Pastor Craig Carter
It’s been a year since my mom died and we’re still trying to decide what to do with all of her stuff. We’ve got boxes piled along one wall of our garage and one-by-one we’ve tried to sort through their contents.
If you’ve ever done something similar you know it’s a long, arduous process. And it’s very easy to get sidetracked when you find interesting or unusual items. That’s especially true when you come across photographs.
Perhaps the most fascinating book among my mom’s collection is an album of relatives. My sister and I cannot even identify many of the folks in the pictures, and some of the photos are now over a century old. But these are my people and I’m a product of their lives, probably even reflecting many of their traits and attributes, even though I’m not aware of it.
You and I are not the first generation of Christians or people who have followed God. One of the purposes of Scripture is to familiarize us with those who have gone before. We can think of the books of the Bible as family albums that show us portraits of men and women in the faith. And they are presented just as they were – the good, the bad, and the ugly. Through them we can learn about the Christian faith and how to live it (or not live it).
And who is the first person pictured? “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1 NLT)
Let’s start our exploration where the book begins – with God. In actuality, this whole Book of books is about God.
As Rick Warren has famously said, “It’s not about you. It’s all about God.” We need to keep that truth in mind, both as we read Scripture, and in all of life. That’s because – as we discover right away in Genesis chapter 1 – God created it all.
And while God has a fondness for His entire creation, He has a special place in His heart for human beings. In this opening page of our family album, we discover why.
After setting the universe into motion and the filling the earth with plants and animals… Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us. They will reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals on the earth, and the small animals that scurry along the ground.” So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. Then God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it. Reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, and all the animals that scurry along the ground.” (Genesis 1:26-28 NLT)
The most important takeaway here is that you and I, apart from the rest of creation, are made “in the image of God.”
The word “image” means “physical likeness, reproduction.” Notice: we are not the image of God, but we are fashioned in, or according to, His image. We are not God, but we are made “to be like [Him].”
As it is with our relatives we may find pictured in a family album, we bear a striking resemblance to our most ancient ancestor, God Himself. Being made in the image of God gives us a sense of dignity and destiny. Let’s explore why this is so important…
The Genesis account reveals that other all other vegetation and creatures are made according to their “kind,” while only humans are made in God’s “image.”
Flowers are beautiful, trees are stately, fish are fascinating, birds are majestic, lions are ferocious, dogs are cute, cats are just cats … but humans have a special dignity. Human beings have a distinctive connection to their Creator. You and I are “chips off the old block.”
Think of it like this: I really do like children, but I have to confess I love my two more than yours. That’s because they’re mine and I made them (with a little help from their mom and a lot of help from God).
And while I’m proud of their accomplishments, I loved them before they did anything and will still love them no matter what they do or don’t do. It’s simply because of who they are – children of Craig and Lee Carter.
Here’s a “foot-stomper” for you, so pay attention: Because you’ve been made in the image of God, you are special, no matter how you may feel about yourself.
God has given you immense dignity. Want to know how much? Remember how God felt after seeing each thing He created? For the first five days of creation, the Bible states, “And God saw that it was good.” But on the sixth day, His perspective changed. Genesis 1:31 NLT tells us: “And he saw that it was very good!” The exclamation and the word “very” are only added on the sixth day, after God created humankind.
In His creative work, God saved the best for last. Now God looks at you and says, “Very good! You look just like me!”
If that doesn’t boost your self-esteem and make you feel good, nothing will.
But maybe you contend, “Yeah, but you don’t know what I’ve done.” The good news found in our family album tells us that what you’ve done doesn’t change a thing about who you are.
We know that Genesis 1 is a perfect world, exactly as God intended. But things go south pretty quickly in chapters 3 and 4 through the poor choices made by Adam, Eve, Cain, and Abel. But even after all manner of sin enters the picture, we read in Genesis chapter 5: “When God created human beings, he made them to like himself.” (Genesis 5:1b NLT)
So even after the Fall, the image of God remains. It’s taken a beating and may be a bit distorted, but the “image” is not lost.
Then the Flood comes in response to the rampant evil in the world. But when the waters recede, God repeats the command He originally gave to Adam and Eve to Noah and his sons: “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth.” (Genesis 9:1 NLT)
Then the Lord adds this caution, along with the reason for it: “If anyone takes a human life, that person’s life will also be taken by human hands. For God made human beings in his own image.” (Genesis 9:6 NLT)
Every living human being is special and unique in God’s sight. And, as a result, deserves to be treated with respect and dignity. That applies to you, it applies to me, it applies to everyone.
I love what the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said in a sermon: “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.”
He’s absolutely right, regardless of their gender, race, social status, or religion, or whether they’re healthy, dying, unborn, disabled, or sinful, every human being is crowned with undisputable dignity by their God and Creator.
In addition to the glorious sense of dignity that being made in God’s image gives us, it also provides us with a…
God’s image is imprinted on each one of us so we are made “to be like [Him].” And while both the sinfulness of our world and our own sinful choices affect the degree to which we actually are like the Lord, we at least have the potential to reflect His character and model His behavior – it’s our God-given destiny.
If we are going to be who God created us to be, we must understand our intended trajectory.
So how is the image of God revealed in us? From the opening pages of our family album we discover some ways in which we made to like God, including: Relationship, Reproduction, Responsibility and Righteousness.
Up to this point in the creation narrative, God speaks things into existence by saying, “Let there be…” But now He says, “Let us make human beings in OUR image, to be like US.” The “us” most probably is an allusion to the Trinity (Father/Son/Holy Spirit). God exists in relationship with Himself and therefore He made us for relationships as well. In particular, we are to love God and love others (see the Great Commandment; Matthew 22:36-40).
The first command given to humankind is: “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth…” We reflect God’s image so we are to “fill the earth” with His glory. Obviously, that means we are reproduce and perpetuate the human race. But it also means we are to be creative just as God is creative. God has given us an incredible capacity for creativity – art, music, writing, inventions, etc. That power can be used for good and godly purposes, or it can be used to create bad or evil things. But regardless of how we choose to use it, God-given talent is involved. Make no mistake about it, created in the image of God, you and I are destined to reproduce and create things that can be described as “good” and godly.
God shares responsibility for this planet with those of us made in His image. His commands say, “Fill the earth & govern it…” and “Reign over it…” Created in God’s image, like Him we are made to rule and reign. It’s why we love mastering a subject or activity. We love challenges, especially when they involve conquering creation (hunting, fishing, hiking/climbing, skiing, river rafting, riding a wave, going to the moon, etc.) Once again, we can take our God-given authority and rule in ungodly ways if we choose. By making us in His image, God has given us the responsibility to rule over His creation and hopes we govern correctly.
Lastly, God is altogether holy so guess what? We are made for righteousness, too. The creation story shows that we have been given the ability to choose right from wrong. But this is where we see the dramatic effects of the Fall. Our ancestors didn’t choose right and thus have messed up the world in which we are conceived and into which we are born. And if that’s not bad enough, we make our own sinful choices, compounding the problem. So the answer to the question the Bible asks, “Who is righteous?” is obvious: “No one, not even one” (Romans 3:10 NLT).
By all indications, there is no hope for us to ever reclaim our original design. But God doesn’t give up easily and He has insured that we can fulfill our destiny.
You and I have been made in the image of God. But there is one who is THE image of God – Jesus Christ. “Christ is the visible image of the invisible God.” (Colossians 1:15a NLT)
Our ultimate destiny is to be like Him…and here’s how it happens: First, God creates us in His image – marred and misshapen as it is in a world of sin. Next, the Lord re-creates us into the image of Christ through our faith in Him.
“Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him… Put on your new nature, created to be like God – truly righteous and holy.” (Ephesians 4:21-24 NLT)
How is the re-creation accomplished? Through the work of God’s Spirit, the same Spirit present at creation that hovered over the waters and brought order out of chaos. “And the Lord – who is the Spirit – makes us more and more like [Christ] as we are changed into his glorious image.” (2 Corinthians 3:18b NLT)
Bang! Our destiny is fulfilled and we become who God always meant for us to be.
So, as we open the family album and see a photo of our Creator God, we are awestruck by the fact He made us to be like Himself, creating us in His image.
That should cause us to respond in two ways. One, it gives us an incredible sense of dignity as we realize how special we are. Do you know that? Do you treat others with the respect they deserve? Two, it makes us realize that we have a God-given destiny – to be like Christ. How do you measure up? Where in particular are you falling short when it comes to relationship, reproduction, responsibility and/or righteousness?
In both cases, the Holy Spirit helps us where we fall short. Either to recover and reclaim our God-given dignity, or to help us receive and achieve our God-ordained destiny.