Struggling to do what Jesus would do?
After twenty years of struggling to live for Jesus, I was tired and confused. Looking back, I see now that my fatigue and frustration were rooted in not understanding God’s primary purpose for me as a believer.
by Greg Brezina
For years, my Christian life was like a roller coaster. When things went well, I was up. When things went bad, I was down. Certain sin habits plagued me, and I tried every Christian discipline to gain victory over them but didn’t. After twenty years of struggling to live for Jesus, I was tired and confused. Looking back, I see now that my fatigue and frustration were rooted in not understanding God’s primary purpose for me as a believer.
In Genesis 1:26a God tells us man’s purpose when He says, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness....” During my years of frustration, I remained confused about the real meaning of the words “image” and “likeness.” I assumed they had the same meaning. However, after studying these two words, I believe that they are distinctly different, and their difference is key to understanding God’s primary purpose for Christians.
Understanding Image and Likeness
A study of these words using Strong’s Concordance of the Bible reveals that image and likeness are two different Hebrew words. Image is from the Hebrew word “teslem,” and likeness is from the word “demuth.” Strong gives them similar yet different definitions.
Let’s first take a look at what image means. Strong basically defines image as “representative figure.” Noah Webster in his 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language defines image as “a representation of a person or thing.” Therefore, taking the creation verse above together with these definitions we can conclude that God made man as a figure to represent Himself.
The Apostle John expands our understanding of image in John 4:24a when he says, “God is spirit.” Therefore, God’s image in man is spirit. James Boice, in his book Foundations of the Christian Faith, gives us other insights into image when he says that women and men “possess those attributes of personality that God possesses,” are moral “which includes …freedom and responsibility,” and are made to have “communion with God.” (Pgs. 150-151)
Now let’s look at the meaning of likeness. Strong basically defines likeness as “manner.” Noah Webster defines manner as “a way of performing; external appearance.” These definitions lead us to conclude that man’s “likeness” of God is the visible expression of God’s image in man.
In this context, “image” (the invisible) and “likeness” (the visible) are similar to each other because both are forever united through cause and effect. Image begets God’s likeness, and likeness expresses God’s image. Therefore, man’s primary purpose before the Fall was to be God’s image (invisible) and uniquely reveal God in the world by his behavior (visible).
Although theologians disagree over the meanings of image and likeness, most agree on God’s primary purpose for man. Here are several of their quotes:
R.P. Martin says that man was “made to be God’s representative on earth (the invisible) and to act as God’s …steward of creation (the visible).” (The New Bible Dictionary, pg. 508)
Carl Henry says, “The biblical view is that man was made to know God (invisible) as well as to obey Him (visible).” (Baker’s Dictionary of Theology, pg.338)
Merrill Unger states that man’s rule (visible) is a “consequence” of man being made in God’s image (invisible). (Unger’s Bible Dictionary, pg. 517)
Charles Hodge says that man “…reflects the divine (visible) …because he is a spirit…. (invisible).” (Systematic Theology, II, pg. 99)
The Shorter Catechism In Modern English asks, “What is man’s primary purpose?” It answers this question by saying, “Man’s primary purpose is to glorify God (the visible) and to enjoy Him forever” (the invisible). (pg. 5)
Jesus confirms this concept when He says, “Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how do you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me (the invisible)? The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own initiative, but the Father abiding in Me does His works (the visible).” (John 14:9-10)
The way Philip could see the Father was by watching Jesus’ behavior. Therefore, as Jesus’ behavior was the visible reality of the invisible Father, a believer’s righteous behavior is the visible reality of God’s invisible image in him.
James implies man’s purpose when he says, “Someone may say, ‘You have faith, and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.’ But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith (the invisible) without works (the visible) is useless?” (James 2:18,20) Faith and works are inseparable.
Restoring God’s Purpose
When God created Adam, He made him a container to house His image. Then God breathed life into Adam’s container. Instantly, Adam glorified God (visible) because he was God’s image (invisible).
Then horror of horrors, Adam chose to disobey God, and man lost life. Man became Adam’s image. This reversed God’s purpose of image begetting likeness. We see this reversal in Genesis 5:3 when Adam fathered a son “in his own likeness, according to his image.” Now, in Adam’s image, fallen man tries hard to do good in order to be good like God but continually fails. In frustration, he either tries harder to do better or gives up by giving in to evil.
But don’t despair, there is Good News. When the “do gooder” or the “giver upper” receives Jesus, his old Adamic image is crucified with Christ. Instantly, he exchanges his old self in Adam for a new self in Christ. He is a new creation. He has Christ’s life, the Holy Spirit, dwelling inside of him. The Holy Spirit enables him to have communion with God again and willfully behave like God.
The Apostle John shares the believer’s purpose in I John 4:9 when he says, “By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him.” When we live through Jesus (invisible), we reflect Christ in the world (visible).
In Galatians 1:15a-16a, the Apostle Paul states God’s purpose when he says, “…He who had set me apart …was pleased to reveal His Son in me (invisible), that I might preach Him among the Gentiles (visible).” The Apostle John affirms this same truth when he says, “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.” Life produces light, and light expresses life.
God’s purpose is also seen in Acts 1:8a when Jesus says, “..you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you (the invisible Christ life indwells a believer); and you shall be My witnesses... (the visible expression of Christ’s life in a believer).”
Experiencing God’s Purpose
Jesus tells us how we can experience God’s purpose when He says in John 15:5, “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit; for apart from Me you can do nothing.” Once in Christ, we can uniquely reveal God in the world again (the visible) by abiding in Christ or living through Him (the invisible). If we do not abide in Christ, our behavior (no matter how disciplined it is), will not glorify God.
When I became a Christian, I received Christ’s life. Immediately, I prayed and knew that all my sins were forgiven. That same day, I told others about receiving Jesus. The day after, I began reading my Bible. Several weeks later, I stopped using profanity. No human told me to do these things. I did them spontaneously by the indwelling Holy Spirit’s promptings and power. I had great joy. I was abiding in Christ and didn’t even know it.
Taking pride in how “I” had changed, I tried to live like Jesus would live and couldn’t. I struggled to conquer sin habits through doing religious steps to Christian maturity. I told several older Christians about my struggle, and they counseled me to increase my “Biblical” disciplines which they said would make me more like Christ. I believed the lie that I had to do something to be like God rather than believe that I was already like Him by being a partaker of His divine nature in Christ. (II Peter 1:4)
Now I know why I struggled to live like Jesus. I was walking after my performance based flesh and didn’t even know it. After twenty years of trying hard to live like Jesus, I asked Him to let me die or rapture me out of my misery so I could go to heaven and experience His abundant life.
He didn’t kill or rapture me, but He revealed how to abide in Christ. Now, when I believe who I am in Christ, I willfully walk in the Spirit (the invisible), spontaneously bear His fruit, and express God’s image in the world through Christ (the visible). And whenever I choose to walk after my flesh, the Spirit convicts me. Then, I thank God for forgiving me, go back to fellowshipping with Him, and enjoy my life in Christ.
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