The Divine Image-Bearer
Kingdom ministry did not commence with the calling of Jesus’ disciples. Ministry started in the Garden! In Genesis we glimpse and begin to understand the nature of God-inspired, grace-empowered ministry. Yet for many in the church, ministry has become intrinsically linked with religious activity and therefore limited to church-centred work. From my perspective, one that I believe aligns with a Hebraic worldview, today’s understanding is far too narrow, too restricting and too specific. It communicates an incomplete view of God and the way He works. It blocks creativity and inhibits innovation. Religious institutionalism has so influenced the Christian mind regarding the term ‘ministry’ that when, as a pastor, I get informed by well-meaning Christians that they are going into the ministry, I reply, ‘What do you think you are doing now?’ Ministry is not just about tasks; it is primarily about what we are called to be!
We are called to be ministers of God’s divine image every moment of every day in all of creation. Ministry should be guided, directed and empowered by the grace of God that is on our life. Quite often I have found some of the most anointed preaching being given to a handful of people in some workplace, or by the side of a swimming hole at the local stream. This is valid ministry and yet it is still undervalued, and by many not validated at all. It has become extremely difficult to redeem the word ‘ministry’ to mean what God intended, that being our calling and vocation as image-bearers in God’s creation.
From the beginning, humanity was given everything it needed to live out God’s image in all spheres of creation. This means that whatever Adam and Eve did, however they did it, if it was done in God it was called ministry. If it was glorifying to God then it was ‘good work’. Martin Scott, in Sowing Seeds for Revival, writes: ‘Originally placed in a garden, the sense is that humanity was given a home with the expressed commission of making the whole earth a place where God could be “at home”.’5 In Adam and Eve God gave to humanity the right to rule and reign over the earth. This was their ministry, their stewardship over creation. This stewardship involved taking possession and having governance over all creation. God’s blessing and impartation to be fruitful, to be good stewards of the earth, came with an impartation of His divine authority (Gen. 1:28).
Our calling as the redeemed of the Lord must then be to engage in individual relationships and create communities that reflect the rule and reign of God. The image and glory of God is meant to come out of our very being into all that we are and into all that we accomplish in creation. Our calling is to live out the image and the likeness of God in the earth.
We read in Genesis 1:31: ‘And God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good.’ This creation was made up of both the seen and the unseen dimensions. Physical forms of nature, the animal kingdom, the elements and the like are seen, heard and felt by the physical senses. For the Hebrew, the unseen dimension was to be found within and through the physical.
Romans 1:20 refers to this relationship between the seen and the unseen of creation.
I will speak about the unseen spheres of authority and influence further down the track. Here we note the extent to which the creation mandate extended over not only the seen, but also the unseen spheres of life.
In Chapter 3 of Genesis all these spheres and relationships in the created order came under the consequences of the fall of humankind. Even though the creation itself did not sin, it ‘was subjected to futility’ (Rom. 8:20). To this day this same creation, including the unseen spheres of authority and influence, waits in eager expectation for the full liberation from its slavery to corruption. We learn from Romans 8:21 that this liberation is to be enacted by the sons and daughters of God.
Heaven had the answer to the Fall; that answer was and is Jesus Christ, the Son of God made man. The Bible refers to Him as ‘the Last Adam’ (1 Cor. 15:45). He came to make right all that the first Adam had made wrong. Further to that, He came to accomplish that which the race of the first Adam could not. He came to open up the creation so that it could be all that it was created to be. Jesus re-established the right of the image-bearer to rule in creation. He restored the sons and daughters of God to their divine image-bearing identity.
In three short years, He filled Israel with the image of God like never before. Now it was possible for all of humanity to share in the inheritance of the Son of God made man. Jesus Christ is the divine image-bearer par excellence. Those who have been rescued from the kingdom of darkness and brought into the kingdom of the Son bear the family likeness of the Son of God (Gal. 4:6). They are indeed the sons and daughters of God (Rom. 8:14–17).
All of creation is waiting for the fullness of the saints’ calling to be realized (Rom. 8:19). Leanne Payne, in her book Real Presence, writes: ‘Every created thing, animate and inanimate, awaits the splendour of this freeing, this revealing of God’s adopted sons. All of nature will acknowledge in praise and adoration its Creator.’7 Jesus Christ is the one who fills all things to the fullest. He is the Head of the church whose life and character we, as Christians, are redeemed and called to imitate. In Christ, our full position and status as God’s adopted sons and daughters are restored. The work of the Holy Spirit enables the believer to live out to the full this grace-based vocation in all spheres of life. This is our grace calling – to live out in all spheres of human influence and authority the rule, the reign, the nature and likeness of Jesus Christ.
We will look in more detail at the nature and purpose of the gathered church in chapter eleven. However, before we try and define or describe that important expression of the church, we need to ensure that we have the church in creation, the body of Christ in all of life and work, in our sights.
Ministry and grace must be linked to each person’s experience of life in every single moment of every single day. We, in Christ, have been incorporated into the new Adam. We are now Christ’s ‘instruments of righteousness’ in the earth (Rom. 6:13). No longer can the church be contained within a religious institution, defined by its buildings and ecclesiastical activities. We don’t go to church. This is a misnomer! We are the church: the redeemed spirit-filled sons and daughters of God; His image-bearers living and working in all spheres of creation.
What, then, is our calling as Christ’s body, the church? It is to fill the earth with the image of God as reflected in the divine image of Jesus Christ. This is the only way by which the creation will be fully set free. This is the only way that we will be able to fulfil the Genesis mandate and thereby come into our full inheritance in ‘all of creation under heaven’. To accomplish this we need to draw deep from our God-given heritage. We need to fathom the depths of wisdom and understanding that come from a people who know more about the creation than any other nation on earth – the Hebrews.