“This is a call to reflect the Father in heaven, whose image we bear.”
In a country that has over 70 tribes and more than 15 political ideologies, it is very easy to find a reason to not go along with the next person. It is easy to find a reason not to love the next person. As broken human beings, we can choose to be selfish and look down on others on the basis of tribal differences. We can choose to segregate others on political lines.
But when we are confronted with the reality that we are all bearers of God’s image, that should hugely change our disposition. It should give us a sense of higher calling and purpose. Though marred by sin, we are created in God’s image. We are bearers of God’s image before we are country men and women, before we are tribes-people, and before we are political party members. etc. That’s fundamental.
To be created in God’s image is to share with him and represent him. Sharing with God means that He has graciously chosen to share some of his attributes with humans. It means that God has given us the ability to show and express some of his attributes. For example, Love, goodness, justice, kindness, patience, etc. In Ephesians 5:1 we read: “Be imitators of God, as beloved children.” God is the embodiment of these attributes (1 John 4:8), so when we want to know more about these attributes and do them, we must look to Him. This is not a call to be “gods” or “to be like God” as in the sense of the temptation that led to the fall of Adam and Eve. This is a call to reflect the Father in heaven, whose image we bear. The one whose image we bear shows is kind and shows kindness to all. Jesus said in Matthew 5:44-48: “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Do not even tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
Notice how high the bar is: The call is not to be better than the next person. The call is not to be a better tribe or belong to one. The call is to do things as the father (whose image we bear) would have us do. That’s the highest calling you can think of.
How is this practically possible for fallen and imperfect human beings? In the above passage, Jesus uses the call to perfection to achieve the call to realization. He shows us how high the bar is, to help us realize how short we come even with our best of deeds.
This realization can cause at least two things in us:
1. Be gracious and considerate toward others who are broken like us.
2. Ask the all-encompassing question of Nicodemus and the Philippian jailor: What must I do?
The point here is not necessarily that only Christians can portray moral goodness. The point here is not that you need to be a Christian in order to not be a tribalist. In fact, even Christians can participate is such a sin as tribalism. The point is to reveal the two standards of righteousness. One is man’s the other is God’s (the Father’s). We have already seen what the father’s righteousness looks like from the passage above. But what about the other one? The above passage is preceded with a very profound phrase that Jesus used: “Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees …” What does the righteousness of the Pharisees look like? This is a righteousness that seeks to compare oneself with another and not the perfect standard of God (Matthew 6:1, Luke 18: 9-14). This is a righteousness in which one creates their own standards and glories in meeting them. This is a righteousness in which you grade yourself on a curve – at least I am better than my neighbor or at least I am not as bad as my neighbor.
Tribalism follows in the lines of “the righteousness of the pharisees. It says “I am better because I belong to such a tribe. I am better because I belong to this clan or group of people and not the other. Tribalism glories in creating moral standards that grade people groups as either superior or inferior to another. Such morality or “righteousness” creates nothing other than strife, and contradicts the Biblical message that all people groups are created in God’s image. This kind of righteousness is also self-distracting as it only points to one’s own achievement and not God’s standard. Throughout Matthew 5, Jesus shows us that the only way to surpass “the righteousness of the Pharisees” is to seek the “righteousness of the father.” The pursuit of the righteousness of the father is the only true and ultimate antidote.
In 2 Corinthians 5:21, we read that God made His righteousness available to us through Christ. The message of the gospel of Jesus Christ is that we all stand on a level ground before the cross of Jesus Christ, needing God’s grace, so that all boasting is excluded (Ephesians 2:8-9). For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).
Perhaps, when we realize our inadequacy and shortcomings, we will not look within ourselves. Perhaps this realization will cause us to look beyond and to Christ, whose righteousness takes us to the father and empowers us for living as broken beings in a broken world.
“But God proves His love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.Therefore, since we have now been justified by His blood, how much more shall we be saved from wrath through Him! For, if when we were enemies of God, we were reconciled to Him through the death of His Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through His life! Not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.