When you walk in Christian circles there are certain phrases you hear a lot.
“Hate the sin, love the sinner”
“Identity in Christ”
“What would Jesus do?”
These quotable lines, while not direct Bible verses, are often nuggets of truth carved from countless passages we find in scripture. They can be helpful ways for us to be reminded of core truths and can even be the starting point of discussions with our non-Christian friends.
But do we ever stop to think whether we are using them in a helpful way?
As Christians, we should always be conscious of what we believe and where it’s come from. From the song lyrics we sing to the things we put out on social media to the videos we watch on youtube, we should always be discerning about the vast amount of ‘Christian’ content we can access and share.
Today I want to briefly talk about another one of these, “we are all made in the image of God”, and why I think this is an example of where we sometimes need to be cautious about what message we are putting out.
I’m sure you’ve seen those posts on Instagram or Facebook from people who have a single Bible verse in front of a beautiful image – perhaps it speaks of God’s love and mercy, it has flowers in the background and the font looks like it was written by some royal scribe. Now there’s nothing wrong with posting these in principle, after all, we believe the Bible is full of promises and encouragement that still apply to us today. But is that all the Bible is to us?
Is the Bible just a series of nice quotes that we can pull out whenever the situation demands? And then when it says something we don’t like or don’t understand or just doesn’t have a nice ring to it we put it aside?
You see, the problem when we take a single Bible verse, or even more so when we use one of those quotes mentioned above, is that it can be very easy to make it say whatever we want it to say.
When we hear “we are made in the image of God” it can be easy to think this means if we look within ourselves we can see God. That if God made man in His image, then one way to see God is to look at man. I’ve heard people go in that direction and to be honest, I can see why – it’s attractive.
If we start with ourselves and work back to God, then suddenly ‘our God’ can look more and more like us. God’s view of the world looks more and more like our view of the world. It talks about God hating sin in the Bible, but I’m a bit uncomfortable with that. I’m sure God isn’t really concerned with sin. I prefer this kind of worship music and find this other style boring. I’m sure God must only care about modern worship music too.
So quickly we can make us being in the image of God into God being in the image of us.
I think the reason this idea seems to be seeping into Christian understanding more and more is that we see so much of it in popular culture, in TV, movies and adverts. Do any of these sound familiar?
- The truth is inside you
- You only need to believe in yourself
- The answer was in you all along
- The power is within you
If we tell the world around us that they are made in the image of God they’ll say, “Of course! I look in the mirror and I see God every day!”
For a better understanding let’s look at the first passage in the Bible this idea appears:
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.
This passage is rightly used to point out the inherent value in human life; we are not simply animals, we were created to be stewards over the earth. But who is the main player in this story? Not man, but God. And one of the key things to always remember about Genesis is that there is more to the story.
There is more to be said on this and in fact when looking for other instances of this concept in the Bible, we find that the vast majority of other references to being the image of God actually do not relate to us, but to Jesus.
“The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.” Colossians 1:15
“The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being.” Hebrews 1:3
“Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” John 14:9
When we think about the image of God, the first thing we should really be thinking about is not ourselves but Jesus! He is the perfect example of what God is like, the one who reveals God in the image of a man. The answer is not within us, but outside of ourselves in Jesus.
This concept should not lead us to look to or believe in ourselves, rather it should remind us to believe in Jesus alone, and look to him as the perfect example of what God looks like. This is the essence of the Christian journey after all, acknowledging that we need a saviour in Jesus Christ and then allowing Him to transform us more into his likeness by the Spirit.
Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.
1 Corinthians 15:49
Back in Genesis, we see that humanity was made in the image of God. But that’s not the end of the story! Just as we were all born in the image of God through Adam (‘the man of dust’), as Christians we will one day bear a perfect image of God through Jesus (‘the man of heaven’).
So next time we think about sharing something about being “made in the image of God”, let’s make it less about us and the imperfect image we are, and more about Jesus; the perfect image of God.
Written by Alex Banks