In the minds of many people, the story of Christianity starts at the fall -with sin and our need for a savior. But that’s not true. The start of the Christian story is the secret of our true identities. We are image bearers. Before we are sinners. Before we need a savior. We are a people who bear the very image of God as our identity. When we skip over this truth and go straight to our sin, we allow the work of the enemy rather than the work of God to define us.
Too many Christians participate with this deception of seeing ourselves primarily as sinners. Perhaps this is because sin is what is easiest for us to see from the outside looking in. In scripture sin is usually spoken of in terms of being unclean, dirty, filthy. Sin obscures that core of who we were created to be – images of God himself. But sin can’t change it or take it away. Think of it like a diamond that gets left in a tide pool and becomes encrusted with mud, bits of shells, plant materials, maybe even eaten and crapped back out. The diamond is still there, unchanged. But it has been completely encrusted with filth until there is no remaining visible sign of it’s existence. There are many verses in scripture which speak of our sins being washed away. We are washed in the blood of Christ. And once those sins are washed away, what is revealed? Who we really are – images of the God who created us.
This is what salvation is. Being redeemed from the effects of sin – our own and other’s against us – and restored to the very image of God. The problem of sin as it is often explained is that it is evil and separates us from God. But dig a little deeper. The Hebrew word for sin comes from an archery term which means “to miss”. To miss what? God’s perfection. The image of God that we carry within us. The life we are meant to live and the person we are meant to be.
Sin is a distortion that we take part in. It can be our own sin or the sin that another commits against us, but the end result is that we reflect something other than the image of God that we were created to be. Like a mirror pointed in the wrong direction – it misses. That’s how sin separates us from God as surely as it separates us from ourselves and each other. Because we’re looking and pointing in all the wrong directions. Which is why we must seek after the face of God.
Only God knows just what He looks like. Only God knows just who he has created you to be. And only God can point you back in the right direction and clear away the muck and polish you until you truly do “shine like the stars in the heavens”. For all of our attempts to be better people or “find ourselves” or become enlightened, only God really knows the way.
But salvation is an arduous task. There’s a lot to be cleared away. We tend to look everywhere by to God for directions. When God tries to take away the accumulated crud that we’ve all been stained with, we whine and cry and hang onto it as if it were a precious friend. For salvation to take place we need to allow God to do that work on us. We need that cleaning and polishing and emptying of everything else we carry. We need God to point us to the true mark – this way not that.
Perhaps this is why so many people like the old version of salvation as a “get out of hellfires free” card. That’s easy. Salvation – real salvation – means being willing to walk through those hellfires on your way to purity. It means carrying your cross and selling everything you own and counting your suffering as joy. And that is hard. That takes God.
Deep down many people are afraid that God doesn’t really want them. He doesn’t really want what’s under all the muck and grime. That at some point you’re just not worth it to him. But if you go looking for Love – you will discover a funny thing. There’s nothing to be afraid of. Odds are pretty much 100% that you frequently won’t please God. But when Jesus offers forgiveness – he means it. Seven times seventy he means it. If you’re not pleasing God, it’s not the end of the world – he’s already provided grace for that.
Just keep running the race. That’s all he’s asked of us. Not that we keep all the rules straight or keep ourselves unsullied. But just that we run after Love with all we have. That we do the sort of good works which actually do point people to God. That we do it when we have every right not to. That we keep doing it even when it might cost us everything. That we keep leaning into him when everything else is gone.
Here’s the truth: the more you learn to love, the more rooted in God you will be. And the more rooted in God you are, the more rooted in who God created you to be you will be. And in time perhaps you will discover that when God created us in his own image, he was equipping us with every good thing – all that we needed to survive and thrive in this world.
Instead of worrying about your sin and the muck and filth which need to be washed away, focus on this truth: God is good. Better than you can imagine. In him there is no dark. There is no suffering. All has been forgiven and paid for on the cross. There is no fear in his presence. If you want to follow him, learn how to love. No matter the cost. Over and over. And his kingdom will come. That’s the truth as it was at the beginning, is now and ever shall be to the age of the ages.
*For a while, I’ve thought about what I would say if I was able to give just one short sermon to anyone who would listen. As a past time, you know. ;) So yesterday I decided to give it a go and wrote this up. It’s largely a mash-up of things from a half dozen or so of my posts, so if it sounds familiar, that’s why. I’m not sure if it’s the message I’d give if I have a chance to give just one sermon. But it might be.