Whose Image?

Written by beyondwords : October 29, 2007

Grace is ruining the image of the church.

(If you thought I was going to keep up with the nice kitchen metaphors in every post, sorry to disappoint you.)

Let me explain.

From where I sit, I see a church paralyzed by a faulty dichotomy between grace and “works.” I think we superimpose our post-Reformation definition of “works” on the “works of the flesh, ” a term Paul used specifically to describe the Law of Moses–which was a very prescribed set of behaviors designed to keep Israel pure and set apart. Paul wasn’t talking about the good works God “prepared for us before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 2.10).

I cringe every time I hear a pastor say serving and taking care of the poor leads to works-centered righteousness. As if any transformation in our lives that compels us to live differently beyond cleaning up our personal morality is adding to the gospel.

I see people being given part of the truth, but never enough to get them beyond a form of grace that reduces God’s purposes to the mere sanitizing of our personal self-image. It’s a belief that being justified in God’s sight is the end point of his eternal purposes, when in fact, it is his will to grow and transform us into his likeness, so his image is carried throughout the world. (Read Ephesians in the Source translation by Ann Nyland to get a fresh whiff of the Spirit on this theme [HT Suzanne McCarthy at Better Bibles Blog]).

I see people who know they’re saved by grace, but they don’t know what they’re saved for. They’re trying to lay down all their former false gods and icons, but all they’re given to worship is a tidied up image of themselves.

And what God wants to do through Jesus and the Spirit is to exchange all other images for his and let him capture our imagination, consume us with his vision and change us into his image.

How do we move forward in grace instead of remaining where it found us? I’m sure some of you have some wisdom to offer, and I would love to hear it.

Here’s my story in a nutshell: Jesus began to transform me when I began to pray from Mattnew 6, especially the Lord’s prayer, especially for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven, and especially to seek his kingdom and trust him to supply my needs.

This was scary at first. I was so burdened to pray this way, I could no longer pray for my own needs and blessings or for my family.

After a few months, I realized there was nothing else I desired any longer but Jesus and to do his will in the ways I saw him calling people in the Gospels. And that’s when he began to move in my family, and to bring some people to faith I’d prayed for and reached out to for years. And that’s when he captured my imagination and my passion and gave me a vision for carrying his image out into the world as good news and justice and mercy and salvation for all of creation.

Of course there’s grace. And forgiveness of sins. But that’s just the beginning.

Jesus had to teach me to get my eyes off myself and move beyond the place where grace found me. And now I’m looking for others whose imagination has been captured by Jesus, to unite with them, to make Jesus “manifest” along with every individual who “contributes to bringing his body to a state of completeness” (Ephesians 1.23).

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23 Responses to “Whose Image?”

  1. Norm on October 29th, 2007 1:27 pm

    Mark, an accurate observation I think. Our culture’s rampant individualism leads us to a caricatured faith. That’s why we need a community of the redeemed, called the congregation. But this calls for so much more than a brief weekly gathering of “fast food for the soul” that passes for worship/liturgy. God will not be satisfied with leftovers offered in the styrofoam takeout containers of sterile rituals. This call to covenant relationships and community calls for humble submission and vulnerability that most of us find too high a price to pay.


  2. beyondwords on October 29th, 2007 1:41 pm

    Hi, Norm. I think you meant this comment for Mark’s post below. Great observations, though, and there’s some overlap, I think.

  3. Norm on October 29th, 2007 2:28 pm

    Thanks for setting me straight on this! :)

  4. forrest on October 29th, 2007 3:00 pm

    I think the basis of the problem you are pointing to is:

    “Christianity isn’t about us.”

    1) I mean, our life is obviously about us, and Christianity is a gift to us… [Here comes the 'but'] but Christianity is not about how good we can be, or about how many extra credit points we might need for an ‘A’ towards our Heaven reservations. Our life is in good hands, and they aren’t ours!

    2) Now that that’s out of the way, how can we relieve human suffering and Save the World? See #1, above.

  5. John Chisham aka Pastorboy on October 29th, 2007 5:10 pm

    I am honestly curious about this emergent thing.

    I mean, it is good and all to question and look deeply into faith, but I am wondering seriously what ya’ll are emerging from and emerging into.

    I have issued a challenge, called appropriately the Emergent Challenge, and would call on those in the midst of this manifesto to please engage in a conversation with me about what famous emergent folks have said in their writings and their messages. The challenge is at I have not placed my opinions, only the quotes. I am looking for biblical responses to them.

    Thank you for engaging in a conversation with me and my congregation.

  6. John Chisham aka Pastorboy on October 29th, 2007 5:19 pm

    Oh, and by the way, I resonate with what you say.

    Grace is supposed to be transformational; in otherwords, it changes you. It brings you from death to life, and Christ is to be incarnated in you. This means that you will become like Christ. This means that you will be driven by what drove Him, the Jesus Manifesto as you call it. It does mean that we will have compassion on ALL those who are lost, whether they are blind, poor, wretched, naked, or seemingly comfortable.

    Jesus called upon us to make disciples of all nations. Included in this mandate is to have compassion for their spiritual needs primarily~but this does not free us from being compassionate towards those who have physical needs. We must not do one without the other, both are important, but evangelism must not be neglected because of an overwhelming need to help obvious physical needs.

  7. beyondwords on October 29th, 2007 5:19 pm

    Hi, John AKA Pastorboy. I don’t consider myself to be emerging. I’m a middle aged Christian woman who’s recovering from modernity, perhaps, but not postmodern in the least. :) I will check out your link and be happy to engage you. Thanks for your interest.

  8. beyondwords on October 29th, 2007 5:24 pm

    Well, said John. We must not do one without the other. Jesus always met the physical needs along with the spiritual ones. His desire is full restoration.

  9. Stephen on October 29th, 2007 7:37 pm

    excellent post.

    The problem (I think) stems out of a theological misunderstanding manifesting itself in the penal substution atonement theory. So, I think that this post ties pretty obviously into the previous one. I tenitivly hold to a salvation as recapitulation model. Not only do I see this as far more holistic (and biblical). But, I think it really answers some of the problems raised in this post. Jesus is the second Adam. We enter this new race of humanity through death (baptism) and resurrection. We and are continually striving for a day when all of creation will experience that resurrection.

    But regardles of what your atonement model is, everyone has to admit that Jesus didn’t call believers. he called followers. Surely, following in the steps of Jesus will bring us closer to him.

    We are to pray “Thy Kingdom come” but then we are to do something to bring it about. Namely, by living under the rule of that Kingdom now. In this Kingdom the poor, meek, and merciful are blessed and the rich, violent, and powerful are condemned.

  10. loral on October 30th, 2007 11:41 am

    Following on Stephen’s comments, I was reading an African-American theologian for my systematic theology course whose main critique of the early church fathers was that soteriology (the study of salvation) determined christology (the nature of who they believed Christ to be, thus the emphasis on his birth, death and resurrection but little about his life). I think that’s still a key factor in a lot of churches these days; we know we’re saved from hellfire and damnation but–like you said, Mark–we haven’t got a clue what we’re saved for.

  11. John Chisham aka Pastorboy on October 30th, 2007 12:07 pm

    What we are saved for? Thats easy- and I don’t need a theologian!

    Ephesians 2:8-10 For it is by grace we have been saved thrugh faith and this is not of ourselves-it is a gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works that God has prepared in advance for Him to do.

  12. loral on October 30th, 2007 3:59 pm

    What we are saved for? Thats easy- and I don’t need a theologian!

    Actually, John, given how interested you seem in talking about God, I’d say you are a theologian. :)
    You quote some very nice verses but I haven’t got a clue what that means when it comes to the practical everyday world other than what Mark referred to as a mere sanitizing of one’s self-image. I’m not trying to argue just for the sake of argument; I genuinely want to understand. I’m not interested in cheap grace, nor am I interested in a faith that only saves me from the fires of hell. I’ve heard Bible verses thrown around for as long as I can remember but I’ve rarely seen them used for much more than comforting insider language that doesn’t really change the way we live during the week. So I’d love to hear: what does it mean–on a daily basis–that we are created in Jesus Christ to do good works that God has prepared in advance for Him to do? What does that look like?

  13. Mark Van Steenwyk on October 30th, 2007 4:10 pm

    FYI everyone…this post was by Kathy (beyondwords), not me. Not that I don’t agree with everything she’s written. :)

  14. beyondwords on October 30th, 2007 4:17 pm

    Hi, Loral, this is Kathy, the author of the post : )

    John quotes Ephesians 2:8-10, an amazing conjunction of anithetical concepts–we are saved by grace FOR good works to work out God’s purposes–as he shapes us into the image of Christ, we awakens our imagination through his Spirit. Jesus is forming us and the Spirit is equipping us.

    I used to think I knew what this looks like. That image has changed. Now I believe it’s buildking relationships, meeting needs and sharing the gospel in the context of family and community life. Being church is the way I believe I’m called to build the church.

    Stay with us, Loral. We’re doing this together in the unity of the Spirit. We need your voice, your ideas, your questions and your passion.

  15. John Chisham aka Pastorboy on October 30th, 2007 5:01 pm

    Hey Laurel,

    I’m sorry, I don’t mean to throw around verses.

    I believe that the first work in our lives is Grace, which means more than saving us from hellfire (though, it DOES do that). Grace is Christ paying the fine for us, because we all have broken God’s law, and he has reconciled our account when we repent and trust him by faith. This is the concept of being ‘born again’ , though this term is missused much like the term grace is. Being born again is, in a very real way, becoming a new and different person by the grace of God.

    When we have been changed by Christ into this new person, he gives us spiritual gifts - we are created in Christ Jesus to do good works (these are listed in sundry ways throughout the scripture) For me, God has gifted me specifically as a pastor/teacher and as an evangelist. To a lesser degree, he has given me a gift of apostleship. and discernment. The good works he has created me to do is to proclaim His truth (found in the scripture) to everyone that I come in contact with. He also has given me a gift of discernment that helps me to see false teaching quite clearly. The gift of apostleship helps give me boldness to speak up in the midst of unfriendly circumstances.

    The gift that is consistent across the board from Christ is love. This love, shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit, is something that fuels our passion to live out grace daily. This love is Christ’s love, a love that cares for the needs of others. It is a love that does not stop at seeing a physical need, it is a love that cares enough to address the total person, and that includes the fact that a majority of people are lost and unredeemed no matter their physical situation.

    Thats kind of where many people who call themselves emergent kind of depart for me. These who I have spoken with are all about grace, but believe that one can experience God’s grace no matter what path they are on, whether this is a lifestyle choice of homosexuality, or choosing a different religious path, some believe that they all will be a part of God’s kingdom, that they can experience Jesus’ salvation whatever path they choose. I do not believe that the scripture supports this; in fact Jesus ephaticly stated I AM the WAY the TRUTH and the LIFE no man comes to the Father but by me.

    Our church states this clearly on on our ‘about us’ page, how we as a church strive to live out God’s transformational grace daily.

    God bless you as you seek to live out grace.

  16. loral on October 30th, 2007 5:25 pm

    Kathy, my apologies! Apparently I didn’t read as carefully as I thought I did — and I’ll stick around, and probably keep pushing as I go. I’ve realized, too, that it looks a lot different than I used to think… And thanks, John, for sharing more of your thoughts. It’s helpful.

  17. Maria Kirby on November 11th, 2007 8:05 pm

    I know its been two weeks since anyone posted here, but I thought I would add my two cents.

    The comments made here remind me of two passages: Jesus command to take up our cross and follow him and his parable of the unforgiving servant. It seems to me that the good works that we are to do (in the light of these two passages) is to extend God’s grace that was manifested on the cross into the lives of those around us, particularly those who have transgressed against us. God’s forgiveness makes for a restorative justice. When he forgives us we become more than we were before we sinned. So if we are going to carry a cross, we are going to bear the injustices that others inflict on us and return good for evil. We are going to offer second, third, 490, infinitely number of chances. We’re going to risk again and again that someone will betray our confidence and trust. And in spite of it all, we’re going to treat them with respect, kindness, patience, and seek to show them God’s love in ways that they can understand and receive. But we can only do this because we are a conduit of his grace, not because of any inherent strength on our part.

    I find the people this is hardest to practice with is my own family. I’m so glad Jesus substituted himself for all the people and times I would like to beat them up and kill them.

  18. pastorboy on November 12th, 2007 7:13 pm

    This idea of restorative justice bothers me.

    It has bothered me since I heard Doug Pagitt’s view of the ‘forevermore’ where He said that everyone- buddhists, hindus, Jews, Zoratrians, Animists, Mormons, will experience what He called God’s repair and restoration.

    Wasn’t that what Jesus’ death was all about? Repair and restoration of our fallen nature because we have sined against Him? Is that what restorative justice is? Is’nt Jesus’ death enough? Do we need to continue a conversation that destroys 2000 years of biblical orthodoxy?

  19. Mark Van Steenwyk on November 12th, 2007 7:47 pm

    Pastorboy…you’re a bit off topic here. What does what Doug said fit into this conversation.

    Nope, his death isn’t enough:

    Col. 1:24-29

    24Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church. 25I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness— 26the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the saints. 27To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

    28We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. 29To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me.

    Jesus sent us as he was sent by his father. We are to continue his work, even if it means our death. We are ministers of reconciliation, who bring about justice by bringing healing to broken relationships–both between us and God and between one another. If you read the epistles, this is something Paul repeatedly strives for–reconciliation between Jews and Gentiles, in Christ. This takes more than being “saved”; it is something that needs to be worked for.

  20. pastorboy on November 12th, 2007 8:19 pm

    So what is restorative justice?

    Salvation does not need to be worked for, though it is something that needs to be worked out. With fear and with trembling. We do not work it out through deconstructing the scripture. We work it out, as Paul said, and we proclaim and admonish, teaching everyone in wisdom. We are to die to ourselves daily, and complete the work that God has given us.

    And a good buddhist, hindu, zoroastrian, emergent, or fundamentalist cannot get to that salvation through any other name.
    We need to quit fooling around and help people to enter into the first step of that restoration, faith in Christ alone.

  21. Mark Van Steenwyk on November 12th, 2007 8:47 pm

    Pastorboy, are you working under some sort of mistaken notion that Doug speaks for us? I promise not to hold all fundamentalists accountable to what you say if you promise not to assume that we all agree with Doug about the afterlives of hindus and buddhists.

    I agree that salvation doesn’t need to be worked for. Restorative Justice is the attempt to a make the reconciling work of God a reality in the world around us. So, for example, fostering forgiveness and healing and justice between the victim and the perpetrator.

  22. beyondwords on November 12th, 2007 9:33 pm

    Hey, Pastorboy. Let’s be clear. We believe that salvation comes by grace through faith that Jesus is Lord. When we write about restorative justice, we are simply walking in the good works God prepared for us to do in Jesus’ name.

    Do you remember the acccount in Mark where its says Jesus confronted the Pharisees when they rebuked him for healing on the Sabbath? “And he saith unto them, Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath days, or to do evil? To save life, or to kill? But they held their peace.”

    So, I ask you, do you believe it is ” lawful” for Christians to do good in their communities to help people break the cycle of poverty? Or do you believe they must be confess faith in Christ before we can help them? Help me understand.

  23. Shawn on November 30th, 2007 4:59 pm

    “Whose Image?” Amen and praise God! Just this afternoon I was seeking for truth and listening to the word (audio Bible) and I became so excited about the content of 2 Corinthians chapters 3-7. The Lord is the Spirit! We must carry in our bodies the death of Jesus so that the LIFE of Jesus may also be MANIFESTED in our bodies! I compared 2 Cor 5:10 to the “reap/sow” message of Paul and Romans 8:13. Of course we are saved by grace through faith apart from works! But we must join in and participate in the work of Christ and his manifestation and fruit through us! That is his work, not our own. But we must say “YES” to it, and not quench his work by obeying the flesh.

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