Jesus was shown a Roman coin used to pay tax, and he asked the spies who held it whose image was on it. The coin was a silver denarius and the image was that of Caesar. The value of a denarius was a day’s wage for a common labourer, and the value didn’t vary depending on the quality of the image of Caesar. Even if the image was so worn or marred as to be nearly invisible, each coin still had the same monetary value as determined by Caesar’s stamp.
It is the same for us because every human being is stamped by God with his image. Even though some people barely manifest God’s image, all humans have the image and share equal value and dignity. Sin corrupts every person’s ability to reflect God’s image to some extent, but does not mar the image of God itself.
We have just read in Genesis that we were created by God in his image.
“So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”
We really ought to pause and make sure we notice that we are made ‘in’ the image of God, and not as some people think ‘as’ the image of God. We were not created perfect as perfect images of God. The word ‘in’ more specifically means ‘according to.’ Genesis is saying here that God created people ‘according to’ his image. Perhaps that doesn’t help you so much. Look at it this way, when God was creating he had already got the perfect human being in mind. This perfect human being, who existed only in God’s world, was the blueprint or model for what a human being should be.
The meaning of the word sin is to miss the mark, or fall short of the goal. Sin is thus any and every way in which you and I fall short of meeting God’s perfect standard of what a human being should be like, as it says in Romans 3:23.
“For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.” (Romans 3:23)
As followers of Jesus we are being transformed, by having our sins washed away, so that we become fully and perfectly and completely human.
Colossians 1:15 says that Jesus the Messiah is the sinless one who is the image of God.
“Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation.”
Paul describes the work of salvation as turning us into people who are like Jesus, the image of God.
“For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son, so that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.”
One day we shall have been changed so much that we will fully reflect the glory of God. As we trust in and gives our lives wholly to Jesus he is upgrading us into God’s glorious image, as it is written in 2 Corinthians 3:17-18.
“For the Lord is the Spirit, and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image.”
This happens by the Spirit, and is an ongoing process. Once we are saved, God provides his Spirit so that we can be truly human the way we were always meant to be. At the moment, we contain the image of God and we are full of the potential to be the image of God, but we aren’t yet the image of God. We are dirty and stained and fall far short. At the moment, only Jesus is the image of God perfectly and fully shining with the glory of God.
God’s message to you is that you were created to be perfect and you can be perfect. Your message to others is that they too have the full potential of God’s image within them to be perfect one day if they allow Jesus to change them. Tom Wright puts it this way:
“Our task as image-bearing, God-loving, Christ-shaped, Spirit-filled Christians, following Christ and shaping our world, is to announce redemption to a world that has discovered its fallenness, to announce healing to a world that has discovered its brokenness, to proclaim love and trust to a world that knows only exploitation, fear and suspicion.”
Our being made in the image of God is a spiritual thing, and sets us apart from all the other creatures however physically similar to them we may appear to be. God is spirit, and to be his image is a spiritual thing. A person with an illness or a disability is no less filled with the same potential, and your appearance has no bearing on your value. A person without a physical body is no less made in the image of God just because they are dead.
Genesis states “In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” I think this shows us that the image of God is essentially a relational identity, which means that we reflect God’s image in our ability to relate to God and one another. God’s nature is harmony and oneness, and so man and woman in relationship are a reflection of his image. But just as Jesus was fully God’s image without his being married, so we have the full potential in us to be perfect apart from marriage.
Having said that though, I feel I ought to balance this statement. It is also true that at the same time Christ is married, and his wife is the church. And that the church is all of his disciples united as one body.
The New Testament doesn’t teach that God’s image in us has been damaged by sin and needs to be repaired. God’s image is untouched and unchanged, but we are damaged by sin and we need to be healed and born again as new people according to the image of God in Christ.
God is changing us. We have value and we have dignity that cannot be taken away, but we need to be changed by God as it is written in Colossians 3:9–10
“Don’t lie to each other, for you have stripped off your old sinful nature and all its wicked deeds. Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him.”
Jesus the image of God showed us what we shall be like when we have been renewed to be like him. We will be people who follow Christ’s example, and our life will be one of servitude and goodness to others no matter what they do to us. As we cooperate with, and submit to, the work of the spirit to change us, we can start living like this today. As sinful beings under the influence of the devil, we created all of the evil and destruction that poisons the earth. Jesus stood against this, taking on the full force of it when he died on the cross, and so too we must stand against evil as God’s image grows in us.
Through his life, death, and resurrection, Jesus provided a both an answer to the question of what is the image of God as well as a way by which all of mankind could start living anew, filled with the love and goodness of Christ and acting fully in God’s image. At the very end of the Bible, this is the picture that we see – a new earth where all of the saved rule over creation and push the world forward as images of God with Christ as their salvation and example.
It’s deeply tragic to see what sin has done to our humanity and to witness how it has distorted us into people who misuse and abuse and dismiss others in anger. But we know it doesn’t need to be like this and it shouldn’t be like this.
Christ is the image. We are not the image. We are made according to the image of God. The image of God is not damaged or distorted, but our humanity is distorted by sin. Man and woman is made in the image of God, and so each man and woman is precious to God however damaged.
Bear this truth in mind and let’s all of us in Jinju Fellowship pull together, in faith, to proclaim and live out the true dignity of man. Each one of us, you and the person next to you, is precious and important to God, with the prestige of being made according to God’s image. In a world full of conflict and division, this is a message our culture desperately needs from us as we go forward in proclaiming the grace of the gospel of Jesus Christ.