Man According to God

Three aspects of man's restoration in Christ.

Rodrigo Abarca

The Christian life can only be lived in the Spirit. It is neither the result of effort nor the sterile activity of the flesh. This is a fundamental lesson that each child of God needs to learn. In chapters 5 to 8 of Romans we find some keys to learning how to walk in the Spirit.

The original man

The apostle Paul teaches us, starting from Romans chapter 5, that each man's fundamental problem is in the source or root from where his life is nurtured. Previously he has shown us how our sins separated us from God, His purpose and His glory. And next, how Christ has provided a perfect repairing work that allows us to be reconciled with God and declared righteous before his eyes by means of faith in his blood. However, although being justified by faith we have peace with God, the main obstacle for a holy life continues acting in us, and needs to be dealt with and removed.

This explains the reason why so many believers that have known salvation and the forgiveness of their sins, don't, nevertheless, live holy lives and free from the power of sin. Time and again they struggle to conquer the sins that recurrently appear in their life, they fail and end up confused and discouraged. How is this failure to be explained? To find the answer we need to understand, with the indispensable help of the Spirit, how God originally designed human nature, and how this can and must be restored to the divine original, before being able to live according to the character and the holiness of God. In fact this is what Romans 5 to 8 speaks of.

God created man with the purpose that he carry His image in the created world; that is to say, so that the expression of His character and of His glory be present. However, how can man, a creature taken from the dust of the earth, carry and express his Creator's image? Because not even the angels, so superior in strength and power, were created for such a high design. The answer is in man's very creation. God said: "Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness." The two words mentioned in the previous sentence, although they may appear a redundant figure of Hebrew poetry, in actual fact bear an important meaning.

Image refers to the above-mentioned divine purpose for man to express His character and His glory in the created universe. Likeness, on the other hand, is the fundamental key for the achievement of this purpose. Because God possesses a nature and a life that are completely different to that of any creature, even that of the powerful archangels and the blazing seraphs (in fact, the divine nature rises an infinite distance above the created nature). God, the Scriptures tell us, is Spirit (John 4:24). This is His essential nature. In order to be able to possess His image, man, in the first place, needed a nature similar to what God possesses, able to receive, to contain and to express His divine life.

Hence, when God moulded man from the dust of the earth, the Scriptures suggest that He made him just as a potter models a clay vessel, because the name Adam (from the Hebrew adama), comes from a semantic root that means red mud (clay). A vessel has the purpose of containing something inside it. That is to say, most of it is a great interior hole whose only end is being filled. In this sense, the Bible tells us that God blew the breath of life into him, and that he became man, a living being (a living soul). But, in that instant, when the breath of God entered into the man taken from the clay of the earth, he merged a secret chamber into his inner-most part that has the "form of His breath", that is to say, His likeness.

An example that will perhaps help us to understand this better is the following: I once saw a man making bottles handmade. With a long tube of copper he extracted a small drop of glass liquid from a burning oven and hit one of its ends. Then, he blew down the other end and the glass began to fill out, as if it were a balloon. Then that man, without ceasing to blow, quickly and expertly gave a bottle its shape, rotating the tube with speed. Finally, after a few minutes, the bottle was finished. One could literally say that that man's breath had left its form in the bottle.

In the same way, the breath of God captured His likeness inside man, when it entered him to create his soul. Then, man didn't only have a body taken from the earth, or a soul created by the breath of God (like the exterior of the bottle), but also the interior form of the breath of God (the interior of the bottle), similar in nature to God Himself. That is to say, a spirit. So man was created as a tripartite being, formed by a spirit, a soul and a body. But the spirit was conceived to be the highest part and man's rector, because it has the capacity to receive the divine life inside it and to participate in His uncreated nature. The spirit was ready to be engendered by God, by receiving the divine seed inside it, contained in the tree of life. In that way, man would have been raised up to participate in a life of union and communion with God in spirit.

But this was the first step required. Let us remember that the Scripture tells us that the first Adam was made a living soul (1 Co. 15:45a) and that the animal (what belongs to the soul) is first, and then the spiritual. That's why the last Adam who is Christ, is a life giving spirit (1 Co. 15:45b), showing what the final goal of God is. This implies that the soul was created to serve the divine purpose. It is the seat of that which is human, that is, our identity and personality. The will, the mind and the emotions are found within it. It was, in union with the body, the vessel dedicated to express the life and the divine nature dwelling in the spirit. That's why it was created with a free will and different from the divine will. Because the purpose of God is that man surrender voluntarily to the operation of the divine life, giving his will to the will of the Spirit, his mind to the mind of the Spirit, and his emotions to the emotions of the Spirit. This must be a gradual and progressive process of an increasingly freer and deeper capitulation from the soul to the operation of the life of the Spirit in the human spirit. Then man would end up being a life giving spirit (after beginning as a living soul in his first state, with a spirit not yet developed).

The soul was created to be a submissive and voluntary steward of the spirit who in turn had the capacity to unite to God and to communicate His life, direction, power, character and authority to the soul and, through this, to the body. This was the original design of God for man.

The fallen man

But Adam sinned and he fell. And the first consequence of his fall was the death of his spirit. This act brought about the loss of his capacity to participate in the divine nature, as well as to contain His life and to express it. Adam became unable to carry the image of God; and for that reason, God hid the tree of life and closed the path from Adam and all his descendants. In fact, man carries inside himself the impossibility of reaching life, because his spirit is dead toward God. The soul, by itself, is unable to unite to God and to have communion with him.

However, not only did the spirit die when Adam sinned and fell. In turn, the soul was degraded and poisoned. Sin entered into human nature and took possession of him, deforming the soul and altering it completely. Instead of serving the desires of the spirit, the soul became a slave to the desires of the body, and man became a carnal creature.

The body was also affected, because it became a mortal body, filled with disordered appetites that the soul was unable to govern and subject. This state or condition is what the Scripture calls the flesh, the carnal sinful body, the old man, etc. The sin that subjects the human soul is anchored in his will and desire to exist and live independently from God. Consequently, in His plan of recovering man to His original will and purpose, God had to do a wonderful restoration work in Christ that repairs all and each one of the effects of sin and the fall.

The restored man

In the first place, God removed our sins through Christ's blood, removing our blame and the cause of our death and separation; because death is the just punishment for our sins. But Christ took our sins on the cross; he suffered just punishment for them, and presented his blood before the Father as proof of his perfect sacrifice in our favour. Hence, Christ's blood has made eternal atonement for all our sins, from the first one that Adam committed and precipitated the tragedy, until the last of them. So, through his precious blood, the way to the Father and His will was open again, because he made our eternal reconciliation with God possible.

However, the problem of sin and its effect on the human soul had still to be solved. How could its obstinacy, independence and subjection to the desires of the flesh be undone? The answer of the Scriptures is: only through death, because "the soul that sinneth, it shall die." The sinner cannot be forgiven as such, that is to say, in regards to his permanent and persistent sinful state, with his human soul in disorder, independence and rebelliousness against God. Only the sins that are committed can be forgiven. So, although he could forgive the crimes committed by a murderer, could he really forgive the murderous nature itself, while this continues to desire killing? The same thing happens with sinful man whose fallen nature persists in its desire to sin.

Therefore, sinful man must be dealt with differently, by the only means possible: he must die; because the instrument of sin in man -his sinful nature - must be removed. And this was only possible through death. And here, Christ came once again, to our aid, because he died the death that we should all die, to be free from sin. In Romans 6 it says that our old man was crucified together with him, so that the body of sin (its instrument) was put out of action, and we therefore no longer serve sin as its slaves. So, Christ's death was an 'all inclusive' death: the death of all us sinners. Death was, in principle, our only exit. But this supposes our end, because our soul was hopelessly sold to sin. Does that mean then that it must be destroyed?

However, thanks to God, Christ's death was the death of all sinners. He suffered the death that we should all suffer and we all died in him. So, when accepting Christ's death as ours, the soul is liberated from the slavery of sin in order to live for God. There is the power of the cross and Christ's death. As far as God is concerned, this is an accomplished work. We were already crucified, dead and buried together with Christ. When? The day that Christ was crucified, died and buried for us all. There he ended, as far as God is concerned, our state as sinners in service to sin. What is now lacking is for us, through faith, to appropriate his death, considering it as our own death, so that every day of our lives, we present ourselves voluntarily to God with the purpose of living for him. So, Christ's death operates in us to remove the power of sin. Nevertheless, if we have died together with Christ, with what life will we present ourselves and now live for God?

The answer to this last question introduces us into a third aspect of the work of God's restoration in Christ to our favour. In Romans chapter 7, we are shown that the old life of the soul is unable to live for God. And it is in fact at this point where our long path begins on the way to learning as Disciples of Christ, to be conformed to the very image of God. He has not only put an end to our old life: "I am crucified with Christ and I no longer live..." (notice the present and continuous tense of the verbs). It is worth saying that the 'I' (my soul, with its will, mind and emotions), ceased to be the fundamental motor of my being when accepting Christ's death as my death in a continuous way. But rather, "but Christ lives in me." That is to say, it doesn't mean that I have been eliminated or destroyed, but rather now I live, but not with my own life, but with that of Christ which is in me. I continue existing, but fatigued and governed by Christ and his life.

Here is the key of the Christian life: Christ living his life in me. How? By means of his Spirit. Because God not only crucified us together with Christ, but rather he also raised us up with him. Our old sinful life was nailed with him on the cross forever. But also, and instead of it, his holy life was granted to us by virtue of his resurrection. That divine and indestructible life in Christ that conquered death forever was imparted to us when we believed in him. Our sins were not only forgiven and our old man crucified, because all this was nothing but preparation so that God could renovate and quicken our spirits that had died in the beginning. When believing in Christ, the Spirit of God entered into our spirit with the power of Christ's resurrection, and restored it so that it could occupy its place and complete its original function.

Consequently, the way of discipleship is nothing other than learning how to live by means of Christ through our quickened spirit. This supposes, at the same time, that the work of the cross operates in a progressive and increasingly deeper way in the soul, to liberate it of its independence, rebelliousness and ignorance as to the ways of God. In the measure that we go on being strengthened in spirit, we go on learning how to win our souls, that is to say, to surrender them to the spirit, and by means this, to the Spirit of God. The soul, when submitting to the spirit also gains the power of subjecting the body and its desires. Hence, this is how all our being, spirit, soul and body, comes to be sanctified for God.

The spirit possesses a group of new senses different to those of the soul and of the body. To learn how to discern them and to use them is part of our learning. We are accustomed to trusting our emotions, reasonings and the physical senses of our body. God's desire is for us to learn how to trust and to depend upon -through these new spiritual senses - the Holy Spirit in all the matters of our life. In order to reach this, there are some exercises of practical life that we must constantly carry out, such as reading the Scriptures, have communion with God in prayer, and to have fellowship with the brothers and sisters in a life of mutual dependence in the Lord. This is how we will come to grow together to reach the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, the image of God.

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