All too often, I have seen on a sign outside a church with the words “Come as you are!” Yet when you walk inside everyone is dressed the same. Years ago, during the hippy generation, I was attending a well-known evangelical conservative church. A man in the congregation was developing a street ministry specifically with the hippies in mind. Most in the congregation thought this was a good idea. That is until this one Sunday, he brought about six of “them” into the Sunday service; and they came in as they were. People were shocked. There were audible gasps in the audience. There was much rustling as people turned in their seats. They said “come as you are” but they did not really mean that. Those six never came back. What they believed was not transformational to their lives.
And that problem still exists today [the extreme of that would be Westboro Church]. Religion is not transformational. Encountering Jesus and doing life together with Him is the stuff that makes us change. Becoming more like Jesus means that we have to intentionally listen and then do what He tells us.
That is our part. But there is another side to this transformation. It is only a work of God. Only God is capable of transformation of the heart. It is the game-changer that changes us from doing religion as we think it should be done [read self-improvement] to becoming the person that God created us to be. Doing life with Jesus is not some sort of pressure to conform but a call to live in the Image of God just as Jesus modeled for us.
God wants us to join Him in His redemptive work in the lives of people. It is God’s agenda, not what we think God’s agenda might be. God never says be “conformed” but he does say be transformed. And the only way I know of being transformed is not by group collective actions but by being in close connection with God. Jesus never defines us by someone else.
Being transformed means that I have to be willing to release what I think is scared and allow space for God and His grace to help me learn to live “with God.” Jesus is not interested in my trying harder to change something in my life so that I am more pleasing to Him. That is the sure road to failure. All He wants is for me to learn to be and practice continually to be, in conversational relationship no matter what I am facing.
Science has told us that we are all created by DNA [Deoxyribonucleic acid]. This is the self-replicating building block material presented in nearly all organisms. It is the main substance of chromosomes, and is the carrier of genetic information that is passed on in reproduction. It does not take long in studying the human body to discover the complexity that cannot be answered by evolutionary theory.
Having said that, it is not a giant leap to intertwine science and faith. Each one of us is wonderfully made. Each one of us is unique. Because we are unique, we can aspire to and accomplish many things. Our DNA hard-wires us physically and psychologically in certain ways. We are not robots. We have freedom in the ability to think and make choices. Part of that DNA has the icon of God imprinted in all of us; the Imago Dei. We are made for God, to represent Him in this world. As with any icon, it can get damaged or cracked and therefore the image gets distorted. But just because the icon is damaged in us does not mean that the Creator whose image it is has tossed out the icon.
We matter to God. Because we matter to God, people should matter to us. People have Imago Dei stamped into their DNA no matter how flawed or broken it looks. It helps for us to occasionally look in the mirror of the Bible. The image staring back at us is flawed and ego-centric. We may see a beautiful face but we know that inside that face is a flawed image. Our internal image is revealed by how we treat our spouses, children, family, co-workers, foreigners and even those in the community of faith. We do not naturally care for others. Because of that we are capable of thinking and saying and doing things that have no semblance of God’s image.
But if Jesus Christ is allowed to transform us from the inside, the outside actions will change. We will become other-centric. It is a process of reformation and transformation. People will start to matter. We will begin to see those around us as God intended us to see them – people with the icon of God in them. We will begin to see the potential in people and not the worse. We begin to treat others with dignity the way that God treats us. When this happens, we are becoming the hands and feet of God reaching out to a world going further and further astray. Incredible advances in technology do nothing to fix the unbelievable evil that comes out of the heart. If there is any shred of doubt the truth of that assessment, pick up the daily newspaper or read history. It keeps repeating itself because men keep missing the Imago Dei in others.
Part of my calling and work as a pastor is to encourage men that God puts in my path to become what God intended them to be. It is part of the hard-wired DNA that God put into me. As I have allowed God to expose that truth in me through His reformation, I get to see the Image Dei in others and learn how to treat them as God treats me. It is a process that continues.