When I was in middle school, I changed my hairstyle quite often. Like every other middle school student, popularity and what other people thought of me mattered more than anything. So my hairdresser, bless her soul, changed the way I looked several times over the course of a few years. One month, I’d want it short, the next, I’d want it longer, the next, I’d want my hair styled in the front. Now, none of these haircuts looked good. None. Not a single one made me feel better about myself, and not one of them gained me a single friend. So why did I do it?
Because I was pursuing a certain kind of image, namely, the image set by my peers and the culture around me. I wasn’t satisfied with who I was. I wanted to be who others told me to be.
Culture creates and fosters the idea of an “image” that we all have to fit into. If you aren’t “x,” you aren’t cool like us. If you don’t have “y,” you can’t sit at the cool kid’s table. You need “z” to make you happy. The pressure is enormous to be like the rest of the world. Look at any makeup, cologne or clothing advertisement. It’s pretty ridiculous. And it changes everyday!
And even if we manage to not give in to cultural expectations about who we should be and what we should do, we set up our own image of what we want ourselves to be, and we don’t even live up to that. For example, if I want to be more athletic, and believe that would make me happier, I chase that, when the truth is, while I should definitely get in shape and take care of my body, I will never be the first guy picked in a pick-up game, in any sport. While I can get better, it’s apparent if you’ve ever seen me play, I was not born to be an athlete.
We are all pursuing an image, a picture, of what we want our lives to look like, of what we want to be. Maybe that’s married with three kids living in a modest home in Birmingham, maybe it’s living in another country as an international businessman. Maybe it’s a professional athlete. Regardless of the details, we all are pursuing something.
The Bible has something to say about that. Let’s start at the beginning, in Genesis 1:27:
“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”
So while we are pursuing our own self-made or culturally made images, God tells us we are made in His image. While we are busy chasing other, lesser images, God says, “You were made by me, to look like me!”
Now, what’s the problem? Same thing it usually always is—sin. We have decided that to reflect the image and glory of God, to walk in His ways and be like Him, is not good. We believe we can do better than God. Although He is our Creator, we have decided we want to make ourselves in our image—we want to determine where we should go and what we should be—we want to be our own gods. And we are terrible at it. It is not cute when a child talks back to his parents and the people and culture around him says, “Oh, he’s just so independent.” No, he’s not independent—he’s a sinner that rebels against God and the authority of the parents God has given him.
So, again, we all pursue an image, whether self-made or culture-made. We know that God has made us in His image and we should pursue it. But we also know that we are sinners, dead in our sin and not reflecting the image and glory of God.
So what do we do? This is where the gospel comes in. This is where we see that the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ really is good news for sinners.
God made us to enjoy His presence, to know His love and provision and power and glory, to be like Him and model His excellence. We fell from that. But the beautiful, life-changing, world-rocking truth of the gospel is that God did not give up on His creation. He would not lose His loved ones. I’m convinced the reason we have stories that glorify and praise someone that will not give up on love, even in the worst of circumstances, is because we, being made in God’s image, are impressed and awestruck at someone who loves so jealously and so sacrificially. We find that kind of love first and foremost in the gospel. The gospel is the true story of the God who would not, does not, and never will give up on His people, no matter how far away they fall from Him. While we were still God’s enemies, we were also the objects of His love, and He gave His very life to show the magnitude of that love. God is holy, and He cannot tolerate sin that takes glory away from Him. But God, when we could not come to Him, came to us in the person of Jesus Christ and worked our salvation, and now effectively calls us to trust in Him, be saved, and follow Him. God had a purpose in making us, and He had a purpose in saving us—to bring us into His fellowship, enjoy Him, and be like Him.
What God is accomplishing in sinners through the salvation of Christ is not just about forgiveness of sins and eternal life. Those are really good and necessary things. I need to be forgiven, and of course I want to live forever with God. But if we read 2 Corinthians 5:17, Paul tells us, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away, behold the new has come.”
Our sin keeps us from reflecting the image of God. But because Jesus died and rose again, we can repent, confessing our sin and our sinful state before God, trusting Christ to come be our Lord and Savior, and not only are we forgiven and righteous through faith, but we get new life, where the Creator begins creating us anew in Christ Jesus.
So what we pursue should be the image of our God. We have a higher purpose than to be what society says we should be, or what we say we should be. The God who created us alone has the true right to tell us who and what to be. And He calls us to be like Him, by finding joy in Him and reflecting His holy character and love, by being like Him in all we do. We do this not by our own strength, but by trust in the Savior’s grace to change our hearts and our desires, and by walking by the Spirit. Sanctification is by grace, too. Don’t forget that.
Now, quick clarifier here: This does not mean we are going to be divine in essence. We will not ever be like God in the sense of being divine and omniscient and all-powerful, etc. However, in His character, in His joy, in His love—-oh absolutely, yes, we shall be like Him in this way, if we are in Christ. This is the joy of glorification—the completion of our salvation, to be just like Jesus, who is the only good man that’s ever lived, to perfectly abide in God’s love, to find complete joy and satisfaction in Him, and to be the holy men and women God has created us to be. What a day it will be when this becomes reality!
So I urge you to turn around from sin and idolatry, confess the Lordship of Christ over your life and trust Him to save you, to forgive you and stand as your perfection before the Father. And let Him become your pursuit. What does that mean? It means instead of pursuing joy in this world, which will pass away, you pursue joy in who God is. Instead of pursuing worldly love, you pursue God’s love. Worldly love, like that of a spouse, is wonderful, but it pales in comparison to the sacrificial, eternity-changing love of God. Instead of pursuing identity in a society and culture that changes its standards every day, find identity in belonging to Christ, and living by God’s standards and ways, which are full of joy, life and peace.
The pursuit of God, of His love and His joy and His ways, is so much higher, better and rewarding than pursuing something lesser. The Creator is better than the creation.
Lord, may we pursue you because you have graciously pursued us in Christ. May that not just be a cute phrase that we say in church, but the desire of our hearts. May we spend time in your Word, to know who you are and find joy in knowing that you are who you are for us. May we reach others, to tell them there is something better than sin and this world. May we not fail to find our identity, purpose and joy in who you are and what you have done for us.
Next week, I’ll talk about what it really means to be holy. What does being holy really mean and look like, practically? Hopefully, for my sake and yours, we’ll understand that more after next week.
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