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Being Image Conscious

Remembering Whose you are

It fascinates me that though cameras are only a recent invention, we can still have a reasonable idea about how ancient people looked through sculpture and portraiture. This is a picture of Tiberius Caesar:

 Image

It is a coin like this that may have been used as an illustration of one of Jesus’ most profound teachings on human beings as the image bearers of God.

I’ve got to be honest, I’ve always thought Matthew 22:21 (see also Mark 12:17, Luke 20:25) was a ‘tithing scripture.’ For the record, I was taught by my parents to practice tithing and have done so for as long as I can remember. I strongly believe in and advocate the principle of tithing and have known God’s provision and constant blessing on my finances. But I think that the account in Matthew 22 is about far more than tithing (no less perhaps, but far more). And I think that Jesus’ hearers knew it.

The Pharisees, we are told, had planned to trap Jesus in his words (Mt 22:15). The trap was a good one. Nobody likes paying taxes—then or now. But for the Jews in Jesus’ day, who were under a harsh and repressive Roman regime; who remembered the glory days of their people, and who longed for those days to be restored; who deeply resented any people or nation who would presume to exercise lordship over God’s people, Roman taxation was an issue that evoked deep hatred. Indeed, many of these people had hopes that Jesus was the one to restore their fortunes; a political and military messiah that would orchestrate, at long last, the overthrow of the Romans and set things to rights again.

So, as I say, the trap was a particularly good one.

“Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”

Would Jesus be the one to speak out against Roman tyranny, or would he capitulate to the status quo? If he spoke out and condemned taxation, he would sign his own death warrant, as the Pharisees knew, but if he affirmed taxation in any way, he would lose the influence with the people that the they so deeply coveted.

Before he responded directly to the question, Jesus made it clear that he knew their game: “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me?”

He then asked to be shown a coin. “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?” Jesus asked.

“Caesars.” They could say nothing else. Their trap was already thwarted, but they were totally unprepared for what came next. It astonished them (v. 22).

“Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.”

There are two reasons I don’t believe this verse is talking about tithing. First, the Pharisees were already good tithers. So Jesus’ response, if it was an instruction to tithe would not have astonished them. But second, all of the money had Caesar’s image and inscription on it. It was not as if 90% of the coins had Caesar’s picture, and the remaining 10% had God’s picture. That’s just silly right? You can’t represent God, at least not on a coin. And that’s precisely the point of Jesus’ teaching.

There was no dispute that the coins belonged to Caesar, because he had placed his image on them. The question that Jesus did not ask, but which was implicit both in the question that he did ask and in his twofold conclusion, is this:

“And whose image do you bear? Whose inscription? Who has stamped his name on your life and written his laws in your heart?”

It is in this context that both Jesus’ conclusion and the Pharisees’ response make sense. Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s—the thing on which he has stamped his image and inscription, but give to God what is God’s—the thing on which HE has stamped his own image and inscription. Your very selves.

The Pharisees were amazed, and, I believe, conscience stricken. As James was later to accuse, they would praise their Lord and Father but in the same breath curse a man who was made in God’s image (James 3:9). And not just any one of Adam’s sons in whom God’s image was marred (though never erased) by the Fall, but God’s very own Son who resembled and represented his Father perfectly and in whom the Image is renewed.

I want Jesus’ implicit question to be heard loud and clear as you read this:

Whose image do you bear? Because the One whose image you bear is the one to whom you belong. Tragically, too many of us vainly try to bear the image of other human beings because of their fame, or position or notoriety. That will just wear you out and let you down. There is only One Image that we are called to bear. And we can only find our true selves in the pursuit of bearing it well. Here’s why:

You have been destined to bear it. Romans 8:29 tells us that “. . .those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness [that is, the image] of his Son. . .”

God has destined you to bear his Image. And the good news is that question of whether you will (continue to) bear the marred image through Adam or the renewed image through Christ does not depend on your effort but on whether you choose to find your identity in Adam or in Christ. By the way, whether you know it or not, these are the only two options ultimately, and, well, the default is Adam.

If I choose to find my identity in Adam, I’ll say something like, “Well I’m just a man. I’ll do my best to be a good person. Nobody’s perfect, right?”

But if I choose to find my identity in Christ, I’ll say instead, “I am a child of God, and thus a prince. I am totally new in Christ.”

As you look in the mirror each morning, don’t be tempted to say “I’m just. . .” You bear His Image! And you are called to represent him to your world; to multiply his character and influence and dominion throughout the earth. And as you look into the faces of others, never forget that regardless of who they are or what they’ve done or whether they even know it or not, they too have intrinsic value and worth because he has inscribed his name on their lives. They two are marked with God’s very own image. And it might just be your job to let them know.


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Why I’m not scared of God

Finding Freedom from fear in the fear of God

 The Fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline. (Pr 1:7)

ImageWhen I was a kid, I read CS Lewis’ Narnia series from cover to cover many times. One of my favourite passages is the part in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, where the children first discover that ‘Aslan,’ the king of Narnia, is actually a lion:

 

“Ooh,” said Susan, “I though he was a man. Is he quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.” “That you will, dearie.” said Mrs. Beaver. “And make no mistake, if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knee’s knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.”

“Then isn’t he safe?” said Lucy. “Safe?” said Mr. Beaver. “Don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? Of course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the king, I tell you!”

Mrs. Beaver’s wise words are a pretty good paraphrase (at least I think so) of Proverbs 1:7. It is silly not to fear God. When you consider that God created everything that is; that he is the most powerful being in the universe; that quite literally, whether we live or die depends upon his whim and pleasure, it is not difficult to see why fear is the proper disposition towards God, and indeed the only reasonable response.

But we have a problem, don’t we? Here it is, as simply as I can put it. Fear, at least as we understand it, is not a good thing. God is a good God. Why then would he want us to fear him? This is the core of it, but there are other problems too. We know from 1 John 4:18 that “there is no fear in love. . .perfect love drives out fear.” If love and fear are incompatible, how can God be simultaneously loving (not just ‘loving’ but Love itself) and fear inspiring? Furthermore, I have often heard that faith is the opposite of fear. Can we then have both faith in God and fear of God? In order to understand this, we need to understand a little bit more about what fear is and how it works.

First of all, we need to distinguish between fear as an experience and fear as a belief. All of us know what it is to experience fear. It is, first of all, an emotional reaction to certain stimuli. An example that I understand well is the fear of heights. When I stand near the edge of a cliff, or even look down out of the window of a very tall building I experience fear. For me, this goes beyond an emotional experience to a physical one. It is like a sudden churning on the inside that some describe as ‘butterflies.’ For some, this sensation can spiral out of control and lead to panic attacks. Many people experience a debilitating level of fear that prevents them from leading a normal life.

But behind the physical and emotional experience of fear is the substance of fear. This can be described as a belief that one is subject to the power of someone or something, a circumstance or person that is either bad or unpredictable. Think about it for a moment. My cliffside experience stems from my belief that I am subject to the force of gravity and that if I were to fall, this force, while utterly consistent, would not be acting in my best interest. This belief is actually correct and for that reason, it is called a ‘rational fear.’ However, my irrational and disproportionate reaction can best be explained by a traumatic event that I experience a long time ago when I fell from a flying fox (US: zipline) and was severely injured by the landing. There are, of course, also irrational fears, but my point is that a belief, whether conscious or subconscious always underlies the experience of fear. And that belief has to do with being subject to the power of somebody or something.

We may fear our financial future, but if we do, it is only because we believe that we are subject to the power of money. Many of us fear failure, but it is only because we believe that failure has the power to define who we are. Likewise many of us live in fear of the opinions of others. But this is because we believe that somehow our identity is subject to their judgment.

Seen in that way, fear is not the opposite to faith, but its complement. To fear something or someone means to believe that they are more powerful than us and we are subject to that power. And that is why every fear, (except one) is bad. Nothing and no-one is perfectly and consistently Good all the time. (Recall that gravity is consistent though not always, good, at least from the perspective of those who have fallen foul of it). And so to believe that we are subject to the power of anyone or anything except God, is a vulnerable and scary—even for some a debilitating—place to be.

But God is Good. And, what’s more he is consistently good. He is good, all the time. So to fear God is a radically different experience than fearing anything else. Because to fear God is to believe that we are subject to him, and that he may exercise power over us. And to be subject to the power of one who is Goodness, and Love personified, who is able to work all things together for the good of those who love him, is profoundly positive. The fear of God is simply faith in his character—the right belief about who and what he is. That is why I can say that while I fear God, I am not scared of him. But there’s more. When we properly fear God, that is, when we really believe that we are subject to God’s power and Goodness, then we are truly free, because it is impossible to fear God and to fear anything else at the same time. If I am subject to God’s approval, then nobody else’s opinion of me can possibly matter. If I am subject to God’s provision, then no financial setback has the power to deny me my destiny. If I am subject to God’s plan, I have nothing to fear from suffering or hardship or rejection—even death. I will finish soon, but on this last point, I think that the early Christian martyrs have a lot to teach us. They endured the cruelest torture (something which, if we are honest, most of us fear) without fear. Because they understood that they were subject to God’s power, their tormentors quickly realised that despite what they inflicted on them, they were powerless to change their resolve to confess Christ. This stubborn and fearless resolve led many who witnessed those barbaric events—even the perpetrators—to themselves profess faith in Christ.

So how can a loving God want us to fear him? How could a God of love want anything less? If we fear (believe that we are subject to the power of) Perfect Love, we will never be afraid, because his Perfect Love drives out every competing (and negative) fear. And that is true freedom.

© Clayton Coombs

Theology Matters is a ministry of David McCracken Ministries