Image of God

creation of Adam 2

Q. What does “we are created in God’s image” mean?

A. The phrase “image of God” appears only three times in the NASB but is not explicitly defined:

Gen 1:27 God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.
• Gen 9:6 Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed, For in the image of God He made man.
• 2 Co 4:4 in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

Whatever it means, it could NOT be referring to physical appearance as God is spirit and does not have flesh and bones:

Jn 4:24 God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”
• Lk 24:39 See My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself; touch Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.”

Though undefined, there are clues:

1. “Image” and “likeness” are used interchangeably;
Gen 1:26 Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; …
• Gen 5:1 This is the book of the generations of Adam. In the day when God created man, He made him in the likeness of God.
• Jas 3:9 With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God;

2. Christ is the ultimate image of God.
Col 1:15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. (Also 2 Co 4:4)

Theologians have therefore suggested possibilities based on God’s attributes. For example,
• God is Creator (Gen 1:1). Since we are created in His image, we are creative.
• God communicates (Jn 1:1); therefore we communicate too.
• God is love (1 Jn 4:8, 16). Being created in His likeness, we are loving.
While it is true that we are like God in some, though not all, of His attributes, I am not fully satisfied that this is the answer, because many animals have some of these characteristics too e.g. intelligence, loving their young, even though they are NOT made in God’s image.

Furthermore, these are based on our deduction, not directly stated in Scripture. Accordingly I believe the stronger clues lie in Christ as the image of God, the exact representation of His nature (Heb 1:3):

1 Co 1:30 But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption,
• Eph 4:24 and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.

I believe the image of God consists of wisdom, righteousness, and holiness, among other attributes. I did not include redemption because it is unique to our Savior.

• Wisdom is a moral rather than an intellectual quality. To be wise is to fear God. To be foolish is to be godless. Animals can be intelligent, but they are not wise. No animals ever worship God. Only humans do.
• Righteousness is the character or quality of being right or just; being in a right relationship with God. Man can be righteous or unrighteous, but not animals.
• Holiness is being separated unto God, from evil things and ways. Again, sanctification applies primarily to man, though it is also used of sacrificial animals and objects dedicated to God’s use.

My opinion is that these constitute the major component of the image of God, among other elements such as morality, decision-making, aesthetics which are also true of man but not animals, but are not directly cited in the Bible. I believe these form part of the glory of God and are embodied in His image:
1 Co 11:7 For a man ought not to have his head covered, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man.

Hope this helps.

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Salvation by Works?

good works

Q. Does Mt 19:16-26 teach salvation by works?

A. No it does not. In fact, the story of the Rich Young Ruler teaches exactly the opposite. What threw some people off is the part b of v 17: “but if you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments” which seemed to teach that the “good thing” he should do “to obtain eternal life” is to “keep the commandments.” But actually Jesus was correcting the ruler’s misunderstanding. V 17 b is governed by 17 a, “Why are you asking Me about what is good? There is only One who is good”. By saying that only One i.e. God, is good Jesus was telling him that none of the things he does or could do are really any good at all. They are not meritorious.

When the ruler did not realize how far short he was off the mark, Jesus continued by listing the commandments in v 18-19:
• YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER (6TH COMMANDMENT);
• YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY (7TH COMMANDMENT);
• YOU SHALL NOT STEAL (8TH COMMANDMENT);
• YOU SHALL NOT BEAR FALSE WITNESS (9TH COMMANDMENT);
• HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER (5TH COMMANDMENT); and
• YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.” (2ND GREATEST COMMANDMENT).

That is, Jesus listed 5-9 of the 10 commandments about loving your neighbor, but purposely left out the 10th on “You shall not covet” (Ex 20:17). When the ruler still did not catch on, Jesus probed one last time by asking him to “go and sell your possessions and give to the poor” (v 21). At that he finally realized his shortfall and went away grieving, because he coveted and could not let go of his properties.

In other words, Jesus was showing him that no one can keep the commandments by his own effort, and that’s why no one can enter into life or be saved by works. Asking him to keep the commandments is simply to let him discover for himself the impossibility of doing so (v 26), and that he should commit himself to God’s grace and mercy instead. Using a negative object lesson to drive home the positive point is one of our Lord’s powerful teaching methods.

Accepting Refugees (2 of 2)

(Continued from yesterday)

4. God expects us to love refugees as ourselves. We are to treat them like our fellow countrymen. Positively, we are to leave part of our surplus for them. Negatively, we are not to wrong or oppress them:
Ex 22:21 You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. (See also Ex 23:9)
• Lev 19:10 Nor shall you glean your vineyard, nor shall you gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the needy and for the stranger. I am the LORD your God. (See also Lev 23:22; Deut 24:19-21)
• Lev 19:33-34 When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the LORD your God. (See also Deut 14:28-29; 26:12)
• Lev 24:22 There shall be one standard for you; it shall be for the stranger as well as the native, for I am the LORD your God.
• Num 15:16 There is to be one law and one ordinance for you and for the alien who sojourns with you.
• Deut 10:19 So show your love for the alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.

Treating refugees the same way you treat natives presupposes we take them in, otherwise how can there be one law for all.

But what about the danger of bringing in wolves under sheep’s clothing? The danger is always there, but that does not mean we close our hearts and stand by and do nothing. There were spies and assassins in biblical times (“spy” and “spies” each appear 16 times in the NASB), but that did not stop God from including the above commands in the Bible. Yes the government has a duty to keep citizens safe and secure. What it needs to do is to make sure its security measures screen out terrorist suspects before they enter the country, while admitting genuine refugees so they can make a fresh start and have an opportunity to hear the gospel in their new home.

Churches in particular need to do their part in resettling this new wave of “boat people“. Because I believe in the end Mt 25:40 applies, “The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’”

Accepting Refugees (1 of 2)

Q. Our new prime minister wants to take in 10,000 Syrian refugees before year-end, and more later. Wouldn’t that jeopardize our national security in light of the terrorism in Paris? Shouldn’t the safety of the citizens be the primary concern?

A. This is a hot topic debated in political, social and religious circles. On the one hand, some see the plight of the refugees on national news and want to accept as many as possible on humanitarian grounds. On the other hand, some want to sound the alarm for fear of bringing in terrorists under the guise of refugees. What should the Christian stand be? While our feelings and government policy are important considerations, I believe the deciding criteria is what does the Bible say.

Although those who use the KJV claim that you don’t find the word “refugees” in the Bible, actually you do when you use newer versions like the NASB (5 times) or the NIV (2 times). Furthermore, you need to look up synonyms like “aliens” or “strangers”, which together present a more comprehensive picture.

Some, however, swing to the other extreme by including all aliens and strangers as “refugees”. Not every displaced person is a refugee, a person who has been forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster. Those who emigrate voluntarily in search of a better life are not refugees. And while most refugees are poor and helpless, not all poor and helpless are refugees. Now, what does the Bible say about how we should treat them?

There are at least four principles. The first three summarize how God deals with refugees, and the fourth what we should do on our part:
1. God loves refugees. He provides for them and protects them:
Deut 10:18 He executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows His love for the alien by giving him food and clothing.
• Ps 146:9 The LORD protects the strangers; He supports the fatherless and the widow, …

2. God blesses those who care for refugees:
Deut 24:19-21 When you reap your harvest in your field and have forgotten a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it; it shall be for the alien, for the orphan, and for the widow, in order that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. When you beat your olive tree, you shall not go over the boughs again; it shall be for the alien, for the orphan, and for the widow. When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, you shall not go over it again; it shall be for the alien, for the orphan, and for the widow.

3. He will judge and curse those who wrong refugees:
Deut 27:19 Cursed is he who distorts the justice due an alien, orphan, and widow.’ …
• Mal 3:5 Then I will draw near to you for judgment; and I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers and against the adulterers and against those who swear falsely, and against those who oppress the wage earner in his wages, the widow and the orphan, and those who turn aside the alien and do not fear Me,” says the LORD of hosts.

(To be continued)

Visiting the Iniquity of the Fathers on the Children (2 of 2)

Num 14 18 b

(Continued from yesterday)

I believe this is only an apparent contradiction, since the Bible is God’s word and He does not contradict Himself. The difficulty is in the phrase “visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generations“, which on the surface does not seem fair. What exactly does it mean?

First, let’s tackle the issue from the perspective of “cause“. Notice from the first set of verses the following:
• The LORD is abundant in loving kindness for thousands, forgiving iniquity, transgression and sin i.e. He is compassionate and willing to forgive.
• He will by no means clear the guilty and leave them unpunished i.e. He is just and will always punish the guilty.
• Thousands is contrasted with to the third and fourth generations i.e. His loving kindness far exceeds His severity.

Ezekiel 18 20 c

Then note from the second set of passages that:
• The person who sins will die. Each and everyone shall be put to death for his own sin. There are no exceptions.
• Fathers and sons shall not be put to death for each other’s iniquity. Each bears his own responsibility. There will be no miscarriage of justice.

The logical deduction then, for both sets of proposition to be true, is that when the Lord visits the iniquity of the fathers on the children, those children themselves are NOT innocent but guilty. Of what? Of the sin they learned from their fathers. What sin? Ex 20:5, 34:7 and Deut 5:9 are all in the context of the 10 commandments, in particular dealing with idolatry.

These fathers hate God (Ex 20:5; Deut 5:9). In what sense?
Disrespectful and ungratefulEven though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks (Rom 1:21).
IdolatrousThey exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures (Rom 1:23). They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator (Rom 1:25).
Ignored GodThey did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer (Rom 1:28).
In so doing they become haters of God (Rom 1:30).

Not only did the fathers do this themselves, by their example they taught their children to do the same (Rom 1:32). The children are therefore guilty of the same sin and deserve the punishment. They are the “cause” of their punishment. God had not treated them unfairly by punishing an innocent “next generation”. Beware of what you are teaching your children. It need not be explicit instructions. They learn far more from your actions and attitudes than from your words.

Secondly, let’s look at the issue from the “effect” angle. Some children suffer the consequences of their parent’s guilt through no fault of their own. For example, parents with AIDS give birth to HIV-positive children. Drug addicts give birth to babies who may be addicted to the drug. They did not ask for it, they did nothing to deserve it, but they are affected nonetheless.

The iniquity of the fathers is visited on the children, who in this case could not exercise free-will to avoid it. Is that fair? Of course it’s not fair, but that’s what sin does. Sin robs and destroys, and through the hereditary principle infect the next generation. But our God is a gracious and merciful God. Even such sad cases could be redeemed through the compassionate action of people who care, or the suffering cut short in infant mortality. Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world (Jas 1:27). I hope we can all do our part.

Visiting the Iniquity of the Fathers on the Children (1 of 2)

Num 14 18 a

Q. Isn’t this a contradiction in the Bible:
• Num 14:18 The LORD is slow to anger and abundant in loving kindness, forgiving iniquity and transgression; but He will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generations.’
• Ezk 18:20 The person who sins will die. The son will not bear the punishment for the father’s iniquity, nor will the father bear the punishment for the son’s iniquity; the righteousness of the righteous will be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked will be upon himself.
How do you reconcile the two passages?

A. This does present itself as a dilemma. On the one hand, what Num 14:18 teaches is repeated three times in the Pentateuch:

Ex 20:5 You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me,
• Ex 34:7 who keeps loving kindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations.”
• Deut 5:9 You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, and on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me,

The concept, though not the exact wording, is also in:
Lev 26:39 So those of you who may be left will rot away because of their iniquity in the lands of your enemies; and also because of the iniquities of their forefathers they will rot away with them.

Ezekiel 18 20 a

On the other hand, the idea in Ezk 18:20 is taught in just as many passages:

Deut 24:16 Fathers shall not be put to death for their sons, nor shall sons be put to death for their fathers; everyone shall be put to death for his own sin.
• 2 Kings 14:6 But the sons of the slayers he did not put to death, according to what is written in the book of the Law of Moses, as the LORD commanded, saying, “The fathers shall not be put to death for the sons, nor the sons be put to death for the fathers; but each shall be put to death for his own sin.”
• 2 Chron 25:4 However, he did not put their children to death, but did as it is written in the law in the book of Moses, which the LORD commanded, saying, “Fathers shall not be put to death for sons, nor sons be put to death for fathers, but each shall be put to death for his own sin.”
• Jer 31:30 But everyone will die for his own iniquity; each man who eats the sour grapes, his teeth will be set on edge.

Do they really contradict each other?

(To be continued)

Is ISIS a sign of the End Times? (2 of 2)

ISIS 2

(Continued from yesterday)

Let’s check the candidates against the clues:

1. The Babylonian empire did sit over many nations. While immorality is true of many dynasties in world history, of the 293 times the name Babylon appears in 260 verses in the NASB, the main characteristics were arrogance, idolatry, cruelty etc., not immorality, except in Revelation where it is figurative and may not be referring to literal Babylon. Babylon conquered Judah and led the captives away, persecuting the Jews, but it most definitely is not where the Lord was crucified.

2. The Roman Empire also sat over many nations, and secular historians agreed that Rome was immoral. But, if the beast on which the woman rode is already the revived Roman Empire, the woman herself cannot be Rome, unless she is the apostate RC Church, committing spiritual adultery through the ages, as well as having an illicit liaison with the Antichrist’s one-world government in the future. Rome did persecute the early church before adopting Christianity as the official religion, and later on Catholics persecuted Protestants during the Inquisition. But again, Roman was not where the Lord was crucified, except as some argued that it was Pilate’s Roman soldiers who executed the crucifixion.

3. God Himself called Israel and Judah (Jerusalem) harlots – Jer 3:8-9 And I saw that for all the adulteries of faithless Israel, I had sent her away and given her a writ of divorce, yet her treacherous sister Judah did not fear; but she went and was a harlot also. Because of the lightness of her harlotry, she polluted the land and committed adultery with stones and trees, but in what sense is she sitting on many waters? One possibility is that the Jewish Diaspora is scattered among many nations. Also God endowed His chosen people such that many are among the world’s top financiers and scientists, dealing with the kings or rulers of the earth.

As to being partners with the Antichrist who will later turn against her, it fits in with the first three and a half years of the Great Tribulation when Israel will form a covenant with the Antichrist, who then breaks it (see Dan 7:25; 12:7). What about being drunk with the blood of saints? That fits too with:
Lk 11:50-51 so that the blood of all the prophets, shed since the foundation of the world, may be charged against this generation, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who was killed between the altar and the house of God; yes, I tell you, it shall be charged against this generation.’ (See also 1 Kings 19:10, 14; Rom 11:13)
And of course the Lord was crucified outside Jerusalem.

So of the three suggestions, apostate Jerusalem fits the clues best. This is in contrast to the woman in Rev 12:1-6, who symbolizes the believing Messianic community.

Now, if Babylon is apostate Jerusalem, it cannot be Iraq at the same time. But then why am I saying ISIS is a sign of the end time? It has to do with:
Rev 20:4 Then I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was given to them. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony of Jesus and because of the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received the mark on their forehead and on their hand; and they came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.

Of all the atrocities committed by ISIS, the most heinous got to be the public beheading of Christians who refused to recant their faith in Jesus. Beheading is a barbaric method of execution that has gradually been banned throughout the world, but practiced in Sharia (Islamic) law. In recent years both Al Qaeda and ISIS used beheading as a terrorism tactic. While this recruited some fanatical mujahideen (jihadists), it also repelled many Muslims and drove them to Christ. It is for this reason I believe ISIS to be a sign of the end times.