Surprised by Hope: Being Like God, Part 1

I love studying the Bible — for lots of reasons. One reason is that I’m constantly stumbling across delightful little nuggets in unexpected places.

In an earlier post in this series, I considered —

(Eph 4:22-24)  You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

There, the point was the fact that when we are saved, God performs a new act of creation, re-creating us in his own image. But it’s really deeper than that.

First, the use of “create” in the scriptures is nearly always a reference back to Genesis — even if the point isn’t explicitly made. Creation is an attribute of God that defines a part of his personality. God often presents himself as the Creator —

(Isa 40:28-31)  Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. 29 He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. 30 Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; 31 but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

(Isa 45:12-13)  “It is I who made the earth and created mankind upon it. My own hands stretched out the heavens; I marshaled their starry hosts. 13 I will raise up Cyrus in my righteousness: I will make all his ways straight. He will rebuild my city and set my exiles free, but not for a price or reward, says the LORD Almighty.”

And so the choice of “create” is always significant.

But what of the phrase “like God”? Where have we heard that before? It is also deeply significant. It goes back to —

(Gen 3:5)  “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

Adam and Eve were created in a naive innocence, incapable of distinguishing right from wrong — except that they knew it was wrong to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. And even though they had only one command to obey, they violated it — bringing the Curse of Genesis 3 down on themselves and all Creation.

And Satan was right, in a sense. They did become like God — they knew good and evil. But they were very much unlike God, because even though the knew good and evil, they did evil. And so, they weren’t really like God at all.

But they were more like God than before. After all, how can one be truly righteous and holy and not know right from wrong? The truly holy person has to know right from wrong and choose to do right.

Therefore, in Ephesians, Paul is saying that God is going to make us like God. When Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden, they became enough like God to merit the Curse of Genesis 3. But in Christ, by the power of the Spirit, we will instead become enough like God to be righteous and holy — two adjectives used repeatedly in the prophets to describe God himself — and so receive the new Eden, the New Jerusalem, the new heavens and new earth.

(Isa 5:16)  But the LORD Almighty will be exalted by his justice, and the holy God will show himself holy by his righteousness.

Oh, wow! God actually expects us to become holy and righteous — truly righteous — like him. That’s an impossible standard!

But the text is clear. It’s also clear, however, that it is God doing the work. V. 23 tells us “to be made new” — in the passive voice. God makes us new. V. 24 tells us to “put on” the new self “created to be like God.” God created the new self. We don’t create it. Rather, we put it on.

It’s the same verb Paul uses in —

(Gal 3:26-27)  You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.

To “put on” is the same word as “clothe yourself.” It’s also the same word used in —

(1 Cor 15:53)  For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality.

We dress ourselves in the new self God made just for us. You see, when we are baptized, we clothe ourselves with Christ. But as Christians, we must still clothe ourselves with the “new self” re-created by God to be like God. And at the resurrection, we dress ourselves in immortality.

All three metaphors are about being like God. And all three metaphors are about God working in us so that we are rescued from the Curse of death and decay.

And we have little trouble understanding that God deems us sinless in baptism. And we get that God wraps us in imperishability at the end of time. But we struggle with the idea of becoming like God today in holiness and true righteousness. God can do the first and the third, but we doubt that he has the power to do the second.

The rest of the book of Ephesians is an instruction manual on how it happens, culminating in —

(Eph 6:11)  Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.

Now, we have to realize that while we put on Christ, the new self, immortality, and the full armor of God, the things we put on are all free gifts. It is God who does the creating. And his creating is for the purpose of overcoming the Curse of Genesis 3, resulting from sin. You see, in the beginning, man could not be fully obedient because man did not know God’s will.

When we learned God’s will, we became accursed sinners. But by the power of the Spirit — by God himself coming to dwell within us — God is making out of us even better creations, more perfect than Adam and Eve.

After all, in the new heavens and new earth, the serpent will be defeated. We will never fall away, but our perfection won’t be the result of our ignorance of God’s will. Rather, we’ll know God’s will and obey because we delight in God’s will.

And this is the path to becoming truly righteous and holy today.

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9 Responses

  1. Great Jay

    C.S. Lewis said somthing like this; We know what pleases God and we know what we would like to do that would please us, but we want to please God so we do what would please him because we want to be with him for all eternity.

    Eph. 2:8-10 “created in Christ verse 10” I am told that the Greek for “created” means there is somthing in you that was not in you before, The power that transforms you into a new creature, that is the holy spirit.
    What the church of Christ, the Christian Church(conservative) and the Disciples of Christ need to teach more on is how the holy spirit teaches you and what does it mean to be in the truth of Christ as he meant it to be.
    What is the “TRUTH” that Jesus told Pilot I came to procaliam.
    The Coservative Christian Church where we live is having a year long series of what Christ taught for your personal life. They baptised 26 souls last year and they have an attendance of 150. Not bad.

    Bob

  2. I’m glad you pointed to Isaiah 40-55, because the word create appears more in that section than in any other place in Scripture. When the Israelites were exiled and feeling hopeless in Babylon, God says he will save them by creating. Just so, Paul says that God is saving us by creating.

    But Adam and Eve had 3 commands to obey, not just 1.

    “Be fruitful and multiply” — sounds fun!
    “Tend and guard the Garden” — sounds exciting!
    “Do not eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” — sounds easy!

    And I think I disagree with the following:

    You see, in the beginning, man could not be fully obedient because man did not know God’s will.
    When we learned God’s will, we became accursed sinners.

    We knew everything that God had already taught us, surely enough to fulfill the three commands above. We chose not to trust Him to continue to teach us. So I definitely disagree with your first sentence, because we knew God’s will (fruitfulness, dominion, obedience). If you add from a source other than God to your second sentence, I’d agree with that. As in, “When we learned God’s will from a source other than God Himself, we became accursed sinners.” I’m fully convinced that we could have trusted God and learned from Him — but we wanted what looked like the easy and quick path, so we let the enemy into the Garden and listened to his voice rather than our Father’s.

  3. Jay said, “the fact that when we are saved, God performs a new act of creation,”

    Jay I expound somewhat on this very thing, on my blog
    “not so common”

  4. AWESOME!

    Only comment would be: let’s not JUST teach it, let’s not JUST believe it, let’s ALL apply it and help everyone around us, no matter the brand, apply it as well. If a so-called believer will NOT apply it in practical ways, biblically speaking, they do not belong to Christ. No periphery, ALL BECOMING LIKE GOD. Becoming LIKE GOD is the line. Either I embrace the help or I say, “Get the plank out of your own eye” when someone tries to help me BECOME LIKE GOD. IF I reject help, I’m rejecting the GOD who is alive in that other person. Maybe they are wrong though. Maybe it was only their OPINION that I wasn’t exhibiting GOD-QUALITIES. Well, that is why Jesus said to bring in two or three OTHER GOD-FILLED people, because where two are three are gathered, HE IS THERE. So we work it out TOGETHER. The Church is the pillar and foundation of TRUTH.

    1 Timothy 3:15
    “God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.”

  5. In regards to Gal 3:26-27 — “you have clothed yourselves with Christ,” I have an interesting analogy.

    During the Christmas season, I fill in for Santa Claus with whom I have an observable likeness (at least in terms of the beard). And I have noticed the difference in how people respond to me when I’m in my Santa attire, compared to how people respond to me when I’m not wearing my Santa attire.

    In a very real sense, when people see me in my Santa attire, they see Santa Claus and respond to me as if I’m Santa. Especially, as you would expect, children. People see me, they see Santa.

    But now disregarding the Santa suit, when people see me, do they see Jesus.

    They should, but do they?

    When I put on my Santa suit, I know I have to be prepared to take on Santa’s jovial personality. I can’t be a jerk. I can’t yell at the counter clerk, or hank at the stupid driver in front of me. I can’t be gruff to the annoying little kids who pull on my coat or go on and on and on and on about all the stuff they want for Christmas. I can’t get annoyed when a parent says to a child, “we know you’re not real” — in clear ear shot of someone else’s children.

    And if I have to to all that and more, just because I’m wearing a Santa suit, then what is the standard for “clothing myself with Christ.”

  6. Just a nugget I learned from a sermon somewhere: In the Bible, “create” always applies to something God does, never something man does. Interesting to me how that contrasts with our common use of the word.

  7. Bob,

    Very good.

    You’re right about “create” (ktisis). It refers to God’s creative acts, and refers back to Gen 1.

  8. Pilgrim,

    Exactly. To be like God is to be in community. God exists in community and he saves us into community.

    The Sermon on the Mount, Rom 12 – 15, and many other passages heavily emphasize how to be community, how to get along, how to join into mission together.

    I’ve heard and read countless lessons on the importance of the church. The lessons were right, but usually for the wrong reason.

    The church is critical because God saved us as a step toward setting everything right. And he can’t get everything right until we are in a community of grace-filled and grace-extending people who love each other deeply and work together in God’s mission.

    It’s not a rule so much as a necessity deriving from what God is setting about to do. God wants what’s best for us, and we were made to be in community to be — together — like God and so participate in his redemptive mission.

  9. David,

    One of the scariest thoughts I know is the thought that people will judge Jesus by how I act.

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