I had just finished my weekly Sunday School class with the teens. I thought it had gone well. I was, I thought, biblical, witty, relevant, and connected with them giving a clear Gospel theme. I THOUGHT! But, as the last student left the room, he turned to me as he approached the doorway. He said, “I just don’t get it.” (So much for biblical, witty and relevant.) “What do you mean?” I asked. As he completed his exit, over his shoulder he explained, “You’re so smart. How can you believe this God stuff?”
So, this next week we are going to talk about being image bearers. I want him to know that we are made in the image of God. Not only that, but we were specially made to have fellowship with Him as no other creature on earth can do. His very question should suggest to him that he has a moral reasoning capacity that separates us from the dogs and cats that pass by our Sunday School room. I want him to know that our status as image bearers was marred by the fall. We can still reason, but our ability to appreciate God is gone until He restores it. I want him to know that redemption means redeeming our image. 2 Corinthians 3:18 says, “It is through Jesus, who was the perfect image bearer that we see what we want to really be.” Until we see this through Him, the suppression mechanism Paul speaks of in Romans 1:18-19 leads us to deny the existence of God.
Romans 1:18-19 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.
As I have thought this week about the young man’s question, I have realized that he is no different than many (most?) of the people where we live. It was obvious in the many opinion pieces and editorials written after the Hobby Lobby case was recently decided. How could the Green family be such smart business people and hold to Christianity?
We, as Christians, need to appreciate more what it means to be eternal image bearers. It is the answer to the biblical question, “What is man, that You are mindful of him?” (Psalm 8:4). He is mindful of us because He created us for His glory, which shines in His fellowship with us—image bearers who can reverence Him, appreciate His grace, and as He has given us understanding, rejoice in His plan and governance of the universe.
What this means is, we know Who our Father is. We know where our roots lie, and where our real home is. We know it because He has implanted in us His image, and then, in His time, revealed it to us. People need the Gospel, Paul writes in Romans 1, to discover and enjoy all this. The only thing that will override the suppression mechanism is a relationship with our real Father through Jesus. Unbelievers are orphans, and don’t know it. We know Whose image they bear, and we ought to tell them.
We are a minority, as Marvin Olaskey recently pointed out in World Magazine. Society doesn’t think like us, because they don’t think God, if He exists, cares about much of anything we do. Driven by the suppression mechanism and affirmed by our decaying society, people need reminding of our uniqueness as image bearers, created to have a relationship with God. We might suggest to them that even flawed moral reasoning recognizes that we are image bearers and are different from other life forms. We don’t hold wolves or bears morally accountable for their actions, but even unbelievers find some forms of conduct reprehensible in humans, for which they hold them accountable. Make this distinction clear to them.
There are three major “conversations” going on in society today where Christians are, or should be, in sharp disagreement with the world. In each case, people who have suppressed knowledge of God’s existence not only disagree with us, they can’t understand how we could possibly believe as we do. Sometimes we simply talk past each other. This business of being image bearers could help us prevent this.
The first conversation deals with creation itself. In the academic world, scientists who believe in a Creator are suspect. Have they checked their brains at the door? Do they believe in the tooth fairy, too? We need to explain why our special creation is so important. Genesis 1:26 gives the reason we are image bearers—we are to be God’s stewards over creation. Genesis 2:7 unpacks that special creation when it tells us that God took a pile of dirt and animated it, creating something special to accomplish the task. We need to be made with His attributes, His image stamp, to do that with the ability to evaluate our decisions with His reasoning. Whether you agree with special creation or not, the argument of our status as image bearers at least forces unbelievers to agree that our argument is consistent.
Of course, an evolutionist will argue that we became a superior species through natural selection during the evolutionary process. When we capitulate to this idea that we share more in common with creation than the Creator, we give up the claim to intimacy with God that we can only enjoy as His image bearers. We must remember, if we weren’t created in the image of God by His act of special creation, then we have no special calling as stewards of His creation. The evolutionist can decide to make the world better, but not because he sees an obligation to be a steward. Only image bearers know that they have a mission from a loving God. The Gospel is our means of passing that love on.
Secondly, this image bearer business needs to be a part of the conversation when we discuss issues of sexual identity. We Christians have failed to appreciate God’s creation of males and females as complementary image bearers. Part of God’s declaration of creation being “good” was a complementary female to complete the male. We (properly) object to gay marriage. But, do we do so because we see how important the male-female bond is to our status as image bearers? Do we see all sexual sin as a denial of our being made in God’s image as male and female to form a monogamous relationship that mirrors the relationship of Christ and His Church? Shouldn’t men object when they hear someone say, “You need to get in touch with your feminine side?” (They should point to their wives and say, “There is my God given feminine side!”) In other words, our sexual identity as male or female is part of our bearing the image of God. He made us this way for a purpose.
Sanctity of Human Life
Finally, there is the issue of the sanctity of Human life. Why not abort and euthanatize with abandon if we aren’t made in His image? The whole argument in Genesis 9 about the sanctity of human life is based upon God’s special relationship with those who bear His image. As Christians, we can’t just call abortion and euthanasia wrong. We need to call attention to the reason it is wrong. Mankind is unique. When we unlawfully kill an image bearer, we deny the Creator of that image bearer.
On these three issues, creation, sexual identity and sanctity of human life, we are losing the battle, and God is being driven from the conversation. His suppression is being furthered. We are becoming a smaller and smaller minority. We need to reintroduce the importance of image bearing to the discussion.
Moderator Littlejohn was right in his challenge at Synod:
God imprinted mankind with His very own character. Adam and Eve knew His love in fullness of life. He walked with them in relationship and fellowship until they rebelled. In their desire to be like God, they marred His very image in themselves. Then fear replaced love.
Jesus replaces that fear with restored love. He restores our understanding of God’s “marking” us with His image. Maybe when someone questions how you can believe what you believe, you should begin your conversation by saying, “I think you’ve missed the ‘Mark’.”