In the beginning God said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness." What did He mean? It is perfectly certain that He did not mean that man should become like God in omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence. He had no thought that man should become God, or share in Deity; that was of necessity an impossibility. Nor did He mean that man should be independent, self-contained and self-sustained, as God is. This, too, is impossible for the creature. God must ever be God, and the creature be the creature, i.e. dependent, subject to God, sustained by Him. What, then, did He mean? Well, we may be quite sure that God had the Man Christ Jesus in view when He said that. And what God proclaimed in purpose was to have in man the perfect answer to what would be seen in God when it pleased Him to take His place among the creatures as the firstborn of all creation (see Col. 5), when He took the form of a servant and was made in the likeness of men (see Phil. 2:7). God never had any purpose but Christ; no one ever satisfied God but Christ; He is the Man of God's counsels, and the Man after God's heart. If man, then, is to be Godlike, that must be the pattern.
How marvellous was the Lord as a Man here. What is the first attribute of Godhead? Independence. What was the special object lesson in the Son incarnate? Dependence. He came to do the will of God, never His own will. Dependence, dependence, dependence every step of the way. The more we study His life, the more marvellous it seems. Nor does He ever leave this place, having once taken it. It might, indeed, seem so, for it is written, "When all things shall be subdued unto Him, then shall the Son also Himself be subject unto Him that put all things under Him, that God may be all in all" (1 Cor. 15:28). May we then logically conclude that Christ was subject as a Man on earth, will be subject again when the ages of trial are over, but is not so in the interval between the two? Impossible. Verse 27 is the answer. Moreover, the whole of Scripture makes it evident the Lord Jesus Christ always carries out the Father's will, not His own (though it is His own, too).
It is not difficult to understand the apparent paradox, for in the millennial reign it might seem as if He were reigning independently, but the climax of manifested subjection afterwards shows that this was not the case. Even in the height of His government He is always doing the will of the Father. We get, then, this marvellous fact, that God-likeness in man means an attribute which seems the opposite of Godhead, viz, perfect and absolute dependence in the highest sense of the word. God is perfect as God, and for God-likeness man must be perfect as man, and for this absolute dependence is necessary; then it is God can do with him the utmost that is possible, and raise him to unimaginable heights, through, in, and with the God-man, Jesus Christ. And this is what God will do in each individual chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and without blame before Him in love; and not only so, but all these individuals will form one perfect living organism, the Church of God, perfectly dependent in and united to Christ, the Head; and each item thereof will be in most perfect harmony with every other item, each preserving its individuality, but all without a jarring note in the whole, because of the perfect dependence of each member on Him, who is the life of all. Then it is that God's ideal will be fully reached. Man will be in God's image and likeness, and can have full dominion in consequence; and thus there will "be glory in the assembly in Christ Jesus, unto all generations of the age of ages." (Eph. 3:21. See New Trans.)
This is God's ideal and purpose, and He will bring it to pass. There is, however, another ideal set before man. It might seem at first as if the two ideals were not so very diverse, yet they are as far apart from each other as Satan is from Christ.
This other ideal is found in the words which the serpent said to Eve: "Ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil." (Gen. 3:5.) We must remember, too, that the Hebrew word Elohim, herein translated "gods," is the same as elsewhere in these chapters translated "God," which makes it more bold and blasphemous still.
We have seen what God meant by what He said in the matter of God-likeness, let us now enquire what the serpent meant by what he said. Now, it is quite plain that the serpent did not mean that Eve (and others) would be exalted in this way beyond himself. If others were to become as gods through his teaching, how much more must he, who knew good and evil, and incited them to this knowledge, be as "gods"? In a sense, what he said was true (see Gen. 3:22), and, indeed, God speaks in Scripture in a limited sense of others beside Himself being "gods," as in Psalm 82:1-6; but how different this sense to real Godhead, and also to the blessing which He had in His mind.
The serpent Satan sought to be like God by independence. He would have his own way; he was proud and refused to be subject; he thought he knew best. Independence is the prerogative of God alone. Satan claimed to be like Him, and incited man to follow the same line, and to claim his independence also, seeking happiness in his own way, though the serpent knew what his dupes did not — that the only effect of listening to him, and following his advice would be that man would become like Satan, though he would not attain to Satan's station, and would rather be his slave. This, then, is the other ideal. To be as "gods" means to be like Satan, though even that ideal could never be reached, for even the greatest man that could be after the flesh will owe his greatness to Satan, the dragon, who will give him his power and his seat and great authority, and this only for three and a half years. This, then, is the highest which can be reached in following that ideal, and this by one man only (for a brief moment before his miserable end) out of untold millions. What about the rest?
Yet, strange to say, nearly all the world seek after this latter ideal instead of the first; and alternately the nations, who have professedly accepted Jesus as Lord and Head will openly apostatize, and, without shame, will follow Satan's ideal, by breaking into full revolt and independence. He that sitteth on the heavens will laugh them to scorn, and will know how to bring them down.
Fellow Christians, let us see to it that we are on God's line, and love the dependent pathway, and dread independence above everything else in this world. There is only one thing to be exercised about, and that is — What is the will of God? and then, knowing this, to follow it at all costs, no matter what the apparent consequences may be. A word of caution is however necessary. Dependence means dependence on God Himself. Independence is independence of God Himself in self-will. Now, strange to say, often we hear Christians, otherwise well taught, use the word independence as meaning to be independent of men. (whether these men are saints of God, singly or corporately, matters not).
Now, of course, there are minor degrees of dependence in the world, as children to the father, a wife to her husband, a servant to his master, a subject to the king, etc.; also, we have to be subject to the elders, yea all are to be subject one to another, to hear the church, and so on.
But in one and all the same principle applies. We must obey God rather than man. Therefore, if anyone to whom we would otherwise have to be subject tells us to do anything contrary to God, whether that someone be father, king, saint, elder, or church, we have to answer, whatever its cost and whatever we may have to suffer for it, "We must obey God." Individuals may go wrong, saints and teachers may go wrong, the whole professing Church (and, how much more evil, any section thereof) may go wrong, and has gone wrong. To be an overcomer is to hear what the Spirit says to the Churches, for we must obey God, and God never abdicates His throne.
The final appeal is therefore invariably between God and the individual soul. Let us be humble and broken in spirit, let us wait much on God, let us be willing to hear all that others may say, and give it all attention, let us make no haste, and cry earnestly to God to teach us His way. But when all is said and done, if it seems to us that what man wants us to do can only be done by disobeying God, then let us take the path we see to be right, and with deepest humiliation cast our way on the Lord, looking to Him for vindication when cast out by men as evil — He will not fail us (see Luke 6:22, 23). Only thus can we follow God's ideal, which is Christ, the Christ of God, the ever subject and dependent One.