For humanity to be the image of God, it must embody beautiful community — unity in diversity, diversity in unity. If God displays his beauty in his Trinitarian life, we should expect that beauty to be reflected in the humanity that images him. While each person is royalty, we find the fullest expression of the image in community.
Therefore, both the dazzling diversity of humanity and our need for community are a fundamental aspect of the image of God. God is the apex of unchanging beauty as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in eternally existent, mutually glorifying, loving, honoring, and supporting diverse community.
As his people, when we are mutually glorifying, speaking, and acting in ways that enhance the reputations of one another, striving to bring praise and honor to others, exhibiting a mutual deference, a willingness to serve one another, and submit to one another — especially across lines of difference — we are imaging God’s beauty.
The Image: Beautiful Community
My passion to see the church pursue beautiful community was sparked when I realized that my racialized worldview was out of accord with the gospel. I had placed my racial and ethnic identity at the center of my identity. As the hymn writer Charles Wesley wrote, “Thine eye diffused a quick’ning ray. I woke, the dungeon flamed with light. My chains fell off, my heart was free. I rose, went forth and followed thee.” My deliverance in Jesus ignited a desire to live like he was at the center of my identity. Not as a way of denying my ethnic identity, but by submitting that to him as well. The Lord determined the day of my birth, my parents, and my ethnic and cultural context (Acts 17:26). Thus, my ethnic identity is a good thing. It’s just not the thing. My divine dissatisfaction stemmed from the way that we, in the body of Christ, live as if our ethnic identity is the thing that matters most.
To be absolutely clear, this is not without reason for ethnic minority churches in America. For instance, the Black church in America exists as a result of white supremacy being embraced and promoted by the majority white church. The Lord cannot and will not be defeated or thrown off course by the schemes and sins of people. Therefore, he determined in eternity past to raise up a branch of his church among African Americans where they could serve him in holiness and have their dignity as image-bearers affirmed in loving community.
Humanity’s destiny is in community. It is in beautiful community that we image God as we live out our love for him doing what he commissioned us to do.
At the same time, humanity’s diversity is rooted in God’s creative genius and humanity’s destiny is to live in the reality of unity in diversity with Jesus Christ as the king to whom we will all joyfully bow.
When I look at another human being, I am looking at royalty. But I am not looking at the full measure of what it means for humanity to be God’s image. The image of God is much too rich for it to be realized in a single race, ethnic group, or culture.
Humanity’s destiny is in community. It is in beautiful community that we image God as we live out our love for him doing what he commissioned us to do. If you want to picture the fully finished image of God you have to picture all of humanity unified in diversity under the lordship of Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1:10; Colossians 1:20) in our role as prophets proclaiming God’s truth to one another and the creation in our words and deeds; as priests continually dedicating all of ourselves to God in our words and deeds; as royalty exercising dominion over the creation in our care to the glory of God.
Human Destiny: Royal Beauty in Community
God is committed to this vision for humanity. We see it hinted at in passages like Isaiah 61:10–62:3:
I will greatly rejoice in the Lord;
my soul shall exult in my God,
for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation;
he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,
as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress,
and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
For as the earth brings forth its sprouts,
and as a garden causes what is sown in it to sprout up,
so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise
to sprout up before all the nations.
For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent,
and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not be quiet,
until her righteousness goes forth as brightness,
and her salvation as a burning torch.
The nations shall see your righteousness,
and all the kings your glory,
and you shall be called by a new name
that the mouth of the Lord will give.
You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.
When I read this passage I think to myself, “There’s something to shout about!” I love it, in part, because of how intimate it is. Take a moment to dwell on these words: “For the sake of Zion I will not be silent. And for the sake of Jerusalem I will not keep quiet.” At first blush it seems as though the prophet Isaiah is speaking out, but this is the declaration of the anointed one, the same one who spoke in 61:1-3 and said,
The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor;
he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn;
to grant to those who mourn in Zion—
to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit;
that they may be called oaks of righteousness,
the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified.
When Jesus chose to preach Isaiah 61:1-2 for his inaugural sermon (Luke 4:16-21) he laid claim to being the anointed one of this whole section of Isaiah. Jesus is the only preacher in history who has the goods to preach a sermon about himself! On closer look, there is a dual intimacy in 61:10 between the anointed one and the Father and the anointed one and the people of promise. What does the anointed one say? “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; My soul shall exult in my God!” What’s the reason for all this joy? It’s because his God has dressed him in salvation’s garments. He’s wrapped him in the cloak of righteousness.
Back in Isaiah 59:14, Isaiah declares that justice has been turned back and righteousness stands far away. In 59:15, he says that the Lord saw it and it displeased him that there was no justice. So he needed to take care of the problem himself. Then the prophet writes that the Lord’s own arm brought him salvation and his righteousness upheld him. He put on righteousness as a breastplate and the helmet of salvation on his head (59:16-17). By the time we arrive at 61:10, we find out that the Lord accomplishes this by transferring that clothing to the anointed one. This is the beautiful picture of the intimacy between the Father and the Son in the work of salvation. The anointed one doesn’t need salvation’s garments and the cloak of righteousness for his own sake. He doesn’t need saving. He wears it for the sake of those who need salvation! And putting these clothes on makes him shout for joy!
My grandmother left Wilmington, North Carolina, for Harlem in 1947 as part of the Great Migration of African Americans out of the southern states trying to make a better life for their families.
One by one, each of her six children joined her in New York City, my mother arriving in 1952. So I was surrounded by a large family during my childhood years and holidays were always boisterous occasions as family and friends congregated at my house. When Easter rolled around, we knew at least two things: my grandmother would purchase us tickets to some kind of play on Broadway and the boys in the family would get new suits while the girls received new dresses. We would be decked out for Easter. I had more joy about my new suit than I did about the resurrection.
New clothes make us feel good. They lift our spirits. And the anointed one shouts for joy over his new wardrobe. But his joy lies in the fact that his clothes are for us! He’s wearing salvation’s garments for you and me! This text gives us insight into Hebrews 12:1-2, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame”.
Jesus’ joy comes from the Father’s act of dressing him in garments of salvation and righteousness for us. But it goes even further than that. His intimacy is not just with God, it’s also with his people. So he says in 62:1, “For the sake of Zion I will not be silent. For the sake of Jerusalem I will not keep quiet. Until her righteousness goes forth like a bright light, and her salvation burns like a torch!” (author’s translation).
In the 1980s, Run-DMC released a song about people who talk too much with the lyrics, “Twenty-five hours, eight days a week, thirteen months out the year is when you speak . . . You talk too much then you never shut up. I said you talk too much, homeboy, you never shut up!” Well, the anointed one is saying, “I refuse to shut up. Twenty-five hours, eight days a week, thirteen months out of the year I’m gonna keep on speaking. I will not close my mouth until Zion’s righteousness is as bright as the sun!”
Who’s the anointed one talking to? He’s talking to his Father, saying I’m not going to rest until this picture of beauty and glory is fully painted. Are you able to hear the anointed one telling you to rejoice over the fact that he’s working, that he has the Father’s ear and will not close his mouth until righteousness and justice shine brightly throughout the earth?
Look at the picture of beauty that’s painted for us in this passage. In chapter 61, the anointed one says he will replace the ashes and mourning of his people with a beautiful headdress and the oil of gladness. But the imagery of beauty changes in 62:3: “You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.” You’re not going to wear a beautiful crown; you’re going to be a beautiful crown. You won’t wear a royal diadem; you’ll be a royal diadem. The anointed one wears the garments of righteousness and salvation with joy because he can see the end. He can see the fulness of time and the royal beauty of his people. This is the vision of the redeemed shining together in radiant regal beauty. It is what John picks up on in Revelation 19:6-8 when God opens his ears to hear what seems to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters:
Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out, “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure” — for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.
And again, in Revelation 21:9-11:
Then came one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues and spoke to me, saying, “Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.” And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal.
The royal beauty of the people of God pictured for us in Isaiah 62 and carried through in Revelation is a balm for our soul. This vision is actually hard to believe if our eyes are only set on the trauma-inducing reality of our divisions. When we’re in the middle of the mess, when we are struggling in the church and in our communities, can we have the kind of vision that looks at image-bearers and sees the end? The kind that sees the reunion and reunification of humanity brought together in the royal beauty that the anointed one promises?
Alec Motyer captures this truth when he writes, “To be in his hand is to be kept, guarded and upheld; to be a crown is to be that which expresses kingliness—not the exercise of royal power (the wearing of a crown) but the possession of royal worth and dignity. The Lord’s people will be the sign that he is King.” Isaiah doesn’t simply say we will be a beautiful crown, a royal diadem. He says we’ll be a beautiful crown in the hand of the Lord! We’ll be a royal diadem in the hand of God, the sign that he is King. And this beauty will never fade, the brilliance will never dull because the Lord makes and keeps us beautiful, upholding us in beauty.
Adapted from “The Beautiful Community” by Irwyn L. Ince Jr. Copyright (c) 2020 by Irwyn L. Ince Jr. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, PO Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL 60559. www.ivpress.com
Irwyn L. Ince Jr. serves as a pastor at Grace DC Presbyterian Church and director of the Grace DC Institute for Cross-Cultural Mission. He is a graduate of City College of New York, Reformed Theological Seminary, and holds a DMin from Covenant Theological Seminary. In 2018, Ince was unanimously elected as moderator of the PCA’s 46th General Assembly.