In an earlier post in this series, I considered —
(Eph 4:22-24) You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
There, the point was the fact that when we are saved, God performs a new act of creation, re-creating us in his own image. But it’s really deeper than that.
First, the use of “create” in the scriptures is nearly always a reference back to Genesis — even if the point isn’t explicitly made. Creation is an attribute of God that defines a part of his personality. God often presents himself as the Creator —
(Isa 40:28-31) Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. 29 He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. 30 Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; 31 but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.
(Isa 45:12-13) “It is I who made the earth and created mankind upon it. My own hands stretched out the heavens; I marshaled their starry hosts. 13 I will raise up Cyrus in my righteousness: I will make all his ways straight. He will rebuild my city and set my exiles free, but not for a price or reward, says the LORD Almighty.”
And so the choice of “create” is always significant.
But what of the phrase “like God”? Where have we heard that before? It is also deeply significant. It goes back to —
(Gen 3:5) “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
Adam and Eve were created in a naive innocence, incapable of distinguishing right from wrong — except that they knew it was wrong to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. And even though they had only one command to obey, they violated it — bringing the Curse of Genesis 3 down on themselves and all Creation.
And Satan was right, in a sense. They did become like God — they knew good and evil. But they were very much unlike God, because even though the knew good and evil, they did evil. And so, they weren’t really like God at all.
But they were more like God than before. After all, how can one be truly righteous and holy and not know right from wrong? The truly holy person has to know right from wrong and choose to do right.
Therefore, in Ephesians, Paul is saying that God is going to make us like God. When Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden, they became enough like God to merit the Curse of Genesis 3. But in Christ, by the power of the Spirit, we will instead become enough like God to be righteous and holy — two adjectives used repeatedly in the prophets to describe God himself — and so receive the new Eden, the New Jerusalem, the new heavens and new earth.
(Isa 5:16) But the LORD Almighty will be exalted by his justice, and the holy God will show himself holy by his righteousness.
Oh, wow! God actually expects us to become holy and righteous — truly righteous — like him. That’s an impossible standard!
But the text is clear. It’s also clear, however, that it is God doing the work. V. 23 tells us “to be made new” — in the passive voice. God makes us new. V. 24 tells us to “put on” the new self “created to be like God.” God created the new self. We don’t create it. Rather, we put it on.
It’s the same verb Paul uses in —
(Gal 3:26-27) You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.
To “put on” is the same word as “clothe yourself.” It’s also the same word used in —
(1 Cor 15:53) For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality.
We dress ourselves in the new self God made just for us. You see, when we are baptized, we clothe ourselves with Christ. But as Christians, we must still clothe ourselves with the “new self” re-created by God to be like God. And at the resurrection, we dress ourselves in immortality.
All three metaphors are about being like God. And all three metaphors are about God working in us so that we are rescued from the Curse of death and decay.
And we have little trouble understanding that God deems us sinless in baptism. And we get that God wraps us in imperishability at the end of time. But we struggle with the idea of becoming like God today in holiness and true righteousness. God can do the first and the third, but we doubt that he has the power to do the second.
The rest of the book of Ephesians is an instruction manual on how it happens, culminating in —
(Eph 6:11) Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.
Now, we have to realize that while we put on Christ, the new self, immortality, and the full armor of God, the things we put on are all free gifts. It is God who does the creating. And his creating is for the purpose of overcoming the Curse of Genesis 3, resulting from sin. You see, in the beginning, man could not be fully obedient because man did not know God’s will.
When we learned God’s will, we became accursed sinners. But by the power of the Spirit — by God himself coming to dwell within us — God is making out of us even better creations, more perfect than Adam and Eve.
After all, in the new heavens and new earth, the serpent will be defeated. We will never fall away, but our perfection won’t be the result of our ignorance of God’s will. Rather, we’ll know God’s will and obey because we delight in God’s will.
And this is the path to becoming truly righteous and holy today.