How does our vision for the end goal of the Christian life shape the way we live today? This sermon is the first in a series on understanding God's calling to live as redeemed, image-bearing, people--living with the hope of Christ which is the Good News of Easter and the launching of God's New Creation project.
Scripture: Genesis 1 & 2:1-3
Last week we talked about the meaning of resurrection for us—the promise of new, redeemed bodily life—and the plan God has for his people and his world: a New Creation and the renewal of the cosmos as God’s Kingdom comes. This is wrapped up and celebrated at Easter, where Jesus himself is resurrected. It's a sign that our future hope for God’s total redemption has already broken in from the future into our present lives. Now, Jesus calls us to live as redeemed people: to be about the work of witnessing to this new salvation kingdom life that God, in his love, has extended to us. The question is: Who has Jesus commissioned us to be in light of the resurrection: clearing off the remnants of sin and decay as we anticipate springtime?
What you believe about the end impacts how you live today:
Our vision for the future should give us direction and focus for how we are to live our daily lives. This is true of anyone, regardless of whether you are of Christian faith or another faith or no faith at all. It’s a huge question: What is the aim or direction of life? (If there is one at all!) As Christians we need to ask ourselves: What is the final goal that God has of the life of the Christian?
Many Christians in the Western world have imagined that the aim or goal of being a Christian is simply ‘to go to heaven when you die’. Yes, those who belong to Jesus in this life go to be with him once they die—that’s a promise made in various places in the New Testament (e.g. thief of the cross). Those who have faith in the Lord will be welcomed into paradise: they will be with the Lord in a place of rest and refreshment in Jesus’ presence. But this is not the end! Sometime after this God has promised to totally renew the entire world, the whole created order. At that point we will be given new bodies and a new life to live with God and one another in God’s New Creation. That end, is a much fuller, richer and more satisfying conclusion to our story, then simply evacuating earth for heaven.
So how do we live in anticipation of that coming new creation reality? It may come as a surprise, but I feel that we can learn a lot about where we’re headed and who we are called to be by looking at the calling and vocation that God has for us when he first began his project of Creation. When God launched his New Creation project on Easter, it is both a reaffirming and restoring of the original creation calling as well as a new redeemed revival of his plan.
So, we learn to live in anticipation of God’s good end, by exploring his calling for us to live today as redeemed, image-bearing, human beings. To begin we need to soak our imaginations in Genesis 1.
Read Genesis Scriptures
The first thing we need to remember when we read a text like Genesis is that it is an ancient text. It’s not written in our language, or with our culture in mind, it was written very much for people who live in the Ancient Near East. When we approach Genesis, and when we approach any portion of the Bible, we need to first ask what would this have meant for the original audience, the original readers?
God has gifted Old Testament scholars to give us insight into the world and thought of our Scriptures and the cultures they were written in. Today I am drawing on the work of John Walton and Jeff Morrow. Their work on understanding the literary structure of Genesis 1 helps us to appreciate the profound implications this passage has for our lives and God's purpose.
Creation is a Temple:
Anyone in the Ancient Near East who would be reading or hearing this Creation account would have thought that the thing which was just described as being created was indeed a Temple. Genesis is the description of a deity making himself a Temple. Temples are spaces where the heavenly realm and earthly realm interact and overlap with one another. It’s the place where the deity himself dwells. This is a home for the deity. In this case, we have the One True God, who is good and loving, making a Creation-Temple for himself. Creation is God’s Temple.
Humanity as the Image-Bearers:
When you have finished building a temple in the Ancient Near East, the last thing you would put into it is an image of the deity. The image or idol functions in two ways: it is a representation of the deity to the earth, and it’s the focal point through which worship is directed unto the deity.
So in Genesis, God finishes his Creation, his Temple-building (pointing that this is a place that he wants to inhabit and love)! And when it comes time to put an image of himself inside this Temple, he doesn't place a statue or a portrait: he creates humanity—the living image-bearers! This means that humanity has been given the task of bearing God’s image into the world. We are called as the image in God’s Creation-Temple to both represent him unto the world and gather the worship of the world back unto God. This has huge implications for the question: “What was I created for?” We are to be like God in character—good, loving, generous, just, merciful, etc.— and then live and be like Him in his world: extending his love and life.
All of Life is Worship:
But also this: if all the cosmos, all the created order, is created as God’s Temple, and we are called to be the image-bearers in the midst of that, then that means that our very lives are like the actions of those in a Temple. In a very real sense, all of life is intended to be worship unto God. All of life can be for God’s glory if we allow it to be. This happens, as Genesis goes on to shows us, in two realms: in relationships and in the garden itself, with people and with the world, in your household and in your workplace. That is where worship and image-bearing are lived out.
Worship is more than simply coming together and singing songs. Worship is about bringing my best and my all to the Lord. Through worship we recognize again that we are created and loved by the good God who deeply loves us.
Redeemed Image-Bearing Life in Christ:
When God launched his project of New Creation on Easter Morning with the Resurrection of Jesus he was redeeming and commissioning you and I to take up the task of being his image-bearers once more: to reflect God into the world, and to gather the praises of creation in worship unto God. We are in a Temple, and all that we do and become through Christ is intended by God to bring glory and praise to his name. We are created not to evacuate to heaven, but to be the redeemed image-bearers of God in his creation. That is our purpose and calling, and that has not changed.
Next week we look closer at what N.T. Wright calls the twin vocations of the image-bearer: reflecting God to the world, and reflecting the world to God. We will discover that the redeemed people of God are still called to fulfill this vocation in the New Heaven and New Earth. The end for which we strive informs our lives today: we have been created to worship; redeemed to bear God’s image in a broken world.
Questions for Group Discussion or Individual Reflection
Copyright 2013 by Nikolas R. Amodeo
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