The Love This City series continues with a sermon on community. Today we are talking about the Imaging Community. We are saying what we should DO is love our city, but first, we need to know who we ARE. Because what you do flows out of who you are. So we could talk about this and do Love Week and have it just be a one-time thing we do, or we can learn about and step into our identity as the imaging community and see that who we’ve been created to be is a community that is called to be deeply incarnational in the lives, structures, organizations and systems in our city to partner with God in the work of redemption. We’re gonna find it’s not just what we’re called to do, it’s actually who we are created to be!
We are put here on purpose. The church is called the body of Christ, the image of God in creation today. This is a biblically rich idea that we often miss. Humanity was made to represent God in his creation, but the fall messed that up. In Jesus, we are the beginnings of a new creation, unmarred by sin. But we live in a fallen world as representatives of him and his immense love for the world he made. Now the job of the church in every nook and cranny of the world is to be the image of God! So for Life Center, we are put here on purpose to love THIS city, making his love, forgiveness, and grace known to Spokane and the world around us, inviting others into the kingdom of God, the new creation that is now but not yet. We are forerunners for the best that is yet to come.
Sermon on Community Audio Transcript
Good morning, everyone.
Good to be here, good to see you, good to be seen, all the other things you say at the beginning of a message. I told you, I’m amazing at intros. Never going to write one, they’re always going to be awkward like this. But what is church if not just a bunch of awkward people getting together in a big fishbowl of awkwardness, huh?
Not always, but most of the time. See? This is awkward because there’s awkward laughter right now, and it’s like do you laugh? Do you respond? I don’t know. It’s awkward, okay? Hey, get a Bible, you’re going to need a Bible today. We’re going through a lot of scripture. We are starting a new series, called Love This City. This is going to be a four-week series where we’re going to talk about, you guessed it, loving our city. I love Spokane. Do you love Spokane? Love Spokane. Near nature, near perfect. Even though I’m an inside kid, I’m just going to say our outside slogan, okay? I go to the lakes sometimes.
So, here’s the thing, Love This City, we want to be the best church we can be for Spokane. It’s not about being the best church in Spokane, who cares about that? We want to be the best church for Spokane because we exist as a church, as a community of saved and called and redeemed people for a purpose. And our purpose is to do the actual work of redemption in the power of the spirit, partnered with God, in the world, right here, right now. And we’re going to talk about that for the next four weeks, and it’s going to culminate in Love Week, now our annual week that we do at Life Center, in the last week of August, where we get out in the community with our community partners in other locations, and we hopefully image God well. We get face-to-face, people-to-people, relationship-to-relationship, we get with people in the middle of it in our city.
And this is just not a thing that I hope that we do once a year, this is just a big push and a big thing where we have an opportunity to go and serve, but hopefully this develops relationships, it lets you see what’s happening in our community that we can continue to be these people because this is who we are, this is who we’re created to be. It’s not just a thing we’re called to do, love this city, it’s actually literally who we are designed as humankind to be. And that’s what we’re going to be talking about this morning, we’re going to be talking about the imaging community. That’s who we are, we are the imaging community as the church, the humans, the images of God, together, called to do work with him in the world.
And I think if we’re going to know what we’re supposed to do, we have to know, first, who we are. So, we’re talking about that conceptual idea: who are we? And who we are is we’re a community, a church, Christ’s bride that is called to be deeply incarnational in the lives, the structures, the organizations, the systems in our city to partner with God in his work of redemption. And when I say “deeply incarnational,” I’m using Christian language. You’ve heard, possibly, of the incarnation. I love how Pastor Joe says, “God in a bod.” That’s what incarnation is, God showing up in the flesh, in the person of Jesus Christ.
I think of incarnation, I think of carne asada, because tacos. Because “carne” in Italian means “flesh”. So, carne, in the flesh, incarnational, in the flesh, with people, right in the middle of it. That’s what I want, that’s what God wants for us to be, to be deeply incarnational as his imaging community because that is who he himself is. How God wanted to love, what he wanted to do, how he wanted to save, how he wanted to redeem, it was all done in the incarnation. God got right in the middle of it. And if that’s who he is, then that’s who we are. And it’s impossible to be incarnational at a distance. So, as his image, this is not just what we’re called to do, but it’s who we’re called to be.
So, we’re going to go through three sections this morning, okay? Section one is going to be long, and it’s long, and we’re going the long way around, okay? But trust me, we’re going to get there. We’re going to go through a lot of scripture. We’re going to be spending some time in Genesis this morning. And then the second two points are shorter. So, don’t freak out or anything on me, okay? It’ll be fine, we’ll get there, I promise, maybe. Let’s pray.
God, would you enlighten our minds and liven our hearts, fill us with your spirit, help us to step into not just our calling, but our identity as your image, as the imaging community, as your church, in the world, and specifically in Spokane? We ask those things in Jesus’ name, and everybody said …
Amen. All right, Genesis 1, point number one, section number one, humanity as the image of God. Where do we get this language? Where we do get this idea? Right here in the first pages of our scripture. So, you have the first six days of creation, God gets to day six, it’s time for humankind, and here’s what he says about us. Then God said, verse 26, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, and over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground. So God created mankind 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.”
So, there it is, right there. Humankind as the image of God in his creation. Let’s talk about what this means. What does it mean to be made as the image of God? You probably heard it expressed that it means something about our ability for relationship, our capacity for relationship with each other and him. Maybe you’ve heard something about possessing a soul, something about our inherent dignity as humans, something about our ability to be rational and think rationally or be creative. These are all fine and wonderful thoughts, and probably parts of what it means.
The trouble is that they’re not explicitly biblical thoughts, that’s more philosophical. We don’t really derive those ideas so much directly from scripture. So, let’s talk about what does scripture point us toward? And I’ll just say right now, what does it actually mean? What is the essence of the image? That’s a mystery. It’s never directly talked about. But there’s something really clear that is talked about, what’s talked about is the functioning. So, the essence is a mystery, but our function as the image of God is incredibly clear.
So, what’s the clue? Well, it says right in verse 28, it says, “God made mankind in his image; man and women he made them in his image.” And then it says, kind of like in light of that, so God blesses his images, and he says what? He says, “Be fruitful, multiply, spread out, rule, subdue, take care.” You have this whole account of creation and everything in it, and then you have humans put into the space that God has created, and what does he do? He turns it over to them. And they’ve been given something that the other creatures haven’t been given to aid them in this task, his image; as his image, humans are God’s representatives, his vice-regents in his creation.
And if we look to other ancient Near East understandings of image, we get this idea fleshed out more, there’s more context given to it. So, let’s look at Israel’s neighbors at the time. What did they think in their writings about this idea of being made in the image of gods or the image of the gods or whatever they said? Well, we see this big idea that rulers and kinds were the images of God. And so what would happen is they would go and they would conquer certain territories, different lands and stuff, but travel is slow, there’s no FaceTime, they don’t communicate like we do today, so how do they bring their rule to the far reaches of their kingdom that are so far away from them?
Well, what kings and rulers would do is they would set up images of themselves all across their kingdom. And what would those images do? Those images would represent and show, “Hey, this is who rules here. This is who’s in charge here. His way goes. You better follow this person.” That’s what the images did. And, likewise, in temples for the gods, the idols would be in the temples. And what did the idols do? They didn’t think that this little, I don’t know, what is it? A gecko. They didn’t think this little gecko was the god itself, it was representing that god’s presence and rule in that space.
Commentator John Walton says, “The deity’s work was thought to be accomplished through the idol.” Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary says, “The purpose of the image of God was not to describe the God,” the God looks like so-and-so or this and that, “but it’s more that the image was one of the primary places where the God manifested himself, thus the presence of God and the blessing that accompanied that presence were affected through the image.” This is one of the reasons why, in our Ten Commandments, what does God say? It says, “You shall have no images.” Why? Well, you can’t represent the infinite God in a physical image, of course, but also this has to be a part of it because God already has his images in his space, bringing his presence, manifesting himself. It’s us. To make images would be redundant. We are the image of God.
Okay, so let’s recap here. In the ancient Near East, the image of God was reserved for kings, royalty, maybe priests. But then you have our scripture that is very different. The Hebrew view of this is different because they apply this image-bearing status to all of humanity, men and women alike, every single last one of us. This is new and different in this cultural stream. Another difference is that, in other cultures, the understandings was that humans were there to provide for the gods. What is humanity’s purpose? What is the anthropology? What do we think about humanity? Well, the gods set up the space and, frankly, they don’t want to have to deal with their needs, so they need other people to do this stuff for them, they need other people to cultivate the ground and bring them food. They need people to make their space, make their temples and take care of their temples.
That was what they thought humankind was for. And our scripture flips that on its head and it says, “No, no, no, no, God needs nothing, he’s God. So, humankind can’t be created to serve his needs. In fact, God has put us here to serve with him for our and creation’s benefit.” Again, John Walton says, “The role of people in the other cultures was to bring all of creation to deity.” That’s our rule, that’s our job, right? “The focus is from inside creation out to the gods. But in Genesis, people represent God to the rest of creation. So, the focus moves from the divine realm, through people, through the image, to the world around them.”
Middleton, another commentator, says, “The fundamental human destiny and duty was to care for the needs of the gods, and in our Bible, takes this and turns it inside out. Our purpose is to rule with God and to bring his blessings, and that’s our joy as we represent him.” And right there, that is huge. Have you ever stopped and just thought who we are as humanity is we are created and designed in such a way that the infinite transcendent God wants to manifest his presence through us for the good of his creation, for the good of that person sitting next to you in the pew, for the good of that person at work that drives you crazy?
That is what we are made for. That’s the biblical anthropology, the biblical view of humankind. And the Bible itself marvels at this idea. Psalm 8 says it like this, “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you set in place.” Okay, so back to creation, “When I consider the hugeness of creation that you have done, what is mankind that you think of them? Human beings that you care for them? And not only do you care for them, you’ve made them just a little lower than the angels and you crowned them with glory and honor with your image. You made them rulers over the works of your hands, you put everything under their feet, all the flocks and herds and animals and birds and fish in the sea and all that swim in the paths of the seas. Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name?”
Right in the pages of our scripture, we have people marveling at this idea that this is what God created humankind for, to rule, to subdue. Did you know that Eden was good, but it wasn’t done? What does that mean? Well, why else would God say, “Okay, keep going, keep doing this work. I started this, I put it together, I’ve gotten it all ready to rock, I’ve sat down on my throne, I’ve taken up and I’m residing in my space now with my images, let’s go and let’s bring Eden out of Eden. I need you with me, let’s do this”?
And “subdue,” this word, I want to address this word, “subdue,” real quick because when I think of “subdue,” I don’t know if you’re like me, it almost has a violent connotation to it, like subduing, like a submission hold or something. That’s not the kind of subduing that is the biblical subduing. Subduing means to exercise control over, to bring life out of, to bring flourishing out of. So, it’s like when God subdues the waters of chaos in the second day of creation, what he’s doing is he’s pushing that back, he’s exercising control over those waters in order to bring life and flourishing out of in his creation space.
So, this is the kind of dominion and subduing that we are to do as his image. We’re to take that image and that dominion and use it to expand Eden out of Eden, to make more images, be fruitful and multiply, “Make more of what I’ve started,” and expand God’s rule, and, therefore, his blessing to the ends of the earth. Al Wolters, the author, says, “People must now carry on the work of development: by being fruitful they must fill the earth even more; by subduing it they must form it even more. Mankind, as God’s representatives on earth, carries on where God left off. But this is now to be a human development of the earth. The human race will fill the earth with its own kind, and it will form the earth for its own kind. From now on the development of the created earth will be societal and cultural in nature, in a single word, the task ahead is civilization.”
So, being made as the image of God means we’ve been given the dignity and the responsibility to have real and lasting impact in the world. And that can go either way. It’s a dignity because what is mankind that you would think of them and crown them and make us rulers over everything you made, God? But it’s a responsibility because when we don’t live into that image, stuff gets messed up, not just for us, but for everything around us. And we see that in Genesis 3, so let’s take a look. Let’s flip forward to Genesis 3. We’re going to read verses 16-19. These are the curses that God says happen after the fall. So, disobedience, Adam and Eve, eat of the tree that God says not to eat, and then Satan enters the world, and here’s what God says.
“To the woman, he said, “I’ll make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful labor you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” And to Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, “You shall not eat from it,” cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. It’ll produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.””
So, there’s a lot in there, but I want to just take a look at two upper, really zoomed-out observations. What are the two things that are frustrated and cursed now on the other side of the fall? The two blessings he’s given his images to live into. Be fruitful and multiply, subdue the earth, bring life out of it, cultivate it. And what are the things that are frustrated now? Being fruitful, multiplying, and working the ground, subduing the earth, bringing stuff out of it. What is this telling us? It’s saying when we don’t live into our image, our identity and, therefore, our vocation is corrupted.
When we fail to live into our identity and potential as God’s representatives as his image, it messes with this project of creation in a significant way, and it matters to God, and it matters for creation. And here’s how much it matters. Let’s flip forward just three more chapters. Here’s what happens when humans continue not to live into this image and identity. This is chapter six. We’re going to read just two verses here, 11 and 12. This is the beginning of the story of Noah and the flood. And this is what it says. It says, “Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence, and God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways.”
So, what’s happening here? It’s just compounding, it’s just getting worse and worse. It’s a tragic irony. And irony is when the opposite of what’s supposed to happen happens. So, it says, “The earth was full of corruption because people.” The earth was bad because people. What was it supposed to say? It was supposed to say, “And the earth was good because people.” If Genesis 3 hadn’t happened, if humans had been humans and lived into that image, what this should have said was, “Earth was good because people.” But it doesn’t. And I think we’ve all experienced this, we’ve all been on the other side of somebody or some group of people that is not imaging God well, and we know how this affects us. It brings oppression, evil, injustice, just terrible things. And at times, we’ve all been these people, too, that aren’t imaging God. And as a result, we’re having some sort of impact on his creation that he does not want us to have.
It’s easy to look at the world right now and the way the news cycle works and, very easily, just say the same thing that this passage is saying, “Man, the earth is bad because people.” But the imaging community, the church actually has the ability to change that narrative, to live into the way it should have been. And that’s what we are called to be and who we’re made to be, redeemed to be as the church, as the imaging community, to be these humans again. And it’s not just a fool’s errand, there’s a possibility for this narrative to change and for people, for our city to say, “And Spokane was good because people, because the people there are doing something, because the church in Spokane is different there. What’s happening there?”
And we’ll come back around to there, but before we get there, let’s look at what happens in the Genesis narrative. Flip forward to chapter nine. The flood comes, God saves Noah, and what he does is he tells Noah and his family something on the other side of the flood that sounds pretty familiar. Let’s look at it. “Then God blessed Noah and his sons, saying to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth. The fear and dread of you will fall on all the beasts of the earth and birds and every creature that moves along the ground, all the fish in the sea. Everything that lives will be food for you. Just as I gave you green plants, now I give you everything.” A lot of this language sounds familiar, doesn’t it? “But you must not eat meat that has its lifeblood in it. And for your lifeblood I’ll surely demand an accounting. I’ll demand an accounting from every animal and each human being.””
And then verse six, “Whoever sheds human blood, by human shall their blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made mankind. As for you, be fruitful and increase in number; multiply on the earth and increase upon it.” So, it’s just this recapitulation of all this creation language. And then, verse eight, “God said to Noah and his sons, “I now establish my covenant with you and your descendants after you and with every living creature that was with you.”” Again, this repetitive, the birds, the livestock, everything that moves along the ground. Verse 11, “I will establish my covenant with you. Never again will all life be destroyed by the waters of a flood. Never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.”
So, what’s happening here? We have all this creation language. What we’re seeing here is we’re seeing kind of a creation reboot. This is creation redo, this is the do-over. And the language of the flood is actually language of uncreation. You see, again, back to Genesis 1, what does God do? He divides the waters of chaos and holds them above and holds them below, and then the language of the flood says, “And then the waters came back in from above and below.” It’s this picture of God removing his protective hand from the space and letting chaos flood back in. It’s not language of destruction as much as it’s language of uncreation. And that’s what we’re supposed to see and understand, “This is the opposite of what God did in Genesis 1.”
And then he says the same creation blessings to Noah and his family on the other side, and we’re just getting slapped in the face with it. This is creation reboot. What we need is some sort of creation do-over because the first one didn’t work. Humans weren’t being humans. But give it nine more verses, and we get to Noah and his sons, and there’s an incident with some wine and some nudity, and it’s pretty clear that the human problem has not been fixed. We’re still not imaging, we’re still not being real humans.
So, what do we do? Does God just keep letting corruption build to a certain breaking point, and then flood it again and start over again, and then let corruption build? That’s the logical conclusion you would look at right here to this point in the narrative, going, “Is this just what God’s going to keep doing?” But then what God says is he goes, “No, no, no, I’m not going to uncreate again. The problem’s not going to be solved, but I need you to know it’s not just going to be this endless cycle of countless creation retries and redos to see when we finally get it right.”
But we know that there’s a problem here because our creation identity and vocation and blessing has been broken and corrupted. NT Wright says, “The human problem isn’t just that God set up a moral exam and we flunked it, it’s that God gave humans a vocation to reflect his image, to be a kingdom and priests, summing up the praises of creation and reflecting the creator’s wise rule into the world.” So, we need this new creation, we need to get back to that somehow, but God said he wouldn’t uncreate, so the question is: how is God going to bring a new creation out of this mess if he said, “I’m not going to pull the plug again”? Because what the Noahic Covenant is, and I’m stealing this language from somebody, I just forget who it was, the Noahic Covenant is God setting up a steady foundation on which to build the plan of redemption. So, what is he going to do? How is he going to do it? In church, we know the answer in church is …
Jesus. And I’m sorry, we’re going to skip the rest of the entire Old Testament, we don’t have time, and we’re going to go right to the New Testament because the answer is Jesus. And let’s look at this. Part two is Jesus as the last Adam and the image of God. So, turn to the Gospel of John, where we just spent a lot of time. We’re going to go right back to the beginning, we’re going to read the prologue of the Gospel of John. Really, really cool. You’re going to see some really cool stuff here. This is John presenting the arrival of Jesus. And it’s one of the coolest pieces of writing in our scripture. And I just want us to look at how does John pitch the arrival of Jesus? Okay, John 1:1, “In the beginning,” does this sound familiar? Do you think John knows Genesis 1?
Yeah, he does, he totally knows it. “In the beginning,” so, immediately, he’s saying, “Hey, that other phrase “in the beginning,” I want you to remember that, I’m calling you back to that.” “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made, and without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
There was a man sent from God whose name was John, and he came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as the witness to the light. The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.”
So, John, here, is pitching the arrival of Jesus in creation language. What is this? This is the new creation that we’ve been waiting for. This is it. John says “light” so many times in that passage, “He was the light of all mankind, the light that brings life, the light that brought light.” Like, “Okay, John, we get it. This is your version of “let there be light.”” But what shows up is not a sun in the sky, but a man in the flesh. God himself, incarnational.
The arrival of Jesus is the beginning of the new creation for the New Testament authors. And also the New Testament, multiple times, depicts Jesus as the image of God. Hebrews 1:3, “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being.” Colossians 1:15, “The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.” Creation, he’s the first one. This is your real first human; it’s not Adam, it’s Jesus, is what Colossians is saying, what Paul’s writing there.
So, the New Testament says, “Jesus, the image of God. Jesus, the first in creation, this new creation.” If creation was started in the garden with Adam, the new creation is going to start with Jesus, the last Adam, someone who can actually fully and perfectly be the image of God that Adam and Eve and us were supposed to be. He’s someone who actually fulfills Genesis 1:26, 27, 28, who actually does rule as God’s representative perfectly, but he’s also somebody that can fix the problem of Genesis 3. And that’s the good news, my friends. That’s Jesus.
Colossians 1:18-20 sums this up a little bit, it says, “He’s the head of the body, the church, the beginning, and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all of his fullness dwell in him,” the fullness of God, all of his image, all of who God is, in Jesus, “and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by,” here’s the solving of the problem with Genesis 3, “by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.”
1 Corinthians 15, Paul also writes, “Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep,” meaning everybody else will be resurrected after Christ. He’s the firstfruits of what is to come, the new creation that is to come, the new humanity that is to come. “For since death came through a man, the resurrection of dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.” What with inherited from Adam was death, what we inherit from Christ is life. What we got from Adam was an image that was marred, and the image that was marred in Adam is fulfilled in Christ. He dealt with the problem of sin with the cross, and inaugurated the new creation with his resurrection. And is now over everything, enthroned, king, God’s representative and image and what we couldn’t be, but now what we will be and can be again in him.
So, 2 Corinthians 5, this is why Paul writes, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come. The old has gone, the new is here.” The new creation has come with those who are in Christ. You being a new creation in Christ, us being the new humanity, the new creation in Christ means you’re back to the human that you are supposed to be, God’s representative, his image; albeit imperfect, but we can get there. We can’t get to perfection here, you get what I’m saying. In Christ, we participate in that here and now.
Remember back in Genesis when we were saying, “Okay, how is God going to do this new … We obviously need a new creation, we obviously need a reboot, but he’s not going to pull the plug again, so how are we going to do it?” This is how. This is what it means to answer that question by saying, “Jesus.” So, what does that mean for us now, the redeemed people, the new humanity in Christ, the church? Let’s talk about that a little bit.
Part number three, the church as the imaging community. Theologian Pete Enns says it this way, “Those who are in Christ participate in the restored humanity that began at Jesus’ resurrection. The new humanity is open to all, but the entryway is through the risen messiah.” So, Jesus fulfilling mankind’s vocation, restoring us to who we were created to be has essentially started a new timeline. This is literally like a brand-new history has started in our current history.
So, let’s get nerds for a second. We’re going to get nerdy. Here’s how we typically think about the cosmic timelines. We think about it kind of like this. Here’s our current timeline right here where we live, and then it’s all just going to stop, God’s going to just end it, and he’s going to start the new one, and it’ll be so great and lovely. This is kind of how the Jews thought, too, they thought the Day of the Lord was right here, and that was when God would show up and finally consummate his kingdom, and one history would stop and the other would start. And this is not really what is happening here, this is not what the New Testament is describing.
What the New Testament is describing is more like Back to the Future Part II. Have you seen that? Okay. It’s kind of like when Biff goes back in time and gives himself the Sports Almanac. Some of you are like, “What?” Go watch … When I was a kid, that was my favorite one, but the first one’s clearly a superior movie. Also, 2015 was six years ago, and we have no flying cars or hoverboards. I wanted a hoverboard so bad when I was a kid. I wanted a hoverboard. And a Mogwai. Did you ever see Gremlins? I wanted one of those, too. Okay. “Where’s he going with this?” Literally nowhere.
This is our current timeline, and what the New Testament is saying is it’s saying in Christ, in the resurrection … That’s a sun, because, I don’t know, the dawning of a new day, let’s be artistic. The resurrection is what literally starts a brand-new timeline, and it breaks off and it’s going to culminate and end in the new heavens and the new earth, the kingdom. That’s the crown. It’s a crown. Last service, I drew it with a little more rounded points, and I was like, “That’s the Hamburger Helper hand. You’re not fooling anybody.”
Here’s what’s happening. This is the new humanity, this is the new creation; therefore, if anyone is in Christ, you’re here. The new creation has come. The old is gone, the new is here. This is where you’re living now. Because we’re in this in-between time right here, where both are a reality. And that’s our tension that we’re living in and dealing with. We’re living in both places. That’s why people say the kingdom is already and not yet. The kingdom of God is here, but it has yet to be in its fullness. That’s what they’re talking about, that in-between time.
So, literally, history has a new beginning in the resurrection. So, old history is still happening, new history has already started. Those who are in Christ are living in the new history. The new reality is where we are redeemed and are able to begin imaging God again, at least in part. Living on earth as it is in heaven. And this is the reality of the church, the saved and redeemed people, this is the reality we are called not just to live in, that’s who we are, we are that, we’ve been redeemed and recreated to be that. And it’s not like we just exist up here and we think we’re above everybody else. No, no, no, no, we’re in the new creation to be God’s representatives to bring blessing to people and people to blessing.
And I’m trying to use communal language as much as possible in this message because, too often, we think of salvation/being saved in purely individual terms. And when God talks about the image of God given to humanity, he’s talking about it in communal language, always. When he’s talking about being saved, it’s like the community is saved. Because God is best imaged in community. Why do we think if God is trinity, God is a community himself, why do we think that we can image him as an individual? You’re not the image, the whole picture, you’re more like a piece of the puzzle. And people see the image best when the puzzle pieces come together. There’s something really important about being a member of the imaging community, being the church. God is best imaged in community. We’re not just better together, we’re incomplete apart.
So, we’re called to be in Christ as a community. Because there are things we can do as a community that we can’t do as individuals. So, that’s part of the question of this series, Love This City, like, “Hey, us as Life Center, us as an imaging community, one of the churches in Spokane, what can we do that I just can’t do?” And that’s how I hope we operate anyway because sometimes talking about participating in the work of redemption feels overwhelming. There’s a lot of work to be done. I can’t do everything, you can’t do everything. But, together, if we understand this is who we are as a community, when I know I’m a part of a community that is out there doing the work where we are, being incarnational, I have hope, I have forward momentum.
And that’s who we’re called to be, this imaging community that is deeply incarnational in our city, loving our city, working in the world now. NT Wright says this, “To suppose that we are saved, as it were, for our own private benefit, for the restoration of our own relationship with God, vital though that is, and for our eventual homecoming and peace in heaven, misleading though that is,” why is that misleading? Because it’s not heaven, it’s new creation and new earth. New heavens and new hearth is the crown there. That’s not a disembodied, floating-in-the-clouds heaven, that’s a physical, material place where creation is fully redeemed and existing. That’s what NT Wright’s talking about there.
So, to think in that terms, “It’s like a boy being given a baseball bat as a present and insisting that since it belongs to him, he must always and only play with it in private. But of course you can only do what you’re meant to do with a baseball bat when you’re playing with other people. And salvation only does what it’s meant to do when those who have been saved are being saved and will one day fully be saved realize that they are saved not as souls but as wholes, and not for themselves alone but for what God now longs to do through them.”
Being saved is not about punching your ticket to heaven, it’s about in Christ being truly human again. And to be truly human means to be an imaging person that is incarnational, that is in the middle of it, that is taking God’s work, taking Eden out of Eden, and spreading his blessing and representing him to the rest of creation.
And if we’re following a crucified Messiah, if we’re following Jesus, if this is the true image of God and the true human, then the way we do that is we do it in deep humility. We do it by not lording the power we have over others, but by using it to prop them up. We do it in self-sacrificing love, something that actually might cost us something sometimes. We’re not called to be a group of separating holy rollers, but to be deeply incarnational in our city’s culture and communities and structures and systems as a foretaste of that new reality, of that upper timeline that has started already in the midst of our history, that has already invaded our old reality. We cannot be incarnational at a distance.
So, here’s a question for you: what are you in the middle of? What are you in the middle of right now? I’ll be honest with you, I prefer to separate … Often, Tim Johnson, our Executive Pastor, 4:30 rolls around, you see Tim come up to your office, like, “Man, he’s going to try and get a ride home.” So, it’s like, “Tim’s walking, I’m going to hide,” I try and separate than get in the middle of it. I give Tim rides all the time, okay? I’m a good friend and employee. But so often we want to separate because it’s comfortable, it’s easy.
I live alone, it is glorious. Oh my gosh, I love it so much. I’m just going to go back there and be alone. But it’s not who I’m called to be. I’m called to be in the middle of it, I’m called to be in the flesh with people, incarnational with people. That’s who we’re called to be as his imaging community. We’re not called to be like our little church culture that’s over here, “The big bad world is scary.” We’re called to be in the middle of it. What are you in the middle of right now? You’re designed to be in the middle of it.
“When God saves people in this life,” says NT Wright, “by working through his Spirit to bring them to faith, by leading them to follow Jesus in discipleship, prayer, holiness, hope, and love, such people are designed, it isn’t too strong a word, to be a sign and foretaste of what God wants to do for the entire cosmos. What’s more, such people are not just to be a sign and foretaste of that ultimate salvation, that new heavens and new earth that’s on its way, but they are to be part of the means,” don’t miss this, “they are to be part of the means by which God makes it happen in both the present and the future.”
When we say “Participate in the work of redemption,” we’re literally saying, “Participate in the work of redemption.” As the imaging community, the new humanity, we’re living in that reality, we’re living in the upper timeline, and that’s who we are actually made to be. We got back to that. His plan for us is actually that we do something real that lasts into eternity. So, why Love This City? Well, because as the imaging community in Christ as the church, our dominion to exercise in the world is love. And we see it’s not just who we were originally created to be, but it’s actually who we’ve been recreated to be and redeemed to be. Right here, right now, that’s what it means to be saved.
Now, some of us might be asking, “Okay, but this “right here, right now” thing,” earlier, I said it’s not a fool’s errand. Some of us are thinking, “Isn’t it all going to burn? Why am I doing anything right here and right now if it’s just all going to be new later? Is it just a show of good faith or to prove that I’m in? What does it actually do?” It’s a great question. I’ve asked this question for years. And here’s the answer. The New Testament speaks of new creation consuming old creation, or subsuming it, enveloping it. He says, “The perishable will be clothed with the imperishable. The mortal will be wrapped up in the immortal. Your body will be sown in the ground, it’ll be raised new, but still that same body is the one that’s raised.” There’s some sort of continuity between this life and the next.
New creation envelops old creation. It’s not that it just completely goes away. And that’s why he says, “Always give yourself fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” It’s not a fool’s errand. “You’re not oiling the wheels of a machine that’s about to roll over a cliff. You’re not restoring a great painting that’s shortly going to be thrown on the fire. You’re not planting roses in a garden that’s about to be dug up for a building site. You are, strange though it may seem, and almost as hard to believe as the resurrection itself, accomplishing something that will become in due course part of God’s new world.”
This is why Martin Luther says, “Even if I knew the world was falling to pieces tomorrow, I would still plant my apple tree today.” He’s saying when you are in Christ, loving people, loving our city, the timeline you’re working in is the top one, the one that continues on. Just because it’s a plan of redemption doesn’t mean it’s subpar, not as good, a backup plan, Plan B. And how often have I thought of this over my years as a Christian, “Man, how is Jesus not Plan B? Because things went wrong and then God had to fix it somehow or”? But you see, this is not Plan B. This is God in Christ making Plan A a viable reality again. Because what’s the Plan A? That God rules in creation with his representatives and his images and everything is good. Is it not what this timeline is and where it’s going again? God has made Plan A real again in Christ. And that’s what we participate in right now as the saved, redeemed imaging community, the church, the new humanity.
So, Life Center, let’s participate in Plan A with God in our city. Don’t be overwhelmed, you don’t need to do everything, it’s a community effort. But this is who we are. It’s not just what we’re called to do, it’s literally who we have been made to be. Get in the middle of it. This week, when you’re with people and you see that situation, and your first response is, “Okay, I’m just going to slowly go over here and hope they don’t see,” get in the middle of it. Participate in the work of redemption with God’s spirit in you. Trust that his spirit’s in you, working with you and through you. Image him well. Be a real human. Get in the middle of it.
If you don’t know where to start, obviously, register for Love Week and start there. It’s going to be really, really great, and hopefully some significant relationships or connections are made through that. But also, we’re just going to do some kingdom work. It’s an opportunity, as a community, to make a big dent in our city. So, I hope that we know what to do, but more so, I hope, this morning, we have a bigger understanding of who we are and that we can live out of that. And who we are is the redeemed imaging, new human community, the church. Given the power of Christ’s spirit, given his image to have real and lasting impact in our city, in our world. You’re not saved out of a dying world, you’re saved into the world he’s redeeming. Let’s be humans.
Let’s pray. God, help us, help us to be human. Help us to be conformed to the image of your son. God, fill us with the power of your spirit to be people who get in the middle of it, who are deeply incarnational, who are in the flesh with other people, partnering with you in the actual work of redemption that will continue on into new creation, new heavens, and new earth. God, who are we that you’d afford us that dignity, that you’d call us to that calling? But you did, and you’ve given us what we need, Lord. Fill us with your spirit. We want to be who you’ve created us to be, we want to be fully human in you. Lord, let Spokane be different because of it. We ask this stuff in your name, and everyone said …