremely well-conceived purpose for everything He does.
Even among some well-intentioned scholars, this truth is often overlooked, downplayed, or ignored. But if we want to understand the basics of Scripture, we must understand that God's plan for everything He created is not accidental; it is thoroughly intentional. We are not left with the option to see any single part of human existence as the result of chance. As Albert Einstein noted, "God does not play dice."
With all other creatures, God simply spoke them into being. But with mankind we see tantalizing details and puzzling phrases, all revealing something of God's purpose for us—creatures made in His image.
Of course, we cannot think as God thinks, with omniscience and absolute certitude. So what does it mean to be made in the image of God? Well, to be created by this design means that we are able to participate in this incredible phenomenon called thinking, reflecting, deciding, learning, feeling, and knowing.
We are also gifted with a moral sense—truly knowing right from wrong. You cannot speak of the "fall" of mankind (as we will discuss later) without granting that there was somewhere to fall from. We were created intelligent, moral creatures, and it's from this place of favor that we fell.
Another reflection of the image of God is mankind's capacity for relationship. The Sovereign God is three persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—Who enjoy perfect communication, flawless empathy, and unfettered relationship. We mirror that capacity to be in relationship with one another, to magnify the reflection of God's glory through our mutual love for others, especially the holy relationship of marriage.
We have been made for that which is sacred and holy, in His image, to fulfill the purposes of God ... "for His gwowy."
The Image of God
The Covenant with Abraham
"It was a dark and stormy night ..." So wrote the ever-aspiring novelist Snoopy sitting atop his doghouse in the "Peanuts" comic strip.
So far in the Bible, everything had been pronounced "good." Even when God saw that Adam was lonely—a not-good thing—He created a woman to be Adam's companion—a good thing.
But as soon as we get to the opening of the third chapter of Genesis, there is, like Snoopy's black and threatening skies, something ominous going on. These words prepare us for an interruption in the bliss this first man and woman were experiencing in the Garden of Eden.
Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. (Genesis 3:1a)
Adam and Eve had never encountered the idea of something sly. But in this creature, there was nothing but guile. And his sinister cleverness was revealed from the first words he spoke:
Has God indeed said, "You shall not eat of every tree of the garden?" (Genesis 3:1b)
"What is so clever about the serpent's question?" you may ask. Eve knew that God had not said that. Her response, in fact, made it clear that she knew what God had actually said.
We may eat the fruit of the trees of the garden; but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, "You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die." (Genesis 3:2b–3)
Eve had successfully defended the character of God. But here was the subtle power of the serpent's thinly veiled suggestion, asked in the form of a question. He implied that if God places one thing out of bounds, if He says, "No," at any point of your liberty, if God gives laws, then He might as well take away all your freedom. If you don't have unfettered free reign over everything, then you're no more than a slave.
Satan had come to Eve, "innocently" concerned that God had not given Adam and Eve a balanced diet of all the fruit of the garden. Eve had successfully defended God's Word. But the serpent said to the woman,
You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil. (Genesis 3:4b–5)
Now the subtlety drops. A direct assault on the truth of God is launched, flatly contradicting the words of God. Of course, Eve could have reminded Satan that she was already like God, having been made in His image and in His likeness. But she knew that this was not what the serpent was referring to. What Satan was saying was that Eve could destroy the wall separating creature and Creator. She could do away with the chasm-like distance between mankind and God, knowing everything God knows.
The tension in this moment and Eve's struggle to obey are played out on almost every page of Scripture from this point forward. Who will rule, God or man? Will mankind seek autonomy or will he submit to the authority of God? Will man serve God or will he pursue personal power, selfish purposes, and sensual desires? Whose word will prevail?
Like you and me, Eve was challenged to live out her days under God's law or face death for a false freedom, the only kind of freedom Satan can offer. Unfortunately, Eve failed the test for very familiar reasons.
So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings. (Genesis 3:6–7)
Adam and Eve were created to run to the presence of God, to enjoy Him. But when they violated God's Law, they received more knowledge than they bargained for—they discovered that they were naked little creatures, still far less when compared to a Holy God. And this drove them to shame. As God moved through the Garden in the cool of the evening, instead of running to Him with joy, they fled into the bushes like frightened animals.
Because of their disobedience, Adam and Eve became fugitives from even the gaze of God. We have been running ever since.
Excerpted from What's in the BIBLE by R. C. Sproul Robert Wolgemuth Copyright © 2011 by R. C. Sproul and Robert Wolgemuth. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Authors' Preface xv
Chapter 1 Creation and Blessing 1
The Image of God 5
The Fall 7
The Covenant with Abraham 10
Patriarchal Blessing 13
Chapter 2 Release from Captivity 21
Moses and the Exodus 21
The Passover 32
Chapter 3 The Wilderness 39
The Giving of the Law 39
The Tabernacle 46
Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy 50
The Old Testament Sacrificial System 54
Chapter 4 The Land and Its People 60
Joshua and the Conquest of Canaan 60
The Cycle of Judges 68
The Monarchy Begins 73
Chapter 5 The Kings 88
Solomon and the Temple 94
The Divided Kingdom 100
Chapter 6 The Major Prophets I 108
Chapter 7 The Major Prophets II 130
The Exile 130
Chapter 8 The Minor Prophets 156
Amos and Hosea 156
Joel, Micah, and Habakkuk 164
Chapter 9 Returning Home 180
Ezra and Nehemiah 180
Chapter 10 The Wisdom Books 196
Characteristics of Wisdom Literature 196
Chapter 11 Preparation for the Coming Messiah 218
The Intertestamental Period 218
John the Baptist 223
The Birth of Jesus 227
The Early Years of Jesus' Life 234
Chapter 12 The Early Ministry of Jesus 244
The Baptism and Temptation of Jesus 244
Jesus' Inaugural Address and Public Ministry 251
The Teaching of Jesus: Parables 257
Interpreting Parables 264
The Miracles of Jesus 269
Chapter 13 The Later Ministry of Jesus 278
The Caesarea-Philippi Confession 278
The Transfiguration 285
The Triumphal Entry 289
The Cross 291
The Resurrection 297
The Ascension 303
Chapter 14 From Pentecost to Paul 313
The Expansion of the Church 319
The Conversion of Paul 325
Chapter 15 Paul's Letters to the Churches 337
1 and 2 Corinthians 345
The Prison Epistles 347
1 and 2 Timothy 355
Chapter 16 Hebrews and the General Epistles 365
Other Epistles 377
Chapter 17 Glory 384
Background of Revelation 384
The Old and New Covenant Connections 388
The Christ of Revelation 390
The Glory of God 392