Study Guide: The True Image

Sunday September 18, 2011 | Greg Boyd

Focus Scripture:

Brief Summary:

Jesus is the image of the invisible God. This is one of the most foundational parts of Christianity and perhaps the single most important truth in the world. There are many deceptive pictures of God, but understanding and knowing Jesus is central to finding the true picture of God.

Extended Summary:

Jesus is the image of the invisible God. It can be easy to gloss over this truth as simply extravagant statements about Jesus. Yet, if we dwell on this statement, we begin to see the impact of what Paul is saying about Jesus. Not just one for beautiful statements, Paul is speaking to the core of our idea of who God is and what God represents.

In the Garden, humans fell because we believed a lie about God. The serpent gave a portrait of God that wasn’t true, saying that we could live life on our own and that God was hiding something from us. When we have a deceptive picture of God, we don’t trust God. When we don’t trust God, we begin to do life without God and try to meet our own needs. This is how we have trouble loving God and trusting God—when we have the wrong image of Him.

This is why it’s so important to have the true picture and image of God. If this image isn’t clear, then following God becomes much more difficult. And yet, even our scriptures can give us images that seem conflicting. Whether it’s God destroying Sodom and Gomorrah, sending the flood, telling Joshua to show no mercy or art that depicts a wrathful God, we see images, that when compared to Jesus, seem out of place.

This may be the wrong way of understanding God. In light of this Colossians passage, it seems that the only place we should draw our picture of God is from Jesus. Jesus didn’t destroy cities. He showed mercy at every turn and went so far as to die on a cross for those that were killing him.

Hebrews 1:3 states that Jesus is the exact representation of God’s essence. The verses in context also state that God spoke in the past using prophets and other writings, but now we’ve finally been shown the true representation in Jesus. Jesus is the way and the truth and the life, as we read in John 14:6-7. He’s saying that to know Jesus is to know the Father. All throughout the book of John there is a common recurrence of Jesus being the word and the word becoming flesh and being the one and only Son. Even John the Baptist, who was regarded as the greatest prophet (Matthew 11), said that Jesus was greater than him.

It can be a little disconcerting to contrast the Old Testament image that we have of God and compare it to Jesus. The one thing that we should remember in contrasting these two thoughts is that Jesus is the true image. When we look at the OT with that in mind, we can see that God is reacting to humanity in certain contexts. God’s ideal way of acting is in Jesus. God’s actual working with humanity looked a little different. It seems that many of the OT passages reflect more of the humanity that God was working with and less of God in his ideal.

If you feel that God is against you in some way, or you fear a God that looks like the Old Testament, remember that Jesus is the true image of the invisible God. It is a false image if you think that God is sitting up in heaven waiting to punish you for the things you do wrong. It is a false image if you think God is sitting in heaven orchestrating terrible things. It is a false image if you think God is too big to care for you. Rather, it is a true image that Jesus died on the cross, praying for your forgiveness, loving the sinners and accepting the judged. This true image is what we should cling to as our image of God.

Reflection Questions:

  1. What additional questions and comments did you have about the sermon and supporting texts?
  2. Why is it so difficult to believe in the true image of Jesus? What holds us back from this understanding?
  3. In the book of Revelation, Jesus shows up and slaughters a bunch of people. How does this fit with the image of Jesus on the cross?
  4. Some of Jesus’ parables reflect the angry OT God image. Why do you think Jesus used these images?
  5. Take a moment and think about how you imagine God. Write down or draw your image of God on a piece of paper. In light of this sermon, what doesn’t match up with what Greg said? Also, what do you think is beautiful about your image of God?