Thursday, September 13, 2007

The Image of God

Included in discussions of Original Sin and the loss of original righteousness is an explanation of the image of God and what was lost to mankind with the loss of the image of God. Growing up with the LC-MS Synodical Catechism, the following explanations were taught to me:

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113. What was the image of God?

The image of God consisted in this —

A. That man knew God and was perfectly happy in such knowledge.
B. That man was perfectly holy and blessed.

114. Does man still bear the image of God?

Man lost the image of God when he fell into sin. In believers, a beginning of its renewal is made. Only in heaven, however, will this image be fully restored.

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A fuller explanation is given in Article II of the Apology of the Augsburg Confession translated in the Concordia Triglotta, pp. 110-11:

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15] Neither have we said anything new. The ancient definition understood aright expresses precisely the same thing when it says: “Original sin is the absence of original righteousness” [a lack of the first purity and righteousness in Paradise]. But what is righteousness? Here the scholastics wrangle about dialectic questions; they do not explain what original righteousness is. 16] Now in the Scriptures, righteousness comprises not only the second table of the Decalog [regarding good works in serving our fellow-man], but the first also, which teaches concerning 17] the fear of God, concerning faith, concerning the love of God. Therefore original righteousness was to embrace not only an even temperament of the bodily qualities [perfect health and, in all respects, pure blood, unimpaired powers of the body, as they contend], but also these gifts, namely, a quite certain knowledge of God, fear of God, confidence in God, or certainly 18] the rectitude and power to yield these affections [but the greatest feature in that noble first creature was a bright light in the heart to know God and His work, etc.]. And Scripture testifies to this, when it says, Gen. 1, 27, that man was fashioned in the image and likeness of God. What else is this than that there were embodied in man such wisdom and righteousness as apprehended God, and in which God was reflected, i.e., to man there were given the gifts of the knowledge of God, the fear of God, confidence in God, and the like? 19] For thus Irenaeus and Ambrose interpret the likeness to God, the latter of whom not only says many things to this effect, but especially declares: That soul is not, therefore, in the image of God, in which God is not at all times. 20] And Paul shows in the Epistles to the Ephesians, 5, 9, and Colossians, 3, 10, that the image of God is the knowledge of God, righteousness, and truth. 21] Nor does Longobard fear to say that original righteousness is the very likeness to God which God implanted in man. 22] We recount the opinions of the ancients, which in no way interfere with Augustine’s interpretation of the image.

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Since Melanchthon, on behalf of all of the Lutheran Confessors, was giving a response to the Papal attacks against them regarding their straightforward confession of the total depravity of man according to the fallen sinful nature, he either did not take the opportunity or did not see the opportunity to explain this in all of its glory. He does, however, quote Ambrose, who says it quite magnificently with these words:

That soul is not, therefore, in the image of God, in which God is not at all times.

This is a very rich and marvelous explanation, stated from the negative in response to the need to explain the sinful condition of man.

Today I wish to expound this same understanding from the positive.

The image of God is Christ. He is what was lost to mankind and is restored again through Baptism. In Baptism, the Word, that is, Christ, is given physically to the one who is baptized. With the gift of Christ, the Holy Spirit also is given. And where Christ and the Holy Spirit are, so is the Father. Thus the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit is commanded to be used and given in Baptism.

With the restoration of Christ to the person, the person is restored in the image of God, that is, in Christ. Thus, since Christ is declared in the Scriptures to be the very righteousness of God, the perfect righteousness of God is restored to the baptized person who is regenerated in the Faith worked by the Holy Spirit. Communion with God is restored in Christ, the image of God.

This is the knowledge of God, knowing Christ. Through Baptism, God restores us to His knowledge, knowing Him as our loving God and Father.

Having been restored to God’s Holy Communion through the restoration of the image of God dwelling in the baptized believer, now the person can continue in this restored communion. Now the person can come to the Feast of Christ and eat and drink with God, again receiving Christ, the Word, bodily. Conjoined with Christ in His body, the person eats with the Word laden bread the body of the Holy Communion and drinks with the Word laden wine the blood of forgiveness given in the cup of the New Testament.

This is the restoration of the Image of God to man. This is the life that God causes us to be regenerated to enjoy.

At the Last Day, the Old sinful nature will be separated from us forever so that this restored image may be enjoyed fully. For now we constantly face the juxtaposition of simul iustus et peccator. This will continue for as long as God has reserved for the time of preaching the Gospel for the salvation of lost souls. When no more souls remain who will receive God’s restored image, then the end will come and the separation of the saint from the sinner shall be made complete. The saints will be gathered to the right hand and the sinners to the left. Those in whom Christ has been restored will never again face the juxtaposition. Nor more simul will exist. All that will remain is the unity that is restored in Christ.

Is this not a rich and wonderful message? Is this not cause for rejoicing and coming forward eagerly to partake of the Eucharist, that is, the Thanksgiving of our Lord’s Holy Communion? Is it not right that we sing with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven?

Is this not the perfect image to behold?

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