Dancing with God

Few days ago, my classmate from aero dance asked the waiter in the resto to turn down the music. It was too loud and the 4 of us had to strain our ears or raise our voice to be heard.

When I had my gym workout the same time as a dance class, I asked my therapist to have the dance instructor turn down the music because it was a torment to my ears and making my pulse raise.

When I eventually danced in the class of this particular instructor, I realised that there is a purpose to the volume of his music. The higher the volume, the stronger the beat, the more energised we are as we dance. As I listen to the bass booming out the beat, there is more passion and precision to each step that I take.

C.S. Lewis once observed: “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains.”

What music is playing in your life right now? Is it too loud for comfort? Is it too soft you can barely hear it? Or perhaps the silence is too much to bear? Is it a lively happy tune that inspires? Or is it depressingly slow and sad?

When the steps are difficult, I focus my eyes on the leader? When the leader stops dancing, I turn my eyes to the best dancer in the class? When I start on the wrong foot, I catch up and continue dancing. Even when the instructor missed a step, I can do it right or follow his step. But God is much better than my instructor. He does not miss a step. When i know his steps well enough, I can dance through life when the music is sad or glad.

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Daniel, a prophet of God

Of all the books of the prophets in the Old Testament, I think Daniel is undoubtedly the one most told in Sunday School. Jonah comes next and we know why. Ezekiel saw the wheel is sometimes taught as a song. Other than these 3, I can’t remember I ever taught any story from the books of the prophets especially to young children.

Reviewing the stories of Daniel, I am inspired and amazed at how God revealed Himself through Daniel and his 3 friends to a pagan nation who did not know Him. It’s amazing to read the miracles, visions and dreams that happened in the first 6 chapters of Daniel.

Chapter 1: Healthy vegetarians

Daniel and his 3 friends decided to distinguished themselves as exiles by abstaining from taking food – good food from the king’s provisions. God granted them favour with the F&B manager of the king’s palace. After 10 days of testing, the 4 young men were found to be more healthy-looking than the rest of the exiles.

When God’s children determine to be different from the world, He sustains them and helps them to be better – not through the ordinary path of man.

Chapter 2: Dream interpreter

Can you interpret dreams? How about interpreting the dream without being told what the dream actually was? Daniel was called upon to interpret a dream of King Nebuchadnezzar – a dream the king himself forgot. Imagine telling the king what his dream meant on top of telling him what he dreamed about. More amazing is that the king believed what Daniel told him and even praised his God for it.

Chapter 3: Walking Alive (not Walking dead) in a blazing fire

For disobeying the king’s order to bow down to a golden statue, Daniel’s 3 friends were thrown into an oven of blazing furnace which killed even the guards who threw them in. And out they came without even a hair singed! What impressed me is these 3 brave souls were determined to bow only to their God at all costs.

Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego replied to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to give you an answer concerning this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” (vv.16-18)

God did not disappoint them. They were not put to shame. God sent an angel to be with them in the furnace.

Chapter 4: Dream # 2: mad king living with wild animals and eating grass

King Nebuchadnezzar sure was a dreamer. It’s good that he remembered his dream this time. Daniel told and warned the king that because of his arrogance, he would become mad and live with the animals and eat grass like the cow for seven years until he acknowledged that the Most High is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and gives them to anyone he wishes.

Indeed, the interpretation came to pass.

Twelve months later he was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon. 30 The king reflected and said, ‘Is this not Babylon the great, which I myself have built as a royal residence by the might of my power and for the glory of my majesty?’ 31 While the word was in the king’s mouth, a voice came from heaven, saying, ‘King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is declared: sovereignty has been removed from you,32 and you will be driven away from mankind, and your dwelling place will be with the beasts of the field. You will be given grass to eat like cattle, and seven periods of time (7 years) will pass over you until you recognize that the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind and bestows it on whomever He wishes. 33 Immediately the word concerning Nebuchadnezzar was fulfilled; and he was driven away from mankind and began eating grass like cattle, and his body was drenched with the dew of heaven until his hair had grown like eagles’ feathers and his nails like birds’ claws.

At the end of 7 years, the king raised his eyes towards heaven and acknowledged and honoured God. He praised God with a doxology.

For His dominion is an everlasting dominion,
And His kingdom endures from generation to generation.
35 “All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing,
But He does according to His will in the host of heaven
And among the inhabitants of earth;
And no one can ward off His hand
Or say to Him, ‘What have You done?’

God rejects the proud and exalts the humble.

 

 

How long, how long, O Lord?

A Psalm of David. My soul waits in silence for God only; From Him is my salvation. Psalm 62:1 NASB

Waiting, waiting, waiting… Are you waiting for something? I am. In life, we are often waiting – for someone, for something, for somehow… Everyday, on the road, I have to wait for the stoplight to turn green. I wait (impatiently) for the jeepney or bus drivers to take on passengers or let passengers get off. I wait for elevators that take too long because it stopped at almost every floor. I wait for my turn at medical procedures, I wait for the doctor’s secretary to call my name. I wait for friends to arrive when we are gathering to meet. I wait at the cashier counters.

I have to admit I am not a patient person when it comes to waiting. What do I do? I look at Waze or google maps to choose the shortest / fastest route. I keep asking when my turn would come. At the banks, movie theaters or airport immigration, I go straight to the PWD/Senior counter to avoid waiting. But even so, I still have to wait.
What do we get from waiting? What good is waiting? How do we make waiting more pleasant and bearable?

The most obvious virtue we get from waiting is patience. Patience is one aspect of the fruit of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit enables us to be patient. Patience is not a one-time lesson. It takes so much time to learn patience. I do not learn patience in fast-food services where everything and everyone is so efficient. I learn patience in circumstances when it seems time has never arrived, when it seems the long dark tunnel is unending. I learn patience when the stoplight does not tell me how many more seconds it will pass before the green light goes on.

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What good is it for me to wait? (aside from learning patience) Many times, I learn that the longer the wait, the sweeter the results of waiting. Just like children, delayed gratification is a lesson we need to learn. When I eat my favorite piece of food for last, the more delicious it tastes to me! There was an experiment done with young children to motivate them to wait. They were given one marshmallow to eat – but were told that if they could wait for the teacher to come back, they would be given a second piece. We can learn something from watching these kids learn waiting. Some were tempted to lick the marshmallow. Some kept glancing at the door to see if the teacher is returning yet. Those who waited got something more, which made the wait worthwhile.

On the other hand, how often do I miss out on God’s best because I do not want to wait! I tried doing things quickly only to find out that the results did not come faster or better. It just seemed easier to be doing something instead of idly waiting for something to happen.

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How do i make the wait more bearable? I think about the result – the possible result, the hopeful result of my waiting. In the meantime, while waiting, I occupy my time to have a joyful mindset. It is a determined, defiant nevertheless attitude. I count my blessings and maintain a heart of thanks and contentment. I make the waiting time worthwhile – doing something productive and not waste the time being grouchy, unhappy, impatient, stressed over things, people and events that I have no control over. It does not help to be impatient while waiting. When I am impatient at doctor’s clinic, will it make my wait shorter? If I keep pressing the elevator button, will the elevator arrive faster? When I am impatient with the jeepney drivers on the road or the passengers getting off/on their ride, will it make them move faster? Perhaps if I honked my horn louder and longer? How about if I put myself in their shoes? What if I were to earn a living from the fare of each passenger that rides on my jeep? What if I were the tired worker taking a ride home after a long day at work?

Waiting.. waiting.. waiting… Patience, patience, patience… 1 marshmallow.. 2 marshmallows.. yummy marshmallows… Joyful waiting, grateful waiting, hopeful waiting… My soul waits in silence for God only.

When I first wrote this piece, I was waiting. Now the wait is over. Are you waiting too, my friend? Be not discouraged. Fret not. Draw comfort from God’s Word.

Isaiah 40:28-31
Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth. Does not become weary or tired. His understanding is inscrutable. He gives strength to the weary, And to him who lacks might He increases power. Though youths grow weary and tired, And vigorous young men stumble badly,

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Restoration: The Re-Creation of Man (Part 4 Imago Dei: Likeness of God – To be or Not to be)

Restoration: The Re-Creation of Man, Image of God in Sinful Flesh

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. (Colossians 1:15-17)[1]

For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. (1 Corinthians 15:22)[2]

For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ. (Romans 5:17)[3]

After the Fall, God provided a plan of restoration for the marred image of sinful man by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, even as He is the image of the invisible God. The Adam in Genesis is said to be “in” the image of God whereas Christ in the New Testament is said to “be” the image of God. (Colossians 1:15)[4]

What Christ is as the uncreated Son of God who images his Father, he is also in his incarnation as the created human being he has become. So in his humanity that reflects what he is in his divinity, he becomes the eschatos Adam, the ultimate human being that Adam was made and meant to be.[5]

The apostle Paul attested in Romans 8:3

For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh.[6] 

The humanity of Jesus Christ is a converted and a converting humanity. He utterly identified with us in our “created-ness,” as well as our sinful alienation from God. In 2 Corinthians 5:21, Paul stated

He who knew no sin has been made sin that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.[7]

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Jesus entered our created finitude in all its frailty bringing upon Himself the consequence of sin and God’s righteous judgement upon it. According to Martin Luther, this verse describes the “great exchange.” In joining Himself to us, Christ takes our sin to Himself and gives His righteousness to us.[8]

Athanasius sees the incarnation of Christ as God’s creative response to the dilemma of seeing His handiwork disintegrating and not wanting to violate the integrity of the human beings whom He had made free and who had use their freedom to choose death.[9]

What then, did God have to do? Or what had to happen, except that that which is according to the image would again be renewed, so that through it human beings might again be able to know God? And how could this happen except by the coming near of the Image of God himself, our Savior Jesus Christ?… Therefore the Word of God came near through himself, that as Image of the Father he would be able to recreate the human being according to the image.[10]

Paul also affirms in Ephesians 4:20-24

But you did not learn Christ in this way, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus, that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which “in the likeness of” God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.[11]

When we have Christ in us, we put away our old self (the corrupted, sinful self) to put on the new self (restored likeness of God) – re-created in the righteousness and holiness of the truth.

Athanasius compares this restoration to the work of an artist restoring the painting he has created:

You know what happens when a portrait that has been painted on a panel become obliterated through external stains. The artist does not throw away the panel, but the subject of the portrait has to come and sit for it again, and then the likeness is redrawn on the same material. In this way, also the all-holy Son of the Father, being an Image of the Father, came near to our place, that he might renew the human being made in accord with himself… Therefore also he said to the Jews: “Unless one is born anew…” (John 3:3, RSV). He did not mean birth from one’s mother, as they suspected but the rebirth and re-creation of the soul, showing forth that which is according to the image.[12]

Implications and applications: Romans 8:28-30 tells us,

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.[13]

God causes all things, from creation to the fall to redemption, to “work together for good to those who love Him, whom He called for His purpose, whom He foreknew, whom he predestined and created to become conformed to the image of His Son.”[14] Thank you, Lord, for creating me, knowing me, calling me, and declaring me righteous according to the image of your Son. As I am called according to your purpose, please help me love you and obey you, so I will become more and more conformed to the image of Jesus Christ.

[1] New American Standard Bible.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Smail, 59.

[6] New American Standard Bible.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Smail, 274.

[9] Harrison, 38.

[10] Cross, Athanasius, On The Incarnation: An Edition of the Greek Text. 13.7 (London: SPCK, 1939): 21 quoted in Nonna V. Harrison, God’s Many-Splendored Image: Theological Anthropology for Christian Formation (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2010), 39.

[11] New American Standard Bible.

[12] Cross, 21-22 quoted in Harrison, 39.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid.

Tips on Reading the Bible

Why read the Bible? When to read? How to read?

I once heard a speaker at a theological forum teaching a Psalm of lament. A lament is a passionate expression of sorrow or grief. The psalmist set an example on how he coped with his sadness – complaining and crying out to God.

The speaker shared one striking truth: the biblical principles of living life in stride and coping with adversity are better read and remembered during good times. Why? Because taking vitamins is most useful when one is healthy. Eating healthy and keeping healthy are means recovering better when one gets sick.

Do we read labels of cough medicine when we are not coughing? That is how we sometimes treat the Bible – is it not? We open it when we are seeking for answers; we scan the pages for comfort and encouragement when we are in despair, worried and at the end of our ropes.

While it is good to read God’s word for comfort, encouragement and assurance in difficult times, it is so much better to discover Biblical truths on a moment to moment, day by day, bit by bit, step by step basis. Many of us remember Bible verses we learned as a child – and these verses became our weapons against the enemy’s lies. The daily intake of vitamins helps to immunise the body against illnesses – fighting off bacteria and viruses – a reality all around us. Healthy diet, exercise and enough sleep do not of themselves prevent us from getting sick. But we will have a better chance to recover and heal when we keep healthy habits.

So with reading the Bible… knowing, memorising and applying God’s word do not guarantee a problem-free life. The evils of this physical world are a reality we cannot avoid. But when we put our time to reading, remembering and living out God’s truths in the trivial details of daily life, we have a better chance of standing firm when the storms come. Practice makes perfect.

An ounce of prevention is worth more than a pound of cure. God’s Word is more than just defensive weapon against trials of life – it is an offensive artillery to triumph in life.

Tips on reading the Bible:

1) Regularise – fixed time and place everyday. Just as we eat our meals regularly to stay healthy, we need to read regularly to stay fit spiritually.

2) Right size (downsize then upsize) – Start small.  Read short passages regularly. It is much better than long passages once in awhile. Same applies in our eating habits – it’s much better to have many small meals in a day than few big meals in one go.

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3) Personalise – put your name into passages of prayers and verses of assurance. Borrow words of the psalmists to pray as your own prayer. Put yourself in the shoes of Biblical characters – think how they think, feel how they feel. Learn from their mistakes. Discover how they win their battles.

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4) Memorise – store precious nuggets of your readings – take away into the rest of the day what you read by memorising verses. You will be amazed at how these verses come to mind at just the right place and time to encourage, to comfort and to calm your fears.

5) Internalise – apply God’s word into the small details of your daily living until it becomes a part of you.

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Last but not the least, JUST DO IT!  Start reading.

When God listens

Batman vs. Superman: These 2 super heroes have caught the interest of children and adults alike.

We know they are fictional characters yet we like to watch how they save the world with their
superpowers. In the Old Testament, there was once such a super hero that did more than what these fictional
superheroes do. He commanded the sun to stand still and the moon to stop moving.

Joshua 10
12 On the day the Lord gave the Amorites over to Israel, Joshua said to the Lord in the presence
of Israel:
“Sun, stand still over Gibeon,
and you, moon, over the Valley of Aijalon.”
13 So the sun stood still,
and the moon stopped,
till the nation avenged itself on its enemies,
as it is written in the Book of Jashar.
The sun stopped in the middle of the sky and delayed going down about a full day. 14 There has
never been a day like it before or since, a day when the Lord listened to a human being. Surely
the Lord was fighting for Israel!

The Israelites were winning battles left and right. They defeated many kings in their journey to
take possession of the promised land. There was such a great fear and dread of them that the
Gibeonites deceived the Israelites into an alliance with them to the extent of being their slaves so
they would not be killed (Joshua 9). After this, 5 other kings in the region then gathered to
invade Gibeon. The Gibeonites called on Joshua to save them for this invasion. It was in this
battle to save the Gibeonites that Joshua asked God to have the sun and moon stand still for one
whole day while they fought the battle.

God promised Joshua that He would be with him and encouraged Joshua to strong and
courageous. This promise was realized in that they won battles after battles – Jericho, Ai, such
that people in the land were very afraid of this small group of people.

Joshua was called to be the leader after Moses died. He did not have any soldier experience
before he took on the task. He was Moses’ assistant. He held Moses’ arm so they would win the
battle (Exodus 17).

The Gibeonites were clever to ally with the Israelites. They were saved from being annihilated
by the Israelites. They got themselves a strong defender when they were under attack.

iIn life, we want to be on winning side, don’t we? It is assuring to be on the winning side. The
Gibeonites had a good ally in the Israelites under Joshua. Joshua had a good ally in the warrior-
redeemer God – who promised to win battles for them.

Joshua 10:14 is such powerful and
assuring statement – There has never been a day like it before or since, a day when the Lord
listened to a human being. Surely the Lord was fighting for Israel!

When the Lord listened to a human being… this phrase is more than just a miracle story in the Bible. That the Lord listened to a human being is a continuing
event in human history. The question is more of “Does man call on the Lord to listen to him. What
kind of call does a human being make to the Lord that moves Him to listen like never before? Is
it one that call on Him to do the seemingly impossible? that even the sun and the moon stop its
natural course? Miracles in life are more than the big bang and amazing wonders that thunder
and blind the eyes. Miracles in life are seen and experienced when man open his heart to have a relationship with his amazing and loving Creator who seeks to save and do wonders in his life.

Do I see God as fighting for me? Or am I fighting it alone? Do I call on him and let him do the impossible?

When God listens, even the sun and the moon stop in their courses!

 

 

The Fall of Man (Part 3 Imago Dei: Likeness of God – To be or not to be)

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Fall: The Semblance of Man to God, Knowing Good and Evil

For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil. (Genesis 3:5)[1]

Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might stretch out his hand, and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever. (Genesis 3:22)[2]

Man was created in the likeness of God to have a relationship with Him, to be His representative in creation. Why then was he faulted for becoming like God – knowing good and evil? Is this “likeness” similar to what God first intended it to be? Is it not a part of the inherent character of God to discern good from evil?

I believe it is not for “knowing” per se that man was faulted. Rather, it was his act of disobedience to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Previously, God instructed Adam

Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die. (Genesis 2:16-17)[3]

Adam and Eve disobeyed God and fell into “shame.” They became aware of their nakedness and covered their bodies with fig leaves. Their eyes were opened. They knew guilt and hid themselves when God came looking for them.

Knowing good and evil brings forth shame and guilt. A baby who knows neither right nor wrong feels not shame or guilt. In the previous section, conscience was mentioned as part of the character of God (His image and likeness). Conscience is linked to knowing good and evil. Man became aware of good and evil because he disobeyed God’s command not to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil.

The shame in their newly awakened consciousness of their own nakedness speaks to a deeper shame of their own sinful state. Adam’s fear and hiding “because I was naked” (v.10) was a confused cover for a fear and conviction of sin.[4]

The second reason for man being found guilty for knowing good and evil like God is found in the context of the serpent tempting Eve. Genesis 3:4-5 recounts

The serpent said to the woman, “You surely will not die! For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.[5]

The serpent deceived Eve by pointing out how God lied when He warned Adam that eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil would lead to death. The serpent also implied that God did not want man to be like Him knowing good and evil; God did not want to share this “power” of discernment, which belongs to Him alone. Essentially, the serpent was convincing the woman to be “like God” – on the same level as God in the context of pride and power, at the expense of disobeying God’s command. The image of God in man, originally to be man’s glory as he “reflects” God’s glory, is “marred” because man seeks to be like God, thereby, “replacing” God.

What about Genesis 3:22? God seems to be saying that knowing good and evil, like Him (in the plural sense), is “not good” for man. What does “knowing” in this context mean?

The Hebrew term for “knowing” in this verse (verse 5, also) is not unique to this passage or chapter; it’s the same word “yada” used elsewhere, some 960 times in the Hebrew scriptures.[6]

Yada” can mean to learn, to perceive, to discern, to distinguish, to know by experience, to recognize, to consider, to be acquainted with, and other fairly ordinary definitions of the word listed in

How did Adam and Eve get to know evil when all God has created since day one is good? They knew good because it was all that they “experienced” before their disobedience. Adam knew of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. He was told “not” to eat from it for he will surely die if he did. (Gen. 2:16-17)[7] Adam may have inferred the existence of “evil” as 1) something tantamount to deviation from God’s law or directive, and 2) something he was to avoid knowledge about. (Related: Good Ignorance: Handling the Knowledge of Evil) Therefore, Adam knew of evil as a theory until he knew or “experienced” evil in his disobedience.

How about God? If experiential knowledge is the kind of knowledge Adam and Eve gained from disobedience, can we then conclude that God also has/d experiential knowledge of Good and Evil?

The Lord God said, “The man has now become like one of Us, knowing good and evil.”[8]

As God is the paradigm of “Good,” how can it be possible for Him to have personal, experiential knowledge of Evil? Adam came to know by experience, specifically his experience of doing evil – evil being privatio boni, the privation (lack, absence) of good. Adam came to know evil when he did the opposite of good, which was obeying God. On the other hand

God’s omniscience allows Him to know all truths, including what is good, which is rooted in His own nature. And being a God of reason, He knew from eternity past that the absence of good would be evil. Therefore, it is not necessary for Him to know this truth by experience – either seeing it in others or doing it Himself – the latter being impossible. Adam, a non-omnnicient being, could only know evil by either seeing it in others or doing it himself – the latter being the unfortunate reality. In short, Adam became like God in that he knew evil, having come to know it by doing evil. God also knew evil, but by His perfect knowledge of all truth, including the necessary truth that evil is the absence of good.[9]

Implications and applications: Knowing good and evil is part of God’s image and character. Man’s knowledge of good and evil holds him accountable to follow His Creator, so that he will and can live his life in the goodness of God’s image. Sin entered the world when Adam and Eve disobeyed God’s command and took it upon themselves, wanting to “be like God” – all knowing. This sin is pride. The antidote to pride is humility.

Humility is foundation to all other virtues man should learn to live his life. It sounds paradoxical that man, created in God’s image, with “royal splendor” and dignity, should take pride in his status, yet attempt to remain humble in the same image. Humility is not about self-abasement. It is acknowledging that whatever we have comes from God. It is about dependence on God and not on ourselves. Being in God’s image is to be humbly dignified, totally aware that we are God’s creature – a mere reflection of His glory, and not take His glory upon ourselves in our egocentricity.

[1] New American Standard Bible.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Godandneighbor. “How could Adam and Eve Sin Before Knowing Good and Evil?” God & Neighbor (2012) [home page on-line]; available from http://godneighbor.wordpress.com/2012/09/25/how-could-adam-and-eve-sin-before-knowing-good-and-evil/#comments; Internet; accessed 21 September 2013.

[5] New American Standard Bible.

[6] Godandneighbor.

[7] New American Standard Bible.

[8] New American Standard Bible.

[9] Godandneighbor.