Reflections on being made in the Image of God…

Posted by on Apr 12, 2016 in Blog | 0 comments

In addition to my role as principal at Vose Seminary, I serve as pastor at large for the Carey group, and this Sunday I preached the treble there (twice at Harrisdale, once at Forrestdale). We are working on a series from Genesis, and my task was to explore how  Gen 1:26-31 and 2:19-25 help us to understand what it means to be made in the image of God. Here are the notes I preached from…

One of the most basic questions we ask ourselves in life is ‘who am I?’ When we are children, we try to get a sense of what group we belong to… are we nerdy or sporty? Do we value brains or beauty – or neither? We might ask if we are a sociable, groupie kind of person, or a bit of a loner. We look to find the things we are good at, try to shy away from those we find too hard, and in small steps we move towards defining ourselves. Many people are hugely shaped in that journey by what they think other people think about them. If they think other people value them, they think well of them self and if not, they struggle with self image. Others have more of what psychologists would call ‘an internal locus of control’ – and their evaluation would flow more from their own values and what they consider important, rather than from what others around them think, although often the two are not unrelated… ‘no one thinks well of me – so stuff the world, this is what I think and value’ often becomes the internal justifying script.

In answering the ‘who am I?’ question, it is best to look at it from a biblical perspective. It was the great 16th century reformer, Martin Luther, who answered that question most succinctly. Who are you? Said Luther, you are the bearer of an alien dignity

Alien dignity – what did he mean by that? He was saying that while we try to assess our value by what we do and our ranking in relation to the performance of others, we miss the main point. The question should not be ‘who am I?’ but ‘whose am I?’ or to be more accurate, ‘who do I look like – whose image do I bear?’

Now, we do ask that question often. My granddaughter Maya Rose celebrated her 1st birthday party yesterday, and I have been intrigued how people comment – ‘ah, Harris eyes…’ or ‘Hudson forehead’ – or whatever. True, whenever they say she looks like me in any area it is said with a sense of pity… but what people are doing is saying is, there are a number of people in your family of origin – so who do you look like… your mom, dad, aunt, grandmother… whoever. We want to know whose image you bear?

Luther’s answer – which is the Bible’s answer, is that we carry an image from the outside – an alien image – but one which gives us great dignity – why… because it is the image of God – and it is in God’s own image that you have been made. Wow – could that be true. Indeed it is… Listen to the account in Gen 1:26-27.

The God said, ‘Let us make human beings in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and all the creatures that move along the ground.’ So God created human beings in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

Does this matter? Actually, yes and yes and yes again. If you don’t know whose image you are made in, you will never really know why you are alive. You will be without roots – without any sense of an origin.

Image bearing – what does it mean?

You might say – fair enough, but what does it mean to be an image bearer. First let’s remember how the concept worked in the ancient world. A king or queen who was not present in a part of their country might delegate authority to a local representative. To show that their delegate had legitimate power, they would give them a copy of their seal – which would often bear their image. It would in some way show that the person holding the seal was their representative or their icon – or image – in that area. If you wanted to know what the king or queen thought about something, you needed to ask the image bearer.

That is the context in which we are originally told we are to be God’s image bearers in the world. This is clearly said in v26 ‘Let us make human beings in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over the all the creatures that move along the ground.’

In other words, humans are to represent God to the creation. Do you ever wonder if Christians should be concerned about matters like global warming and threats to the planet? Stop wondering. The answer is crystal clear in scripture – yes, yes and yes again. We are to represent God to the planet and to make sure that God’s care for creation is heeded. It is a key part of what it means to be human – and an image bearer.

You see it even more clearly in Gen 2:19-20a where God brings the animals and birds to Adam to see what he will name them. God made them – but it was the task of humans to name them… because a name helps to bring something or someone to life.

The question then is not ‘are you an image bearer?’ – but ‘what kind of an image bearer are you being in practice?’ You represent God to the created order. If you abuse creation, you are implying, God really doesn’t care about it. Now the witness of Gen 1 is that after God made the world, it was good. The ‘good’ word is used repeatedly in Genesis 1. The Hebrew word for good here is often misunderstood. Essentially it means that the world was fully functional – it worked. Note, it is not a claim that the world was perfect (why oh why did God make mosquitoes!), but that it worked and operated smoothly. So God hands over to humans – who are very good (that is, humans worked really, really well), the world, which is in excellent working order. One day he will ask for it back. It is why Jesus uses the parable of the King who goes on a journey telling his image bearers that he will return – we are the ones who need to remember this. God will hold humans responsible.

So the first part of being an image bearer to embrace a task – to steward the world and to look after it. And incidentally, remember that while care of the environment is a hot topic today, the Bible frames it differently. Rather than care of the environment, it sees it as care of creation. That raises the stakes. It is not just an environment – it is a creation by the Creator. It matters because it matters to God and God’s plan is to look after the good world using the very good humans made in God’s image to be image bearers to creation.

The Trinity and Image Bearing…

It is fascinating that God’s decision to make humans in Gen 1:26 is recorded in the form of a conversation, with God saying, ‘Let us make human beings in our image…’ If you know anything about this passage you will be aware that this has sparked a lively debate asking, ‘so who is “us” (let us) and who is “our” (in our image)?’ Some say that God is simply using the plural of royalty or majesty. Just as the Queen always speaks of we – when she means I – so perhaps God is using this common technique. So she might say ‘We would like breakfast now’ when she means, ‘I would like breakfast now’.  That’s the plural of majesty. And it is possible that this is what is at play here. It could also be that God is speaking to the angelic realm – so the angels assist in creation and God speaks to them enlisting their help. That of course has theological implications – did the angels assist in creation and are we made in the image of God and angels?  That would be a controversial claim. But it could well be that the passage is hinting at the Trinity – that God exists as Father, Son and Spirit.

While the argument is strictly a technical one – and Old Testament scholars take different stances on this – to some extent it doesn’t matter. We know through the larger witness of Scripture that God is triune – in other words, while God is one God, we experience God in three ways – Father, Son and Spirit. As image bearers, we therefore have aspects of being like God the Father, and like God the Son and like God the Spirit.

Being in the image of God unifies all humanity – we are all made in the image of God… but just as some of us are more extroverted or introverted or are good with words or work better with our hands, or whatever, so we reflect the image of God in different ways. Some do it through their compassion, others through creativity, others through their character… But something that is worth asking is “Does the unique way in which I am called to be the image of God reflect a little more of the image of the Father, or the Son, or the Spirit?”

While God is one, that does not mean that the Father is the Son or that the Son is the Spirit – not at all. While in essence each is God, God comes to us in three distinct persons. Each has their own role to play. The Father is primarily responsible for initiating creation, the Son carries out the Fathers plan to the world, the Spirit ensures the mission is fruitful and achieves the Father’s purposes. So look at Jesus – read the Gospels – in what way am I as an image bearer meant to be like him – just as, is my family likeness to be seen in the eyes, or the fact that everyone in this family can run really fast. So what do you identify with in Jesus – is it his compassion for people, or his deep desire to be in relationship with his Father, or in His commitment to justice. Or read about God the Father – what do you relate to… his mercy, or creativity… or the Spirit – and the way the Spirit makes the plans of God come about. It is the Spirit who grows the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self control in us… are you someone who naturally helps people to grow and become more Christlike. The Spirit also equips us with gifts… do you help people to develop gifts… perhaps that is how you are showing your family likeness.

Behind what I am saying is simple thesis – You and I are made in the image of God… but we will show that in different ways. Some reflect a little more of the father, others a little more of Jesus, others a little more of the Spirit. Spot your family likeness. Work on it and develop it. You will look at some people and say… ‘you know, when I look at your life I see a lot of the Father in it.’ And at others, ‘I see a lot of the Spirit in it.’ And of others, ‘you just make me think of Jesus.’

But aren’t you leaving out something rather important?

Even as you listen, you probably think, ‘gosh, this is unrealistic. He has forgotten to mention the fall. We might be image bearers – but that was dashed at the fall.’ And you are right. The fall sees our image tarnished. It is why those who are redeemed in Christ no longer need to witness just to creation but also to other image bearers…. We were originally made in God’s image to be God’s representative to the created order. Now, because of the fall, we also have to witness to other image bearers who have forgotten their image – and have not been restored to their original name.

What does this mean in practice?

When I look in the mirror and ask, ‘who are you?’ the reply is, ‘image bearer… fallen image bearer’ and, if I have accepted the forgiveness offered by Jesus, ‘redeemed image bearer’. Hold on to those three answers – image bearer, fallen image bearer, redeemed image bearer.

When I say redeemed image bearer I mean that because of the forgiveness found through the Cross of Jesus, the effects of the fall are reversed… but there is an already and not yet dimension to this.

Take for example the role of work in the world and the impact of the fall. Work exists before the fall – we have to name the animals and tend the earth. We sometimes forget that while God placed Adam and Even in Garden of Eden, that was not the whole world. There was a world outside the Garden. Conceivably as they tended the Garden, they were supposed to expand its boundaries. And doing so was supposed to be a joy and delight. But then there was the fall. The result – work is now by the sweat of their brow in a world of thorns and thistles. Work becomes drudgery. But then we find redemption in Christ and because we are redeemed we are called back to our original mandate to do the work of God in the world. There is again purpose in work. For the Christian, work is about call and vocation – how we can serve God in our Monday to Friday world – and we do so by imaging God in the workplace… being like God in creativity, graciousness, kindness.

Or think about your body. Take your mouth. It was created to speak words of truth, encouragement, and to build people up. Think of how God’s mouth is used. It speaks creation into being. When we act as image bearers, our mouths speak words that help new realities spring into being. How, we may lapse back to the fall – and our fallen mouths speak words of abuse, ridicule, deceit. As redeemed people we must regularly ask – do my words reflect the fall – or redemption? Is my mouth image bearing – or testifying to the fall?

So what? The difference this makes…

And so… look at the mirror and be amazed. You are made in God’s image – called to reflect God to the world… the created order… and to the fallen world – those who have forgotten whose image they are made in. You are indeed incredible… not because of who you are but rather because of whose you are and whose image you are made in. Be amazed… and don’t close yourself to the possibilities of what God wants to do through you.

Earlier we reflected on God’s comment – Let us make humans in our image. God’s image is the triune image. And so we can never really image God alone… which is why we are created for community and for one another. As we live as image bearers we quickly realise we cannot do that alone – for the one whose image we bear speaks the us and our words. Image bearing is not about the singular or about aloneness. It is about being part of a community. That community is the church… and together, we have the incredible task of imaging God to our suburb, our city and beyond. To use another biblical image for Church – together we are the body of Christ – God’s way of making sure Jesus is seen in the world. Together lets enthusiastically live up to our family name – and image to the world what our incredible God is like….

As always, nice chatting…

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