Sunday, September 13, 2020


On the sixth day of creation, God created man and woman.
The account of this is found in one of the first verses of the Bible. “And God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” (Genesis 1:27).

The Creation of Man and Woman

Of course there is no way that we are able to comprehend the depths of meaning of this verse, and since there is no possible manner in which we are able to envision how the actual creation of the man and the woman occurred, we often put no thought at all into it. Or, if we do put thought into it, we limit those thoughts to an endless debate about evolution and creationism.

However, it is good to put a few moments into attempting to understand God’s creative act. What was the way in which God created the first man and woman? How was it that the first humans came to be? Did they just pop into existence, like a genie out of a bottle? Or was it in some ways a longer process?

Even though the description of creation given to us in Genesis is of necessity a brief one, in some small ways the writer tries to communicate some of the wonder of the event. After the summary of what happened in the six days of creation in chapter one of Genesis, he then focuses on the sixth of these days and expands a little on the creation of man.

In the first chapter of Genesis, the writer of the book simply says that the man and the woman were “created.” Bible students know that the Hebrew word used here is bara’, which is usually (but not always) translated in the Bible as create. When God created the universe, he did so using no pre-existing material.

If we accept that the world in which we live is real and not simply some illusion, and that our own bodies and consciousness, all that we see, touch and all that we experience are also real, then there must be a first cause of the material from which all of this is made. Somehow this material had to come into existence.

The stuff out of which all is made is not the first cause. When God created the galaxies, the stars and the planets, he did not take some matter that was already in some state of existence and use it to make them.

God is the first cause to all existence. This is what the Bible teaches. Before anything else existed, God was there. He simply spoke everything else into existence by the power of his word. All that we see and can touch or sense was simply created out of the will of God and by his word.

“He spoke, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast,” it says in the Psalms (33:9). This was creation by the power of God’s word alone: ex nihilo (out of nothing), as it is sometimes said.

The Formation of Man and Woman

In our verse of Genesis 1:27, when we first read of the creation of the man and the woman, this word bara’ is used. However, when the author of Genesis expands a bit on the account in the second chapter, he does not use this word. Here is what he writes:

Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being. (Genesis 2:7 NAS)

Here the word create is not used, but we read that God formed man. For those of you who are interested to know, the Hebrew word here is yatsar, and it is here that we begin to get a glimpse of the devotion that God poured into our creation.

This word formed is used numerous times in the Bible. Often it is used to describe God’s involvement with his people even while they are still in the womb.

As Isaiah the prophet wrote, “Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer, who formed you from the womb, I the am the Lord, who made all things, who alone stretched out the heavens, who spread out the earth by myself’” (Isaiah 44:24 ESV).

In fact, Isaiah realized that God had called him personally to be his prophet before he was even born. He said that the Lord “Formed me from the womb to be his servant… for I am honored in the eyes of the Lord, and my God has become my strength” (Isaiah 49:5 ESV).

The prophet Jeremiah realized the same thing: “The word of the Lord came to me saying, ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I have appointed you a prophet to the nations’” (Jeremiah 1:4-5 NAS).

Formed From the Dust of the Earth

As we saw in our verse in Genesis 2, God did not create man ex nihilo, but instead used some material that God had already created. The formation of man was brought forth from the soil. God used the dust of the ground. This fact gave rise to a biblical metaphor that we are dust and to dust we will return. These words that God said to Adam are more than a mere figure of speech.

“For He knows our frame;” it says in the Psalms. “He is mindful that we are dust” (Psalm 103:14 BSB).

The fact that our existence at times seems to be reduced to no more than a bit of dust may seem like a depressing thought, but actually, it is far from depressing. Isaiah and Jeremiah, the same two Old Testament prophets who spoke of being formed in the womb, especially drew on the thought that our formation is from the soil. They used this fact in a way that is meant to show that God is still at work in forming us.

Isaiah writes, “But now, O Lord, You are our Father, we are the clay, and You our potter; and all of us are the work of Your hand” (Isaiah 64:8 NAS).

Jeremiah was directed by God to go to a potter’s house so that he could better learn from this example. Jeremiah watched the potter working on his potter’s wheel, slowly shaping the clay. As the potter worked, the form of the pot gradually began to emerge.

However, the potter was not satisfied with how the pot turned out. Perhaps something happened to the freshly made pot to make it unusable as it was. Nevertheless, since the clay was still pliable, the potter reworked the pot, again shaping and forming the clay in his hands. He did this until he was happy with the result and the clay pot was exactly how he intended it to be (Jeremiah 18).

The lesson for Jeremiah is also a lesson for us. It demonstrates to us that God is still at work with his people. That God created us is marvelous enough. But the thought that he formed us is even more splendid. He did not simply create us and then step away to see how we would get by. As long as we remain willing to let ourselves be shaped by God, he continues to form us and to eventually bring us to perfection.

Inner Formation

With all this talk of formation from dust and the making of clay pots, we may be inclined to view God forming us in a physical matter only. It is true that God does indeed intend to bring all of his children to physical perfection when we receive our new and heavenly bodies.

The Apostle Paul speaks of the time in the future when all will be brought together under Christ, and he will transform our “lowly” bodies to be like his “glorious” body (Philippians 3:21). But in this life we will not be able to see the physical sense of our continued formation. In the years that God has given us presently in this life, our formation primarily has another purpose.

It is the prophet Zechariah who introduces us to that aspect of our development. He opens one of his prophecies for the ancient nation of Israel by writing, “Thus declares the LORD who stretches out the heavens, lays the foundation of the earth, and forms the spirit of man within him” (Zechariah 12:1 NAS italics added).

This brings us to another very interesting New Testament statement by the Apostle Paul:

For it is by grace that you have been saved through faith. This is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

Notice that in the last part of this statement, Paul uses the word “workmanship.” This is an interesting word and it is actually the Greek word from which our English word “poem” is derived.[1] Notice also that God created us with the purpose to do good works—works which he has prepared for each of us in advance.

Like God was with the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah, God has also been involved with your formation from the time that you were first conceived in the womb of your mother. Actually, according to what Paul also wrote to the Ephesians, God chose you even before the foundation of the world! (Ephesians 1:4).

Not only did he choose each one, but he also determined the work set before each of us that would serve to bring us into perfection. These are tasks that are custom made for us—ones that help us to grow and develop.

Shaped by the Difficulties that We Encounter

Even the difficulties that we face have their purpose. In fact, it is during and because of times of difficulty when we learn things that we cannot learn in any other way. Paul wrote to the church in Rome:

We know that God works all things together for the good of those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose. For those God foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brothers. (Romans 8:28-29 BSB)

“It was good for me to be afflicted, that I might learn Your decrees” the Psalmist writes. “The Word from Your mouth is more precious to me than thousands of pieces of gold and silver” (Psalm 119:71-72).

In each and every way, in good times and what we may consider bad times, God is active in forming us into his perfect plan for us, which actually is to grow to be more like him. We must always keep the fact before us that in each and every circumstance in life, God is working in us to help us to develop into the perfect people that he envisioned for us since the beginning of time.

Much of this formation will be in small and even in almost insignificant ways. Some of it may be extreme. We may sometimes feel like Jeremiah’s clay pot that had to be pounded back into a shapeless lump of clay in order to be reworked. But all of it is the work of the Eternal Artist, “To will and to work for what is pleasing to him.”

The writer of the New Testament book of Hebrews gives his readers a benediction that beautifully expresses his desire for them:

Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with every good thing to do His will. And may He accomplish in us what is pleasing in His sight through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen. (Hebrews 13:20-21 BSB)

Judging Prematurely

Do you know how it is that most artists— painters and poets and others, do not want to show their work until it is completed? They are hesitant to do this because people tend to criticize unfairly a work that is in progress. They cannot see what the artist sees in his or her mind and the steps that it takes to arrive at completion.

Seeing that each one of us is a work in progress, it follows that neither should we hastily judge one another.

Is it not interesting and even distressing how we are often very quick to criticize each other for some shortcoming or some failure? The reason is because we do not see in our minds what God, the ultimate artist, has in his own mind for the completed work. Thus, we too easily cast disparagement on others.

“Do not judge by appearances,” Jesus told the people of his day, “but judge with right judgment” (John 7:24 ESV).

Oddly enough, we seem to be not content merely with judging others. We cast disparagement even upon ourselves. We are often our own worst critic. We get down on ourselves for some failure or shortcoming, and we begin to depreciate ourselves.

There is a positive and negative side to self-criticism. The positive is that it might help us to try and improve ourselves, but negative aspect of this is that in criticizing ourselves, we actually are criticizing the One who made us. We ourselves are also an unfinished work, and by being overly critical of ourselves, in some way we are saying to God that we do not trust what he is doing in our lives.

The great Artist is still at work in your life. He has already formed something beautiful in each one of us (or handsome if you’re sensitive in your masculinity), and he is in the process of bringing you to completion. Rather than focusing on how much of a failure we are, we need to turn our thoughts to the fantastic person that God has made, and is still in the process of making.

King David wrote of God, “You formed my inmost being; You knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Marvelous are Your works, and I know this very well” (Psalm 139:13-14 BSB).

We are made from dust and are jars of clay, but that does not mean that we are of little value. So you see, in creating each one of us, God has done a wondrous thing, but even more wonderful is the fact that he is continuing to work in us.

“Beloved, we are now children of God,” the Apostle John writes to us, “and what we will be has not yet been revealed. We know that when Christ appears, we will be like Him, for we will see Him as He is…” (1 John 3:2 BSB)

Motivated by Grace

I ended the section above with our future hope and our future goal, at least for those who follow Christ. That goal is the perfection that God has ordained for us from the beginning—perfection in mind and body, perfection in soul and spirit.

But I cut John off in the middle of his thought. He continues, “And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as Christ is pure” (1 John 3:3 BSB).

John here is talking about effort—our effort. Just because we have these promises of perfection from God, it does not mean that we are to be irresponsible and lazy about ourselves also working toward that perfection.

The New Testament writer who perhaps writes the most about the future promises of God and of obtaining those promises as a result of the grace of God is the Apostle Paul. Paul emphasizes grace, and even in the verse I quoted earlier from Ephesians 2, he speaks of our salvation by grace and not a result of our works. Nevertheless, even in those verses he also speaks of our purpose as doing “good works.”

Also in Paul’s own life, we see that he was constantly striving to work toward that goal. As he puts it, “Therefore, beloved, since we have these promises, let us cleanse ourselves from everything that defiles body and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Corinthians 7:1 BSB).

He writes to the Philippians:

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize of God’s heavenly calling in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:13-15 BSB)

Paul’s fellow apostle Peter tells us the same thing.

“Just as He who called you is holy,” Peter writes, “so be holy in all you do…In your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord” (1 Peter 1:15; 3:15 BSB).

Peter uses two words in these phrases that are used widely in Christian writings: holy and sanctify. We use them a lot, but I would say that for very many people, these are merely “church words” that actually have no clear definition.

Without going into the nuances of these words, they actually mean much the same thing as one another. Something of someone who is holy or sanctified is something or someone who is reserved for a special cause. They are set apart and dedicated for a special use. When Peter tells us to be holy and to be sanctified, he is telling us to dedicate our hearts to worship Jesus as Lord, and dedicate ourselves to following him.

That is both our goal and method, and our teacher is no less than Jesus Christ himself as he spoke to God the father: “For them I sanctify Myself, so that they too may be sanctified by the truth” (John 17:19 BSB).

The lesson for each of us is clear: Learn to praise your Creator and the One who is forming you into perfection, and sanctify yourselves to cooperate with Him in the work of His hands.

“Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely, and may your entire spirit, soul, and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The One who calls you is faithful, and He will do it.”
(Paul the apostle to the church at Thessalonica:
1 Thessalonians 5:23-24)

[1] poiéma

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