Image-bearers

27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. (Gen. 1:27)

Sometimes I use this blog as an opportunity to jot down an idea while it is mulling. It is sort of an invitation to mull right along with me.

I have over the past few months been meditating on the doctrine of eternal generation. This is the doctrine that God the Father is begetting the Son in an unfathomable, eternal act. This act of begetting does not have a before, after, or future, but takes place in eternity without any change in the nature of God.

Simply, this means that it is of God’s essence to fellowship, to love, and to overflow with goodness. This goodness flows into creation and God created man to share in the love and fellowship of the Trinity. It was fitting, then, that men and women be created in the image of God, to share in that fellowship as much as creatures are able to.

So…mull on that a bit…

Of course, man fell. And that corrupted everything. Jesus came into the world to restore what was destroyed in the fall.

In other words, he came to bring us back into the fellowship of love that we were created to take a part in.

25 O righteous Father, the world hath not known thee: but I have known thee, and these have known that thou hast sent me.
26 And I have declared unto them thy name, and will declare it: that the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them. (Jn. 17:25-26)

OK. Moving on.

Let’s take this to the next step. If the essence of God is eternal communion and love (which the doctrine of eternal generation teaches), then sin is far greater than we can imagine, for it breaks the fellowship with God. We are born alienated and strangers to that fellowship.

This is what the church meant when it taught the “T” in “TULIP” – total depravity. Man cannot climb back into God’s graces because man is fallen in the totality of his being.

But according to scripture, even though it teaches that “all have sinned and have come short of the glory of God”, sin is not the essence of who men and women are. Essentially, they are image-bearers of God. Therefore, they are redeemable, for when sin is taken away, the image of God remains and is restored.

So here is what I am mulling – what if we viewed human beings as essentially image-bearers of God rather than essentially as sinners?

Think about that. How much would change in your thinking?

Even in the law, a criminal was not to be tortured and beaten to a pulp because of the image-bearing that was essentially there. He was not to be despised (Deut. 25:3)

When we view people as primarily sinners, we cannot see anything worth redeeming in them.

We must then shun music and art and fashion and poetry for fear that we will somehow be tainted by “sinners”.

And, worse, we cannot see beyond our senses, to the inherent dignity and worth of every man, woman and child as reflecting their heavenly Father, whether they remain in their sins or are redeemed by Christ.

And so we must ask ourselves, “How much is a little girl worth?”

“How much is a little boy worth?”

And if we view children as “vipers in diapers”, and as essentially sinners, we have to answer, “Not much…” and our actions reflect that answer.

But as Christians we believe the bible. We believe that men and women are not essentially sinners. Sin came later, a corruption of what was essentially there, which is what makes it so heinous. But it also makes men and women redeemable, which is what Christ’s mission was. To redeem his people from their sins and misery.

If we truly believe that, then the question “How much is a child worth?” has a clear answer.

Worth fighting for. Worth protecting. Worth all of your treasures and gifts to love and protect. Worth your love and your joy and your cherishing.

If we truly believed that, would churches continue to condone and overlook violence against women?

If we truly believed that, would slavery and racism have ever been a thing?

If we believed that, would there have been a genocide of California Indians?

The history of the United States, for all of the good that was there, forgot quite frequently that men and women are essentially image-bearers of God, and God takes how we treat them quite seriously, whether they are still in their sins or not.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son.”

You were all created in honor. Fallen in sin, yes. Unable to free yourselves. Yes.

Sinking in the mud of death and misery? Yes.

But because essentially you are an image-bearer of God, you are worth redemption.

12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, (Jn. 1:12)

16 Comments

Filed under Image of God, redemption

16 responses to “Image-bearers

  1. Daniel P Johnson

    How about this idea? Both are equally true! We are “essentially” sinners AND image bearers. Something was lost in the fall. Perhaps we are closer to bearing the image of Adam and Eve than to God. We have inherent dignity and depravity. Add to that, a believer is equally forgiven, and loved, and indwelt by the Holy Spirit, a joint heir with Jesus. A child of God. We are all those things. Mind blowing!

    • I understand what you are saying – but I am using essential in the ontological sense. Essential means that without which the thing is not the thing.
      If man were to somehow lose the image of God, he would no longer be human, although it has been damaged and corrupted, we are still humans – therefore still image-bearers, which is why murderers were to be put to death (Genesis 9)
      Although sin taints every person and damages everything it touches, it is not essential, otherwise when it is taken away we are no longer human. Because sin is “accidental” and not “essential” we can be redeemed and delivered from it and our humanity will be perfectly restored rather than lost.

      • Jocelyne

        Important distinction.

      • Jocelyne

        I love this very astute distinction, Sam. Like D. Johnson, I also have become very sensitive to the “total depravity” message that makes me just want to throw in the towel… it’s too hard… there’s no hope…. I’ll never measure up… why am I such a mess…. why can everyone else be victorious, but not me…. I’m a defective Christian…. I’m irreparable.” And on and on…. I’m sorry for expounding, but those were all messages Satan has used to defeat me. Spiritual depression becomes real with messages like that.
        Being in the image of God now has a whole new meaning for me and digs deep into my identity to set me free. Thank you.

      • those who teach a “victorious Christian life” aren’t being honest with themselves. We will struggle with sin our whole lives, but instead of continuing to beat ourselves up about it (which only makes things worse) the gospel calls us out of hiding, assures us that God loves us, and will accept us and hear us and continue to love us.
        And so instead of pretending to be something we are not, we can assess ourselves perfectly – image bearers of God, corrupted by sin, longing for the redemption of our bodies.

  2. JoAnn Zehr

    You probably have seen this……I think it is along the lines of what we were talking about this afternoon……and what “Tim” was saying in “Farewelling”.
    Sent from my iPad
    >

  3. That is a beautiful thought definitely worth pondering frequently.
    I have mostly tried to view other people like that, but I fail many times. God recently revealed that quite beautifully.
    I’ve recently, first time ever on a group chat thingy with people of faith in God and others. It’s been fascinating and educational on many levels. We’re Aussie’s concerned about vaccination propaganda and all that it entails.
    Anyway, one time someone was ranting something derogatory about God and I responded. I said I identified as a Jesus lover and that because of this current crisis I was listening to those that weren’t, but really really respecting there opinions as never before. Made in the Image of God. Huge life lesson for me.
    Also am currently going through a divorce, because finally, I am beginning to realise that I deserve to be treated like I am made in the image of God too.

  4. Bill Everson

    Mulling back…

    on the first point-Eternity and ‘begotten’.

    Eternity is a concept that God has placed in the heart of man, but not that we really understand (Eccl 3). We are bounded by time; but can conceptualize it. So there’s always going to be ‘Mystery’ in it. Like there is in ‘Christ in you, the hope of Glory (Col 1:27).

    Begotten has an interesting usage in the limited number of places we see it in the New Testament, referencing Psalm 2:7.

    My muse back begins with Acts 13:32-3: And we preach to you the good news of the promise made to the fathers, that God has fulfilled this to our children that He raised up Jesus, as it is also written in the second Psalm, “YOU ARE MY SON, TODAY I HAVE BEGOTTEN YOU.”

    That shows a linkage between ‘begotten’ and the Resurrection.

    So how do these link?

    I think the other uses of the word begotten help us see the linkage.

    the Resurrection is the culmination of the Life and Word of Jesus; Paul says to the Corinthians, that without the Resurrection, our hope would be in vain.

    So what does ‘begotten’ tell us about Jesus and the Father, and how does this relate to this verse about the Resurrection?
    John 1:18: No one has seen God at any time, the only begotten God, Who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained.

    Jesus REVEALS the Father; and that Revelation includes the statements made by Jesus whole Life, His death on our behalf and His Resurrection.

    John 3:16 tells us the gospel of Jesus: For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believe sin Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.

    Jesus revealing the Father, shows us the Way we follow to salvation.

    John 3:18, He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the Name of the only begotten Son of God. {Who reveals the Father to us}

    Hebrews 1: 5, follows one of the fullest statement given, in vv 1-4, about Jesus role as REVEALING GOD the Father-being God Himself!

    And Hebrews 5:5, gives us a completion of the cycle of revealing:
    So also Christ did not glorify Himself so as to become a high preste, but He who said to Him:’YOU ARE MY SON, TODAY I HAVE BEGOTTEN YOU’.

    Love is central in this revealing of God. and the love we are given is truly ‘Eternal’; yet still a Mystery to us. of the kind you are mulling about : )

    Thanks for these thoughts, Sam,

    Bill

  5. Bill Everson

    the second half of your mulling also bears comment.

    Yes! We are Image Bearers, ourselves, of God. but that’s not dependent just on the first mulling.

    Worth considering in its own right.

    But I’d like to share a different perspective, starting at the same point.

    HOW we have built a framework today based around ‘TULIP” is truly a Mystery.

    I am a retired academic; I try and credit sources where I learned something significant, though I cannot credit all the people I learned from. but I’d like to thank Chris Hutchinson, a PCA pastor, for teaching a series on the foundations of our faith; during which he presented a different way to think about what ‘reformed’ theology is…
    I lost that lesson; there were I believe NINE TENANTS of reformed theology-all of them POSITIVE, not directed as REBUTTAL ARGUMENTS.

    TULIP is a REBUTTAL, arguing AGAINST five positive postulates made by Arminius.

    a series of NEGATIVES countering these postulates.

    Think about modern politics, which seems to almost solely engage in a dual over who can be MORE negative and critical. ALL THE TIME. Each ‘side’ of the debate seeks to attack the other side, leading to the severe divisive polarization in our world today. Where even potential solutions, are not positive things.

    A framework that STARTS with a set of NEGATIVE arguments OPPOSING an UNSTATED set of postulates, which are visible with a little thought–is going to be in it’s nature, NEGATIVE and DIVISIVE.

    WHY would we want to START THERE in proclaiming the GOOD NEWS we’ve been given?

    A BETTER place to start, is where GOD starts–‘in the beginning, GOD created’, of we start with the OLD Covenant.

    an even better place is to start with the NEW Covenant, where it’s written to reveal Jesus to us, as Gentiles; John’s gospel begins similarly to Genesis 1: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God, He was in the beginning with God.

    And in the first 14 verses, we can learn a LOT of positives that comprise the Good News about Jesus, in a similar focus. v 4: in Him was Life and the Life was the Light of men.

    Wow-Jesus came as LIFE, and LIGHT, the ‘Light of men’.
    We see Life, Light, and soon ‘Love’ as interchangeable concepts, that Jesus reveals to us.

    We can trace these through John’s gospel to more fully grasp them-and fashion a POSITIVE, even ‘illuminating’ framework for the theology of the gospel of Jesus, we embrace!

    YES, YES, Sam!! an EXCELLENT musing for us to spend time thinking about. We should begin with the message that we are image bearers, whose mission is to so shine with the light of God’s love in our LIVES, that ‘our good works testify that Jesus came from the Father’…

    Taht is a message that is very relevant to our HIGHLY critical, negative, and polarized world!

    Thanks, Sam, for a musing that triggered one in the same vein!

    Bill

  6. Jocelyne

    This is so good… so right… so, clean. Certainly confirms the dignity possessed by every human being, What a powerful argument in favor of pro-life. I lved mulling that over with you.

  7. Anu Riley

    This was so well written Pastor; I can see why comments say they are mulling this over, because while your post isn’t hard to understand, it’s not as easy to grasp the layers of depth.
    You know, Adam and Eve didn’t HAVE to sin in the garden; temptation to sin does NOT mean it is inevitable. Maybe that hasn’t occurred to us and that is why we focus on sin and sinning and sinners as if that is all we are all about.
    You were careful in your post to stress the seriousness of sin. However, as a younger believer, I recall that the very IDEA of sinning was to be feared just as much (if not more) than actually choosing to sin. You can be so obsessed with reaping the wages of sin (death) that well, you are afraid to sow anything at all, thinking that will keep you on the straight and narrow.
    Weirdly enough, as I recall, being made in His image wasn’t put aside or even downplayed in favor of reminding us of the “bogeyman” of sin, ready to jump out and consume us. NO, being made in His image (and born again in His Son’s image) actually increased the fear factor. Once you grasp what we went through because of our sins, paying the ultimate price, you live in dire fear of not your sins (real or imagined) seriously.
    It’s easier to bear the burden of being a sinner, than an image bearer of the One who offers to bear our burdens. As an unbeliever, I was told I was a human being that God loved and had died for my sins, because of that love for me. I was also aware that He had created me, which did imply that He put something of Himself into me.
    BUT, one major thing was missing that makes all the difference: you cannot use one or both of these truths in order to feel powerful yourself, gain power over others, or inspire fear OF others.
    How do you walk in the Spirit when you are so afraid you’ll trip? How do you delight in being made in His image (AND being born again in His Son’s image) if you are so afraid you will dishonor BOTH of these blessings?
    I noticed that when either of these truths was weaponized in the name of preventing wickedness, it ended up actually promoting wickedness. That is because embracing His perfect love and fear of failing to be perfect cannot co-exist. The concept of grace may be spoken with the lips, but our hearts can be far away from living in that grace.
    Ironically, you can claim to have been a slave of sin as an unbeliever (and NO, that doesn’t mean you HAD to sin; it is what ruled your life and you had no power to dethrone it apart from Him), but you can easily become a slave to religious fear, and claim that it is “clean” because you are fearing something evil (sin), something that once enslaved you. You can claim that being made in His image, remade in His Son’s image, makes this fear not only clean, but necessary. How else can you honor Him if you do not hate sin as much as He does?
    I used to think that I had to learn how to love myself before I tried to love anyone else; this including accepting His love for me as well as loving Him in return. That is all wrong of course. BUT, I realized something had to be very wrong if I was letting Him love me and living out His love, if I was stuck in a downward spiral of self-loathing.
    The delicate but necessary balance is there and Pastor, this post did an amazing job in its precision.
    I don’t know if this will help others like me, but the precious, powerful verses about being adopted in Him injected much needed perspective. We might think adoption is a step “down” in terms of how we connect with Him. I could not disagree with that more. Ephesians 1:5, predestined us for adoption. Romans 8:15: For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, ‘Abba! Father!’

  8. C

    I have been thinking about all of this as well, since in the last 5 years I’ve been surrounded by that kind of teaching (seeing people as “essentially” sinners). One of the things that have affected me the most were a series of sermons on TULIP, using “Sinners in the hands of an angry God” as the basis for ‘Total depravity’.
    I believe they preach that way because of the way a lot of churches preach today (“God loves you” without talking about sin, prosperity gospel, etc.), so maybe it’s an overreaction, and if someone doesn’t like that, it’s because of their rebellious heart (they say).
    I don’t want to go to the other extreme and say that humans are innocent and all good (a brief overview of the Bible, as well as a brief overview of human history, says the opposite). But at the same time all of those ‘harsh’ teachings have warped my view of God and to a certain degree also affected my way of seeing other people, and being constantly told that ‘that’s the biblical way’ makes me wonder whether it’s my flesh the one that doesn’t like that, or if they are actually distorting God’s character. I’ve read your article “A loathsome vermin?”, and I resonated with it, but it’s hard to change your mind on something you were taught for years.
    I want to say that not everything I am taught in that environment is bad (in fact there are a lot of good teachings), but the effects of the bad teaching are too big to be ignored (at least in my case).

  9. Aussie

    Thank you, Sam, for this post.
    I have been reflecting on it quite a lot the last few weeks.
    Seeing children as “ vipers in diapers” …. ugh…
    led me to find this post on the net critiquing the teachings of a very famous ( in Reformed Baptist/ homeschooling circles) American preacher. I commend it to your readers and that they read it right through to the end, though they might disagree with his criticism of Calvinism. It shows just how evil the viper teaching is:https://www.csbvbristol.org.uk/2020/06/01/the-child-as-viper/

    Thank you,
    A ( retired) homeschooling mother.

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