Pastor Brent looks at Genesis 1 and how the way God created humanity instilled within us a worth and value. This message shows how being uniquely made in the image of God should change the way we see ourselves and the way we view and treat others.
This message references a message Pastor Brent preached in 2015 on Creation and The Big Story of God.
You Were Made for the Image of God
Last week we began a new series where we want to take a look at some of the most important questions we all struggle with, Why are we here? What is our purpose? What value is there to my life? And value is a good word because I think at some level, all of us want our lives to be valuable. We want to matter. For this world to be better because we were a part of it. But there is a lot of confusion around this idea.
Think about it for just a moment. What is it that makes a life valuable? And beyond just the value of our own lives, is there value to other’s lives as well? If so, what determines their value?
There are many criteria that we can use to evaluate. Is it someone’s position of power that dictates their value like our President Donald Trump? Or is it their political affiliation like Hillary Clinton? I can feel the tension in just mentioning these two name!
These names illustrate a great point about how we value not just our own life but the lives of others. Immediately from the mention of these two name, most if not all of you have determined a value of these two lives. And I dare say that from some of you, at least one of these pictures has generated a feeling of “I wouldn’t spit on that person if they were on fire.”
And this highlights an incredibly important point. We use different criteria to determine someone’s worth or value. Their political affiliation. Their country of birth. We must admit, the American ego is pretty big and that leads us to stick our noses up a bit when we think about “those people.”
We can use the color of someone’s skin to determine their value. We can look at their job, net worth, possessions, how they dress, how they speak. Can I get an “A-me-un” from the Southerners out there?
Education. family size. The list goes on and on. We can find any number of ways to determine someone ’s value or worth. We are much too sophisticated to ever say it out loud, but it is something that is a struggle for many if not most people not just here this morning but around the world.
Several months ago, Pastor Stephen of Alive Church shared with me how there is a pastor in Des Moines telling people from his Liberian tribe to not worship at Alive Church because Stephen comes from another tribe and he believes Stephen’s tribe is beneath his.
This is such a problem that the United Nations has ratified and released two documents to declare basic human rights. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights from 1948 and the 470 page International Bill of Human Rights that came into force in 1976. The fact that documents like this and numerous other laws have to be passed highlight for us that a problem exists.
We want value for ourselves. But we are willing to devalue others to get it. And sometimes in the name of rights we are willing to dehumanize others in order to elevate ourselves.
When it comes to ascribing worth to people, do we look to the United Nations to make that happen? Is it necessary to have resolutions and laws passed to make that happen? Or is there something else, somewhere else we can look to find value in our existence.
To understand our true value and the worth of others, we must begin with a crucial question. Who gets to decide? It may seem like a silly question, but it only takes a quick look back at history to see that left up to ourselves, we can make some pretty foolish and even dangerous choices.
Segregation, slavery, and the holocaust are just a few painful reminders of how a self-determining of human value can lead to very destructive places. And it only takes a generation to see that what was acceptable or tolerated in one generation, like the harassment of women in the workplace, is now seen as the horrible behavior it should have been labeled all along.
Is our only hope to wait this out and hope that man evolves enough to finally get there. Are we so arrogant to think that we have it all figured out now? That all injustices and inequality is now resolved? I don’t think any of us believe that.
And can we admit that this issue is a problem for secular society? The elevation of our own rights above everything else, the removal of absolute truth for moral relativism, puts us in a dangerous position that really has no basis for the significance of humanity.
Oliver Wendall Holmes, former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court once wrote in a letter,
“I see no reason for attributing to a man significance different in kind from that which belongs to a baboon or to a grain of sand.”
If we are all just a big cosmic accident or are just a random collection of atoms where only the fittest survive, it makes the argument a lot more difficult to understand why the weak, the homeless, the poor would matter.
So we need to look outside ourselves to see if there is an absolute and objective reason behind the value we believe should exist. There is somewhere we can look to help us.
And today what I want you to discover is your value is not based on where you were born, your intelligence, your education or bank balance. It isn’t even based on how good you are or even on the terrible things you might have done. Your value is not based on any of those things but was determined long ago in how we were created.
Value in Creation
To understand this we go to the beginning, the very beginning, the beginning of time and even the beginning of the Bible to see what creation has to do with our value. In Genesis 1, we have the telling of the creation story.
In the beginning, there was nothing but God. God decides to create and he creates all that is. A few years ago I preached on this topic and we discussed then that we can get all caught up in focusing on the wrong things like timelines and what things are literal or not or we can understand that the important part of the story is that God created all and he created us for relationship with him.
But it’s in how he created us that we look today because it is in how we were created that we find something very important, something that separates humanity from all the rest of creation.
Look with me at Genesis 1:26-27.
“26Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals,[a] and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”
27 So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.”
We were made in the image of God. In the likeness of God. Humanity is the ultimate achievement in his creation. In the order of creation, he saved his best for last. And ladies, if you want to remind us right now that woman was created after man making you even better, there is not a smart man here that would disagree with you.
We aren’t like the animals. We were created better than that. This phrase “created in the image of God” is not said of anything else God created. We weren’t an accident, some random collision of atoms that just happened to slam together in the proper order one day. There is an intentionality to the existence of humanity. We are supposed to be here. And we are special in how we are made.
We have a special status. Why? Because I said so? Because we took a vote and the community thought so? No, because God said so. And this image bearing of God that we do is what makes us human.
What does the image of God mean?
This expression, Image of God, or Imago Dei in Latin, has been something that has been debated for quite some time. There have been three main ways of viewing what this actually means.
One view is that this is referring to certain characteristics either physical, psychological or spiritual. This has been the predominant view for most of Christian history. Some take this so far as to believe it means we were physically made like God because God has a body. Mormons believe this. This is not what it is referring to though.
The most common idea here is that we reason, think, have free will, can know right from wrong, aren’t strictly driven by instinct like animals. Our intellect, personality, and creativity are qualities that are shared with God.
A second view says that the nature of the image of God is relational. We relate to God unlike anything else he created. This views the image as not something inherently present in humanity but exists when in a particular relationship.
The third view is the functional view. It isn’t seen as we are or experience as the first two view, rather it is something we do. If you continue reading past our passage today you will see that man is given the responsibility to reproduce and to rule over creation. This responsibility is what the third view takes as being made in God’s image.
So which is it? One, two or three? Or is it a combination of all three? The Bible says surprisingly little on this. The Hebrew word for image, selem, is a representative in physical form. We bear his image by representing God in the world.
At the time this was written, kings had a practice of setting up images of themselves in places where they wanted to establish their authority. God marked us with his image to accomplish his work in the world.
When you consider the culture of the ancient world, an image was believed to carry the essence of what it represented. The image couldn’t do what the image did and it didn’t imply that the image looked like what it represented, but the image was thought to be able to accomplish the work of what or who it represented, like an idol.
And there is a big question that can greatly impact how we view this in ourselves depending on how we believe the fall of man implanted the image of God.
What About the Fall?
The fall of man was the moment in history when Adam and Eve disobeyed God, ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, sin entered the world, and the relationship with God was destroyed. You find that in Genesis 3.
Did the fall impact the image of God on humanity? This has also been a hotly debated topic over the centuries. If we see this as strictly relational, then when the relationship was ruined, we lost the image of God. Theologians like Luther and Calvin tried to get around this by saying the two words image and likeness mean two different things and we lost the image but not the likeness.
The reason I bring this up is that some would say that because sin is now a part of the human experience, we lost the image of God. But this can easily be resolved.
In Genesis 9:5-6, we read,
“And for your lifeblood, I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from each human being, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of another human being. “Whoever sheds human blood, by humans shall their blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made mankind.”
God made this statement after the fall. After sin was a part of the human experience he still affirmed our value. Sin may have messed it up but we did not lose God’s image as a result of the fall. And even though there might be some people who we want to write off, count as lost causes and say they are a waste of perfectly good skin, God says there is inherent worth in humanity.
What Does this Mean?
What are the implications of being made in the image of God? The first is this, you have value. I am not saying you are perfect. I am not saying you aren’t a colossal screw up at times. What I am telling you is that regardless of your job, your skin color, where you live, or what you’ve done, God created you and your value isn’t determined by any of those things but it is determined by the one who made you and he says you are worth something.
Somewhere along the way, Christians got it in their minds that it was super spiritual to constantly denigrate ourselves. I remember growing up singing the song “At the Cross” and one of the verses back then read “Alas! and did my Savior bleed And did my Sov’reign die? Would He devote that sacred head For such a worm as I?”
Don’t diminish what God has said is valuable. Yes, there is sin and it is a huge problem and in a few weeks we are going to begin a new series dealing with sin called “My Bad: What Separates Us from God.”
But even with our sin problem, and being considered an enemy of God, he still says there is value in us and He sent Jesus to the cross to restore the broken relationship, to pay the price for our sin. God wouldn’t have done that if he didn’t love us and think we were worth something.
The next implication is not only do you have value, so do the people around you. And you know what, that person at work that just annoys you, not that I have one of those, they have value too. This isn’t just reserved for men. It is men and women. It isn’t just for us with certain skin pigmentation.
When we truly believe in the image of God in humanity we will treat each other differently. Every person who comes across your path, you will treat with a respect, a concern, a kindness.
The image of God is not greater in one group of people than another. And based on the Genesis 9 passage, there is something very important about being made in God’s image. I am my brother’s keeper. You are your sister’s keeper. We are responsible for how we treat one another.
As I was studying this week I ran across an interesting article that highlighted just how influential this idea of Imago Dei was to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. As you may know, we remembered the 50th anniversary of his assignation this past week. Listen to the words he spoke three years earlier when talking about the importance of seeing one another as made in the image of God.
“You see the founding fathers were really influenced by the Bible. The whole concept of the Imago Dei … is the idea that all men have something within them that God injected. Not that they have substantial unity with God, but that every man has a capacity to have fellowship with God. And this gives him uniqueness….There are no gradations in the image of God. Every man from a treble white to a bass black is significant on God’s keyboard, precisely because every man is made in the image of God. One day we will learn that. We will know one day that God made us to live together as brothers and to respect the dignity and worth of every man. This is why we must fight segregation with all of our non-violent might.”
We don’t need the United Nations to tell us that there is value to life. We should be living it. This idea should radically transform how we see ourselves but also how we see one another. We can’t believe in the image of God and treat someone as if they do not matter. As if they are dispensable.
It should change how we react to the frustrating family member, the annoying acquaintance, the demanding boss, the lazy coworker, the stranger, the beggar, someone who cuts you off in traffic, the unborn child, the child in foster care, the women who is getting an abortion, popular people, unattractive people, criminals, and you
The final implication is that we belong to God. When Jesus was asked about taxes, we pulled out a coin and asked, “Whose image is on this?” They said, Caesar. He said give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and give to God what belongs to God. Being made in His image means his imprint is on our lives. We belong to him.
I want to close with a New Testament reference to the image of God. Colossians 1:15 we read,
“The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.”
When we consider that sin did mess up the image of God within us, in Jesus, we can see what God intended. He is the perfect example of what human nature is intended to be. And since he shows us what we should be like, the closer we get to him, the more we get to know ourselves and who we were created to be.
Maybe you’ve never considered where your worth comes from and you’ve been trying to earn it or make it happen. You don’t have to do this. The fingerprints of God are already on your life. The next step is believing in Jesus and surrendering your life to him to fully experience what being made in the image of God is supposed to be.
Maybe you hear this and there are people in your life that just agitate the snot out of you. Maybe it’s time to see the image of God in them and start giving them the respect they deserve. To lose our air of superiority and begin working to ensure everyone receives the dignity they deserve as someone created in the image of God.
In our message community this week, I asked them the question, what’s the application point? Ryan responded, “Tell them to hug someone that looks different than you.” It’s funny, but maybe this week it is time to build a bridge to someone not like you and learn to enjoy the creativity and diversity all of us share while at the same time being made in the image of God.
We cannot be selective about who we show dignity towards. This idea should radically transform how we interact with one another and how we respond to human need. What if we took a chance and took this seriously. What if we treated everyone as if they were made in the image of God?