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About the Book

Table of Contents

Part I

Part II

Part III


Part V

Part VI

Part VII



Part III: The Terms "Image" and "Likeness" as Used in Genesis 1:26

Chapter 3

The Likeness Achieved

     IT MAY APPEAR paradoxical, but it is nevertheless a fact, that one may bear the Image of God without His Likeness. But one cannot bear the Likeness without the Image. Now and then there appear men who, while being quite indifferent to, and even sometimes hostile to, Christianity nonetheless seem to have a certain god-likeness in their character.
     Indeed, I am constantly being put to shame by the kindness, patience, and unselfishness of friends who do not know the Lord. When I compare their natural goodness with the evil propensities which I discern in my own heart and which sometimes seem to me only to increase as I grow older, I am appalled at my lack of patience, my unwarranted pride, and my deeply ingrained selfishness. I know the Lord, and I love the Lord as He alone can know, yet my character is a poor testimony to the profession I make and to that which I know to be possible for my life in Him. And if for no other reason than this, I am fully persuaded that whatever is pleasing to God in my life is not an expression of my old self -- still too discouragingly in evidence -- but of the re-created man within who bears His image, because it is in fact the Lord Jesus Himself. One seldom sees evidence of it; least of all, do I see it. Yet just now and then the veil is momentarily lifted, and one is permitted the joyful surprise of a sudden otherwise inexplicable victory of the spirit, as a testimony to the reality of His indwelling. Oh, I know the comfort of the assurance of His constant presence, but the proof of it to others is probably seldom seen indeed.
     Meanwhile, I constantly meet men whose character in many respects I greatly envy and would like to emulate. I think Oswald Chambers best evaluated such individuals when he said that the nobility in them is a remnant of a dying Adam, but not the promise of a new life. And it is just this circumstance which makes it unacceptable to God in spite of its nearness in appearance to the real thing. In such men,

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nobility of disposition results from a combination of things including birth, circumstances, and will. A saintly saint is much more strictly a work of God. This alone is true God-likeness and it is possible only in those who bear the image. While pseudo-man has the potential to become a child of God, true man has the potential to become God-like -- or as we are more accustomed to say, Christ-like.
     Recapitulating a little, we have observed that with Adam, the image was created when he himself was created, so that from the very first he appeared as true man, though he lost this status when he sinned. He was at the first, and in the end, a son of God. But the likeness of God was not created in him, it was merely appointed for him. Unlike the image, the likeness was something which was to be achieved by his obedience and submission to God. It would be safer, and more scriptural, to say that the likeness was not to be achieved by Adam's effort but rather by the working of the Holy Spirit in Adam. Our part is not so much a positive one, as though we were able creatively to reform ourselves so that we become Christlike, but rather that we should resist and restrain, as far as possible and with the help of the Holy Spirit, all the propensities of the old nature, both good and bad.
     What we are really concerned with here is the secret of growth in Christian character, a subject of endless discussion and not a little argument. The view which is presented here has at least this to commend it, that while it demands real effort on our part, the end result is still entirely a work of God; and pride is altogether excluded. This looks like a contradiction, but it avoids two rather serious errors.
     First, growth is not the result of some process of complete self-surrender of the will, which we are sometimes told is "all there is to it." It is amazing how easily one can be deceived into relaxing the struggle, by believing that in this kind of "weakness" lies our chief source of strength, the strength of the Lord supposedly being inversely proportional to the weakness of the individual. This view takes several forms, but all of them are dangerous self-deceits, in spite of their apparent Scriptural justification from passages such as 2 Corinthians 12:9, 10. When Paul spoke of weakness here, does he really mean weakness of will? We might well ask the question, Would a man who could claim to have "fought a good fight," suggest that no struggle is necessary anyway?
     Secondly, man cannot assist God in any direct way in the creation of anything that is perfect. I think this rule applies even for the child of God. And the man who is quite confident that by a constant exercise of willpower he contributes directly to his own holiness in God's sight is deceiving himself. For while he may be dealing successfully with one or

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two consciously recognized areas of failure in his life, he can only deal with the things he recognizes. He is apt to suppose that having dealt with these, he has achieved full stature. What he tends to do is merely to concentrate on one or two symptoms, ignoring the basic disease. The Word of God never promises a consciousness of sinlessness, yet this is what most of us assume victory to mean. The human heart is desperately wicked and is no sooner subdued in one area when it will erupt in a subtle way in some other area. I should like to suggest that man's part is not to plant more flowers, but to keep the weeds down in the unoccupied area, in order that the seed of God's planting may grow. The new man, then, is entirely a creation of God in Christ. Yet we do have a vital part in its growth.
     Our part is a negative one. This will be apparent if we list a few key passages of Scripture which bear on the matter, and after each reference give the key words which really support this contention. The real crux of the matter is this: Does man have within himself the power to produce anything that is perfect enough to please God? Most Christians would say that the believer does have this power. I do not think that Scripture can be found to support this. If by reason of the exercise of a redeemed will, a man could deny every evil propensity of his nature, would this make him a righteous man in God's sight? I think not. I think he would be in the position of a gardener who had deliberately rooted out every single weed in his little plot of land, only to find that he could not get any flowers to grow because he did not have any seeds. The cleaning-up process was excellent, but like the man who swept and garnished his house (Matthew 12:44), his position could be more dangerous than ever. This is the limit of his capacity -- to institute a clean-up. He does not have the capacity to create a new thing to replace the old. This is the work of God, and the most he can do is to restrain the evil, that God may introudce the good.
     This, I think, is the meaning of such pasages as the following:    

2 Timothy 2:21   ". . . purge himself . . ."
Colossians 3:5    "Mortify therefore your members. . ."
Romans 13:14    ". . . make not provision for the flesh. . . "
Romans 6:12      "Let not sin reign in your mortal body."

     The mortification of the natural propensities for evil which exist in every one of us, however, is not something which we can undertake without help. It is obvious that a will that is sinful cannot will itself out of existence. The help that we need in this process of restraint is promised by the presence of the Holy Spirit. The following verses seem to indicate this principle:

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Romans 8:26       ". . . the Spirit helpeth our infirmities. . ."
Hebrews 4:15, 16      ". . . to find grace to help in time of need. . .
1 Corinthians10:13   ". . . a way to escape. . ." (provided by God)

     In these passages, and in many more, the part which we may play is carefully circumscribed. It is always the restraint of sin, and never the creation of righteousness. It is a humbling thing to discover that God has no confidence in the capacity of man to be good. And it is important to observe that when one may by nature seem to be a better man than others, as though relative goodness had some real meaning, the truth is rather that some men are less evil than others, which is fundamentally a different thing.
     All of this can be summed up in the words of John the Baptist, "He must increase, but I must decrease" (John 3:30). Notice the one is not safe without the other. Moreover, Paul made it very clear that the new man himself was the sole source of any good thing that he did, this new man being the Lord Jesus Christ (Galatians 2:20). From this, it is manifestly more appropriate to rejoice not in our victory in the Lord, but in the Lord's victory in us. The more flowers, the more distasteful the weeds. The purer the heart, the greater the hatred of the sin which remains. As the sin occupies less "space," it becomes more and more distasteful, the gardener longing more and more for "all flowers." It follows that the nearer a man comes to true holiness, to himself the more distasteful will seem the weeds which remain.
     Now it would seem from other passages of Scripture that God has in mind the formation of a character for each of us that is individual and yet a reflection of the total character of Jesus Christ.
    The likeness which God had in mind for Adam was appointed, to be wrought out in time. Analogously, God appointed the plants before they were in the ground (Genesis 1:11, 12). It is as though God created them perfect in His mind's eye and then planted seeds so designed that they would grow into a realization of the full flower He envisioned. I can sit down with pencil and paper and produce, a line at a time, a drawing of a new building which is not created by the act of my drawing it, but which already exists in my own mind. The pencil merely gives birth to that which I have already created. So the seed gives birth to the plants which God had already made (Hebrew: "appointed") before the seed was actually planted in the earth.
     And in somewhat the same way God's true children are "planted" in His likeness (Romans 6:5). That is to say, God has already designed the kind of person whom He wants each one of us to be, and though the seed is planted and its growth is at first altogether hidden, in due time it takes a recognizable shape. With a human life growth is so slow with the

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passing of the years that it is scarcely perceptible even to ourselves. Yet we have every assurance that in the end He really will perfect that which He has begun (Phililipppians 1:6).
    How is this perfecting process carried out? First of all, it should be said that the likeness to be achieved is a likeness to the character of Jesus Christ. It is indeed nothing less than the re-formation of the Person of Christ in us (Galatians 4:19). Not of the whole Person of Christ, for that would clearly be impossible: only some small portion is to be formed which is perfectly appropriate to our capacity.
    Galatians 5:22 and 23 delineates the character of Jesus Christ in a series of personality traits, namely, love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance -- and these traits are said to be the "fruit" of the Spirit. How are these fruit born? According to Scripture, they are born out of the doing of good works (Colossians 1:10). They are, in fact, the consequence of the effect upon ourselves of the carrying out of these good works. And these good works are foreordained for each one of us specifically for this purpose (Ephesians 2: 10), and they are exactly suited to our capabilities and perfectly guaranteed to have the desired effect if we will do them as God wishes them to be done. This is surely the meaning of the familiar statement in the Lord's Prayer, "Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven": which is not a prayer that God's will may be done, but rather that it may be done in the kind of a way that it is done in heaven -- willingly and perfectly. These things are set forth very simply and clearly in Scripture.
     We have, then, this sequence: in Ephesians, specific good works are appointed by God for each one of us to do; in Colossians, the doing of these good works is designed to bear fruit in our lives, and in Galatians, the fruits are identified as personality traits. By contrast the "works of darkness" are unfruitful (Ephesians 5:9-11). But contrary to what is commonly supposed, the spiritual "fruits" are not the winning of souls for the Lord, for this particular form of Christian labour is referred to in 1 Corinthians 9:1 as "works."
     It is quite possible, in fact, for an exceedingly successful evangelistic campaign to be quite unfruitful in the evangelist's own soul, as Jonah's experience in Nineveh demonstrates all too clearly. It left him an embittered spirit, a man indeed ready to commit suicide (Jonah 4:3).
     Conversely, it is not evil works in themselves which form the basis of God's condemnation, but rather the "fruits" of those evil works in the doer's heart. There is a beautiful illustration of this in Isaiah 10:5-l2. In this passage, verses 5 and 6 reveal God's commission to a pagan king to serve as His personal administrator of punishment to a disobedient and offensive Israel. In verse 7 it is revealed that the king

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was quite unaware of the real inspiration of his behaviour. He imagined he was merely pleasing himself. Verse 12 shows that he would in no wise be punished for the deed he had done at God's bidding, but he would be punished for what the doing did to his own heart, confirming his pride and his sense of personal power, "the fruit of his stout heart."
     This principle is applied throughout Scripture. Works in themselves are not the basis of God's judgment. Good works do not automatically bring His approval; evil works do not automatically bring His condemnation. Even in the lives of the saints this principle holds. Paul, for example in 1 Corinthians 9:16 and 17, points out that the work of preaching the Gospel was divinely appointed for him so that in itself evangelism carried no automatic reward. It was a rewarding experience only when he did it in a proper spirit. Moreover, God's mercy extends itself towards us even in this, that He seeks not only to fulfill His will in us but to so work by His Holy Spirit in our hearts that we also "will" to do His will (Philipppians 2:13). It is quite possible to do the Lord's will in the wrong spirit, and when this happens the benefit of having done it will be felt by others (for the Lord's will is always for the common good, ultimately), but with no profit to oneself. Thus, in 1 Corinthians 13:3, Paul is careful to say that although he should give all his goods to feed the poor, if he does not have love in and out of the doing of it, it profits him nothing at all. In a nutshell, it is not by deeds that we grow, but by the effect that the doing has upon ourselves. The effects are referred to as fruits: and it is by these fruits, not by deeds, that men will ultimately be "known" (Matthew 7:16).
     There is a beautiful inner consistency and harmony in Scripture, and an equally beautiful appropriateness in God's ways with us. In our desire to appear busy for the Lord we all too soon forget that it is not God's object to make executives out of us but saints, and at times He finds this easier to do when we are forced into inactivity for a while. The times we live in are so crowded with events and our culture has come to attach so much importance to busyness and the filling of every unforgiving minute with "sixty seconds worth of distance run" that we have come to equate idleness with sin. Perhaps after all, this is not such a new thing, for Martha, too, was afflicted with it. But what a transformation would take place in the lives of most of us if we could only realize moment by moment that the things we are engaged in doing are of so much less importance than the spirit with which we engage or don't engage in the doing of them.
     I think maturity comes with this realization. In Isaiah 40:31 it is written, "But they that wait upon the L
ORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint." And if we may go one step

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further before commenting, Paul in Ephesians 6:13 says, "and having done all, to stand." The sequence of events here is striking. The world accelerates, everything gets faster and faster until a common rebuke takes the form, "You're slowing down." In Christian life as summed up by Isaiah and concluded by Paul, it is exactly the opposite. The young Christian leaps in his new found vitality. In time his flying here and there slows down to a run. Later on a run becomes a walk. And if I do not misunderstand Paul, the time comes when a walk is replaced by a stand. But how difficult it is not to be troubled by the hyperactivity of everyone around, so much of this activity being good in itself and indeed seemingly necessary. The temptation is to conform, the Christian individual conforming to the Christian group, and the Christian group conforming to the society at large until busyness leaves neither time nor strength to be still and know that God is present (Isaiah 30:7, Psalm 46:10). It is a universal belief in every society in which there is a clear religious sense that man becomes more nearly god-like as he slows down and takes time to be still. Somehow Christianity has lost the secret, and as a consequence it appears to the man of the world as merely an alternative way of ensuring success in life and guaranteeing an equally successful future life.
     This is not to suggest that retirement from the world is the answer, but rather retirement in the world, a retirement which engenders a type of other-worldly character which by its very other-worldliness has an impact upon the consciousness of men. It seems a crude analogy, but if we may borrow a term from the world's busy-ness, there is unfortunately such a thing as a "Christian rat-race." The desire to escape from this may lead to an equally undesirable attitude of isolationism, compounded of a sense of inadequacy and a sense of persecution which finds expression in David's cry, "Oh, that I had wings like a dove: for then would I fly away, and be at rest" (Psalm 55:6). But being at rest in itself is no greater a blessing than being too busy, unless the end result is the deepening and strengthening of the likeness of God in the personality.
     And so we finish. In the Image and Likeness we have our standing and our state; our sonship in the family of God and our stature in the Lord; our true humanity as the vessel, and whatever of the Divine nature we permit God to engender within our hearts as the filling content of it; the recovery of the original Creation, and the promise of the final Appointment; present certainty and future hope -- all these, because at the very beginning God had said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness."

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Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights reserved

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