If I were to ask – Who’s Billy Graham? Most would say – BG was a great evangelist. And that’d be correct. But would it answer my question? No. B/c being an evangelist isn’t who BG is – it is what he used to do. If the totality of BG’s identity is found in being an evangelist, then who is he now he’s retired – a non-person?
Who we are isn’t defined by our vocation – or our successes, fears, or failures – our identity is so much more than these things. As Christ-followers, who we are, is determined by our spiritual birth. We’re no longer sinners but saints – set apart from sin to God – established by adoption to be God’s inheritance – rescued from sin into a new creation where the old is gone and all things have been made new. (Lost/Found Chart)
Today, we’re starting a series on the most vital truth in the faith: our identity in Christ – Who am I in light of who He is & has done.
Throughout this series, I’ve asked Ben Brezina to join me in co-teaching this truth. Why? B/c Ben, His dad, and CFT base their entire ministry on this primary truth.
Hold up a light bulb – “What is this?” It’s a light bulb. That’s its identity. That’s what it is. What does a light bulb do? It shines light. A light bulb was made for one purpose – to be plugged into an electrical socket to glow w/ light. How do we know this is a light bulb and this is its purpose? B/c it has either been taught to us or b/c we observed it working as designed.
But if I were to take this light bulb back in a time machine 2000 yrs. and hand it to the emperor of Rome and leave, would he know what it is or what to do w/ it? NO! He wouldn’t have a clue. Why? B/c there was no knowledge of electricity at the time. He wouldn’t have a chance of discovering its identity or potential. Would it change the fact it’s still a light bulb? No. But it’d never function out of its identity as a light bulb until that identity is discovered. Caesar may love this light bulb and use it in different ways. He may treat it as a god and build a shrine to worship it. But the avg. person living today would laugh at the ignorance.
Just like this light bulb, we were created w/ an identity and for a purpose. But unless we know our true identity, we’ll be just like Caesar w/ a light bulb – possessing but not understanding.
How do we discover who we are and what we were designed to do? We go to our Designer and ask Him. Just like the inventor of the light bulb gets to determine the purpose of the light bulb, so too God has determined who we are and how we function. And God has already revealed to us our design/purpose in His Word.
Today we’re going to spend a few minutes in Genesis to discuss our function and purpose as God’s creation – and how we were created for a love relationship w/ the Creator.
I Created in God’s IMAGE for Relationship v. 26-27
God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, so they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So created man in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”
Our identity begins w/ who we are and who God created us to be. In Psalm 139, the Bible says we’re fearfully and wonderfully made – Genesis 1 says we were made uniquely in the image of God. That is, man is unlike any other entity in creation b/c we were created in God’s image in consultation w/ the Trinity.
If you re-read the creation story you’d notice from a similar formula vs. 1-25 – God spoke and things were created. In vs. 26 there’s a shift in language – let us make man in our image…
let Us – Never has God spoken in a plural form. Every other time – let there be – it was impersonal. Nothing He had created had any personal connection to Him. He might’ve spoken it but He didn’t identify w/ it – not w/ light, not w/ water, not w/ the sun, moon, stars, or animal. No personal involvement existed. But in vs. 26 we see that God gets personally engaged – Let us make man in our image. Up to this point it was just God; but now God defines Himself w/ a plural pronoun – let Us. Here we have the first hint of Trinity. And this triune God makes man in His image.
image (salem) likeness – made to resemble God. To be created in God’s image expresses that like God – we have a body, soul, and spirit. It also expresses that we have a mind to think, emotions to feel, and a will to make decisions – that we have a sense of personality, morality, and spirituality.
This is what makes a man unique from all of creation. He is moral, rational, social, and spiritual – but like everything else in the creative order – He is dependent on God for life.
The Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being. Genesis 2:7
formed (yatser) used of a potter shaping a lump of clay into a work of art. In this case, God specially designed man for a greater purpose and affection than of any other entity in Creation.
breathed – to blow. When Adam was formed his body was lifeless until God breathed life into him – God’s breath gave animation.
This one verse contains (3) major facts about man. (1) God alone created man. Man didn’t evolve from other creatures. Impersonal forces didn’t generate life. All the cells, DNA, atoms, molecules, protons, etc., were organized and given life by God. (2) God breathed His own breath of life into man. Meaning God is the Source of life. And (3), the result is man became a living spirit w/ the purpose of being a container and expresser of the glory of God.
II Created to be CONTAINERS of His Glory
Returning to our illustration. This light bulb was designed in such a way to be filled w/ something invisible, namely electricity, be energized by it and then manifest that energy into the world as heat and light. This is exactly what the Bible is talking about in Genesis. Like a potter, God formed a complex and intricate mold and breathed His life into him and man became a living being.
Paul reiterates this picture in 2 Corinthians 4:6-7 when he describes believers as earthen vessels or jars of clay that contain a treasure. We’re the clay pot designed to contain and display a treasure. The treasure is God’s life in us and as we contain His life, His power is displayed in our lives.
During His sermon on the mount in Matthew 5:15-16, Jesus described people as lamps that burn oil and give off light. During the time of Christ, People didn’t have light bulbs that ran on electricity. They used bowls made out of hardened clay that contained oil and a wick. The wick was placed in the oil w/ one end sticking out. They lit the end that was outside the oil and it burned continuously by drawing oil up from the base as needed.
In the OT, oil is a symbol of the H.S. Jesus said I am the light of the world. You are lamps that burn on the oil of the Spirit inside and give off light. No one lights a lamp and puts it under a basket, but on the lampstand and it lights up the whole house.
The “light” of Jesus that’s displayed in our lives is the fruit of the Spirit reflected in our behavior – love, joy, peace, patience…, Jesus added – Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.
In 1 Corinthians we find another example. Paul calls believers the temple of God. The Greek word for temple is naos. When Moses brought the people out of Egypt, God gave Him strict instruction on how to build the sanctuary in where the visible manifestation of God would dwell in the camp. It consisted of an outer court and an inner sanctuary which was divided into two parts – the holy place and the holy of holies.
After Moses constructed the tabernacle as God had instructed, we read in Exodus that the visible presence of God came down and filled the inner sanctuary. The shekinah glory, the pillar of cloud and fire that was a visible manifestation of God that had led them out of Egypt and protected them from the Egyptians rested on the inner sanctuary. When Paul uses naos to specifically describes the inner sanctuary, he is telling the Corinthians they are temples who contain God’s presence to display His glory.
A 4th illustration Jesus uses to describe mankind’s identity is a branch that abides in the vine and bears fruit. A branch is simply a pipe. When it’s not connected to the life of the vine, it dries out and dies. When connected, it receives the life and nourishment of the vine and fruit pops out.
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. John 15:5
In John 4, when Jesus met w/ the Samaritan woman at the well, He used another illustration of our design – a well that contains a spring of water. Jesus came to bring living water so when we ingest Him by faith, His Spirit becomes a spring of living water which overflows and refreshes all those around. Jesus used this illustration several times in John. In John 7:37-39 we read – On the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. “He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’” But this He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive; for the Spirit was not yet given, b/c Jesus was not yet glorified.
Pictures of our design are found in the OT too. In Psalm 1 a person functioning as designed is compared to a tree firmly planted by streams of living water so they can bear fruit and their leaves will not wither. Like a branch, a tree is a glorified pipe carrying water and nutrients from the roots, up the trunk to the branches and leaves to generate growth. Leaves wither b/c the roots aren’t bringing up enough water.
So if we were created to be containers/expressers of God’s life, how do we contain and express His life. We contain God’s life when we come to God in faith and He gives us His life. We’re animated by His life as we walk in intimate fellowship w/ Him. We display His life when we make choices w/ our will to let our bodies display the fruit of the Spirit who dwells inside.
God’s life which is love can be displayed thru a smile, a kind word, a cool drink offered, allowing others to go first in line, giving others mercy and grace, granting forgiveness and the list go on and on. For Adam and Eve, their choice was very specific.
III Created to be DEPENDENT on God
So Adam/Eve were created in God’s image to be containers and expressers of God’s love/glory. But to confirm their dependence, God had to allow a scenario for their love to be tested and proved.
Knowing we’re dependent creatures reliant on God (but like God w/ limited but capable abilities) – God placed Adam/Eve in the Garden of Eden and told them they could eat of any tree in the Garden but one – the tree of the Knowledge of Good/Evil. In fact, God insisted they eat of every other tree including the Tree of Life.
Then God allowed Satan to tempt Adam and Eve to test their willingness to trust and follow God – and they failed the test. Satan deceived Eve by telling her God was holding back and lying to her and Adam. He told her they didn’t have to be containers and expressers of God – but they could be god. They didn’t need to be dependent on God but could be independent from God.
Satan’s goal has always been to keep people from intimacy w/ God so they might pay homage to him. He wants us to be containers and expressers for his glory. His goal is to keep the lost – lost and the found bound. Let me explain…
Before Satan fell – he was the prize of God’s creation. Ezekiel 28 explains that Lucifer was the anointed cherub called to protect the holiness of God. Ezekiel says he was adorned w/ the same jewels found in the High Priest’s breastplate – which is a garment to reflect the glory of God – meaning Lucifer was to be the light bearer for God called to reflect God’s glory. But it went to his head. He then tried to get Eve to fall for the same trap.
He uses the same tactics today against you and me so we might walk in independence from God rather than in dependence on God. Why? So our lives might glorify him instead of God.
What Satan put into the heads of our remote ancestors was the idea that they could ‘be like gods’ – could set up on their own as if they had created themselves – be their own masters – invent some sort of happiness for themselves outside God, apart from God. And out of that hopeless attempt has come nearly all we call human history – money, poverty, ambition, war, prostitution, classes, empires, slavery – the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy. The reason why it can never succeed is this. God made us. He invented us as a man invents an engine. A car is made to run on petrol, and it wouldn’t run properly on anything else. Now God designed the human machine to run on Himself. He Himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on. There is no other. That’s why it is just no good asking God to make us happy in our own way w/out bothering about religion. God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, b/c it is not there. There is no such thing. CS Lewis
While it might’ve appeared God was asleep at the wheel – He was not! He had already initiated a plan to redeem and restore His creation back to himself. And it began right there in the Garden.
V Rescued to have Our Identity RESTORED
So Satan deceived Eve and she ate. Adam too chose to disobey God along w/ his wife. As promised by God, they died that day. They didn’t die physically. They still walked the earth for many years. Their soul didn’t die. They still had thoughts and feelings and continued to make decisions. But they died spiritually. They were cut off from God’s life and as such, lost their identity as children of God. They could no longer function as containers/expressers of God’s life.
The Genesis account tells us there were curses as a result of their rebellious choice. Adam/Eve were condemned. They were driven out of the garden and separated from the tree of life by the cherubim and a flaming sword.
But God wasn’t surprised by their actions and b/c He is rich in mercy, He already had a plan set to redeem that which was lost and restore man to his original identity and purpose. There are several clues to God’s plan of redemption placed into the Genesis account.
Most familiar perhaps is where God addresses the serpent and says the seed of the woman will crush his head after he strikes his heel. There’s also the initiation of sacrifices where God took the skin of an animal to provide clothes for them. But there’s one more clue. After God drove them out of the garden, he stationed the cherubim a guard to keep them from going back. If you read the account in Genesis 3:24 you’ll see it says that cherubim were stationed to guard the WAY to the tree of life. It doesn’t say they were guarding the tree of life. They were guarding the Way.
This is interesting b/c there are several other places where cherubim appear in Scripture. But whenever they appear, they’re always in the presence of God. Ezekiel saw a vision of God’s presence and it included the cherubim. Cherubim surrounded, upheld and moved God’s throne. In Revelation they appear again in the throne room of God where they surround and worship Him.
Earlier I mentioned the tabernacle Moses built to house God’s visible presence. We talked about the sanctuary being comprised of the Holy Place and Holy of Holies. The Holy of Holies was where God’s glory rested. God’s voice came out from b/w the sculpted gold cherubim above the mercy seat placed in this inner room. But there was a separation b/w God and His people. It was forbidden under the threat of death to enter into the Holy of Holies. No one could enter the sacred room except for the High Priest on the Day of Atonement and then only w/ the blood of a bull and a goat.
Even though God was in the center of camp, there was a strict separation kept b/w a Holy God and sinful man. Isaiah writes that it is our sins that relationally separate us from dwelling intimately w/ God. In the tabernacle, our sins were symbolized in a thick heavy veil. This veil separated the Holy place where the priest ministered daily from the Holy of Holies and the presence of God. On that veil, God instructed Moses to embroider Cherubim. So the picture the priests saw daily as they ministered in the tabernacle was that of the cherubim guarding the way into the Holy of Holies or the intimate presence of God.
At the end of his ministry on earth, Jesus told his followers He was going to the Father and that they already knew the way. But Thomas was confused. He said “Lord, we do not know where You are going, how do we know the way?” Jesus replied “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” Jesus was telling his disciples: Remember the cherubim that was placed to guard the way to the tree of life? I am the way back to life the cherubim were guarding.
Hebrews tells us Jesus’ flesh became the veil. The Father made the son “who knew no sin, to be sin on our behalf.” The Father then ripped the son on our behalf. Isaiah 53:5 says “He was pierced for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell on Him, and by His wounds we are healed.”
Matthew says the moment Jesus gave up His spirit the veil in the temple was ripped from top to bottom. Meaning God had opened a way back to Himself for all of mankind. Through Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection – God created a way to give mankind a new identity – the same one the original man/women were given. Then on the day of Pentecost, God’s presence came to live inside the believers in Jesus thru the ministry of the H.S. The sound of the breath or wind of God filled the upper room animating the spirits of the believers. The visible glory of God rested on each person just like it had rested on the tabernacle so many years before. A new identity was established and it is the same one we’re given at the moment we repent of our sins and give our life to Jesus Christ.