October 2008 - Vol. 23

Looking towards St. Paul's Cathedral in London, designed by Sir Christopher Wren

In the Image and Likeness of God

a scriptural reflection on Christian character

by Don Schwager

Without vision people perish
Sometime after the great fire of London which had destroyed most of the city in 1666, an observer who was watching three construction workers asked each of them a question: What are you doing? 

The first worker said: “I’m laying bricks.” 
The second worker said: “I’m building a wall.” 
The third worker said: “I’m helping Sir Christopher Wren build a great cathedral for the glory of God.”
What motivated these workers? Money, ambition, vision?  The scriptures warn us that “without vision the people perish” (Proverbs 29:18), Without moral vision, eventually individuals, families, and communities fall apart. What destroyed the great Roman Empire? History has shown that is was not just outside forces, but corruption (moral corruption) from within. 

Charles Read said: “Sow an act and you reap a habit. Sow a habit and you reap a character. Sow a character and you reap a destiny.” Jesus said, “You will know them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:16). 

Moral vision for our lives
Character is very important for our moral behavior. It gives orientation and direction to our lives. Our moral life is rooted in our character. How we live morally is not determined simply by rules or how we may respond to one particular situation. Rather our lives are shaped by our moral vision and by how we have been formed in character. Character has to do with willing, choosing, and desiring what is morally good. 

Character in its purest form is most clearly exemplified in the example of one whose life is dominated by an all-consuming purpose or direction. Francis of Assisi gave up inherited wealth for a life of voluntary poverty in his single-hearted pursuit of the love of God. Mother Theresa's life of heroic service to unwanted and poverty-stricken children and to the neglected, dying invalids of Calcutta was fueled by her all-consuming love for Jesus. 

We grow in character to the degree that we attain singleness of purpose and direction. If we find that we cannot accept a higher job promotion or status in our career and at the same time act honestly in all our transactions, or if we realize that we cannot gain as much money as we can and at the same time treat all others fairly, then we must choose one or the other. We become as we have chosen. The kind of person we are, our character, determines to a large extent the kind of future we will face and live. Character is thus not an end in itself, but a means for achieving the purpose God created us for, namely to live Godly lives that bring honor and glory to his name. 

Beholding the face of God
What destiny does God intend for us as individuals, families, and as a people united with him? In the Psalms we get a glimpse of it. 

As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness; when I awake, I shall be satisfied with beholding your form (Psalm 17:15). 
You have said, “Seek my face.” My heart says to you, “Your face, LORD, do I seek.  Hide not your face from me.” (Psalm 27:8-9)
When Moses ascended Mount Sinai, he said to God, “Show me your face.” In Jesus we see the face of God. That is why Paul the Apostle says that Jesus “is the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15). 

Created in his own image
How does a child recognize a parent – by gazing upon the face. God wants us to recognize that he is our creator and father. We were created in his image and likeness (Genesis 1:27). When we gaze upon the face of Jesus we not only see the face of God, but we see what God wants us to look like. Children instinctively reflect their parents in speech, attitude, and behavior. 

Great spiritual teachers have described the ultimate destiny and goal of human life as the beatific vision – seeing God face to face and enjoying his presence, which is the source of supreme happiness and blessedness. St. Cyprian, a church father writing in the second century, said: “How great will your glory and happiness be, to be allowed to see God, to be honored with sharing the joy of salvation and eternal light with Christ your Lord and God... to delight in the joy of immortality in the kingdom of heaven with the righteous and God’s friends.” 

The life of the beatitudes
In the Gospel of Matthew Jesus begins his teaching on the kingdom of God and the kingdom way of life with the beatitudes. 

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. 
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. 
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.  Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. 
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. 
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. 
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 
Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven. 
(Matthew 5:3-12)
The beatitudes reveal to us the character of Jesus and the character he wishes his disciples to have. It makes sense that he would start his teaching ministry with the beatitudes, rather than with the commandments, because the beatitudes point us to the source of true human happiness and fulfilment. The beatitudes respond to the natural desire for happiness that God has placed in every heart. They teach us the final end to which God calls us, namely the coming of God’s kingdom (Matthew 4:17), the vision of God (Matthew 5:8; 1 John 2;1), entering into the joy of the Lord (Matthew 25:21-23) and into his rest (Hebrews 4:7-11). 

Jesus’ beatitudes also confront us with decisive choices concerning the life we pursue here on earth, including the use we make of the goods he puts at our disposal. God alone satisfies. In the beatitudes Jesus asks each of us, Do you seek the highest good, the total good which is above all else? 

The beatitudes are a sign of contradiction to the world's understanding of happiness and joy. Only the humble of heart who seek God can find the true source of abundant life and happiness. Jesus promises his disciples that the joys of heaven will more than compensate for the troubles and hardships they can expect in this world. Thomas Aquinas said: “No one can live without joy. That is why a person deprived of spiritual joy goes after carnal pleasures.” Do you know the happiness of hungering and thirsting for God alone? 

Supreme happiness and blessedness
If we desire the supreme happiness and blessedness which Jesus offers, then we will aspire to live a life of virtue and character which reflects God’s glory and likeness. God wants his light to shine in and through us in the way we live, act, and speak so that others will see in us the face and reflection of Christ – the one and only source of supreme happiness and blessedness. The Lord Jesus gives us his Holy Spirit to transforms us into his own character and likeness. The Spirit gives us the grace and help we need to turn away from sin and all that would disfigure us morally and spiritually. The Spirit teaches us how to live the life of the beatitudes. 

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:18).
The choice is ours – we can yield to the transforming grace and power of the Holy Spirit who is at work in our lives, both to heal and transform what has been marred by sin, or we can allow our own unruly passions and sinful desires to blind our vision and rob us of the joy and happiness which God intends for us.

For a more indepth study by the author on Christian character see: 
Virtues and Vices: Countering the deadly vices with Godly virtues.

[Don Schwager is a member of The Servants of the Word and the author of the Daily Scripture Reading and Meditation website.]

(c) copyright 2008  The Sword of the Spirit
publishing address: Park Royal Business Centre, 9-17 Park Royal Road, Suite 108, London NW10 7LQ, United Kingdom
email: living.bulwark@yahoo.com