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.”Genesis 1:26, 27, 31
So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.
And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.
“Sanctification” is perhaps one of the most misunderstood words in all of Christendom. It is often described using other terms of religious significance, such as holiness, righteousness, consecration, or purification. The Greek word hagiasmos (ἁγιασμός) is only used in Biblical and ecclesiastical writing to signify either “consecration and purification” or the “effect of consecration of the heart and life.” However, this barely scratches the surface of what the term means at its deepest core. So let’s break it down into two elements: consecration and purification.
Consecrated, Lord to Thee
Growing up in a small church in rural Louisiana, we often sang an old hymn by Frances Ridley Havergal (1874) that begins with the two lines:
Take my life and let it beHavergal, Frances Ridley. “Take My Life And Let It Be” (Public Domain: 1874)
Consecrated, Lord, to Thee
Published in over 1100 hymnals, it is perhaps one of the most widely published hymns ever written after the American Civil War. In August 1850, Frances enrolled in Mrs. Teed’s school and the experience influenced the rest of her life. In the following year, at the age of 15, she writes “I committed my soul to the Saviour, and earth and heaven seemed brighter from that moment.” For several years she traveled with her father, William Henry Havergal who was an Anglican pastor, composer, and hymnist in his own right. He also published numerous volumes of sermons and lectures. Four of his five children went on to be published writers, with the fifth child editing and publishing her father’s writings posthumously. Frances would go on to write 255 hymns in no fewer than 16 different languages around the world, including but not limited to English, German, Arabic, Chinese, Spanish, Portuguese, Norwegian, Swedish, Tagalog, Dakota, and more.
Some of her most well known hymns included “I Gave My Life For Thee” and “Like a River Glorious”. But no hymn of hers would come close to the prolific publication as “Take My Life And Let It Be”. It is a hymn that is reflective of her life dedicated to serving her Creator. The term “consecrated” as used in her hymn simply means “to be set aside for a special purpose”, and Frances life and writings were a direct reflection and a lasting legacy of consecration to the purpose of her Lord and Savior until her death at the age of 43 in Caswell Bay, Swansea, Wales in 1879, just five years after the publication of this hymn.
Purified as Silver
The prophet Malachi paints a brilliant picture of a refiner’s fire purifying silver and gold as a example of the process by which God recreates His people: “He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the LORD. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the LORD as in the days of old and as in former years.” (Malachi 3:3, 4)
Silver and gold are two of the most widely used precious metals in the making of jewelry. However, in Biblical times (both Old and New Testament) silver and gold were very difficult to come by as only kings and the very rich would have access to it. Both must go through a rigorous extraction and refining process in order to be transformed into a metal of value to be shaped into money, jewelry, and other adornments. They have to be melted down under intense heat so that the impurities would rise to the top of the slag and then be skimmed off. This process is repeated over and over again until all of the impurities are extracted from the raw metal. Then and only then can it be of certifiable quality to be used by an artisan to reshape and recreate what is essentially nothing more than a rock into an object of beauty. However, what is happening in the refining process in its purest sense is that the metal is being recreated into its original, purest form – before it was corrupted by the impurities of the earth.
Created in the Image of God
In the beginning, mankind – both man and woman – were created in the image of God. It has been said that when God created the fish of the sea, He spoke to the waters. When He created the trees, He spoke to the land. However, when He created humanity, He looked to Himself. In our original state as He created us, we were not only perfect, but we were the epitome of His perfect Creation. We were the pinnacle of all of His work. He in effect “saved the best for last.” And every day up to this point, after His long day’s work, He would look upon what He created and bless it and declare that “it was good.” But it was not until man was created that God declared all of creation to be “very good.”
The phrase “very good” only appears 5 times in all of Scripture, all of them in the Old Testament. The last two times that phrase is used is in an obscure passage in writings of the prophet Jeremiah:
One basket had very good figs, like first-ripe figs, but the other basket had very bad figs, so bad that they could not be eaten. And the LORD said to me, “What do you see, Jeremiah?” I said, “Figs, the good figs very good, and the bad figs very bad, so bad that they cannot be eaten.”Jeremiah 24:2, 3
This passage describes what God will do with the inhabitants of the Kingdom of Judah to preserve her in order to keep His promise to His servant Isaac. As Israel goes into exile under the Chaldeans, God describes Judah as “good figs” whom He will preserve and the exile would serve as a time of refining for them. He promises to restore them to their land after a time. On the flip side, the bad figs represented the disobedient king Zedekiah. Zedekiah would remain in Judah along with his officials and a remnant that would remain in Jerusalem and Egypt. But because of their disobedience, they would ultimately be destroyed and wiped out of the land of Judah in time for the exiles to eventually return.
The image of God that He imparted upon mankind in His creation can best be understood in terms of three relationships. First, the relationship between man and God Himself – a father/child relationship. Secondly, the relationship between humanity has with itself. Finally, the relationship that man has with the earth. And when man sinned in the Garden of Eden, all three of these relationships were broken. The father/child relationship between man and God was reduced to hiding in the bushes. The man and woman were reduced to blame shifting – each blaming the other for their own sin, with Adam ultimately blaming God Himself. And the earth was corrupted, once freely bearing fruit for humanity without the need for work, toil is introduced and man must now provide for his own sustenance.
The Image of God is this: mankind was created to have relationship with God Himself and in community with one another and to have dominion over the earth. This is what we were created to be. We were not created to have enmity with one another. We were not created to bring glory to ourselves. We were not created to consume the earth. We were created to relate and to rule.
Conformed to the Image of His Son
The process of sanctification, the refining fire if you will, is the process of restoring humanity to its original state. It is the process of restoring the relationship between man and God as father and child. It is the process of restoring community with one another. It is the process of living in dominion over the earth, not over one another. We were created to subdue and to fill the earth and bring glory to the Father because we were created in His image. When Adam sin and his sin was imparted until us and every successive generation since, that relationship was broken. But there is hope.
“For those whom He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, in order that He might be the firstborn among many brothers.” (Romans 8:29) Just as Adam was the first of all humanity, Jesus was the first of a new kind of humanity. His sacrifice on Calvary made our redemption possible. Just as God sacrificed animals in the Garden of Eden to make a covering for the sin and shame of Adam and Eve, He sacrificed His own Son to make a covering for our own sin and shame. This act was an act of redemption meant to start the process of recreating you into the image of His Son.
Paul gives this exhortation to the believers in Thessalonica: “For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.”
Redeemed for His Glory
Sanctification is a process. It is the process by which God refines His children and reshapes and recreates us into the beautiful creation He always intended us to be from the beginning. It is the process by which He sets us aside for His special purpose, in order that we might be restored in our relationship to Him and our relationship with one another and our relationship over all of creation. It is only by the power of the Holy Spirit living in us as we seek to be imitators of Christ in spirit and in truth that we can ever find a way to see Heaven on earth.