Studies in The Baptist Catechism: Section Three – The Decrees of God (Q.13)

Alfred Hitchcock is accredited with having said, “Self-plagiarism is style.” While my views have changed since writing the paper “Trinitarian Foundations for Christian Education,” I have largely used its material in this section of our Studies in The Baptist Catechism series. As you can observe, the sections taken from the paper have been altered to reflect a change in views. I no longer take the ESS view of the Trinity in marking the unity and diversity of man, but rather point to the economic Trinity.

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Q.13: How did God create man?

A. God created man, male and female, after His own image, in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness, with dominion over the creatures.1

1Genesis 1:26-28; Colossians 3:10; Ephesians 4:24

 

Having examined what the Bible teaches us about creation generally, let us now turn our gaze to the pinnacle of God’s creation: mankind. Mankind is unique in that we were created in God’s image. Now, before we say anything else about what it means that we’re created in God’s image, let us first note the universality of it. The Bible does not teach that some men are created in God’s image. It does not say that some men are more created in God’s image than others. Rather, we read: “So God created man in His own image,” (Genesis 1:27a).

 

The Dignity of God’s Image

One might argue that the fall of man into sin changed things. Certainly the image of God in us has been marred. However, there still remains a divine image on all men, which brings with it a great dignity. Notice in Genesis 9 that, after the fall, after the murder of Abel, and even after the flood, men are still to be treated with dignity by virtue of the fact that they have been made in the image of God.

6Whoever sheds man’s blood,

By man his blood shall be shed;

For in the image of God

He made man.

7And as for you, be fruitful and multiply;

Bring forth abundantly in the earth

And multiply in it,” (vv. 6-7; NKJV).

Capital Punishment

The Bible then teaches that all men without exception, as a consequence of having been created in the image of God, have a certain dignity bestowed upon them. This dignity persists beyond the fall of man into sin. As a result, Christianity does not make light of crimes like murder. In fact, God Himself has commanded that all men who destroy a life created in God’s image are to be put to death for the crime they have committed against God Himself.

It could be said that, in the museum of God’s grand creation, He has one gallery in particular upon which He has bestowed favor. This gallery is full of self-portraits. They are not the Artist Himself, but they bear His image and are to be honored with much the same care with which we would honor His very Person. When harm is done to one of His images, it is as though an attack has been made on His very Person.

1Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. 2Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. 3For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; 4for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. 5Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake. 6For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. 7Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor,” (Romans 13:1-7; NASB).

Therefore, there is no debate in Scripture over the issue of capital punishment. When a man kills one or more human beings, given the proper amount of proof and the absence of any doubt, God’s image has been destroyed. A life has been taken; the life-taker’s life shall likewise be taken. A nation that treats this duty with contempt treats God’s very image, and thus God Himself, with contempt.

Abortion

Recently, a presidential candidate came under fire for saying that women who get abortions should be subject to penalties under law, to include imprisonment. Sadly, it was not the Pro-Choice movement that came out against the politician under question; it was the Pro-Life movement that came out and loudly denounced the statement as not representative of the Pro-Life movement. As a result, the politician retracted his statement.

Let us follow this logic, though. If abortion is murder (the destruction of the very image of God), it should be treated as murder by the governing authorities. Now, consider any other situation where a woman might pay someone to murder another human being. Let us take it even further, as the Pro-Choice movement often does, and say that the woman was raped or that she was the victim of incest. Should she have the right, under law, to pay a hitman to surgically dismember the perpetrator?

Now, perhaps we could make the case that such people should receive capital punishment from the government. That is different, though, then a woman hiring someone to murder the individual. Hiring a hitman to kill another human being, for any reason, is the same as committing the murder yourself. Why then is it any different for a woman to hire a hitman to murder the human being in her womb?

13For You formed my inward parts;

You wove me in my mother’s womb.

14I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;

Wonderful are Your works,

And my soul knows it very well.

15My frame was not hidden from You,

When I was made in secret,

And skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth;

16Your eyes have seen my unformed substance;

And in Your book were all written

The days that were ordained for me,

When as yet there was not one of them,” (Ps. 139:13-16; NASB).

Dealing with Differences

Murder is not the only crime against God’s image, though. Racism has historically taught, from a Darwinian foundation, that man has evolved from lower lifeforms and some “races” are less evolved than others. Akin to racism is also the sin of ethnic favoritism. James condemns favoritism in James 2:

1My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism. 2For if a man comes into your assembly with a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes, and there also comes in a poor man in dirty clothes, 3and you pay special attention to the one who is wearing the fine clothes, and say, ‘You sit here in a good place,’ and you say to the poor man, ‘You stand over there, or sit down by my footstool,’ 4have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil motives? 5Listen, my beloved brethren: did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? 6But you have dishonored the poor man. Is it not the rich who oppress you and personally drag you into court? 7Do they not blaspheme the fair name by which you have been called?” (Jas. 2:1-7; NASB).

What is true of partiality in general is true also of ethnic partiality. We are not to hold our faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of ethnic partiality. Ethnic partiality can be practiced by people of any color and can be used to treat people of other races as either inferior or less deserving of one’s respect. We must recognize that all human beings deserve a certain amount of respect merely out of virtue of the fact that they are created in God’s image. We would not look at a self-portrait of God and curse it. Why then do we so easily curse men, who are the very image of God? To do so is sinful. “But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors,” (Jas. 2:9; NASB).

The disabled, the poor, the foreigner, the sick, the aged—all men are created in the image of God. Thus, we are called to treat all men with dignity and respect. If we are not used to a certain condition of man, it is understandable to have an involuntary reaction when we first meet one. The question is whether or not we take the necessary strides to accommodate for one another’s differences.

A man who has been poor his whole life is not naturally going to be comfortable in the presence of wealthy people, nor is a man who has never been to a homeless shelter going to immediately feel at home serving in a soup kitchen. A black man who grew up in a neighborhood has only known white people who are in positions of authority, like cops, teachers, etc., might have a great deal of discomfort to overcome when attending a predominantly white church. The same is true for white people who have never spent much time around non-whites suddenly attending a Korean church, a predominantly Hispanic church, or a black church.

There is discomfort to overcome when one begins to work with people with disabilities, or in a nursing home, or in hospice care. There is great difference among God’s people, but we are all created in the image of God. Though we may not do it perfectly or instinctively, we must each strive to accommodate for our differences.

 

Unity and Diversity

God did not merely create mankind with a common dignity; He also created us with personal uniqueness and value. Nowhere is this difference so immediately apparent than in our examination of unity and diversity. Men and women are both created in God’s image with the same nature and value, but men and women are also created unique in our roles and relationships. In the same way, the church was created to be one body, but each member of the body was created unique in our roles and relationships. The Bible teaches us that this uniqueness and diversity comes to all mankind as a result of having been made in the image of the economic Trinity.

Marriage

In 1Corinthians 11, Paul is writing to the church at Corinth and admonishing them to restore proper order in the church. In specifically addressing the issue of submission and headship among men and their wives, Paul draws on some rather gripping imagery. Paul writes, “But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ” (vs. 3). Paul’s word choice draws to mind a parallel between the complementary roles within the economic Trinity and the complementary roles God has instituted to exist within marriage.

This equality of nature and subordination of roles is what lies at the foundation of the biblical, complementarian view of marriage. The head of Jesus is God. Paul is not suggesting that the Messiah is of a lesser essence or value than God; He is of the same essence and nature in totality. Rather, it was determined in eternity past that Christ would willingly submit Himself to the Father in His incarnation and become fully obedient to Him, even to the point of death on the cross (Phil. 2:8). In like manner, women are called to submit to their husbands, not as a sign of inequality in essence or nature, but out of progressive conformity to the image of Christ (1Pet. 2:21-3:2).

Men and women do not arrive at the institution of marriage as two natural, complete wholes, both insisting that the integrity of their individual natures be given superiority over the union. Rather, they are united in essence and in goal. Similarly, men and women are not to see one another, as the egalitarians suggest, as having uniformity in function. They both offer unique and glorious contributions to the relationship. In their unique roles, they image forth the glory of the subordinate nature of the Godhead. As Gordon Clark writes:

“The hierarchy here is God, Christ, man, and woman. God and the Messiah are equally divine, but there is a subordination of function; so too, man and woman are spiritually equal, but one ranks above another in function,” (Clark, First Corinthians: A Contemporary Commentary. Nutley, N.J., P&R Publishing Co. 1975, 169).

The foundation of the principle of headship in marriage is the principle of headship within the economic Trinity. Paul states this emphatically so that in drawing agreement from his readers on the issue of divine, redemptive headship, they would be forced likewise to agree with him on the issue of marital headship (Charles Hodge, First & Second Corinthians. Carlisle, PA.: Banner of Truth Trust. 1978, 206). Furthermore, in making his case, Paul demonstrates that the principle of marital headship is first and foremost a creation ordinance, not merely an ordinance for the church (1Cor. 11:7-9, 12; see Clark, First Corinthians, pg. 169). As descendants of Adam and Eve, those who violate the principle of marital headship are guilty before God, regardless of their relationship to the church. They are guilty of marring the image of the triune God, which God Himself has placed within them (Gen. 1:26-27).

The Church

Churches also are to have within them certain structures that are put in place to image forth the Trinitarian nature of their loving God. Such structures are fitting insofar as the churches have been redeemed and assembled through the cooperative work of each Person of the Trinity. “The Lord Jesus calls out of the world unto Himself, through the ministry of His Word, by His Spirit, those that are given unto Him by His Father” (The Baptist Confession, 26.5). Based upon this understanding of the redemptive work of their triune God, the apostle Paul encourages the church at Ephesus to image forth Trinitarian uniqueness and unity.

After having shown each Person of the Trinity at work in each of the first three chapters of Ephesians, Paul opens the second half of Ephesians by making mention of them as well. He reminds the church at Ephesus that the godly character and Christian unity to which they have been called (vv. 1-3) are rooted in the identity they enjoy as worshippers of one Spirit (vs. 4), one Lord (vs. 5), and one God and Father of all “who is over all and through all and in all” (vs. 6). In vv. 7-16, Paul commences to paint a word picture of a body (vv. 4, 12-16) in which each member is uniquely gifted (vs. 7) and plays a unique role (vs. 16). Yet, each member is part of the same body which is being built up into one mature man (vv. 11-14) the head of whom is Christ Himself (vs. 15).

William Hendriksen insists, “It is exactly unity that is promoted when all become busily engaged in the affairs of the church and when each member eagerly renders service for which the Lord has equipped him,” (William Hendriksen, Ephesians, New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, Baker Book House. 1995, pg. 199). This process in no way diminishes the unique and valuable identity of the persons involved. Rather, they each find their true value and identity as they use their unique gifts in contribution to the overall work of the body of Christ. “Christ, the head, unifies the body and causes it to grow, in which process every member has some part,” (Gordon Clark, Ephesians. Jefferson, MD., Trinity Foundation. 1985, pg. 144).

In Ephesians 1:1-4:16, Paul provides the church with some of the most vivid imagery of the economic Trinity by merely holding up a mirror. He demonstrates how, when every person in a local church is functioning properly, they will image forth the triune God who has called them into this glorious communion. Charles Hodge explains: “There are many passages to which the doctrine of the Trinity gives a sacred rhythm, though the doctrine itself is not directly asserted. It is so here. There is one Spirit, one Lord, one God and Father. The unity of the church is founded on this doctrine” (Charles Hodge, A Commentary on the Epistle to the Ephesians. New York, R. Carter. 1856, pg. 209).

This exposition can be taken a bit further, though. The doctrine of the Trinity not only provides churches with a foundation for their unity, but it also provides individuals within those churches with a foundation for their dignity. It is with the foundational understanding that each Person in the Trinity supplies a unique contribution to the work of redemption that Christians also come to understand that the whole body of Christ is “being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part” (vs. 16a). “If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole were hearing, where would the sense of smell be?” (1Cor. 12:17).

Made in the Image of a Triune God

The foundation for this doctrine does not originate with Paul, though; it goes all the way back to the Garden of Eden. When God created man, He created him in His very own image:

“Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’ God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” (Gen. 1:26-27).

Many have warned against making an instant leap from the plural personal pronouns God uses in reference to Himself in this passage to an assertion of Trinitarian theology. It certainly is not enough to make a full argument for the Trinitarian nature of God. However, it is quite worth noting how quickly the passage goes from saying, “Let Us make man in Our image,” to saying, “in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” Finally, he writes: “He created him (singular); male and female He created them (plural).” Man was created unique and man was created to be united in fellowship with others.

Man was never created to be an island unto himself. In fact, before God created woman, He saw fit to vocalize this truth: “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Gen. 2:18), and after she was created, Adam saw fit to vocalize this truth: “This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh” (Gen. 2:23). The woman was a unique, distinct person while at once being on flesh with her husband. As such, man images forth the Triune God who created him; man and woman image forth the Triune God who created them (1Cor. 11:7, 12).

 

Rational and Righteous

Another major aspect of what it means to have been created in the image of God is that we were created “in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness.” These three ideas interplay with one another. Obviously, righteousness assumes holiness and vice versa. Knowledge, when referring to the original estate of man, also assumes righteousness and holiness.

Knowledge

Adam was not created a super intelligent being. He was not created with all knowledge. As we said earlier in our study, were we to have all knowledge, we would be God. Adam did not have all knowledge, but he did have pure knowledge. That is to say that the knowledge that he had was pure, undefiled, and God-glorifying.

We do not often think of knowledge as having an ethical element to it. Knowledge is seen, especially in modernity, as a rather neutral endeavor. We often think, “I may be wrong about this or that, but what does it ultimately matter?” It ultimately matters because, if we are to “think God’s thoughts after Him,”—if we are to reason biblically about things—we must think correctly about things. We are often so consumed with the mere acquisition of knowledge that we do not take the time to apply to it understanding and wisdom. This is the process by which the Bible would have us acquire knowledge.

9For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God,” (Col. 1:9-10; NASB; cf. Prov. 2:6; 9:10).

According to Paul, the way that we take in knowledge is to first acquire it, then to apply to it understanding and wisdom and, when this is done appropriately, we will bear fruit in every good work and increase all the more in knowledge. Adam was created a learning being. He did not have knowledge of all things (e.g. good and evil; see Gen. 3:4-7), but what he did have was pure and rightly coupled with understanding and wisdom.

We know that rational thinking is godly, because it is part of the very image of God. Paul understood this rational element of God’s image when he wrote: “and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him,” (Col. 3:10; NASB). When in the garden, Adam reasoned rationally. After the fall, men ceased to think the thoughts of God after him; our very thinking was marred. Now that we are in Christ, we are being renewed in this aspect of God’s image.

Righteousness and Holiness

That man was created upright is undisputed. “Behold, I have found only this, that God made men upright, but they have sought out many devices,” (Eccl. 7:29; NASB). Adam and Eve were originally created holy and happy. These two qualities of their first estate were intrinsically intertwined such that, when they sinned, they fell into a new estate of sin and misery, an estate that persists to this day.

Adam was able to sin and not to sin. Since the fall mankind is not able not to sin. Since Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection, Christians are freed from slavery to sin, but not its presence and influence. In glory, we will be free from all aspects of sin: its power, its abiding influence, and even its very presence. These are what have come to be known as the four estates of man.

Though Adam was created in God’s image, holy and happy, we have all now fallen from that glorious estate. That is not our final end, though. As Christians, we are called and enabled to “put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of truth,” (Eph. 4:24; NASB). We are daily being renewed according to the image of God the Son (Rom. 8:29). According to Beeke and Jones, “[John Owen] says that while ‘image’ denoted man’s original faculties properly oriented toward God, likeness denoted righteousness and the ability to respond to God in obedience,” (Beeke and Jones, A Puritan Theology, pp. 670-671). In like manner, being made over (renewed) in His image means we have the righteousness of Christ and the enabling of the Spirit to respond to God in obedience.

Dominion

Finally, the image of God means that we have been granted dominion over the whole earth. The world was created for our benefit, and man was commanded to subdue it. Among other things, this means that natural resources, vegetation, the animals, and all of the other elements of the world around us could rightly have been harnessed by man in his original state to be used for his own benefit. Since the fall, even the creation has been distorted.

18For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. 20For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope 21that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now,” (Rom. 8:18-22; NASB).

There is a sense in which creation itself has an innate understanding of the proper order of things. The fall of man essentially removed man from his rightful throne. Jesus refers to Satan as “the ruler of this world,” (John 12:31; 16:11). Paul refers to him as “the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience,” (Eph. 2:2).

Thankfully, though, we read that we are no longer under his rule. We have been freed from his influence through the great love and mercy of God (Eph. 2:4ff). Furthermore, we read that the ruler of this world has already been judged as a result of the sending of the Spirit after Christ’s ascension (John 12:31; 16:11). The Godman, Jesus Christ, has reestablished man’s reign through His resurrection (Col. 2:15; cf. Heb. 2:9-18). As a result, we now understand our position of one of ruling and reigning with him in the heavenly places (Eph. 2:4-6).

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