The vast majority of planet earth's three-billion-plus inhabitants live in comparative squalor and poverty. Tens of thousands die daily of starvation, while millions live with the ever-present specter of famine and shortage. The "dignity of man" is something less than optimum in a world where the words "quality of life" are beginning to have an increasingly hollow ring. Is that all there is for man? What is the ultimate destiny for God's human creation
THEN GOD said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth.... So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him..." (Gen. 1:26-27, RSV). "In the image of God" — what noble and awe-inspiring words! But what do they mean? Can we look into the pain-wracked faces of the starving masses in the Sub-Sahara region, or into the eyes of a malnourished Biafran, Indian, or Pakistani child and say, "This person now reflects the image of God"? As you study the huddled form and glazed eyes of an Arab beggar squatting in the streets of Cairo — as I recently did — can you see there the image of the Creator God? Is God's image reflected in the grotesque figure of a typical camera-laden, Hawaiian-shirted, cigar-chomping, loud-mouthed "ugly-American" tourist banging on the desk of a Jamaican hotel lobby demanding attention and service? And what about the screaming, foam-flecked radical who frantically jumps apoplectically up and down on his left-wing soapbox demanding the overthrow of the System? Does he convey the image of God? Or is God's likeness to be observed in the pea-brained, red-eyed, power-hungry, petty dictator who advocates stamping out all opposition by means of the fires of the concentration camp?
Wars, Conflicts, Problems
Just exactly where do we see the image of God reflected in the bickering, posturing, suffering, angry, often helpless and hopeless population of planet earth? "Stop bad mouthing the human race," someone will say. I'm not bad mouthing — just observing. I can see. I can hear. I'm not quite that blind. I know there have been over 55 wars of various scales since the close of the Second World War. I know the Kurds are currently at war in Iran. The fighting has never really stopped in Southeast Asia. There are still over 50,000 American troops in South Korea helping to maintain an uneasy "peace" in that troubled part of the world. In the meantime the Arabs and the Jews appear to be preparing for yet another round in their seemingly endless conflict. Most Jews and Arabs seem to feel that such a war is only a matter of time. It is obvious that the major problems of human society are rapidly getting out of hand. They are simply too big for humanity to solve. No great charismatic leaders are presently on the scene who are capable of rallying the human race to effect solutions for its seemingly terminal problems. The United Nations has failed miserably, as did its predecessor, the League of Nations. The UN General Assembly is nothing more than a sounding board for national propaganda. Each nation thinks egocentrically. Each looks out for its own even if it has to be at the expense of a neighbor nation. Selfish national interests, ideological ax grindings, economic expediencies and just plain natural human hostility continue to mar the potential of such world bodies. We just can't seem to "get it all together" can we? Something is wrong. How can we reconcile this warring, suffering, sometimes gluttonous, often starving, disease-ridden entity called the human race with the image of the Creator God? It just doesn't make sense. Unless we conclude that God is that way! But let's not be ridiculous. God is not that way. God says: "... My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the Lord" (Isa. 55:8, RSV).
The God of This World
God created man. And in so doing He started a process. A process of reproduction. That's right. The great Creator God in heaven above is actually reproducing His own kind! More about that later. But God has an enemy who is called Satan, the Devil, Apollyon, the Destroyer, Lucifer and a whole host of other names (cf. Rev. 9:11; Rev. 12:9; Isa. 14:12). The devil was originally one of God's chief angelic servants. But he rebelled, taking with him some one-third of the angels in his mutiny. Jesus Himself saw Lucifer fall from heaven like lightning (Luke 10:18). In Revelation 12:9 we are told that it is Satan who has deluded the entire world. He is, as Paul pointed out, the "god" of this present age or society (II Cor. 4:4). As a result of the influence of the devil, the whole world is now in an "evil" condition. Paul spoke of "this present evil world" in Galatians 1:4. The apostle John wrote: "We know that we are of God, and the whole world is in the power of the evil one" (I John 5:19, RSV). And that's the reason the "image" of this world does not conform to the image of God! That's why the United Nations can't solve the serious problems that exist within the community of nations. That's why we have wars. That's why human beings can't get along with each other. That's why we see so much squalor, poverty and starvation. That's the main reason we see religious conflict and moral perversity. That's why twisted and bizarre ideologies such as Nazism, communism and a whole host of other "isms" are able to make such incredible in-roads in human society. This is not God's world! It is the devil's world and he has seen to it that mankind continues to exist in a general state of deception and misery. Human happiness and fulfillment can only be measured comparatively. Those who live in Southern California live in a materialistic heaven — comparatively speaking, that is. But is it heaven to breathe the effluent-laden smog that passes for oxygen in the Los Angeles area? Is it heavenly to fight the traffic hour after hour on the congested freeways? Not really. As I said, it's all comparative.
Helpless to Relieve Misery
The whole human race is living in a substantially less-than-ideal state. There are just degrees of misery. As Paul wrote, to the Christians at Rome: "We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies" (Rom. 8:22-23, RSV). The whole world is waiting for something. Christians suffer right along with their brethren "in the world" — those who are not yet a part of the Body of Christ. The fact that we share in that suffering gives us a greater and more sincere yearning for the ultimate redemption of our bodies into the Kingdom. As Christians, we yearn for the only true solution to the sufferings of humanity — the glorious Kingdom of God. As a group, Christians cannot now solve the problems of humanity. We cannot end the starvation of the millions in underdeveloped countries. We cannot convince the world of atheistic communism that there is indeed a God who is worthy of worship. Nor can we correct the theological errors and abuses of false Christianity. But we can preach the gospel. We can show the way to universal peace, prosperity and fulfillment. We can lift up our collective voices and cry aloud, showing this world the real causes of its suffering and misery in the hope that some will heed and change their ways. We can be a light and an example. We can glorify our God in our bodies and in our way of life. We can give this world hope by telling it of the coming Kingdom of God which will effect the needed solutions. In fact we must! Those who are privileged to know and understand the truth of God's great plan of salvation must be a "light that shineth in a dark place." We are accountable for what we know. Not only must we act upon our own present knowledge, we must also share it with others. Of what value to anyone is the armchair religious hobbyist who sits benignly back in his overstuffed chair and mouths esoteric spiritual platitudes to his closest personal friends? What does his "Christianity" accomplish? When the founder of Christianity, Jesus Christ, looked around Him at contemporary society He was "moved with compassion." Yet so many of today's Christians are not moved at all — or they are simply moved by a feeling of superiority.
The very basis for all true Christianity is love. Without it a Christian is no Christian at all! (I Cor. 13:1-3.) And love is primarily outgoing — away from the empirical self. Paul told the churches in his charge that they must strive to do good to all men as they had opportunity (Gal. 6:10). True, our brethren in the Church should come first — but the Christian must not be an exclusivist who loves only his own! Jesus taught against such empirical self-love: "But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you salute only your brethren, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?" (Matt. 5:44-47, RSV.) This kind of Christianity is a practical thing. It is not a collection of theological arguments — it is a living demonstration of the love of God residing within a Christian. If you know the solution to someone's problem, then it is your responsibility to try to communicate with that person as a Christian. Does it make sense to continually hand a starving man food when you could show him how to grow a garden full of it? Sure, you give him food until he learns to grow his own. It is the same with the gospel. The gospel is the only true panacea. It is the only real solution to the sufferings of mankind. But not everyone is really willing to receive that gospel. Yet the message of the gospel represents preventative medicine for this world's ills. The gospel is more than a mere •message — it is something that may be practiced! It can be lived (cf., Rom. 10:16).
The Gospel Contains Hope
What hope does this suffering world have of ever conforming to the image of God? How can human beings ever realize their maximum potential in this life? Can man become godly, spiritual and holy in his outlook — in his character? I said earlier that God is reproducing His own kind. He is ultimately to adopt millions of sons (Rom. 8:23). But how is this process started and how is it completed? In the beginning God created man in His own image — physically. Man resembles God in his basic appearance. Man, however, is now composed of the elements of physical matter, but God is composed of spirit (John 4:24). Of course, modern man with all of his physical problems, sicknesses, ailments and maladies is probably a far cry from the physical ideal. Undoubtedly there has been substantial physical degeneracy through wrong habits and broken laws since Adam was first created of the elements of matter! That's why God says the whole creation groans and travails in pain. But that pain is also spiritual and mental. It is a yearning, a craving for something better than this physical existence. It is an undefined desire for some kind of spiritual fulfillment, for self-actualization. Man does not generally realize the incredible profundity of his own vast potential. While God initially created the first man physically in His image — He is now putting man through a process of spiritual development which will ultimately lead to his being made into God's spiritual image! Adam was a physical man made of the dust of the ground, the elements of the earth. But that physical creation, typified by Adam, will be followed by a spiritual creation. "Howbeit that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural [physical]; and afterward that which is spiritual" (I Corinthians 15:46). The physical creation of man in God's image is merely a forerunner of the greater spiritual creation! God is reproducing His own kind. He is adding members to His divine, spirit family. He is expanding and extending Himself in His own spiritual children!
The Transcendent Purpose
Man is destined to resemble God, to look like Him, to be made over in His spiritual image! John wrote some of the most profound truths in all of the Bible. He said: "Beloved, we are God's children now; it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is" (I John 3:2, RSV). God reveals that we shall be like Him. We are begotten as His sons and daughters now, in this life, but ultimately we shall be born into God's family kingdom. Christians have been spiritually "conceived" (begotten), but they will not come to actual spiritual "birth" until the return of Christ. This final birth will be accomplished by a resurrection from the dead (I Thess. 4:16-17; I Cor. 15:50-57). What a glorious hope! What a magnificent destiny! Yet, as we look at the terrible condition of most of the human race today, we see none of the spiritual image of God. We see wars, starvation, inflation, scarcity, conflict, hatred, prejudice and suffering. We see only degrees of comparative unhappiness and despair. We see a race floundering in uncertainty, not knowing why it exists, not understanding its own destiny. Yet God has given you and me hope. He has given us insight into the great plan of salvation. He has shown us the real destiny of His human creation. We have been privileged to gain a glimpse into the mind of God! In the light of this, what should we do? What is your responsibility in the light of what God has revealed? Let John answer: "And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure" (I John 3:3, RSV). What are you doing about purifying your own life spiritually? How does one start this process of spiritual purification? When Peter had finished preaching the first real sermon ever given in the Church of God (on the day of Pentecost, AD. 31), the question was asked: "... Brethren, what shall we do?" (Acts 2:37.) Peter replied: "Repent, and be baptized everyone of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (verse 38, RSV). Have You Really Repented? Have you repented? Really? Have you been baptized in that one true baptism (Eph. 4:5-6)? Have you received God's Holy Spirit? Perhaps you would like to pursue this more? If you would like to be contacted by one of our representatives to discuss baptism (or any other spiritual matter), contact us.