God set human beings apart from the rest of His creation. This seems like an obvious fact. You and I are different from the squirrels we see outside. Humans form communities, languages and complex governments with rules. We create art and music; we write books and take pictures. Humanity is set apart from the rest of creation, but why? Why did God set us apart from the birds and the fish? Why did God make reflections of Himself? The Bible gives a very unique, clear answer to this question. Today we are going to talk about what we mean when we say that we are created in the image of God. I hope we all walk away with a better understanding of God’s purpose and His grace.
Creation accounts are not unique to the Bible. There are lots of different creation accounts from ancient cultures. I think you would be hard pressed to find a culture that didn’t try to explain the creation of the universe. Most of the creation accounts we find are violent and describe bloody battles between the gods. These accounts say that out of all that chaos, the universe was born. The Biblical account of creation is set apart as a very peaceful account. God did not battle with anyone else to create the universe. Instead, He spoke and it happened. His voice was the act of creation. Everything He created was Good. The earth was peaceful and perfect before the Fall of mankind. In the first chapter of Genesis, God creates little images of himself. “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’” Genesis 1:26 God created humanity in his likeness. Then He gave them responsibilities as stewards or co-regents of the earth. This is a radical separation from other ancient creation accounts.
God made mankind in His image. We are a reflection of who God Himself is. Other creation accounts say gods made mankind to serve them. In these accounts, humanity is simply a way for these gods to please themselves. Humans sacrifice animals to make the gods happy and keep them from getting angry. The Biblical account of creation is very different from other cultures, especially in its explanation for the brokenness in the world. God made humans in His image and gave them responsibility over all the creatures He made. God placed the first man and woman in a garden and gave them only one rule: “Don’t eat from a particular tree.” Well, they eat from the tree anyway and ruin all of humanity in the process. Why did God plant the tree of knowledge of Good and Evil? If He didn’t want humans to eat from it, why did He place it there in the first place? The very power of choice is a reflection of God.
God desires intimate relationship with His creation. He made images of Himself as an expression of that desire for relationship. If God did not give mankind the choice of being in relationship with Him, the relationship wouldn’t really be a loving one. God would just be pulling the strings like some sick puppet master. No, He gave mankind the choice to trust Him, rely on Him and be in a healthy relationship with Him. When Adam and Eve ate the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, they chose to trust in themselves. Ever since then, pride has been the basis for most sin we experience in the world. God had to respond and punish mankind for their disobedience. Genesis 3:22-24 says, “Then the Lord God said, ‘Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—’ therefore the Lord God sent him out of the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.” Adam and Eve were forced out of the garden into a hard and broken world. They lost their intimate relationship with God and were forced to pay the consequences for their disobedience. From the time of Adam to Jesus, mankind could only live in a broken relationship with God. When I look at my own life, I see the consequences of the original sin.
In 2010 my family moved from the North side of Chicago to St. Louis. I was 14 years old and entering into my 8th grade year at school. I attended Lift For Life Academy, where I experienced being the minority for the first time. I did really well in school and quickly became puffed up with pride. I thought that I was better than all of my other peers. As the year went on, I was ruthlessly bullied by other children in my grade. At the same time, I made myself unapproachable. I was unkind, snotty, rude and chalk full of pride. My teachers saw my potential as an excellent student, but they also did their best to reign back my pride. I was a mess.
The bullying and verbal abuse I experienced caused me to slip into depression. I started having migraines at least twice a month. The paradox was that I carried myself on the outside as if I were Albert Einstein, but inside I was broken, hurting and alone. When I was at an all-time low, I learned something about being created in the image of God. Everyone deserves a level of dignity and respect. I changed the way that I thought about my own knowledge, recognizing that I had so much to learn. I changed the way that I talked to others around me, giving them the respect, they deserved as being created in the image of God. All of my problems didn’t just magically disappear, but I found myself in a much better relationship with God and my peers.
In the United States there are many standards that we are manipulated to believe in. These standards are not based off of the Bible, but are instead shaped by companies who want to make money. When we buy into these standards, we are left feeling empty, broken, insufficient and left out. These standards include our ideas about beauty, intelligence and success. Men and women are told that if they are not a certain height, weight or skin complexion then they are not beautiful or handsome. The school you graduate from determines how intelligent you are. Success is how much fame, money and power you have in this world. All of these standards are driven by a culture of greed, manipulation, distrust and humiliation. The Bible gives a different set of standards not based off of the ideas of mankind but God. Ultimately, God knows that we will never perfectly satisfy his standards. That is why He sent the only one who could. Jesus is the one who helps us live in the image of God.
Christ Jesus is the perfection of God’s image. Because of sin, mankind has tainted the image of God. We abuse our bodies with all sorts of unhealthy, destructive foods, beverages, and drugs. We abuse our minds with scenes of violence, sex, and foul language. We abuse our souls by loving things, money, power or fame instead of God. We do these things even though we know we shouldn’t, because we refuse to accept what it means to be created in the image of God. ALL humans are created in God’s image. Jesus Christ came to earth to die for ALL humans. As the perfection of the image of God, he alone could defeat sin and death. In John 14:5-6 Jesus explains this powerful truth to his disciples, “Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” When we look at the gospels and how they describe Jesus, we see the true reflection of God’s image.
Jesus is radically declaring that he and God are one. When we learn about Jesus, we are learning about God. Throughout the gospels, Jesus revealed God’s will to the Israelites. He performed miracles, taught in parables and challenged the religious leaders of his time. For Jesus to declare that when the disciples saw him, they saw God was downright blasphemous. Jesus was either a lunatic or the Son of God, but he could not have been some wise prophet like other religions claim. The disciples accepted who Jesus claimed to be. They saw him not only as their Messiah, but the very living, breathing Son of God. When we look at the cross, we can never see ourselves or others the same way again.
God made mankind in His image. Adam and Eve irrevocably tainted that image by disobeying God and declaring that He was not enough. Ever since then, we have been bent towards sin. To fix the relationship between God and His creation a dramatic act of grace needed to take place. Jesus Christ came to this earth to fulfill that act of grace. When he died for the sins of all mankind, Jesus radically changed our image. Now all believers have new identities in Christ! Paul summed it up well when he said, “I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” Philippians 1:6 Disciples of Jesus have the freedom and grace to conform their image to Christ’s image. Through the help of the Holy Spirit, our lives are no longer defined by anything this world can describe. This has many implications on how we should view others and ourselves.
When I was at my worst point of depression, I came to a terrible realization. If I claimed to be a Christian, I could not accept the lies I believed. In fact, every time I called myself ugly or undesirable, I essentially called God a liar. God made me in his image. Beyond that, God sacrificed himself for my sake. Who was I to think I was undesirable to God? The cross should radically change how we treat others as well. There is an equality among true disciples of Jesus. We are all in need of God’s grace and we should treat others according to their inherent value in Christ. This radically different outlook has the potential to spark real change in our society. The early church spread as fast as it did, because their communities looked so different from others. The Christian Church should act just as radically different today as it did when it first began. The greatest commandment is this: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbors as yourself.” Luke 10:27 Being created in the image of God means loving Him and your neighbor well.
Your culture will try to define you. It will set unattainable standards that leave you feeling broken and weak. These standards are not the same that God has for His children. The disciple of Christ will allow the Holy Spirit to conform their bodies, minds and souls to God. Every human is created in the image of God. Every human also has the free will to deny that image and try to create one for themselves. Fulfillment, peace and happiness are not found in any manmade image. Let the body of Christ throw off the chains of doubt, depression and anxiety. Let the body of Christ represent Jesus in word and action. Then we will be living true to our image. God made mankind in His image. We should treat every single person with respect in dignity in light of this truth. We all need grace. Our faith in Jesus should cause us to love everyone whether we agree with them or not. He is working in and through us, conforming us to the perfection of God’s image.
God’s purpose is to restore a right relationship between himself and his creation. By God’s grace, he opened the way for that restoration to take place. Committing our lives to Christ is the surest way building a relationship with God. This is a daily process of self-denial and a willingness to serve where the Lord has placed you. Being image bearers of God is not easy, but that is why we need community. The body of believers is meant to encourage and foster this task. My hope is that you join me today.
Yours in Christ,
Chris A Rice