Copyright © 2012 Robert B. Thompson. All rights reserved.

Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.

Several years ago, we showed a documentary in our church. The documentary told of a missionary couple who went to a remote village and lived with the people. After they had been there for a while, they presented the Gospel. As I remember, the entire village “accepted Christ.” After all the villagers had been baptized in water, they asked the missionaries, “What should we do next?” The missionaries replied, “Absolutely nothing!”

That answer astonished me. Absolutely nothing? Christ and His Apostles issued numerous commands, not the least of which is that we are to take up our cross of deferred desires and patiently follow Jesus each day. The missionaries could have used that as an answer. They could have used the Apostle Paul as an example when he said he was pressing forward to attain to the resurrection from the dead.

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, (Philippians 3:12,13)

“Forgetting what is behind and straining toward” sure does not sound like “absolutely nothing.” They could have cited Peter where he exhorted us to add spiritual qualities to our faith to make our calling and election certain. They could have spoke of presenting their bodies as living sacrifices that they might prove the will of God. They could have quoted the Lord Jesus when He commanded His disciples to be perfect as the Father in Heaven is perfect.

Absolutely nothing! Absolutely nothing! Absolutely nothing! Think of it! In addition to this extraordinary scene, years later I saw a picture of a pastor sitting back at his ease. He was portraying the fact that there is absolutely nothing we do about our salvation.

Yesterday someone gave me a pamphlet advertising a conference to be held by distinguished American evangelists. The pamphlet had much to say about “grace.” It was asserted strongly that we are not to sully grace in any manner by attempting to add to it.

I believe the people who are claiming “grace is a sovereign state that God places upon us” are reinforcing one another. They assuredly are not reading the New Testament with understanding. They are building deduction upon deduction. They have concluded that grace is a state of being in which, no matter what we do, we are perfect in God’s sight.

I have written so much about this delusion that I don’t care to repeat what I already have written. I guess it is enough for us to know that “lawless grace” is still very much alive in the preaching occurring in our nation.

It appears to me that this doctrine of sovereign grace in which we do nothing has destroyed the moral stature of American Christians and produced the consequent moral degradation of our country. Yet this totally unscriptural concept still is being promulgated.

Since I have gone into detail on this subject in time past, proving from numerous passages how unscriptural it is, I would like at this time to approach the problem in a new manner. The new approach is to compare the do-nothing plan of salvation with God’s determination to make man in His image.

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:26,27)

“Let us make man in our image.” So God created man in his own image. To what extent were Adam and Eve in the image of God? I think you will agree that compared with our Lord Jesus Christ, Adam and Eve were not fully in the image of God. For one thing, they did not know the difference between good and evil, as God does.

The Bible states in the book of Hebrews that God’s works were finished from the beginning of the world. This would need to be true in that God is able to describe the future, as in the book of Revelation.

Would you agree with me that when God stated that He had created man in his own image, God was speaking of what would be true when God was finished with the creating of man?

Most of us would like to be more in the image of God than we are, wouldn’t we, so that people looking at us could see God’s personality. I know I would like to be more in God’s image. I think God still is working on me. I hope so, because I am not satisfied with myself the way I am. I’ll bet you feel the same way.

The New Testament has quite a bit to say about being saved. It mentions different applications of God’s grace, including forgiveness. Paul’s main argument involving grace concerns our freedom to leave the Law of Moses and place our faith in Christ.

When Paul compared faith with works, Paul always meant the works of the Law of Moses, not the behavior of a righteous individual. Paul never would compare faith with behavioral righteousness, since he warns us that if we do not turn away from the lusts of our sinful nature, we will die spiritually; we shall not inherit the Kingdom of God.

Is there a difference between being “saved” and being in the image of God? Those who preach about a “sovereign grace” are referring to living without Divine condemnation and going to Heaven when we die. They are not speaking of being made in God’s image.

My own definition of being “saved” is that after the final resurrection, we will be brought over to the new earth, either as members of the royal priesthood (I Peter 2:9) in the new Jerusalem, or as members of the nations of saved people who are the inheritance of the royal priesthood.

Being “saved” is related to being in God’s image, but is not the same thing. Think about this. If someone was pointed out to you as being “saved,” would you expect to see an ordinary person? But what if someone was pointed out to you as being in God’s image? Would you expect to see an ordinary person?

What do we mean by God’s image? Are we speaking of legs, arms, eyes, and ears? Probably not. We most likely mean a person who is marked by godly behavior. The Lord Jesus said, “He who has seen me has seen the Father.” This means that Jesus is the image of the Father, doesn’t it? What if Jesus lied, stole, and fornicated. Would He still be in the image of the Father? What do you think? If you say He then would not be in the image of the Father, you are maintaining that the image of the Father is righteous and holy being and behavior. Am I correct in this?

If this is correct, it could be true that we can be “saved” without being in the image of the Father, because numerous people who are “saved,” that is, worthy of citizenship on the new earth, still have many characteristics of being and behavior that are not righteous and holy.

Am I correct thus far? If so, let’s proceed.

The Apostle Paul gave us a list of several items of behavior that disqualify an individual from inheriting the Kingdom of God. Paul was addressing believers who were saved and had experienced the Life of the Spirit of God.

The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19-21)

Now let me ask you, if our Lord Jesus Christ were characterized by the above behaviors, would He be God’s image? We know intuitively that He would not.

If being saved means God has forgiven our sins, and being in God’s image means we are righteous and holy in our being and behavior, then they really are two separate issues, although connected in some ways.

Does the New Testament tell us how to be “saved,” that is, forgiven? Yes, it does.

Does the New Testament tell us how to be conformed to God’s image? Yes, it does.

Are we forgiven and conformed to God’s image by the same action on our part? No, we are not.

Here is how to be saved, that is, forgiven:

That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:9)

What is our part in being saved? To confess with our mouth that Jesus is Lord, and to believe that God raised Him from the dead.

Here is how to be made in God’s image:

For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, (Romans 8:13)

To be “saved”, we are to believe and confess. Although we do this once as an initial entrance into salvation, we must throughout our life continue to confess that Jesus is Lord and believe that God has raised Him from the dead. Christian people are willing to believe that Jesus is their Savior, but they are not always ready to invite Him to be the Lord of all that they do throughout the day.

To be conformed to the image of Christ, we must put to death the lusts and actions of our sinful nature. This by no means is as simple as confessing and believing. First we must be born again by the Spirit of God. Then there is a lifetime of confessing and turning away from sinful behavior.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.
Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. (Hebrews 12:1-4)

“In your struggle against sin.” Does that sound like we are to do nothing but walk about in a “state of grace”? Does God conform us to His image while we do nothing, or is there a continual interaction between God’s intervention in our life and our obedient response?

Is it the sword of the Lord and of Gideon or just the sword of the Lord? Do we have a part in the work of overcoming the sin and rebellion in us, or does Christ do the overcoming for us?

Just what is this mystical “grace” that is supposed to forgive us and conform us to the image of Christ while we do nothing? Is it not the most destructive of all the heresies to enter Christian thinking?

Another aspect of the mystical “grace” is the idea that when we sin, God sees only the righteousness of Christ — and so on throughout eternity. We have been forgiven forever, it is maintained, with no change in our personality or behavior. If this were true, can you imagine what it will be like in Heaven with all the sin and rebellion continuing, while God regards us benevolently? Can you imagine what it will be like in God’s Kingdom on the earth when His will is not being done except by “grace”?

I think it is evident that we Christians and our leaders are as intelligent as anyone else. How could we then accept such an unscriptural, illogical, destructive teaching as the doctrine that maintains we are to do absolutely nothing about our salvation, only to believe that God has covered us with a warm blanket of love and forgiveness while we go about oblivious to the fact that people looking at us see little or no evidence of Christ in us?

As I said previously, certain New Testament statements, particularly those made by the Apostle Paul, are being used as axioms. From these axioms, deductions are made that are contradicted by the majority of Paul’s writings. The Bible is not to be interpreted deductively. Each verse is an axiom, as it were. Therefore we approach the Scriptures inductively, saying “Amen” to every verse. There do appear to be contradictions; but the truth is, since the Bible is God’s Word, there are no actual contradictions. It is just that we are not far enough up the mountain to see the entire landscape.

Let each of us resolve once and for all that we must through faith and patience inherit the Kingdom of God. Overcoming the sin and rebellion in our personalities is a lifelong war. Through Christ we can emerge victorious and enjoy the benefits reserved for those who overcome.

There is no quick, easy path to God’s image. No amount of the grace of forgiveness ever will conform us to the image of Christ. The grace of forgiveness gets us started, and then Divine grace provides the wisdom and strength for us to proceed in the war against evil.

As the Apostle John would say, “This is the true God, and eternal life.”

(“Salvation and the Image of God”, 3178-1, proofed 20211023)

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