Knowing our true identity is one of the most important things we can know as human beings. Not knowing who we really are leads to powerless and ineffectual living. We will live without transcendent purpose and hope. And a foundational truth to our identity is revealed in the Genesis account.
Bill Vanderbush said something profound about this at a pastor’s conference I was at recently. He said that when God makes anything, He starts by creating an environment. In order to make life, He speaks to the substance of the environment He has just made.
For instance, God called the vegetation to come forth from the land (Gen. 1:11). He spoke to the sea when He created fish and spoke to the sky when creating the birds of the air (Gen. 1:20-22). God told the land to produce livestock and all the creatures of the earth. (Gen.1:24-25).
But something significant and dramatically different took place when God created humankind:
26 Then God said, “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, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”
27 So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them. (Gen.1:26-27*)
With humankind, God spoke within Himself (“let us make man in our image…”). The environment that all humankind was created in and for was the Trinitarian life of God. And throughout Scripture we see God progressively revealing His redemptive plan so we could find our way back to our true selves in Him. This is His eternal purpose for everything He does in human history (Eph.1:4-11; 3:10-12).
I’ve said this many times on this blog, but when Adam and Eve decided not to trust God in the Garden, something terrible happened. They painted God’s face with the Serpent’s brush, and we’ve been doing the same ever since. We’ve even created religion and theology and civilization itself around this orphan-mindset. That is, until God wrote Himself into our story with the incarnation of Christ:
1:18 Until this moment God remained invisible to man; now the authentic begotten, the blueprint of man’s design who represents the innermost being of God, the son who is in the bosom of the father, brings him into full view! He is the official authority qualified to announce God! He is our guide who accurately declares and interprets the invisible God in us. (John 1:18 MIRROR *)
What Jesus came to save us from was our tragic flaw (see “The Tragic Flaw” for further explanation)—our wrong thinking about ourselves and about God that we had inherited from the fall. The following is from my blog post, “Incarnation is about Restoration“:
Athanasius (298 -373 AD) gives a brilliant analogy of Christ’s redemptive purpose using the illustration of the subject being repainted for a new portrait when the original becomes disfigured:
“You know what happens when a portrait that has been painted on a panel becomes obliterated through external stains. The artist does not throw away the panel, but the subject of the portrait has to come and sit for it again, and then the likeness is re-drawn on the same material. Even so was it with the All-holy Son of God. He, the Image of the Father, came and dwelt in our midst, in order that He might renew mankind made after Himself, and seek out His lost sheep, even as He says in the Gospel, “I came to see and save that which was lost.”
This explains His saying to the Jews: “Except a man be born anew….” He was not referring to a man’s natural birth from his mother, as they thought, but to the re-birth and re-creation of the soul in the image of God.” (Athanasius, On the Incarnation, 3:14*)”
With Christ, we see God restoring us back to the environment we were meant to live from—God Himself:
6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus (Eph.2:6*)
3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. (Col.3:3*)
Jesus came to restore us to our true identity, and He gave us the Holy Spirit to see this:
20 On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. (John 14:20*)
God formed us from dust of the earth and breathed His life into it (Gen.2:7), so the true you is actually a dual-realm creature, living both in heaven and on the earth:
20 But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ. (Phil 3:20*)
Beloved, do you see this? Because when we finally see our true selves there, we will see each other there, too. It’s from this place where true peace and unity happens. And the whole world will find His great love for them and their true identity there, too. Amen.
23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. (John 17:23 *)