We live in a culture obsessed with image. That feels like a really trivial thing to say, its not exactly a shock or surprise. We care what people think about us. We care about whether or not others like what they see when they look at us, whether or not we behave in certain ways, whether or not we are putting on the young professional or educated or carefree or whatever show so that people think the right things about us. This is life. We all have an image, and we try to make that image into something that feels valuable to us. Unfortunately, this draws us into two traps. First, we begin to idolize our self-image. We base our worth on whether or not we are successful in being who we want people to think we are. Second, we become fake. If who we are doesn’t fit the mold of what we think people want us to be, we try to change ourselves. We care more about the opinions of others than our own authenticity. What’s worse, in this we rarely take into consideration what God says about us. The scripture tells us that God knows us more intimately than anyone else on earth. He knows our thoughts before we think them, our words before we say them, and he knew all our days before the creation of the world (Psalm 139). God knows the person He made when He made you, all the quirks, kinks, and wrinkles, and He calls you a wonderful work (Psalm 139:14). If God created us and knows us better than anyone else, then He knows who we should be and how we should be. The Bible has some very specific things to say about image.
The Image of God
So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.
(Genesis 1:27 ESV)
The first thing that the Bible says about God is that He created everything. He is Creator. The first thing that the Bible says about mankind is that we are created in God’s image. We are the only thing in all of God’s creation that bears that image in such a direct, intentional way. Giving us His image is not about looking a certain way in the mirror, but about being a certain way in action and character. Our society doesn’t really seem to give two craps about character anymore (just look at the presidential candidates), it just cares whether or not you get the job done. God is not like society though, He looks at the heart (1 Samuel 16:7). God cares about our character, and desires that our thoughts and actions come out of a God-like heart. He desires us to bear His image. The image of God is both descriptive and prescriptive. It both describes how we are beautifully and wonderfully made, but also commands us to be shaped to the image of God and do all things for the advancement of His glory. Let’s explore this briefly:
The image of God is descriptive, meaning it tells us who we are. Each person, believer or non-believer, bears the image of God in a unique and glorious way. We are each beautifully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14). Every human on planet earth is incomparably valuable in ways that science and sociology can’t explain. They look at humanity, and say that the only thing that differs from the animals is language, and that any value of human life is just herd behavior trumping our competitive darwinist leanings. The Bible tells us that it is so much more than that. Scripture tells us that the reason humans are valuable is because the most valuable person in the universe has woven little glimpses of himself into us, so that we could have relationship with Him and declare His glory to the rest of creation. Unfortunately, sin has corrupted the image of God in us, leading us into all kinds of atrocities against God, creation, and each other. If you are in Christ though, meaning you have put your faith in Jesus’ work on the cross for salvation, then the Holy Spirit is in you, working to make you more like Him in character and deed. We are like a broken mirror, designed to perfectly reflect Him, but in need of repair. When Christ saves us, He begins a work in us to repair that mirror, piece by piece, slowly bringing us to reflect the image of God more and more in our lives. The image of God tells us who we are.
The image of God is prescriptive, meaning it tells us who to be. Knowing that we are broken in our sin, and desire things that are against who God designed us to be, we need help to know what image to bear. This is where naturalism gets it wrong. Naturalism says that we should just describe what people do, never tell them what to do. It says that the best way to find truth is to look deep within ourselves, and whatever we find there we should call right. Naturalism is based on the assumption that human beings are basically and fundamentally good. If human beings were basically good, then we would have no need for laws, or wars, the few people that have a rare or minute bent toward evil would be stopped and brought to justice. Maybe I’m just looking in the wrong places, but that’s not the world we live in. Our world is broken, and it is broken because of human evil and selfishness. This is the outworking of sin, because it has a pervasive hold on the human heart, and has extensively woven itself into our world. Colossians 3 tells those who are in Christ, “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator” (Colossians 3:5-10 ESV). Here we are told to put to death the evils of our hearts from sin. It says in verse 7 that these are the sins we “once walked in,” it was just they way we were apart from Christ. Very few people try to be evil, they just don’t know their own hearts very well. Scripture calls sin what it is so that we can put off those things that release destruction into our lives and the lives of others.
Anyone who has ever tried to break a bad habit knows that it is not enough to just get rid of the bad though. If you get rid of a bad habit without introducing a new good one, you just create a hole to be filled by another bad habit. This is why the same passage goes on to say, “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:12-17 ESV). All of these things the passage tells us to do are attributes of God’s character that He has revealed about Himself throughout redemptive history. When verse 10 told us to be “renewed in knowledge after the image of [our] creator,” it was saying that as image bearers of God, we should work to be more like God in our character and actions. Because of Jesus’ saving work on the cross, our response should be all-of-life worship of Him through love of God and others. The image of God tells us who to be.
Understanding the image of God should draw us to 3 responses: Praise, Care, and Study. Knowing what God is like should draw us to praise of His name. He is the greatest thing that exists, in fact nothing would exist apart from Him. We should worship Him and praise Him that he would even create us and let us keep breathing, let alone be mindful of us love us so intimately as He does. Secondly, knowing that every person bears the image of God, we should value people and work for their good. The image of God gives meaning to human value and dignity, and calls us to love even those we normally wouldn’t care for. This love and care has no borders, ethnicity, or language, we should desire dignity and justice for all people and desire for all people to know the good news of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. Finally, knowledge of the image of God comes from learning about Him in His word. The Bible is the only way we can encounter the character of God. It is how he has revealed Himself and His redemptive work throughout history. For us to put off the old self and be renewed in the image of our creator, we must know who our creator is and what He looks like.