What does it mean to be the “Workmanship of God”?
by Rev. Dr. Bill Jennings
Second Scripture Readings: Romans 8.28-29
June 2, 2019
Introduction: Most of us know what the Bible says about our being created in the image of God. Sometimes we see those evangelical T-shirts with something like this on them, “I am made in God’s Image, and God does not make Junk!” And that is a good place to start. That is: the Biblical worldview about who you and I are! That is God’s Word about you, and me and everyone in this room. Good for our self-confidence and your understanding about who we are – and don’t you ever forget it!
But that is not the end of your story. God did not just create us to throw us out into this cruel world to let us shift for ourselves. There is a lot more to your story and my story that we all need to know about. And that is what we want to talk about today.
God wants to be involved in your life from day one until your final breath. Jeremiah, the Prophet tried desperately to convince the People of Judah that God was just like a potter who molds the vessel of clay on his wheel. If for some reason that piece of clay presented a defect, he would squeeze it and reshape it until it became pleasing to its Creator and Author. Unfortunately, Jeremiah’s pleas fell on deaf ears and Judah did not repent. But fortunately that image of the Potter and Clay created an impression in the mind of the poet Adelaide Pollard, who wrote the words to the hymn we will be singing later today, “Have Thine Own Way, Lord.” – “Thou art the Potter, I am the clay”. I cannot think of a better way to say that God wants to be a “hands-on” shaper of our lives!
Now, moving on to the N.T., Paul, in Romans 8, goes further back into the Lord’s involvement in the shaping of our lives. Let’s read vs. 28-29: (Read)
How can God know us “from the very beginning” as the Message says? How can he “predestine” anything? We surely can’t do that! The simple answer to that question is, that He is God – and we are not! If you have trouble believing that God can predestine anything to happen, you are not alone! (That is the good news!) Let me introduce you to a group of biblical people who feel the same way:
Let’s begin with David in Psalm 139.4-6: “Before a word is on my tongue, you know it completely, O LORD. You hem me in – behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; too lofty for me to attain.” And, in Ps. 145.3, David said, “Great is the LORD and most worthy of praise; his greatness no one can fathom.”
How about Isaiah, in 40.28: “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!” and in 55.8-9: “’My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the LORD. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.’”
Now, how about Job in 36.26: “How great is God – beyond our understanding! The number of his years is past finding out.”
And now, the Apostle Paul, in Rom. 11.33-34:”Oh the depth of the riches and the wisdom and knowledge of God. How unsearchable his judgments and his paths beyond tracing out! Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?”
Now, if you can feel comfortable in the company of Job, David, Isaiah and Paul, let us move on to what else Paul says is the end product of this “hands-on” shaping of our lives: It is, in Paul’s words, “that we should become conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.”
Think about that! God, our heavenly Father, wants to work with you and me in such a way that as we mature under his care, so that we shall progressively be transformed into the moral and spiritual likeness of Jesus, his Son, as if we were actually his brothers and sisters!
Can that really happen? Can a believer actually be transformed to be mistaken for Christ himself? There is a story that comes from the History of World Missions, which suggests that: the story of Sadhu Sundar Singh.
“Sadhu” is a Hindi word that means “Holy Man”, and in India, there are many “Sadhus” or “holy men” from the many religions who are itinerant preachers wandering around that great sub-continent preaching their various gods. Sundar was born in India, in 1889, a member of the Sikh religion which believes in one god, but in the Indian culture, where people worship as many as 300 million gods and goddesses, the young man Sundar Singh was confused and desired to know with certainty which of the gods was the True God.
He struggled with this and in despair, one night as a young man vowed to himself that if the Truth was not revealed to him, he would commit suicide, on the RR tracks that passed by his house. That night, as he later described it, a brilliant light invaded his room, and all he could see were two pieerced hands extended in the midst of the light. He knew those hands were the hands of the Risen Christ.
From then on he took up the role of the Sadhu (Holy Man) and roamed all over India with his message of Jesus Christ – barefoot! As time went on he tried to make contact with the organized Christian church in India, but they found his life-style to be too “strange”, and non-conforming to the prevailing Christian complicated liturgy, priestly garments and elaborate church buildings. As his popularity grew among the poor in India, he visited other places like Burma, Japan, England, and other European nations, but usually being considered too eccentric to be welcome and included in their elaborate church customs, liturgies, and temples.
So, Sundar Singh returned to India and began to travel, as always, barefoot as far north as the Himalayan Mountains in North India where his footprints were tinged in blood.. There, in 1929 he disappeared. When friends of Sadhu began to search for him, they tried to describe him to the people of the Himalayan Mountains. The people of North India wanted to know, who his God was. They said he preached Jesus Christ. But they said, “Who is Jesus?” When they described Jesus as a poor itinerate preacher who had no home and depended on others to care for him, and he healed the sick and comforted the poor and needy, they responded, “Yes, he was here!” Sadhu’s friends said, “Who?” And they responded, “That Jesus fellow!”
And that was because the description of Jesus fit their understanding of whom they knew as the Sadhu Sundar Singh. They responded, “He was here, but went further north and never again returned.”
I cannot affirm that this story is historically correct, but it does describe what Paul was writing about in Rom. 8.29, that God’s goal with us is that believers in Christ by their character and witness might be confused morally and spiritually with Christ himself.
How can this process take place? Paul himself gives us a clue, in II Cor. 3.18. The key word in this verse is the one translated into “reflect” in our NIV Bibles also means “contemplate”. The Greek word is the same word behind “examined” in Acts 17.11 where Luke writes, “The Berians were of more noble character because they examined the Scriptures.” I would like to suggest that the better translation of this verse is in the NEV which reads, “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. Forthis comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” Simply by beholding the Glory of the Lord we are being transformed into the same image!
There is an interesting short story by Nathanial Hawthorne that illustrates this truth, that the more that we contemplate the object of our attention, the more we are influenced by that object. The story, titled “The Great Stone Face” is about a young boy named Earnest who lived in the valley under the shadow of the White Mountains in N. Hampshire. In those mountains was a rock formation that appeared like the noble face of a man which everyone in the valley admired. His mother told him that an old native American legend had it that they believed that there would be someday a man who would leave that valley and make his fortune in the world and then return to the valley a famous person who reflected perfectly the nobility of that “old man of the mountain”.
That story fascinated young Earnest and as he grew up on the shadow of the “Old Man of the Mountain”, he began to wonder if the legend was true. And sure enough there were three candidates for that honor, the first being a business man who went to a big city and became rich by astute business deals. His name was Mr. GatherGold, but he was basically a selfish greedy old man, and in no way reflected the nobility of the “Old Man of the Mountain.” But Earnest kept looking, until another candidate appeared in the valley – this time a decorated military commander. His name was Old Blood and Thunder. But Earnest failed to see in this military man, the benevolent nature of a man of peace that he had to come to recognize in the image of the Old Man of the Mountain. Not long later, a third candidate returned to the valley, this time a Politician and orator. He adopted for his nickname as Old Stony Phiz in his attempt to appear similar to the Old Man of the Mountain. But by this time, Ernest, an adult already knew the difference between truth and falsehood, and he soon recognized that “old Stony Phiz was vain, and empty – far from the integrity communicated by the image of the Old Man of the Mountain. Finally, Ernest, now an old man and known in the valley for his own integrity, wisdom and kindness meets with a local poet who recognizes that it is Ernest himself who through his entire life studied the image of the Old Man of the Mountain from his front porch, was the one who fulfilled the prophecy of the legend. The poet called together a gathering of the people of the valley, and declared to them all, that it was in their midst, Earnest, hiimself who best reflected in his character the nobility and greatness of the Old Man of the Mountain.
But Ernest, in his humility, shrugged it all off and replied that he would continue to search for the one who would fulfill that ancient prophecy.
What a great illustration from American literature which shows what constant study and contemplation of an object ends up affecting the observer with the same qualities.
Do you know what Daniel Webster said of the image of the Old Man of the Mountain? He said, “Men hang out their signs indicative of their respective trades: shoemakers hang out a huge shoe; jewelers, a monster watch; and the dentist hangs out a gold tooth. But up in the mountains of N. Hampshire, God Almighty has hung out a sign to show that there he makes men.”
(Isn’t that refreshing [!] to hear such a thing from a politician? Daniel Webster was a congressman from N. Hampshire, a Senator from Mass., and the Secretary of State for three different American Presidents!)
That is what it means to be the “workmanship of God” in Paul’s his letter to the Ephesians Eph. 4.11-13 (read it): Look at all those people, that God gave to us, Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Pastors and Teachers, to do what? (V. 12): “to prepare us to do works of service”, until when? (v.13): “Until we all reach the unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and to become mature” to attain to what? “to attain the full measure of the fullness of Christ”
That is the process and end result of being the Workmanship of God.