As we continue our exploration of what it means to glorify God—reflecting His Image and not our own—let’s investigate what exactly an image is. The dictionary says that an image is an exact likeness of something. It’s a visible representation or reproduction of the form of a person.
Man was originally created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27), but after Adam and Eve fell because of sin, all mankind was subsequently born with a sin nature—the image of Adam, not God. Listen to Genesis 5:3, “And Adam lived an hundred and thirty years, and begot a son in his own likeness, after his [own] image, and called his name Seth.” (See also 1 Corinthians 15:49)
The whole point of being “born anew in the Spirit” (John 3:3) is that we might receive God’s Spirit so that through the sanctification process we can, once again, regain the image of God. Then, the attributes of Christ’s Love, patience, commitment, loyalty, self-denial, self-giving, obedience and joy may be seen through us. However, it’s only by our constant choice to “walk in the Spirit” that we will be able to reflect His image in our everyday lives. This does not happen automatically.
Thus, when God asks us to love Him with all our heart, mind and soul, what He is really asking is that we exchange our own image—all our own natural thoughts, emotions and desires that are usually contrary to His—for the Image that we were originally created to bear—His supernatural Love, Thoughts, and Power. As Romans 8:29 tells us, we are predestined “to be conformed to the image of His Son.”1
As we allow God to conform us more and more into His likeness, it will then be His image that we will portray to the world, and not our own. The Bible tells us that this is the chief duty of man—to glorify, reflect and show forth Christ in all we do. This is the chief aim of the Christian Life. (Psalms 22:23; Matthew 5:16; Isaiah 24:15)
Unfortunately, as we said before, glorifying and reflecting God’s image doesn’t happen automatically. Just because we are “born in the Spirit” (received Christ’s Spirit in our hearts) doesn’t assure us of being able to “walk in the Spirit” (show forth Christ’s Life in our bodies). Walking in the Spirit involves a constant choice to relinquish ourselves to God. (Psalm 115:1; John 8:54; Revelation 18:7; Romans 11:13) Here’s an sad example:
Born in the Spirit Only
I recently heard a story about a pastor named Bruce and his family. Bruce captivated his entire town. He was handsome, gregarious and everyone loved him. He had a beautiful wife, Janice, who was head of the women’s ministry team at church, and four wonderful children. In the last four years, Bruce’s church had grown from just over 300 to just under 3000. He was a fabulous preacher, knew the Scriptures backwards and forwards and kept everyone glued to his teachings. From the outside, everything looked great. Inside, however, it was another story.
Because of his perfectionist tendencies and his insatiable desire to control everything, Pastor Bruce became almost intolerable to work with. His assistant pastor and his whole office staff were barely hanging on. They also knew about Bruce’s adultery.
Against everyone’s advice, Bruce decided to privately counsel a newly divorced woman. By doing so, he quenched God’s Spirit in him. As a result, that woman eventually be-came his lover. When Janice, his wife, became aware of the affair, she and the children left Bruce and the whole church began to disintegrate. The community that once had been so enamored with Pastor Bruce, suffered a horrible blow; and, of course, the enemy and the opponents of Christ rejoiced.
This story is true, not only in our community, but in thousands of others across the United States. Lifeline for Pastors recently noted that about 800 pastors a month are now leaving the pulpit. Many of their stories are similar to the above.
Pastor Bruce’s situation probably started out innocently enough. But slowly he began to follow his own feelings and desires over the leading of the Holy Spirit and what he knew God wanted him to do. One thing led to another and he ended up quenching God’s Spirit and, operating solely in the flesh, out of his own wisdom and strength.
In this condition, what image is he portraying? Christ’s? I think not! Even though Christ still lives in his heart, the life that he reflected in his actions certainly was not Christ’s, but his own. In other words, he “glorified himself.”
The tragic part of Bruce’s story is not necessarily that his marriage and family fell apart, although that’s pitiful; the sad part is that his actions portrayed a lie. He gave a false, erroneous, untrue, misleading and incorrect impression of Christ.
Think of Bruce’s four kids. Two of them were teenagers when this story happened. Will they want what they saw in their dad’s life? Again, I think not! In fact, all four kids have since left the church and it probably will be a long time be-fore they are able to separate the real “Life of Christ” and the life they saw their dad live. (Interestingly, Lifeline for Pastors also notes that 81% of adult children of pastors eventually have to seek professional help.)
A dear friend of mine from Avenal State Prison wrote me this heart-piercing statement: “Religion is no more than a light switch to some that they themselves switch on and off at their own convenience.”
Reflecting our own image to the world and not Christ’s is really the definition of “pride.” It’s putting ourselves and what we want, think and feel ahead of God and others. Pride is that choice we make to rely upon our own mental, physical and soulish self, not the Lord. The essence of pride is self-centeredness and often develops when we exchange our intimate, experiential knowledge of God (gained through life experience) for intellectual knowledge of Him (head knowledge only).
A prideful Christian will covet all the attention he can get and do whatever he can to make a name for himself. No matter how many masks he has to put on and no matter what he must say or do, he’s committed to maintaining his own notoriety and position. Thus, a proud person really has a very difficult time, not only acknowledging his own faults, but also keeping up a facade, hiding his insecurities and mastering his failures. A prideful Christian is also disappointed when someone else is praised or thanked or some-how gets the glory because he covets all the glory and attention for himself.
God’s glory, however, is something that doesn’t belong to us. It’s God’s glory! And His purpose is that our lives reflect Him. As the author, Judson Cornwell puts it: “to bask in our own image or glory is forbidden.”
It’s called pride.
God Hates Pride
The Bible tells us that “God hates pride.” (Proverbs 16:5, 18)
The reason He hates pride so much is because pride separates us from God; it quenches His Spirit in us; and, it prevents God’s Life in our hearts from flowing out into our lives. Pride not only builds walls between God and ourselves, it also puts a barrier between us and others. It constantly brings contention, division and strife. Therefore Satan revels in the proud. He will do anything he can to get Christians to trade in their humility and their intimate relationship with Christ for pride and intellectual knowledge of Him. He presses, pushes and drives for this because he knows these kind of prideful believers present a false image of what real Christianity is all about. And that, of course, is his real in-tent and motive—to divide and conquer.
Scripture’s perfect example of humility and how to reflect God’s image is, of course, Jesus, whom Paul describes in Philippians 2:5-11: “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God; but made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And, being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore, God also hath highly exalted Him, and given Him a Name which is above every name, that at the Name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven and things in earth, and things under the earth: and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God, the Father.”
If anyone had a legitimate reason to be prideful, it would have been Christ. He was God’s only beloved Son. Yet He, even He, humbled Himself and became obedient unto death. Humility, therefore, is the only pathway to genuinely reflecting God and being a living example of all that He is.
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To be continued next month: “So, What’s the Problem?” This article has been excerpted in part from Nan’s new book Reflections of His Image: God’s Purpose for your Life.