Archive for May, 2013

It is important to go back to where it all began (in Genesis Ch1-2) to understand how everything came to be before exploring the current state of things and where it is all headed.

In Genesis 1-2 the Bible introduces the living God to the world through his act of creating the universe. It is through the creation process that God sets out the conditions for his relationship with the universe. This makes Genesis 1-2 the most important depiction of what mankind was created to be in the undefiled order of the universe (in God), before Adam tainted himself and his entire union with sin. These two chapters provide the necessary context for everything that happens in the bible (why God’s plan for salvation has to happen the way it does).

Genesis 1

It was no accident that the universe ended up the way it did, even the order that God chose to create each part of creation on each day represents rational deliberate action. An example of the deliberateness of creation can be seen in the simple fact that each subsequent day requires those things that were created the days before to exist (e.g. dry land before plants, plants before animals, etc). Therefore a complete environment is created, ready for humanity, on the first five days.

Furthermore at the end of each day of creation God shows his approval of his work, declaring it to be “good”. The judgements at the end of each of the first five days are not an assessment of what was created on that day only. God’s judgements are assessments of a work in progress, the total work done on each day and the previous days. Yet after mankind (man and woman) takes its place in the order of creation God’s final judgement is one of resounding approval, judging the entire order of creation as “very good”. So what is the difference between the completed work and the individual parts/work in progress?

God’s approval is based on the union, harmony and consistency between himself (the one true God) and his creation. Without any other standard to measure creation by God can only be seen to be using himself as a benchmark. Therefore “good” can be understood as God declaring that creation reflects who he is. This means that when he judges creation to be “very good” (at the end of the sixth day) he is declaring that the sum of all the parts more fully reflects who he is. In this way the unity of God can be seen in creation, with each part of creation made to fulfil a specific purpose, a functioning part of a greater whole. Nowhere in creation is this more evident than in mankind.

In Genesis 1:26 God declares that he will create mankind in his image. It is in this resolution that the Bible reveals the most important key to understanding the nature of God’s union.

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
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 ESV)

Mankind was created in the image of God; this simple fact is vital to understanding who God is, the original order of the universe and humanity’s place in it. There is nothing more important in informing humanity about its collective and individual identity than knowing God. So far, in Genesis 1, God has revealed that he is:
• Creator and judge of all things
• Good
• Ordered, structured and logical, and
• Many (more than 1) united in image and purpose.

Therefore when God says that he will create mankind in his own image (good) it is expected that he will create them ordered, united in image and purpose (more so than anywhere else in creation).

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.
(Genesis 1:27 ESV)

This passage reveals that the union of man reflects the image of God in the following ways:
• The use of the plural for God implies that humanity was made in God’s collective image,
• The use of both singular and plural for man implies that the image of God is reflected in the union of distinctive members (man and woman). i.e. humanity is not made up of homogeneous members.

Therefore God’s image can be seen in humanity as a whole and in the distinctiveness of its members (man and woman). This is the first indication that the unity and diversity in mankind in some way reflects the unity and diversity of God.

Note:This does not mean that mankind is included in the Trinity because God himself clearly distinguishes mankind as separate from himself in the following ways:
• He calls them man not God,
• God does not declare that he will be changing himself but instead that he will be creating man in his own likeness,
• Man did not participate in the creation process. Meaning man’s perspective on his role in creation can only be understood from within creation, with respect to God. Whereas God, who is creator, knows his place with respect to himself and his act of creation, a perspective outside of creation.

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General unity can be understood as the original relationship that existed between God and his creation and between the distinct parts of creation before the fall of mankind. In the beginning all things were created in God’s image (good) sharing in his divine loving nature. This included the union of man (in God’s image) in Adam, who were lords of creation under God. In the new creation this will be the new union of mankind in Christ ruling over the new creation under God forever. The main difference between the unity in new and old creations is the superior headship of each Christ (Jesus is better than Adam). Under the perfect headship of Christ in the new creation unity will never be corrupted through disobedience (because he is God). It is Christ’s membership in the Trinity that guarantees his perfect headship over new humanity.

While the unions of God and man are the same type, the Bible maintains a clear distinction between them. At no point does the Bible ever consider mankind (or the rest of creation) to be part of the Trinity. Therefore unity between God and man (and creation) isn’t achieved through complete sameness. The Bible maintains that this is achieved by sharing a common image (the image of God), nature (the love of God) and under an order (marriage) set down by God according to his authority as head (and creator) of all things.

Unlike the specific union of God (the Trinity), creation (incl. humanity) does not actually share in the same form as God (unlimited, boundless, limitless, etc.). Rather the Bible describes the sum of the parts of creation as being more consistent with who God is (very good) than they were individually (good) or in any incomplete state on the first 5 days of creation. At the same time the Bible reveals that mankind was specifically made in the image of God, reflecting the character and union of God. Therefore creation (especially mankind) reflected who God is without becoming him (e.g. his image). In this way the Bible protects the uniqueness (power, authority, position, etc.) of God while maintaining unity between him and his creation.

Mankind (creation) has always been defined by who God is, this is why it can be said that there has never been an exclusively “human” nature. The nature that mankind had before the fall, that the elect will possess perfectly when they are raised to life in Christ, is the love of God (2 Peter1:3-4). After the fall mankind’s nature was still defined by God but in a negative sense, i.e. not love (selfishness). Mankind only shares in a common nature with God as long as they are united to him. God is love and as such it does not exist apart from him (unity with him). This love does not incorporate every definition that has ever been thought of. God defines his love, and anything that does not meet his perfect standard of love is not love. Love can only be expressed within the order established by God, the order (hierarchy, etc.) of unity. It is within defined order and hierarchy that God expresses his love within himself and as the head of all things. This is the love he expresses as creator and sustainer of all things, the same love expressed in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Therefore in the general union of all things God gives all good things for the benefit of all and in turn he was to be the focus of all mankind’s love and desire.

The fall of man in Adam not only bastardised the union of man but also the union of creation, which man was supposed to rule over under God. Therefore the unity that has always existed in God is no longer visible in creation. This is why humanity has always had an easier time understanding that God was many (e.g. Greek pantheon of gods) yet unable to perceive his oneness.

In my last post I summarised the fundamentals of biblical unity. In this post I summarise how they apply to the specific unions described in the Bible.

The Trinity is the original union, the source of and template for all true unions. It consists of 3 members united in form, nature and order. Each member having a limitless (boundless, infinite, unconfined, etc.) spiritual form (John 4:24), sharing in a loving nature (true self sacrificial love, the love of God) expressed within a self-determined order/hierarchy:
• God the Father as head, then
• God the Son second and
• God the Spirit last.

Membership in the Trinity is exclusive, fixed (it neither increases nor decreases), made up of distinct individuals who are inseparable in unity.

All things are united under the headship of the Trinity (general unity), God was one in eternity past and all things were one in God after the beginning.

Humanity in Adam was the original union of man under God, with Adam as head. All who are part of this union share in his flesh/form (they are all born from the union of Adam’s flesh). While there is no limit to the number of members, membership is exclusive to all those who have been born into the flesh of Adam (through marriage, sex, conception and birth). God gave mankind marriage to order the human union, the right context for the proper expression of love, so that all mankind would become a single loving family with each husband exercising headship over his own family with due respect to the headship of God and Adam.

When Adam sinned all who share in his flesh (who were yet to be born) would also share in his disunity, cut off from God (life and love himself). Incapable of doing good (being like God), where a nature of love is replaced with sinfulness. Separately or together humans are incapable of knowing and expressing the love of God naturally. Therefore humanity no longer expresses the love of God within marriage and family as God originally intended.

New humanity in Christ (Christians), like the original (undefiled) union of man (in Adam) is modelled on the Trinity. Membership in this union is limited to those who have first been born into the flesh of Adam and then been reborn into the spirit of Christ (who is the head of this new human union). This is why Christ was born into the flesh of man, so that through his death and resurrection he would inaugurate this new human union. Like Adam he was the first born of his union, becoming its head, so that all (Christians) might be united in him (in spirit not flesh). It is unity in Christ’s spirit (form, the Holy Spirit) that his death and resurrection becomes effective for all Christians.

Adam is the head of humanity because he was the first human created by God and Christ is the head of this new humanity because he was the first of many to be raised from the dead. Adam was the first born (heir, lord, son of God, etc.) human of creation and therefore Christ is the first born of the new creation.

The union of new humanity is be one of form, nature and order. The form the elect take after their resurrection will be a spiritual body (1Corinthians 15) in the image of Christ’s post resurrection body in contrast to their current body of flesh in the image of Adam. As such our union with Christ is spiritual, whereas our union to Adam is one of flesh. Also all humanity are born into Adam’s body of flesh sharing in a bastardised union and rebellious nature (not love), so too all who trust in Christ will be reborn into the same spiritual body as him sharing in the perfect unity with access to the nature of God (love). Therefore in union with Christ the elect will be able to express their love within the marriage between Christ and his Church. So where there were once many self-seeking individuals all will be united in one man, Christ.

Because unity is achieved through form, nature and order, individuality/distinctiveness can be maintained without being absorbed into a single homogeneous being, consciousness or collective. A common loving nature means that each individual will not seek to impose their individuality on the whole (or part of the whole) union, this is called selfishness and is indicative of disunity. Instead each member will seek the best for the other members and the whole, in doing so they will seek the best for themselves. So in the new creation mankind will reflect the image of God once again (forever), being both one and many at the same time.

Unity is so difficult to understand because humanity is so far from the union which was to be their birth right (as God’s image bearers). Christians find it difficult to see the fullness of their union in Christ because they are both share in Adam’s flesh and the spirit of Christ. Therefore Christians must come to terms with their unity in Christ if they are to understand who God is and their renewed relationship we are with him.

In my next post I will summarise how the fundamentals of unity apply to the general union of all things in God.

The union of God the Father, Son and Spirit is a difficult subject that is often placed in the “we will find out when we get to heaven” category by most bible believing Christians, with the concept of the oneness of three persons becoming confused by the logic of simple (mathematical) unions and becoming nonsensical (i.e. 1+1+1=1). This mathematical depiction of the union of God distils the complexity of the three persons into what is called a simple unity (i.e. very simple to understand), making it incompatible with the bible’s complex view of God. Expressing the unity of God as a simple unity (above) is unhelpful and misleading and should not be done.

While distinctiveness exists between members it is not complete (total) difference (no two are alike in any way), just as the similarity between members is not absolute (all members are exactly the same). The Bible clearly states that individuality/distinctiveness is an important part of unity. Each distinctive part represents a functioning piece of a greater whole (a working union). Therefore unity must be viewed as a structured relationship between individuals.

The clearest picture of the continuity of unity from the Trinity to humanity is seen in John 17. Here Jesus prays for unity between his followers, revealing that unity is his reason and his purpose for coming to earth in human form. He prays that his followers might be one as God is one, not separate from God but united in God so that all things might be one in God and God might be in all. It is important to take careful note here that Jesus speaks of two different types of unions that coexist:
• A general union of all things.
• Specific unions (unity of race),

From the bible’s perspective it is possible to be a member of multiple unions, humanity was created as a specific union under Adam who together take part in the general union of creation under God. All the specific unions have a role to play within the general union of all things (creation is not God, but reflects the image of God in unity). General and Specific unity is achieved in the following ways:
• Form (flesh, spirit and image of God)
• Nature (love), and
• Relational order (incl. distinctiveness and hierarchy)

Within both specific and general unions all three are required to safeguard the distinctiveness and integrity of each member working in unison (unity of form, nature and order). God is love and life, to exist apart from him is to lose the nature required for any unity to exist (love) and to die (life without being united in God is death). Therefore each specific union can’t exist apart from the union of all things in God (accept the trinity which is itself the union of God). Also no single member of a specific union can exist within the general union of all things apart from membership in a specific union (you are not separate from your race).

The union of all things under God (incl. all specific unions) is also based on a common image and nature expressed in a common overarching order. This is to ensure that the distinctiveness and exclusiveness of each specific union is maintained within the union of all things under God. The form that each specific union is united under is that of the head of their union, so that distinction between unions is maintained. While at the same time it is a united humanity that bears the image of God and a united creation (incl. humanity) that measured up to the goodness of God.

In the next post I will show how these fundamentals work themselves out in humanity (in Adam), new humanity (in Christ) and the Trinity.

“The doctrine of the Trinity is the foundation of the Christian religion. Unless this doctrine is held firmly and truly, it is not possible to be a Christian. For the Christian is one who acknowledges Jesus as Lord, yet adheres to the religion of the Bible which emphasises so strongly that there is only one God.”
D. B. Knox, The Everlasting God, p. 57

Broughton Knox (a former Sydney theologian) in his book The Everlasting God seeks to explain how fundamental the doctrine of biblical unity is to the Christian life. Without the doctrine of unity the story and wisdom of the bible would have no meaning and the universe as we know it would not exist. For example, if the doctrine of unity is not held firmly in line with what the bible teaches the sin of the first man Adam would have no bearing on humanity nor the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ be effective for the Christian (it would not be necessary).

Yet how can we apply the unity of God to our own lives when most Christians are baffled by how it works or what it even looks like?

Firstly I need to be clear on what I mean when I use the term “biblical unity” before I apply it to everyday situations.

In short, biblical unity is a natural state of relationship where distinctive individuals, in the image of a single head, relate to one another with love for the good of each and every member (and the whole) within a defined hierarchy. Unity is the fundamental relationship that exists between God the Father, God the Son and God the Spirit who have always existed and related to one another. It is an essential characteristic that makes God who he is. It is also the state God created the universe to exist in under his headship.

It is my aim to explain the all-important doctrine of unity from the bible’s perspective in upcoming posts, to help Christians learn how to live in light of the Trinity.