Living Out the Image of God
St. Paul said to be imitators of God. He didn’t mean to mimic God. Be imitators of God.
Genesis writer said that we’re created in the image of God.
So God created humankind in his image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:27)
Being imitators of God means to live out the image of God that is within us. What does it mean to live out the image of God within us?
I think Jesus showed that to us very clearly. Jesus lived out the image of God. Jesus was the image of God.
So, St. Paul said,
He (Jesus) is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. (Colossians 1:15)
Jesus did many things. He did miracles. He healed the sick. He gave wonderful teachings about life, about the kingdom of God, and about God.
Changed by the New Image
But Paul singled out only one thing that Jesus did in today’s passage. We can see that in the latter part of today’s Scripture.
…live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. (Ephesians 5:2)
He pointed out his sacrifice for us. In that sacrifice, Paul saw the image of God. In those scars, distorted face, and torn flesh, he saw the image of God.
Paul discovered the new image of God. Not invincible God who could not be defeated but broken God who was willing to die because of love.
That was not the image he had or anybody had in his time. When they heard the word, God, the immediate image that came to their minds was a powerful God who demanded human beings to behave in a certain way and threatened to punish if they would not follow his demand.
But at the cross, Paul discovered a new image of God.
This discovery of the new image completely changed Paul.
Strength Rooted in Fear
St. Paul was a very strong person. Strong personality, strong opinions, and strong zeal. But he realized that his strong attitude became a stumbling block for him. His strong attitude blinded him and enslaved him.
Luke records that something like scales fell off from Paul’s eyes when he met Christ. You can see how blinded he was because of these scales. He could not see what he ought to see.
I wondered whether those scales are St. Paul’s strong attitude. St. Paul realized that his strengths became his weaknesses.
Yes. Our strong attitude makes us weak. But we want to be stronger because of fear. That strong attitude could be harmful not only to others but also to himself. It can easily turn into abuse, abuse to himself and to others.
The cross of Jesus revealed the opposite. The strong Jesus embraced the weak cross. He showed us his weaknesses of dying helplessly on the cross.
I think that is the real strength.
St. Paul didn’t know that. He didn’t know the beauty of the true strength. He didn’t know that behind his strength, there was tremendous fear.
Ultimately his strength turned into his abusive behaviour.
Luke showed that very clearly.
Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. (Acts 9:1, 2)
Very violent Paul you see here. That was what the risen Christ told Paul when he first met him on the road to Damascus.
He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’ (Acts 9:4)
Why are you so abusive to me?
In the Acts of Apostle, Paul spoke three times about his encounter with the living Christ. In the last testimony, we see what we didn’t see in the first testimony.
When we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It hurts you to kick against the goads.” (Acts 26:14)
You are not just abusing me and my people but you are hurting yourself. His abusive behaviour was hurting him. His strength enslaved him.
A New Strength in Christ
Real strength doesn’t do that. Real strength frees us from hatred, animosity, manipulation, and our false self.
When we are free, we don’t have to live with our false self. That is the strength. This kind of strength gives us peace and confidence.
That is the strength Paul experienced when he met Christ.
Let us hear his confession.
but he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’ So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9, 10)
When you have this true strength, then you can deny yourself, and even empty yourself. That doesn’t mean that you lose yourself. Your self does not vanish.
You come out with a new self. The self that goes beyond the self-obsession and self-fear.
The stronger you want to be, the weaker you become. You will continuously hurt yourself and others. You will be always defensive, self-centred, and self-focused.
Be connected with Christ. He will give you the strength. Not the strength this world gives you but the strength to survive in all circumstances.
When you have this strength, then you can live a life of love. We can live out the image of Christ who loved us so much that he gave himself as a sacrifice.
Today is our church anniversary. The world we live in is very chaotic. They are hurting each other. So much suffering. So much pain and so much hurt.
The image of God within us is damaged. Human dignity and respect are trampled upon.
We need to restore the image of God again. We should be imitators of God, imitators of Christ. No more abuse that is originated from people’s power.
We pray that there may be reconciliation. We pray that we may forgive each other, embrace each other, respect each other, and honour the image of God that is within each other. That is what this church should do in this dark world.