Chambersburg, PA
Presbyterian Church in America (PCA)

“The Image of God” Sermon Text

The Image of God

Genesis 1:26-31, 2:7

Seminary professor writes about a newspaper article he read called “the irony of being human” – 2 stories:

First, a young woman who had left her husband and children to be with another man who then left her, alone, abandoned, life falling apart, in despair, took her life in a hotel room – leaving a note, which said: “don’t cry for me, I’m not even human anymore.”

In that same hotel, on that same night, in the convention center a group of adherents to the new-age religious movement gathered, and after a number of speeches the crowd was riled up and a celebrity led them all in a chant, “I am God! I am God! I am God!”

article concluded: “the irony of being human, is that people in the same time and place can have such contradictory views of themselves.”

Pratt: “We don’t know what to think of ourselves. Some of us feel so worthless that we can hardly stand to live another minute. Others are so full of self-importance that they lift hands in praise of their own divinity. One says, “I am nothing”. Another says, “I am everything”. One says, “I’m below human – mere animal; dirt.” The other says “I’m above human – divine.”

But the word of God doesn’t leave us wondering, lost, confused, about who we are – it tells us. We are made, by our creator – in the image of God.

This is surprising since all through the rest of the bible, God forbids images made of him; 2nd commandment – he forbids us from making images of him and using those images in order to worship him; at least in part, the reason for that, is that God already has made his own image – humanity.

26 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness…27 So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.

sixth day climactic:

  1. “a ___ day” replaced with “the sixth day”
  2. evaluation of good increased to “very good”
  3. humanity given a special charge that other aspects of creation lack
  4. only here divine intent announced beforehand (v26)
  5. impersonal “let there be” here replaced with personal “let us”

“highligher marks” – draw attention to the “master stroke” of creation.

“let us” – who is God talking to?

-the angels, the spectators of creation (angels are not divine, they themselves are creatures, not gods) 

It’s like, if the angels could have looked away for even a second, which certainly they were already captivated by the glory and awe of what God was doing – but if they might be not paying attention, or just expecting more of the same – God is making sure they don’t miss this.

Genesis 1 is significant and unique – it’s a one-of-a-kind event in it’s own right; but the sixth day is the peak of the mountain-top of the chapter: and the reason that the sixth day is climactic is because of the creation of humanity – the image of God.

That we are the image of God is a key theme of the bible; a key aspect of our redemption; and a key aspect of our identity – if you want to know who you are, and who you are in relationship to God, you need to understand that you are the image of God.

  1. Identity
  2. Mission
  3. Renewal 

1. Identity

2 main things: In the bearing of the Image of God, you see both the dignity, and the humility, of humanity.

Dignity, because they are made in the Image of God.

Humility, because they are not God, but only the Image of God.

Dignity: They’re not made in the image of any old thing, but, the highest, greatest, supreme: the image of God, the sovereign, eternal, all-powerful creator of the heavens and the earth.

Unique – in Genesis 1 you see a contrast to the animals & plants who are made “according to their kinds” (v25) – a pattern prescribed by God but modeled after something different /distant from himself; they are made according to their kinds, but humanity is made in God’s image/likeness – modeled after something within himself.

All throughout the history of theology people have debated what the image of God consists of (rational beings, speech/communication). But: in it’s most general sense, the image of God is all of those things which set humanity apart from all the rest of the creation.

According to the biblical view, humanity is special. Humanity is unique. Humanity is exalted. Humanity is exceptional.

Humanity is not on the same level as animals, plants, dirt. Humanity is in a different category all-together.

This is important. From the biblical perspective, humans are not mere animals. Human life is special, sacred, valuable – in fact, the image of God in humanity is the basis for the prohibition against the unjust taking of human life. It’s the reason you can eat a carrot or kill a cow to eat – you can take plant and animal life but you can’t simply take innocent human life.

And, in 2:7 you see again – later in 2:19 you see that God had formed all the animals and birds from the ground as well, but humanity has a unique component that no other animal or anything else in all creation has: God breathed life into him. Of course the other animals had life and breath – but clearly this is something special – something which distinguished humanity from all other forms of life: and that is that humanity is more than a merely physical being, but has a soul – with the capacity to relate to God.

Humanity, unlike other creatures, has a God-ward orientation: he alone can praise God; she uniquely can know God and have fellowship with God; he can obey God, or disobey him. People can know & love God – and that is the essential thing about humanity which sets them apart – that is what makes them human – what lifts them above the plant/animal world.

Human life is to be directed towards God. This is how we live out our humanity – this is what human life is meant to be all about. But, many have spent quite a bit of time ignoring him, running from him.

The most important thing about humanity is that he is inescapably related to God. God is his maker, and made in his image he is to have his life uncompromisingly directed towards God in love, worship, obedience, submission – that is where he finds perfect freedom, joy, peace, meaning, significance.

Humans are made in the image of God – they are dignified above creation and given the capacity to relate to God.

Many people think God thinks they are mere dirt/molecule/animal. Now, we’ll get to that people are sinful before God and in need of salvation. But, despite that the image of God is tainted, distorted, marred, when humanity fell into sin; it wasn’t lost. Human beings – even sinful human beings – are not mere dirt, but are God’s most valuable creatures – his own image whom he longs to restore to fellowship with him – whom he longs to renew the image of God in them as it was meant to be – and fix what is broken and marred and distorted and tainted in them.

Humanity – all humanity – is made in God’s image. Other religions at the time believed that kings and rulers – the very important people – were images of God – but they would never speak of all humanity as images of God.

Here, the Christian world-view, democratizes the image of God.
All people – not just some – are given dignity and importance and significance by virtue of their creation in the image of God.

And so just as much as we ought not to despise ourselves and think we are mere dirt; neither ought we to despise any other human being and think they are mere dirt.

All people – even you – not just some – not just those who are like you, not just the powerful or the strong or the beautiful or the extraordinarily gifted – not just one race of people but all people.

And, any view which elevates one class or type or race of people above others, or views or treats another race of people as inferior or somehow less than human, is sinful and fails to recognize and honor the image of God in humanity.

And, especially in the church, we should show honor to one another and not treat someone as a second-class or inferior for any reason.

One way we honor God, is by honoring his image-bearers. And we certainly dishonor God, when we dishonor his image-bearers, our fellow human beings.

Our dignity does not come from external circumstances – wealth or success; neither does it come from what others think or say about us; but rather we are valuable because we are made in the image of God.

Your black neighbor is created in the image of God. Your white neighbor is created in the image of God. Your neighbor who doesn’t speak english is created in the image of God. Your mentally ill neighbor is created in the image of God. Your poor neighbor, or your rich neighbor, is created in the image of God. Your sinful neighbor is created in the image of God. And they ought to be treated with dignity and respect and love.

And, that includes both male and female – v27 “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”

2 things we see here.

First, this specifies that both male and female are fully and equally made in the image of God. both male and female stand on equal ground in terms of their value before God. Any attitude or view that insists one gender is superior to another is sinful and denigrates the dignity of humanity as God created them.

Second: we see that male and female is part of how God made us, in fact, part of his “very good” creation.

Our male and femaleness is a purposeful aspect of our humanity – part of our very good design by God our maker.

Gender is not a social construct; it is a gift of God.

Gender is not fluid, it is fixed.

Gender is not interchangeable, but it is complementary.

We are fallen, but just as the image of God in us isn’t lost in the fall, neither is the reality of our being created as male and female lost.

Male and Female is how God created us – and Romans 1 (Paul’s commentary on Gen 1; look more at later) talks about how the highpoint of rebellion against God is rebelling against the very way in which he made us – denying & rejecting what is a given about our identity and insisting on a self-made identity instead of honoring and receiving and submitting to that which God gave us. If God is our maker, then we don’t get to make/define ourselves, and as long as we insist on making and defining ourselves, then we reject God as our maker.

Gender confusion, then, is not a liberation from the confines of some oppressive social construct, but it is a result of the fall into sin.

And so, like all aspects of our fallen humanity, it needs to be met with much compassion – certainly to feel as though one of the most fundamental realities about your identity is wrong is no easy thing to navigate. But, telling someone they may be the wrong gender and need to change it, isn’t compassion – it does nothing to help someone experiencing gender confusion – it only exacerbates that confusion with detrimental consequences by encouraging someone to fight against God’s design.

Humanity is made in the image of God – with dignity; with an exalted status over and above all the rest of creation.

But, humanity is the Image of God: only an image – a representation – of him; not themselves gods, not divine, not god-replacements, but servants of God, under God, directing their lives towards him and ruling the creation for him, in accordance with his law, seeking not their own glory but his glory.

2. mission.

Image of God.

Moses and his audience lived in a world filled with images. Kings set up images of themselves throughout their realms to represent themselves and their reign.

Right after God creates them in his image, he tells them to fill the earth.

Fill the earth – with images of God – to represent him and his reign. Not “selfies”, but mirrors pointing to God. Mirrors don’t present something about themselves but they present something else – and that is what human beings are to be & do – be mirrors which represent God.

Another metaphor for Image of God – Ambassador” – hoekema 68 – An ambassador represents not himself, but his country – an ambassador seeks not his own agenda but that of those whom he represents; and for an ambassador to do otherwise would be for him to act like his own authority instead of representing an authority higher than him – in fact it could be treason for him to do that.

This “ambassor” aspect of the image of GOd is what we pray for every week when we pray the Lord’s Prayer: “thy kingdom come; thy will be done”. we get that confused with “my kingdom come, my will be done.”

Just 2 letters off, but a world of difference.

Their mission is to seek God’s interest, promote his agenda, make a name for God.

but, the problem of sinful humanity: Glory thieves.

by Genesis chapter 11 – tower of babel, humanity is saying, “let’s make a name for ourselves”

image bearers of self, instead of image-bearers of God; reflections of human pride and arrogance instead of reflections of God’s love, pointing to their own glory instead of pointing to his glory.

Every sin is us saying: I’m not going to live as an image of God, I’m going to live as God – do things my way, according to my wisdom and desire and will – not his.

Every sin is us saying to God: “Get out of my life, get out of my way, get out of the picture. “I’m no longer a servant of the King, but I’m my own King.”

And, we think that in doing so we will find freedom and joy and life, but what we’ll see is that it leads only to slavery – not freedom; misery – not joy; and death – not life.

chapter 2 v7 “Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.”

dignity – God breathed the breath of life into man, set him apart from all creation.

humility – he is still a creature; he is still part of the creation – made from the dust of the ground. In fact, play on words: hebrew word for “man” is “adam”; “ground” is “adamah” – the play on words shows that, though in one sense he is exalted over creation – nevertheless he remains connected to the ground: he is not divine; he is creature – and so, though he isn’t the same as a plant or an animal or the dirt, he is still connected to it.

And, so, dignity addresses the one error that says we are just like dirt; humility addresses this opposite error: that we are nothing like dirt.

b/c humility reminds us we are not creators, we are not gods, but we are creation/creatures – and so, dependent upon God; not independent of him, nor him dependent upon us; and so, finite & mortal: not infinite eternal immortal as he alone is.

And, he’s told to subdue & rule over the earth (v28)
“rule” – to us sounds very negative – as if it’s granting totalitarian, abusive exploitation. But, in the OT rulers were expected to be benevolent and to consider the welfare of their subjects; and we see that God is a benevolent ruler who provides for the welfare of those he rules over: they are told to flourish, and they are given what they need to flourish: food (29), and marriage/sexuality (28) and so if humanity is to represent him then the command to “rule” means to provide for the flourishing of their fellow man, and their world.

(look more at implications for work in a future week); for now, relationship to earth:

And, so, if humanity is to rule over the creation – then of course, they are to use its resources – God specifically gives them the plants for food here (29), and later he specifically gives them the animals for food. They’re not to leave the earth and it’s resources untouched, but as the climax of creation are to recognize that it is for them.

But, it isn’t theirs to abuse and pollute and exploit. The creation still belongs to God, and as his good gift they are to care for it – they are to recognize their connection to the ground, and remember that part of their identity is in the ground of the creation.

Should be obvious – and unfortunately things like this get so politicized that the issues often get obscured (& Christians might disagree over best political solutions): but it should just be obvious that Christians – all people, but Christians most especially, should care for the earth and it’s inhabitants; should take care of it; care for animals; should not pollute it and exploit it, but use it, cultivate it, benefit from it, while caring for it.

And, certainly the Bible promises this earth will not melt away to nothing before Christ returns, but that doesn’t mean that we might not greatly increase people’s suffering by how we treat the creation.

Christians don’t care for creation because it is some kind of divine personal entity – “mother nature” is not the biblical view. They care for creation because it is God’s good gift; and they are his care-takers of it.

3. Renewal

NT primarily talks about image of God in terms of what was lost in the fall – primarily talks about it in ethical, moral terms.

Ephesians 4:20-24

[22] to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, [23] and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, [24] and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

colossians 3:9-10

9 Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.

We were a work of art; sin trashed us; God values us so much that he sent his son to die for us to rescue us from the devastation of sin – and renew the beauty of God’s image in us – the righteousness and holiness

initially, humanity was not tainted, imperfect, sinful, corrupt; neither neutral; but rather a state of uprightness, innocence, holiness. – He imaged the character of God – God’s love and goodness.

the evil, brokenness, sin in humanity today was not present in God’s original creation. but rather, is the result of sin.

But even though sin has corrupted humanity, the image of God is not lost:

Genesis 5, 9 both speak of humanity as the image-bearers of God even after the fall, but certainly, when you read the following chapters of Genesis and the rest of the bible, humanity is a deeply flawed representation of God.

Calvin – image not lost/annihilated, but “so corrupted by sin that what remains is a frightful deformity”

and, so, moral renewal – is needed – and that’s what the whole rest of the bible is about.

this renewal happens through Jesus and His holy spirit Jesus in his coming to earth & taking on human flesh, being fully divine and fully human became the perfect image of God.

He was the embodiment of the righteousness, holiness and love of God – above all, Jesus loved – he loved God with all his heart mind soul and strength; he loved his neighbor as himself – in fact, he showed the greatest demonstration of love when laid down his life for his friends; when became the lowest of servants by washing the feet of his disciples – in fact, he died for us when we were yet his enemies; Love, then, is central to the image of God because that is what the perfect image of God preeminently displayed; and that is what he renews us into: people who once again love God; and love our neighbor.

And, he does it by the power of his spirit – when Jesus promised his disciples the Holy Spirit in John 20, he breathed on them – the same thing that God did when he created Adam as a living spiritual being – Jesus does in humanity’s recreation after the image of God.