Martin Luther said that if he could understand the first two words of the Lord’s Prayer as Christ did, the rest of his life in Christ would fall into place. Luther’s observation shows that is it easy to use God’s words, but much more difficult to grasp the reality they signify.
This is true with regards to the “image of God.” Most believers have heard of this concept, but few grasp the profound significance of its meaning.
The image of God is a foundational concept for understanding our significance and purpose. Understanding how we are made in God’s image helps us to see the basis for the dignity and purpose of our life and work.
The Image of God
Genesis 1:26-28 announces that human beings are made in the image of God:
Then God said ‘Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth.’ And God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.
Our worth is connected to our Creator. If God is of great and inestimable worth, then human beings made in his image must be of great value, too.
Our dignity is present in creation, but also after the fall into sin. In Genesis 9:5-6, God reminds Noah that man is made in God’s image:
Whoever sheds man’s blood by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God He made man.
To attack a person is to attack God through his image bearer. Another passage, James 3:9, also reminds us that human beings are made in God’s image:
With the tongue we bless our Lord and Father and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God.
These verses remind us that how we treat people is an indication of how we value God.
Implications of Being Made In God’s Image
1. There are no ordinary people.
One of my favorite quotes from C.S. Lewis appears in his book The Weight of Glory:
There are no ordinary people. You have never met a mere mortal.
The people you see every day, even the ones to whom you give little regard, are ones that are going to live forever either under salvation or judgment. Even the most obscure person is not ordinary in God’s eyes.
In light of this truth, how do we affirm the dignity of the people around us?
2. We should not focus on our sin for long without also noting God’s grace and our own dignity.
Today, some people focus on our dignity and self-worth without much mention of our sinfulness. On the other hand, in the past and in many sectors of the present, the emphasis has been on our utter unworthiness and sinfulness without any note of our dignity or God’s grace.
The apostle Paul offers a different example. He never mentions the depth of his sin without also mentioning God’s grace:
- 1 Corinthians 15:9-10: “For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle… But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect.”
- 1 Timothy 1:16: Paul calls himself the “foremost of sinners,” but also notes, “yet for this reason I found mercy…that in me, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience…”.
We can say the same. No matter what we have done, God’s grace works in us. To deny or fail to acknowledge this truth is to say that God’s grace is in vain.
Certainly it is right to take time for self-examination, confession, and repentance. But we should eventually come back to God’s grace and our own dignity stemming from being made in the image of God.
3. The restored image of God looks like Christ.
While the image of God remains after the fall, it is certainly marred and defaced. As we are redeemed, what will we look like when the process is completed?
Our individuality as created by God will shine even more brightly, and our gifts will reach their full potential. We will also look like Christ.
Romans 8:29 reminds us that we are being “conformed to the image of his Son.” Jesus is the perfect representative of the image of God, and we are being made like him.
Much more remains to be said on the image of God, but we need to begin to appropriate the meaning and experience of this idea. If we do, we will see a revolution in our relationships and in our vision of the “least of these.”
What This Means for Our Work
Being made in the image of God provides the basis for our work and vocation. If we are made in the image of God, we share his characteristics. For example, because God is creative, we can be creative in our work, and in fact, are called to such creativity – which I’ll dive into more tomorrow.
Also, knowing the basis for our dignity and worth helps us believe that we have gifts and talents to employ. I know many people who haven’t discovered their calling because they don’t believe they have anything to offer. They don’t believe they have dignity and worth, and fail to recognize their God-given gifts as a result.
Rediscovering the biblical doctrine of work begins with understanding who we are and where we came from. It begins with knowing we are made in the image of God.
What implications do you think the image of God has for our work, purpose, and significance? Leave your comments here.