The point I’m attempting to make in these Advent blog posts is: that God was made flesh and blood in Jesus … but it doesn’t stop there. It is also God’s purpose that those who are reconciled to God through Christ, i.e., those who are believers in/followers of Christ, also are to be “conformed to the image of God’s Son” (Romans 8:29). Jesus is the firstborn of God’s New Creation (Kingdom of God), and all who come to him are also to be created anew into the image of God—or in God’s design for his human community. God’s people are to be those in whom God’s glory is continually incarnated and visible to the watching world.

We can extrapolate from a couple of other New Testament texts (Ephesians 4:24 and Colossians 3:10) something of what this image consists of: knowledge, true righteousness, and holiness. Each of those descriptions carries enormous freight. In the last Blog I attempted to unpack the knowledge piece of the image. Now let me take a stab at the true righteousness piece—like, if we’re going to celebrate God’s invasion of his creation in the coming of Jesus, then we’ve got to go on and face the consequences of that for those of us who are his followers.

This information age is surfeited with data and web-sites and access to resources—but this attribute of the image of God in God’s people has to do with the modeling of the will of God in the realities of daily life. Most of the folk with whom we mingle are not interested in hearing a sermon, or reading a book … but their attention is drawn to those figures, who incarnate the love and justice of God. Someone has coined the term: orthopraxis, i.e., the doing of the truth. In the Jewish community a person who “keeps Torah” is a tzadik, a righteous person. Such exhibit consistent love of God and love of neighbor. We pray: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as in heaven” and often do not connect that with our own lives. Jesus taught that those who have his word and do it are those who are his true disciples. These become visible gospel.

At the threshold of the Sermon on the Mount is the point that those who do its teachings are those whose good works men see … and glorify God, or know that such behavior has God as its source. Peter also teaches that we are to live such lives among those who are still unaware of God’s love in Christ … that they will see our behavior and ask the reason for the hope that is in us. Righteous lives rebuke the skeptics and those of no faith. It makes them curious.

It is apropos to this understanding of the impact of true righteousness to read the accounts so prominent this past week of the life and career of Nelson Mandela. It was not his personal beliefs, or his counter-cultural activities that ultimately made his quest for justice so powerful. It was, rather, that he demonstrated love, reconciliation, forgiveness, patience, and kindness in a gentle demeanor. I have no idea what Mandela’s Christian profession might have been, but he is an incredible model of what all of God’s sons and daughters should look like, and how they should live out their love of God and love of neighbor—demonstrate in daily life: the strength and sweetness of Christ. Subversive maybe–but always with love and grace.

Such is to be our incarnation. Doers of the word. “Whoever practices righteousness is righteous” (I John 3:7). Got it?

About rthenderson

Sixty years a pastor-teacher within the Presbyterian Church. Author of several books, the latest of which are a trilogy on missional ecclesiology: ENCHANTED COMMUNITY: JOURNEY INTO THE MYSTERY OF THE CHURCH, then, REFOUNDING THE CHURCH FROM THE UNDERSIDE, then THE CHURCH AND THE RELENTLESS DARKNESS. Previous to this trilogy was A DOOR OF HOPE: SPIRITUAL CONFLICT IN PASTORAL MINISTRY, and SUBVERSIVE JESUS, RADICAL FAITH. I am a native of West Palm Beach, Florida, a graduate of Davidson College, then of Columbia and Westminster Theological Seminaries.
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