"In the Image of God" What Does This Mean?
A sermon based on Genesis 1:26-31 and Colossians 3:10
Sunday, June 10, 2012 – 1st Article to the Apostles' Creed (Part 1)
A Kindergarten teacher was observing the children in her classroom while they were drawing pictures. She walked around the room to see each child's art. When she asked one little girl who was working diligently what she was drawing, the girl replied, "I'm drawing God." The teacher paused and said, "But no one knows what God looks like." Without missing a beat, or looking up from her drawing, the girl replied, "They will in a minute."
What does God look like? Ever wonder? After all, if mankind was made in the image of God, God must look like us, right? At least, that's how many artists have depicted him—an elderly man with a flowing white bear—just like Michelangelo's God reaching out to touch Adam on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. But is that what the phase "Image of God" really means?
As we examine the Apostles' Creed, we begin with a look at God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, who created us and all that exists, who gave us our bodies and souls, eyes, ears and all our members, our minds and all our abilities. And we'll especially look at that phrase, "the image of God," and ask, "What does this mean?"
Our lesson is from Genesis 1:26-31….
26 Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground."
27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.
28 God blessed them and said to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground."
29 Then God said, "I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. 30 And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air and all the creatures that move on the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food." And it was so.
31 God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.
I. The Image Lost
There's no doubt about it. God's creation is exquisite! His wisdom and power is displayed in all he's made, but perhaps nowhere as much in humanity. "I believe that God created me and all that exists, and that he gave me my body and soul, eyes, ears and all my members, my mind and all my abilities."
Just consider the eye, that takes light waves bouncing off of different surfaces and transmits all that data to the brain to make sense of color and shadow, depth and movement, and even convert symbols like signs and letters into thoughts and concepts. Consider the ear that catches vibrations in the ear and sends them to the brain to interpret as words or to filter out as background noise. (Hopefully you're hearing me as the former.)
Consider our minds that can accomplish amazing things like building homes and cars and machinery and big drills that give us the oil to operate all of those. Consider the abilities he's given to create computers and write books, to compose music and sing hymns, to make art and think deep thoughts. Surely, mankind was made in the image of God, right?
Well, yes. But what exactly does that mean?
A few years ago our copy machine repairman, Brian, came into the church office at Gethsemane Lutheran in Raleigh. Being polite he asked me, "How are you doing today?" And I, having just listened to financial advisor and radio talk show host, Dave Ramsey, replied as Dave always does and said, "I'm doing much better than I deserve." But Brian challenged me. He said, "Don't sell yourself short. You're a good guy! You deserve great things in life!" And I thought what a wonderful opportunity to talk about sin and grace. "Actually," I replied, "I'm not a great guy. At least, not according to God's standard. I'm a sinner. And I deserve hell. But I don't get it because of God's grace."
I thought Brian would drop it. But he didn't. He said, "You're not a bad guy. You were made in the image of God. And God is good." He thought he had me. So I handed him a Bible. I asked him to look up Genesis 1:26 and he did. He read it and said, "See! It says man was made in the image of God." "Okay," I said, "now turn to Genesis 5:3. And he read, "When Adam had lived 130 years, he had a son in his own likeness, in his own image; and he named him Seth."
"You see?" I said, "God made Adam in his image. But Adam's son, Seth, was born in Adam's—not God's—image. That is, Seth inherited Adam's sinful nature. Seth, like Adam, was not a good guy. And every person born ever since has inherited that corruption. The image of God has been lost."
God (the Father) is a spiritual being. And as such he has no body, no eyes or ears or hands or feet (unless of course he chooses to for a time). But having body and soul, eyes and ears, mind, and abilities, are not what "the image of God" is all about. The image of God is his moral perfection—a perfection that he made man (Adam) with. A perfection that was quickly lost.
And we demonstrate that the image of God has been lost to us as the image of Adam that consumes us rebels against God just as Adam did. God gave us our bodies and souls, our eyes and ears, our mind and all our abilities to serve him and to bring glory and honor to him in all that we say, think, and do. That's why he created us—to be the objects of his love that we might love him in return.
But by nature, we only use our bodies and souls, our eyes and ears, our mind and all our abilities to serve—not God—but ourselves. Our eyes look at images they shouldn't and glorify violence and adultery. Our ears devour gossip like choice morsels of dessert. Our minds conjure new ways of sinning and better ways of avoiding the consequences. We use our abilities to try to bring glory to ourselves rather than to our God who so lovingly made us.
I demonstrate that the image of God has been lost in me when I use my wit to insult others. I show my fallen sinful nature when I use my mind and my abilities to find shortcuts to my work, instead of using all of my gifts to offer my very best to God. And I sin and rebel against God. And so do you. Sometimes you too use your God-given gifts and abilities to serve yourselves instead of him.
What does God look like? Well… nothing like me. That's for sure. And because I'm not perfect in the image of God I can't enter God's perfect kingdom of heaven either. Because if God let me in to heaven the way I am now, it would be like letting someone with an infectious disease into quarantine. I would be sure to ruin everything and perfection would no longer be perfect.
But does that mean I'm lost to hell just as God's image is lost to me? No. It doesn't. Why not? Well, that's where our epistle lesson for this morning comes in…
II. The Image Restored
"For you died," Paul wrote, "and your life is now hidden with Christ in God." (Colossians 3:3) We couldn't fix the problem. When I'm working on a drawing or a painting I'll sometimes goof up and the image I'm trying to create is lost. But usually I can erase the blunder or paint over the problem. But that's not how it is with the image of God. It's more like a mural on a wall filled with mold. You can whitewash a tomb and make it look fresh and clean on the surface, but inside it's still full of death and decay. Someone once said, "Beauty is skin dip. But ugly is to the bone." And there's some truth in that. The cancer of sin infects us deep. We might look nice on the surface, but inside we've lost the image of God.
And we couldn't fix the problem. We couldn't. But God could. God did. God crucified Christ for our flaws, for our imperfections, for our perverted use of the bodies he gave us, for the twisted use of our minds, for the selfish use of our abilities. Jesus took the blame for our sin. And by faith we died with him. Our sin has been paid for. And in it's place, God has painted a beautiful, priceless masterpiece of Jesus' flawless image. "Your life is now hidden with Christ in God." That is, when God looks at you, he sees the image of Jesus.
For "you… have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator." The image of God that was lost in Adam's fall into sin has been restored in Christ's rescue from sin. The image of God is the righteousness he created Adam with. The image of God is the righteousness he's restored in you though faith in Christ. Certainly rejoice in God's splendor and majesty that he displays in his creation! But rejoice all the more in the grace and love he shows in making you new again and restoring the image of God in you. As Paul put it in 2 Corinthians 5:17: "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!"
"The image of God." What does this mean? What does God look like? Well, he looks like love. He looks like grace. He looks like mercy. He looks like… well, Christ. He is the perfect image of God.
Why did God do all this? Luther put it well when said, "All this God does only because he is my good and merciful Father in heaven, and not because I have earned or deserved it." And he also put it well when he suggested the only proper response: "For all this I ought to thank and praise, to serve and obey him."
Now we use our God-given abilities to serve him in unending thanks! Now we use our bodies to God's glory—recognizing that they're not really our bodies, but his, given to us for a while on loan and we treat them accordingly with special care. Now we use our souls to glorify God, not just going through the motions, but worshiping him with our inmost being. Now we use our minds to manage and care for God's creation and be good managers of the blessings he's given us. Now we faithfully use our abilities no longer in selfish pursuits, but in service to God and to other people.
Now we "Put to death… whatever belongs to [our] earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry…" Now we , "rid [ourselves] of… anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from [our] lips. [We] do not lie to each other, since [we] have taken off [our] old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator." (Colossians 3:5-10)
Yes, praise God that you are fearfully and wonderfully made. And praise God that, in Christ, you are made new in God's image again! And praise God, not just here in worship, not just with words, but in your daily lives as you humbly use your gifts to serve your family and your friends, your neighbors and your co-workers, your church and her members, and complete strangers. Because you know that "For all [God has done] [we] ought to thank and praise, to serve and obey him. This is most certainly true!" Amen.