Purging the Image of God


Over the course of the past 30 years, my image of God has shifted towards what I see in Jesus and away from the vengeful and legalistic deity often found in Old Testament passages. I imagine this is a familiar process for many believers, but it can be helpful to acknowledge the importance of the journey we’re on and where it’s taking us. Some are calling this way of understanding scripture (and the divine nature) a Christological approach, which I rather like. In essence, Christology states that Old Testament documents can only be understood in the context of the coming Christ, rather than taken on their own merits. Through his words and deeds, Jesus refined and corrected Old Testament concepts of God, purging the image of the Father for his followers.

For example, Jesus’ disciples would have known and believed that Elijah called fire down to consume God’s enemies. It was recorded in their scriptures and seen as a great victory, so when a Samaritan village rejected Jesus on his way to Jerusalem, it was only natural they wanted to give it a go. Luke 9:51-55,

Now it came to pass, when the time had come for Him to be received up, that He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem, and sent messengers before His face. And as they went, they entered a village of the Samaritans, to prepare for Him. But they did not receive Him, because His face was set for the journey to Jerusalem. And when His disciples James and John saw this, they said, “Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, just as Elijah did?”

But He turned and rebuked them, and said, “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them.” And they went to another village.

This should be a clarion call for all believers – under the Old Covenant, even the prophets’ understanding of God was confused, tied up with vengeance and fear. In rebuking his disciples, Jesus was purging the poison from the image of God.

The message of this passage couldn’t be clearer, but the Evangelical Movement’s relationship with scripture is often simplistic, failing to examine the trajectory of the Gospel or take clarifications seriously, even when they come from the mouth of our Lord.

Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth

The version of inerrancy understood by believers across the world is that every verse in the Bible is of equal importance – equally divinely inspired, equally precise in its meaning, and still of equal relevance today – but Jesus’ rebuke shows this to be false. He planted a stake in the ground, rejecting an Old Testament concept of divine activity (the vengeful burning of enemies) and affirming the Lord’s loving nature instead. We have a saviour who came to save rather than destroy people’s lives. The beauty of Christology is it lifts our eyes to Jesus, the Author and Perfector of faith, while banishing confusion.

Paul writes of the qualities and perspective required to correctly understand and teach the scriptures in his second letter to Timothy. 2 Timothy 2:15,

Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.

The key phrase is ‘rightly dividing the word of truth’. In the Greek, ‘rightly divide’ is ‘orqotomew,’ meaning ‘to make a straight cut, to correctly dissect (the word of truth).’ The implication is that scripture needs precise, expert dissection if we are to understand the type of wisdom we’re studying at any given moment (history, allegory, poetry, story, prophecy, gospels, or epistles), and how it is to be interpreted as part of a Christological narrative. How then do we rightly divide the word of truth when it comes to Jesus’ rebuke of his vengeance-loving disciples? For me, the answer is simple – we draw a line under Old Testament confusion and affirm that the nature of God has been perfectly clarified in Jesus.

Sadly, this much-needed clarity is yet to penetrate vast swathes of the Church, leaving believers in terrible confusion about who God is and what he will and won’t do in their lives. Many don’t know if God wants to judge or liberate, punish or praise. They are yet to understand that Jesus is the true and complete image of God, crystallised for all his followers to see.

Confusion has Consequences

Lack of clarity has significant consequences in the lives of believers. For starters, the double-minded believer (confused because of contradictory, cross-covenant theology) is incapable of receiving anything from the Lord. James 1:5-8,

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

To walk in the blessings of God, we must first know our Lord by developing a deep connection with the Holy Spirit. We can learn to absolutely trust his loving ambitions for our lives, because our God is unchangingly good. James 1:17,

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.

Jesus was careful to leave us with only a singular view of the nature of God. John 14:8-11,

Philip said to Him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is sufficient for us.”

Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; so how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on My own authority; but the Father who dwells in Me does the works. Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father in Me, or else believe Me for the sake of the works themselves.

If we rightly divide the word of truth, Jesus’ words should absolutely trump anything in scripture that appears to contradict this clear message of the unconditional love and mercy of God. The writer of Hebrews helpfully clarifies this further, contrasting the fear and trembling associated with the Sinai Covenant and the covenant established through Jesus’ blood. Hebrews 12:18-24,

You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them, because they could not bear what was commanded: ‘If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned to death.’ The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, ‘I am trembling with fear.’

But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

You have not come… you have come! We all need to heed this instruction, examining our theology and purging ourselves of vengeful images of the divine nature. By cleansing ourselves of Old Covenant confusion and fixing our eyes solely on Jesus, we become capable of truly manifesting his love in our lives. 1 John 4:17,

Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world.

9/6/2023 2:53:41 PM
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  • Duncan Pile
    About Duncan Pile
    Duncan Pile is a writer, author and speaker, living in Derbyshire, England with his wife and stepson. His mystical approach to faith straddles the Evangelical/Progressive divide, and flowing from lived experience, he is passionate about the deconstruction and reconstruction of the Christian faith.