Faithlife Sermons

The Image of God

Genesis  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  27:37
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What is the Image of God?

Isaiah 45:18-19 (Opening) 18  For thus says the Lord, who created the heavens (he is God!), who formed the earth and made it (he established it; he did not create it empty, he formed it to be inhabited!): “I am the Lord, and there is no other. 19  I did not speak in secret, in a land of darkness; I did not say to the offspring of Jacob, ‘Seek me in vain.’ I the Lord speak the truth; I declare what is right. Introduction Most of you know I retired from the military. I spent almost eight years enlisted, then I got my commission and spent the next 13 years as an officer. I remember how proud I was when I graduated from Officer Training School. I had my bright, shiny gold bars on my shoulders and on my hat. They felt heavy, psychologically. I realized the important responsibility the Air Force had entrusted me with. I had been placed in a position of responsibility. I was a lieutenant. Lieutenant is an interesting word. It hasn’t really changed much since the 1300s when the English borrowed it from the French. It sounds French, doesn’t it? Lieutenant literally means place-holder. Lieu is the word for place, and tenant is the present tense of the verb tenir, which means to hold. A lieutenant, military or otherwise, is a person who takes the place of another person. In the military, the rank of Lieutenant is actually short for Lieutenant Captain, which is the person who takes the place of a Captain. Lieutenant Colonel is the person who takes the place of the Colonel. See how this works? Civilian-wise, people in positions of authority often have a group of lieutenants who work for them, doing specific things for the boss. I guess, in a way, the President’s Cabinet members are his lieutenants, but we don’t call them lieutenant presidents. The thing about lieutenants is that their authority is limited. They are given specific roles and responsibilities they can perform, and they can’t go outside those boundaries. They’re not allowed to color outside the lines, if you will. Anything else has to be approved by the person they are the lieutenant for, the person they hold the place of. Lieutenants and ambassadors are similar, in that they both represent the person or organization they work for. If the ruler of a country sends an ambassador to another country, that ambassador speaks for the person who sent him. When a lieutenant is given their orders, they speak for whoever gave them those orders; they represent the person who gave them their limited authority. It’s a good arrangement that gives the sender or the person granting the authority a greater capability to exercise their authority. Everything was good When I read through the first chapter of Genesis, one thing that strikes me is that the way things are now is not how God intended them to be. At the end of each day of creation, and specifically at the end of the sixth day of creation, God comments about His work. Genesis 1:31 31 And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day. Let’s think about that for a little bit. God looked at everything He had made and said it was all very good. Not just OK, not mediocre, but very good. And not just some of it, but everything He had made. I look around now and see all the problems we have in this world, and to me, it’s not very good most of the time. There are parts of it that are still very good, but not all of it. There’s a reason for that, though, and we’ll get to the cause of that problem in a little bit. Most of us know the story of creation that we find in the Bible. God creates everything in six days; everything that exists was created by God in those six days. On the last day, God created everything that walks on dry land – the beasts, cattle, and “creeping things”. But that wasn’t enough, because God created mankind after everything else was created. Mankind was the “crowning achievement”, if you will. God had a plan for mankind. We were made with a purpose. That’s what we see when God talks about creating mankind. Genesis 1:26-28 26 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.” 27  So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. 28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” Just to be clear here, the word “man” used in these verses isn’t talking about the male human, it’s talking about all of mankind. That’s kind of obvious in verse 27, because God didn’t make male and female men, but mankind is both male and female. In verse 26, God is talking to the others that are with Him in heaven. Who are they? Well, throughout the Bible the Hebrew word Elohim is used for God, but also for other spiritual beings. Spirits are described as Elohim. These Elohim are not equal to God; He is the ruler of heaven and earth, so those other Elohim are lesser Elohim. Some of them we may call angels, some are cherubim, some are seraphim, and there’s likely some we don’t know about because the Bible doesn’t tell us about them, and that’s OK. We know what we need to know. So, God says “Let’s make mankind in our image, after our likeness.” And then He does just that; He makes mankind. But what does it mean to be made in the image of God? Image defined Let’s look at a few of the possibilities that have been suggested to explain what it means to be made in the image of God. Some people have suggested that we physically resemble God. We were made to look like God. God has two arms, two legs, and a head. He looks like we do. I mean, if you look up on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, that famous painting of Michelangelo from the early 1500s, God makes a man that looks like He does, except for the beard and the robes. And Adam looks like the others that are there with God, too. That’s a really simplistic way of looking at what is written here in Genesis. Yes, it says mankind was made in His image, but I don’t believe they meant that we were basically a xerox of God. I don’t think that God created mankind to be physical copies of what God looks like. There are some other ways of looking at what the image of God could mean. Some people look at it that we are triune, like God is. God is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, three in one. We, as humans, have a soul, a body, and a spirit. So, just like God, we are three in one. That may be an aspect of the Image of God, but I don’t think it’s all of it. One of the problems with this definition is that in Hebrew, the word for soul and the word for spirit are often used interchangeably. And really, we do the same thing in English. How do you describe the difference between soul and spirit? Depending on who you ask, you’ll probably get a different answer. That doesn’t mean that this isn’t part of the Image of God, but it makes it much harder to explain to anyone what the Image of God is. So, there’s really a laundry list of other things that people have associated with being made in the Image of God. Here’s a few of those aspects of being human that people have said could be the Image of God that we carry with us: • Intelligence • The ability to reason • Emotions • The ability to commune with God • Self-awareness or sentience • The ability to communicate • Having a conscience • Having free will If the image of God truly were any or all of these things specifically, we should just give up on fighting abortion, because an unborn child doesn’t have all of these things, but we say that an unborn child is made in the image of God. They have the potential to have these things, but God never talks about the potential to be His Image. It’s all or nothing. Either we’re made in the Image of God, or we’re not. If we look carefully at Genesis 1:26-28, we can see some things the text points out about bearing the Image of God. First off, in verse 27, we see that both men and women carry the image of God. God didn’t make Adam in His image and then make Eve as a substandard creation that wasn’t made in His image. The Image of God doesn’t have anything to do with maleness. Even though God is always referred to with masculine pronouns in the Bible, there are many places where the Spirit prompted people to describe God with what we would call feminine attributes. Isaiah compares God’s compassion to that of a mother in Isaiah 66. Isaiah 66:13 13 As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem. Jesus even uses what could be considered female imagery when He laments over Jerusalem. Luke 13:34 34 O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! So, the Image of God can’t be about maleness, and I think Genesis 1:27 supports that because of the way the creation of both male and female is worded there. We also see that bearing the image of God distinguishes us from the rest of God’s earthly creation, but we have a similarity with the heavenly beings, the Elohim. God says let us make man(kind) in our image. To me, that implies that God and the rest of the Elohim are similar in some way, and we are like them in some way. What I don’t see in verse 27 is that we can have a part of the Image of God, or we can grow into the Image of God, or we have the potential to bear the Image of God. Like I said, it’s an all or nothing situation; either we bear the image of God or we don’t. That list we looked at earlier, most of those can be acquired somehow. Intelligence can be honed or improved through education. You can teach someone to have the ability to reason. Animals seem to have emotions, although they’re not expressed in the same way as human emotions are. Other mammals can be taught to communicate, like dolphins and dogs learning basic commands and responding to new situations, and Koko, the gorilla that learned sign language. I sometimes wonder if our dog Duke has a conscience, because he has a different expression on his face when he knows he’s done something wrong and got caught. And as for free will, well, animals pretty much do what they want to do, right? That sounds like free will to me. If the Image of God makes us different from the other created creatures on the earth, but makes us like the Elohim and God when we were created, then what is it? What it is Let’s take a look in the Psalms. In Psalm 8, David restates Genesis 1:26-28, but in a more poetic way. Psalm 8:5-8 5  Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. 6  You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet, 7  all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, 8  the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas. Notice what David points out. God gave mankind glory and honor and gave them dominion over everything that God made on the earth. I think that’s a defining part of the Image of God. God made us to be like Him in that we are His representatives here on the earth. We stand in His place. We make laws and enforce those laws. We tame animals and make them serve us. We plan crops and harvest the produce. There are some things that God does that we can’t do or shouldn’t do. God makes the plants grow and produces the harvest; we can’t do that. God also judges based on His law; we do that, too, but we shouldn’t. At least not to the level that He does. We are not in any place to say that a particular person is going to hell or not. That’s not our place. Our place is to point people to what we know to be good and true, God’s word, and let them decide to obey His laws, just like He does with us. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t have laws of our own, based on His laws, and execute judgement based on those laws. That’s what we do, and God puts governments and judges in place for a reason. Remember I told you when God created everything, He looked at it and said it was all very good, but now, not so much? Well, we spoiled it. We were given responsibility and we failed at it. That responsibility was to be the Image of God, and God only gave Adam and Eve one rule, but they broke that rule. They ate from the tree that God said don’t eat from. That act of rebellion, that sin, is what has caused so many problems for all of humanity over the millennia. When Adam and Eve sinned, they didn’t lose the Image of God. Just because we sin, doesn’t mean that we don’t have the Image of God. But what it does mean is that we don’t allow the Image of God to be what’s most important, and we express our own image more than we express the divine Image. Our sinful, earthly self shines through, instead of the Image of God. Showing the Right Image How do we fix that? How do we express the Image of God more than we express our own image? We can start by paying attention to what Paul told the congregations in Rome in his letter to them. Romans 12:2 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. Being conformed to this world is what gets us in trouble and keeps us focused on continuing the sins that we do. We keep expressing our human nature, our own image, and not the Image of God, not behaving like God would want us to. Instead of being like the world, we need to be transformed. We need to become something else. We need to become more like Jesus. Why do we need to become more like Jesus? Because Jesus was the only perfect human, the only one who ever got this Image of God thing right. Because He was God, even though He was human. Like Paul wrote to the congregation in Colossae, Colossians 1:15 15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. Jesus said it, too. John 14:8-9 8 Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” 9 Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Jesus is telling Philip, and all the disciples there around them, that He is the true Image of God. Since Jesus was the true Image of God, to be true to God’s Image, doing what He wants us to do as His representatives here on this earth, we need to be doing what Jesus did. We need to be more like Jesus. So, let’s go back to the beginning and look at what God mankind they were responsible for; what were the orders they were given when God created them? Genesis 1:28 28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” Or, in more plain language, God said to populate the earth with people, and to have dominion over everything. But what does that dominion mean? Well, let’s back up a bit here and look at it from God’s perspective. God created everything, so He has dominion over everything, the entire universe. Mankind wasn’t given that much responsibility. We have a smaller realm that we’re responsible for. God gave mankind dominion over the earth and all the fish, animals, birds, and creeping things. Notice God doesn’t include other humans in that list. We don’t have dominion over mankind. That’s God’s responsibility, and He doesn’t allow us to do that. Part of the dominion God gave mankind included understanding that as humans, we are equal to each other, but less than God. Because of that we need to treat other humans with love and respect, even when they’re wrong. We don’t have to agree with them, but we still need to love them and respect their choice to disobey and not bear the Image of God the way they should. It’s like what Paul wrote to the congregation in Ephesus; Ephesians 5:1-2 1 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. 2 And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. Imitating God and Christ will make it so we’re correctly bearing the Image of God to everyone we meet. Conclusion Every person is a child of God. We were all created by God, to bear the Image of God. We all are tasked to hold the place of God here on the earth, in a limited way, by having dominion over the earth, the fish, birds, beasts, livestock, and creeping things; basically everything that lives, except for other people. But, we’re supposed to bear the Image of God to other people, to show God’s love to them through our behavior, by living our life in a Christlike way. So, Lieutenant; how are you doing in your assignment? Are you following God’s will for you, or are you pushing your own agenda and ignoring what God wants you to do? Are you relying on Him to get through the difficult situations and thanking Him for the good situations, or are you just pushing through your day, just trying to get by, and not thinking about how you can be showing God’s love to others around you? We all fail. We all make mistakes. Maybe you need to admit your mistakes, your sins, to someone and let them help you move forward from them so you can get back on track in your Christian walk. Maybe you’ve never even thought about bearing the Image of God, or even thought about who God is and how He can make your life better. If you’re interested in learning more, come up and talk to me. Hebrews 1:3-4 (Closing) 3 He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, 4 having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.
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