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Humanity in the “Imago Dei”

Imago-Arts-IMG_1518Do not allow your view of humanity to be skewed by the image of evil, rather view all of humanity through the image of God. We see the best of humanity in Jesus Christ who teaches us what it means to be human. For he alone restores the “likeness” of God to those who are being restored by, through, and in him.

“So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other.” – John 13:34

Biblical Studies, Theology, Worship

Creation, the Establishment of Worship through God’s Good Work.


In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said to his disciples, “You are the light of the world.  A city built on a hill cannot be hid.  No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” [1]  Jesus declared to his disciples their identity and work in the world. The disciples were called “the light of the world,” and their work was to involve doing good works before others so as to bring glory to God. The Church was ordained by Christ to be God’s light, and shine God’s light by practicing good works for all of creation to see. As the author of light and good works, God created the natural processes in which good results stem from good works. Christ revealed to his disciples their identity in the world by appealing to their understanding of light’s role in Creation. In Creation, God spoke light into existence and separated it from darkness.  Just as all creation has seen the good work of God in creating light and separating it from darkness, so Christ called his disciples to be light separated from the dark state of creation. The disciples were to model God’s good work in Creation so that others would see their good works and give glory to God.  The disciples worshiped God in responding obediently to God’s greatest revelation of light, Jesus Christ. Creation responds to God’s revelation of good works that are done by Christ’s followers.

God established worship by revealing the good work of Creation to all created things. In response to God’s good work, all created things experience God’s goodness. God’s good work in Creation established Israel’s worship regimen.  In Exodus 34:21, the people of Israel were called to follow the paradigm of God’s good work in Creation by working for six days out of the week and resting on the seventh day. God’s good work in Creation also established worship for all humanity in the revelation of Jesus Christ. God’s revelation of Creation’s goodness to humanity culminated in the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. God’s Spirit acknowledged the goodness of Creation to all people through Christ’s humanity.  “The word became flesh and dwelt among us.”[2]  In Jesus Christ’s humanity, God’s good work was revealed to all of creation as the means of restoration to God’s glory and goodness.

God’s order of Creation has been instrumental throughout history in dictating the worship of God. The Israelites were commanded to rest on the Sabbath, the seventh day of the week, the day in which God rested after the good work of Creation was finished. Sunday has been the Church‘s designated day of worship since the 4th century and coincides with the first day of Creation on which God’s good work established light. God’s creation of light was also significant to the early Church because of God’s revelation of “the true light,”[3] Jesus Christ and his resurrection.  Justin Martyr, a second-century apologist, appealed to God’s Creation as a reason that the Church gathered on Sunday to worship when he told his pagan listeners, “we all hold this common gathering on Sunday since it is the first day, on which God transforming darkness and matter made the universe, and Jesus Christ our Savior rose from the dead on the same day.”[4]

God sees Creation as good, temporally, through the Holy Spirit’s revelation of Creation’s goodness to humanity.  Through the Holy Spirit’s revelation of Creation’s goodness to humanity, God initiates worship.  Humanity responds to God’s good work in Creation by extolling God, “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.  Wonderful are your works that I know very well.”[5]

In his Confessions, Saint Augustine reflects on the Genesis 1 account of God’s recognizing Creation as good.  Augustine reflects on the seven times that God declared the individual acts of Creation as good, and an eighth time, after Creation was complete, when God declared all of Creation as exceedingly good.  In Augustine’s questioning the nature of God’s work in time, Augustine discovers that God experiences the goodness of Creation through the Holy Spirit’s presence in humanity.  In Augustine’s reflection on the goodness of Creation, he says to God, “It is different for people who see creation through your Spirit, for you are seeing it through their eyes.  Thus when such people see that these things are good, you are seeing that they are good; whatever created things please them for your sake, it is you who are arousing this delight in these things; and anything that gives us joy through your Spirit gives you joy in us.”[6]

First Move: God’s Good Work in Creation established Worship for Israel.

Creation is God’s work of grace.  Karl Barth claims, “the very existence and nature of the creature are the work of the grace of God.”[7]  God’s selflessness models the nature and spirit of worship for humanity.  God acts, and creation responds by doing what it is created to do.  God’s acting is essentially God’s work in revealing creation’s purpose.  Barth says, “creation is the road to the covenant,… The covenant is the internal basis of creation…. This consists in the fact that the wisdom and omnipotence of God the Creator was not just any wisdom and omnipotence but that of His free love…. The fact that the covenant is the goal of creation is not something which is added later to the reality of the creature…. It already characterizes creation itself and as such, and therefore the being and existence of the creature.”[8]

A commandment that God gave to the Israelites that stemmed directly from God’s good work in Creation, is found in Exodus 34:21, which says: “Six days you are to work, and on the seventh day you are to rest. Even in ploughing time and in crop harvest, you are to rest.”[9]  This passage identifies God’s work in Creation as the establishment of worship.  God’s good work establishing worship in Creation is evident in the study of the Hebrew word, avad, in the context of Exodus 34:21.

In Exodus 34:21, the word ta’avod is taken from the verb root avad that means “work, serve,” and in many English translations of this passage the word ta’avad is translated as “work.”

The word avad comes from an Aramaic word which means “worship, obey (God).”[10]  The word ta’avod in Exodus 34:21, is related to the root avad in that it is absolute and means “labour, work, do work.”  The word ta’avod is the Qal, prefix, 2nd person, masculine, singular and seems to take the imperfect form.  Other possible translations similar to the word ta’avod that are absolute are “work for another, serve him by labour,” “serve as subjects,” “serve God or serve other gods,” or “serve with Levitical service.”  In the Niphal stem, the root avad can be translated “be tilled,” “cultivated,” or “make oneself a servant.”  In the Pual stem, the root avad can be translated “has been worked” or “was worked.”  In the Hiphil stem, the root avad can be translated “compel to labour,” “make to serve,” or “cause to serve.” In the Hophal stem the root avad can be translated “be led to serve” or “enticed to serve.”[11]

The idea of “work” for God in the Old Testament constituted allegiance to God by doing what God desired.  The command to live righteously and justly is a command to worship God through actions.  The Theological Lexicon of the Old Testament describes serving God as inseparable from being human.  To be human is to serve God.  “Being human without serving God is as impossible as being human without being active.  In the OT, “serving God” comprehensively describes relationship to God.”[12]

The correlation between “worshiping” and “serving” God is so closely connected to humanity’s living life that it is inseparable from being a part of everyday living.  What people do six days a week in “working,” “laboring,” and “serving” is for and because of humanity’s relationship with their Creator.  “Since ‘serving God’ indicates one’s relationship to God as a whole, it cannot mean ‘to do God a service.’  Instead, it signifies acknowledgment of God as Lord, an acknowledgment that requires one’s entire existence.”[13]

The Exodus 34:21 passage describes a renewal of God’s covenantal relationship with Israel.  In the verses before 21, there are pronouncements to do away with the worship of other gods to worship only Yahweh.  The culmination of these pronouncements seems to be verse 21, when the passage depicts a week long/total existence of “service/worship” to Yahweh.  “The rhythm of worship and rest following six days of work (21), in a close parallel to 23:12, with the addition of a statement not found elsewhere in the OT, that the rhythm of seventh-day rest is not to be interrupted even by the busiest work-seasons, plowing time and harvest time-this requirement, which would certainly have set Israel apart.”[14]

This type of work ethic would be contrary to the rest of the world’s laboring work requirements.  The command seems to indicate a day of rest for reflection on the previous six days just as God did after creating all things.  The command also seems to call for a reestablishment of purpose, “to serve/worship the one true God, Yahweh,” for the next six days and remain in the covenant.

The Torah contains several clues for translating ta’avod as “worship” in Exodus 34:21. In Deuteronomy 6:13, the word ta’avod is translated as “worship.”  This passage is a part of the shema, which Israel would use in worship everyday, not just one day a week.  In Deuteronomy 7:16, the word ta’avod is translated as “worship” to command the people of Israel not to worship other gods.  This passage echoes the call of Exodus 34:21, in that, it pertains to the fulfilling of the covenantal relationship setup in Exodus 34.  In Deuteronomy 10:20, the word ta’avod is translated as “worship” to command the people of Israel to worship only God and to remain faithful to the covenantal relationship with Him.[15]

The Israelites were to worship according to the model of God’s work in Creation.  God’s good work in Creation was prompted by covenant.  In Israel’s disobedience and worshiping of false gods, God calls them to remember who created all things and to remain in the covenant instituted by Creation in God’s love for them.

Second Move: God’s Good Work in Creation established Worship for all People.

The purpose of humanity’s creation and the establishment of worship is seen through the covenantal relationship that God established in Creation and fulfilled in Jesus Christ.  Barth says, “Divine creation is divine benefit. What takes shape in it is the goodness of God.”[16]  In Creation, God’s purpose is to reveal the ultimate goodness of Jesus Christ as a benefit for all created beings in order to secure the covenant between God and humanity.

In reflecting on Christ and the goodness of God’s work in Creation Augustine says, “in your Word, Your only Son, we saw them severally as good and collectively as exceedingly good; for what we saw was heaven and earth, the Head and the body of the Church which you predestined before time began, when there was neither morning nor evening.”[17]  If covenant is the purpose of Creation, and worship is God’s revelation to humanity and humanity’s response, then Jesus Christ is the purpose of Creation and initiates all worship.  Paul details Jesus’ work in Creation to the church in Colossae in writing, “For in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers-all things have been created through him and for him.”[18]  Jesus Christ is the ultimate revelation of God’s love for creation because in Jesus Christ, God became human.  The purpose and means of creation is Jesus Christ, and in him, all of creation sees God’s work of goodness within creation.

Christ became human to glorify God within creation.  In the incarnation of Jesus Christ, the plan of God’s redemptive work in the world is seen.  The German word for worship, Gottesdienst (“God’s service and our service to God”), “reflects a God who ‘emptied himself, taking the form of a slave’ (Phil. 2:7) and our service to such a God.”[19]  In the Incarnation, the Creator embodies the created and proclaims, “See, I am making all things new!”[20]

Jeremy Begbie details creation’s restoration through Christ’s resurrection in saying that, “On the third day, the destruction and distortion are transfigured and redirected.  In Christ, all that is ugly and subversive in the cosmos has been purified, beautified and fulfilled.  Therein lies the promise for the transformation of all things.  Like our bodies, which will be changed in resurrection from physical to spiritual bodies while still remaining bodies, creation will be remade by the God who promises never to let it go.”[21]  Paul communicated this restoration of the world in Christ to the Corinthian Church in saying, “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see everything has become new!”[22]  Paul continues in saying that in receiving the Holy Spirit of Christ, the Church is given “the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself.”[23]

In Christ, there is new creation, because in Christ, creation is restored to God’s glory and goodness.  Begbie explains the significance of Christ’s work for the restoration of creation in saying, “the goal of transformation is clearly best thought of as re-creation, rather than ‘a return to Eden’, to what ‘once was’, a status quo ante.  The entire universe is summoned by the Spirit to a new future, a destiny not given ‘in the beginning’, a destiny centred – as the book of Revelation reminds us so clearly – on the one who says ‘Behold, I make all things new’.”[24]

The Church embodies Christ’s restoration through the sacramental worship practice of Baptism.  In Baptism, the disciple responds to God’s revelation in Christ’s resurrection.  James White says, “After Easter, lessons from the book of Acts are read as the story of the new creation begins with the resurrection.”[25] In Baptism, the follower of Christ accepts death with the promise of a new life, Christ’s life. Bonhoeffer describes this death as “not the act of an angry Creator finally rejecting his creation in his wrath, but the gracious death which has been won for us by the death of Christ; the gracious assumption of the creature by his creator.”[26]

The visible act of Baptism puts to death the individual’s life in exchange for the resurrected life of Christ. The individual, through the work of the Holy Spirit, is then a part of Christ’s Body in the world, the Church. The Baptized Church is alive and united in the Body of Jesus Christ. Through the death of baptism, the Church’s goodness and newness is being restored by God’s good work in Jesus Christ’s incarnation, suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension.


Jesus Christ is the purpose of God’s Creation.  God’s good work in Creation is directed to humanity by the covenant and benefit of Jesus Christ. Christ is the greatest possible revelation of God to humanity; therefore, Christ is humanity’s greatest response to God in worship. Worship is established in Creation by God’s good work through and for Jesus Christ.

If worship is God’s good work in restoring all creation to God’s image and glory through Jesus Christ, then the followers of Christ are called to worship God through extending God’s work of restoration to all Creation. This is evident in the book of James, “Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith.”[27] In the example of Abraham, James says, “You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was brought to completion by the works.”[28] Faith is only possible through God’s good work in creation. James continues, “For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is also dead.”[29]

Works is the spirit that brings the body of faith to life.  If faith is defined in Jesus Christ, then Christ’s followers proclaim their faith through their good works. We act out the goodness of God through works, because we have faith that God is restoring all of creation to a newness that has been actualized in the resurrected body of Jesus Christ. The world sees our good works and glorifies God by taking part in the restoration of God’s glory to all creation through the Holy Spirit. If Christ’s followers do not practice good works for the world to see and give glory to God in heaven, then their faith is dead, and left lifeless before the power of God that is established in Jesus Christ’s resurrection.

The Resurrection is the power of God to restore goodness! God is revealing, through the Church, the revelation of Christ to the world so that the world may respond. In worship, Christ’s followers actuate God’s restoration of goodness and newness to all creation, by responding to God’s revelation of Jesus Christ’s resurrection in this world, with good works. The act of Creation is worship to God because of God’s good work in and through the created work.


The heavens are telling the glory of God;

and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.” – Psalm 19:1


[1] Matt. 5:14-16 (NRSV)

[2] Jn. 1:14 (NRSV)

[3] See Jn. 1:9 (NRSV)

[4] Cyril Richardson, ed., Early Church Fathers  (Philidelphia: Westminster Press, 1953), 96.

[5] Psalm 139:14 (NRSV)

[6] Saint Augustine, Confessions (New York: Vintage Spiritual Classics, 1998), 337.

[7] Karl Barth. Church Dogmatics (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1994), 150.

[8] Barth. Church Dogmatics, 151.

[9] John I. Durham, Exodus. Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 3. (Waco: Word, 1987), 456.

[10] Francis Brown, A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament (Glasgow: Oxford University Press, Amen House, London E.C.4, 1957), 712.

[11] Brown, A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament, 712-713.

[12] Ernst Jenni, Theological Lexicon of the Old Testament (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 1997), 829.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Durham, Exodus. Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 3, 461.

[15] Abraham Even-Shoshan, A New Concordance of the Bible: Thesaurus of the Language of the Bible Hebrew and Aramaic Roots, Words, Proper Names, Phrases, and Synonoyms (Jerusalem: “Kiryat Sefer” Publishing House LTD., 1985), 818.

[16] Barth. Church Dogmatics, 152.

[17] Augustine, Confessions, 340.

[18] Col. 1:16 (NRSV)

[19] James F. White, Introduction to Christian Worship (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2000), 26.

[20] Rev. 21:5 (NRSV)

[21] Jeremy Begbie, Voicing Creation’s Praise: Towads A Theology of the Arts (London: T & T Clark, 2003), 175.

[22] 2 Cor. 5:17 (NRSV)

[23] 2 Cor. 5:18-19 (NRSV)

[24] Begbie, Voicing Creation’s Praise: Towads A Theology of the Arts, 175.

[25] White, Introduction to Christian Worship, 76.

[26] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship (New York: SCM Press Ltd., 1959), 232.

[27] Jas. 2:18 (NRSV)

[28] Jas. 2:22 (NRSV)

[29] Jas. 2:26 (NRSV)