As a wayward college student, I needed a cause more noble than piety, and a beauty more breathtaking than any woman could offer. I needed to fight for the nobility of faith in Jesus Christ as Lord, and to be ravished with the image of his glory shining in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 4:6). Although I was unaware of it, I was fighting for an image that was far from noble and breathtaking.
We are all concerned about our images. We are image conscious. Hipsters work hard to look like they don’t care about image. Professionals work equally hard to look like they do care about image. We all project our values through the way we present ourselves. In writing this book, I am tempted to make writing decisions that reflect an intellectual image, instead of writing in a way that will best serve you. We all face the temptation to project false images of ourselves because we find the real image inadequate. This is easily done with social media. Our online image is often different from our offline image. With our Facebook statuses, we can project how we want others to see us, not who we truly are. Blog posts can be shrouded in airs of intellectualism, edginess, or humility.
If we are honest, our real image is nowhere near as attractive as we want it to be. We want to be more beautiful, more successful, more creative, more virtuous, more popular, and more intelligent than we actually are. We all have an image problem. The problem, however, is not that we lack beauty, success, creativity, virtue, popularity, or intelligence. The problem is that we believe the lie that says obtaining those images will actually make us happy. Believing the lie, we fight rigorously to obtain (or retain) our images of choice.
Only after we realize our tendency to build our identity on things that are untrue and unreliable, can we begin to sink our identity into what is truly reliable.
We discipline ourselves to lose weight, climb the vocational ladder, learn new techniques, make moral decisions, or strive to be in the know, all to gain the images we so desperately want. We fight and scrap to obtain our desired perception. Why? Because we believe that being perceived a certain way will make us truly happy. We fight with whatever it takes—money, time, sacrifice, overworking, and the occasional white lie. In doing so, we believe a lie. We express faith in what is false. We rely on the unreliable. Only after we realize our tendency to build our identity on things that are untrue and unreliable, can we begin to sink our identity into what is truly reliable. Nobility and beauty travel along the lines of truth. If none of the images above truly satisfy, what kind of image should we be striving for? What offers true beauty and a truly noble cause?
God Wants Us to Have a Better Image
Christianity is about image. It affirms that we were created in God’s image (Gen. 1:26–28), disfigured in our fall with Adam (Rom. 5:12–21), and are in desperate need of renewal. This image constitutes our essential dignity as human beings. It is an imprint of the Creator’s divine nature, which includes our abil- ity to rule and relate. Apart from the redeeming work of God to restore our image, we rule and relate in very distorted ways. We rule over instead of for one another, and we relate out of a distorted sense of what will truly make us happy. As a result, we treat God and others with contempt and disregard.
This gospel knowledge corrects our vision so that we not only behold but also become the image of the glory of God in Christ.
The good news is that God wants to restore our image in Christ (2 Cor. 3:18; Col. 3:10). God wants to give us a better image. He promises a restored image in Jesus, who is the image of the invisible God (Col. 1:15). He holds up the image of Jesus as most glorious, and through the gospel, opens our eyes to his never-ending beauty (2 Cor. 4:6). Only by looking to Jesus can our disfigured image be restored and our contemptuous disregard forgiven. When we look away from ourselves and into the face of Christ, we behold “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6). This gospel knowledge corrects our vision so that we not only behold but also become the image of the glory of God in Christ. True nobility and beauty converge in the image of Jesus.
Becoming What We Behold
Everyone should be image conscious, but we need the gospel to change our image of choice. How, then, does our actual image change? It is a fundamental truth that we become what we behold.3 Children become like their parents; interns become like their mentors. If we behold the beauty of Christ, we become beautiful like Christ.While it is true that our first glance into the face of Christ restores our image (Rom. 5:1–3; 8:29–30), it is also true that we drift back into fashioning our own distorted image.We slip into our own distorted forms of masculinity and femininity. The gospel calls us back to look at Jesus over and over again.
A disciple of Jesus is a person who so looks at Jesus that he or she actually begins to reflect his beauty in everyday life.
A disciple of Jesus is a person who so looks at Jesus that he or she actually begins to reflect his beauty in everyday life. The gospel gives us the eyes to see Jesus as well as the power to look like him. It changes us into the image of his glory: “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.” (2 Cor. 3:18). This transformative vision comes from the presence and power of the Holy Spirit (2 Cor. 3:17–18), who we will discuss at length in chapter five. For now, suffice it to say that gospel-centered disciples rely on the Spirit, who focuses our hearts’ attention on Jesus, where beholding results in becoming like him. This is a goal worth fighting for.
The gospel also offers the hope of final transformation. One day our dusty image of Adam will be transformed entirely into the heavenly image of Christ: “Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven” (1 Cor. 15:49).This transformation, however, does not come without a struggle. Any image takes hard work, and in the words of J. P. Moreland, “Grace is opposed to earning not to effort.” If we are to enjoy the breathtaking beauty of Jesus, we must put effort into the noble fight of faith.
This is adapted from Jonathan Dodson’s forthcoming book, Gospel-Centered Discipleship (Crossway, March, 2012).
Jonathan K. Dodson (MDiv; ThM, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary) serves as a pastor of Austin City Life in Austin, Texas. He has written articles in numerous blogs and journals such as The Resurgence, The Journal of Biblical Counseling, and Boundless. Dodson has discipled men and women abroad and at home for almost two decades, taking great delight in communicating the gospel and seeing Christ formed in others.