Today we are taking one more week off from our Philippians series, and the reason for that is because it is National Sanctity of Life Sunday. In case you haven’ noticed, I’m not one to follow many holidays or special Sundays, because if we followed all of them, and did something special on all of them, then they’d probably take up half the year! But, I think, from this point forward, we will do something special on Easter, because it’s Easter, and National Sanctity of Life Sunday, which is the Sunday closest to January 22nd of each year, because that’s when Ronald Reagan issued the presidential proclamation in 1984.
Now, today will not just be about abortion, even though that’s the primary reason this day was established. We will certainly speak about abortion, but I want us to the full range of implications on the sanctity and dignity of human life found in the Scriptures, in particular, today, in Genesis 1:26-27.
Isaac Richardson is going to come read these two verses for us. He is a brand-new covenant member. He’s also son to Shane and Christy, and brother to Hannah, Malachi, and Tabitha. So, Genesis 1:26-27. Isaac, take it away.
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.
Thank you, Isaac. What I’d like us to do today is dig rather deeply into these two verses, seeing first the gospel, as these two verses shed some light into the grand story of redemption. After that, we’ll look at the full range of implications of these two verses. Specifically, four spectrums of people made in the image of God. So, the first movement of the gospel in light of these two verses:
a. We are the pinnacle of God’s creation
We are the highest, and most important part of God’s creation. The culmination! How do we know this? Because we were made in God’s image, which is unique! Did God make any other part of his creation in his own image? No. In fact, even how he went about creating us was different.
Up to this point in the creation account, how had God created? By simply commanding things into existence! “Let there be light. Let the earth sprout vegetation. Let there be the moon, sun, stars.” He just commanded it and it happened. But, suddenly, when it came to creating man, what does God do? He consults himself!
This is a remarkable thing in this verse, when God says, “Let us make man in our image.” There’s only four times in the Old Testament where God speaks of himself in the plural. And he’s certainly not doing that because we have more than one God. God’s not consulting the other gods to see how they should make man. No, this is one God. In fact, in verse 26, if you look there, it says “Let us make man in our image.” Then, guess what? In verse 27, it says, “So God made man in his own image.”
Why is that really cool? Because we have both plural and singular in reference to God in just these two verses. This is an obvious implication of the Trinity. Three and yet one. And so God goes into consultation with himself! Is this because he needed more time to figure out how to make mankind? No, of course not. This is all-powerful Father God. So why did he seem to pause here? Calvin puts it like this, and I love this: “For the purpose of commending to our attention the dignity of our nature, he, in taking counsel concerning the creation of man, testifies that he is about to undertake something great and wonderful.”
It is a wonderful thing that God was about to do, in creating mankind in his own image. He created a being that was more like himself than anything else he’d created. Think about it, we do have a lot in common with God, especially before the Fall. We’ll talk in a just a second about the differences in that image of God before and after the fall. But, for now, ponder this:
We were created more like God than any other creature. That’s what “image” basically means: “likeness.” We were created in his likeness. How so? We have intellect, not just instinct. We have moral capacities! We have affections and ambitions and reason! Nothing else God has created has any of those things. Therefore, we were made in God’s likeness. Now that doesn’t mean we’re exactly like God. There are many ways in which we’re different from God. If you want the theological terms for this: communicable attributes are attributes we share with God, at least to an extent, like love and moral consciences. Incommunicable attributes are those that we don’t share with God, like his eternality. He’s always existed. For us, however, there was a time when we did not exist.
So, being made in the image of God means that we most reflect God in our attributes, more than any other creature. Thus, we are the pinnacle of God’s creation. All of creation was crescendo-ing up to God creating mankind. That’s the first movement; The second movement of the gospel, as seen in these two verses:
b. We have dominion of the world on behalf of God.
This is another part of what it means to have been made in God’s image. We see it right there in verse 26: “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.” This is pretty neat: we were created to represent God and rule over the world in his name, almost like vice-regents.
This, yet again, points to our uniqueness among God’s creatures. No other creature was given dominion over the world. We were! And we don’t share that responsibility! We’re not ruling over the world along with ferrets, right? It’s just us. We have dominion of the world on behalf of God. Now, obviously, something happened after mankind was created. The third movement of the gospel:
c. In the fall, we marred the image of God.
This image that we reflect has been diminished, damaged, some even say that it was destroyed, in a sense. In sinning against God, we suddenly became a lot less like God than we were before. Before the fall, we were a holy people, much like God is holy. After the fall, we were no longer holy.
If you think about the fall, and what happened when we sinned. If you think about it, one way to describe the fall is to say that we demanded to be more like God than we actually were. We’re the pinnacle of his creation, given dominion of the entire world, but apparently that wasn’t enough. We also wanted dominion over the one thing that God had kept from us in the garden. That one tree. In fact, do you remember, part of the temptation that the serpent used? Genesis 3:5- “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
Ironically, in man’s desire to be more like God than they actually were, they became so much less like God than they already were. They sinned, & were no longer holy and righteous. The image of God reflected in us was drastically marred. But, that’s not the end of the story, either. Movement 4 of the gospel:
d. Through Christ, the image of God is restored in us.
An awesome verse, clearly making use of this same language, 2 Corinthians 3:18- “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.”
So, in Christ, when our sin is placed on him and his righteousness is imputed to us, in one sense, the image of God is fully restored in us, right? Because Christ IS the perfect image of God. And then, of course, in another sense, we are still being renewed and transformed into that image as we become more like Jesus. Now this last movement is really why I’ve spent all this time on these two verses. This last part is what really has such strong implications for the sanctity and dignity of every human life.
e. Even in our fallen nature, there is a remnant of the image of God in all people.
There is actually a lot of discussion about whether or not, after the fall, man retained any part of the image of God. I think it’s worth noting a few things:
The Image of God refers to far more than just holiness or righteousness. There is so much more that makes us distinct from the rest of God’s creation, like we already talked about, including our moral capabilities—how even non-Christians have certain truths revealed to them, according to Romans 1. We all have moral consciences—not just Christians, but all human beings! We all have these moral consciences, but then we also all choose whether or not to live generally moral lives.
So, with this question of whether or not to take the “image of God” in a narrow sense, or in a broad sense, I think the answer is both: we know from Scripture that, in becoming regenerate, in becoming a Christian, what is God doing? He’s restoring his own image in us! Pretty cool, as we already saw. In believing in Jesus, our sin goes to him, and his righteousness comes to us! So we become like Jesus, who is the exact representation of God. That’s Hebrews 1:3.
So, yes, the believer is really the one that is reflecting the image of God. And yet, in a broader sense, all human beings, even non-Christians, still have more in common with God than any other creature. Our intellect, our affections, our moral consciences, etc., make all human beings far more like God than any other creature. So, to sum it up, I like best how Zacharias Ursinus puts it: “These vestiges and remains of the image of God in man, although they are obscured and marred by sin, are nevertheless, still preserved in us to a certain extent; and that for these ends: 1. That they may be a testimony of the mercy and goodness of God towards us, unworthy as we are. 2. That God may make use of them in restoring his image in us. 3. That the wicked may be without excuse.”
In other words, this remnant of the image of God in all human beings is part of what makes every human being responsible for rejecting God. Because there is an extent to which they can know certain things about God and about themselves. Again, we see all this from Romans 1:20, if you’d like to write that down and look at it later.
So, why do I get into all that?! Why did I want to spend this much time on only two verses? Because the implications of these two verses are extraordinarily far-reaching. In other words, this changes everything! The truth that we are ALL made in God’s image, every person on the planet—means that we are ALL made in God’s image, every person on the planet. And yes, I just said the same thing twice. It’s easy to say that, but I think it is so important to be explicit as possible as to what we mean. Because whether we know it or not, we are likely treating some people like they’re just a bit less important, or less valuable, or like their lives are just a little bit less sacred to God. So, why not be clear?
4 Spectrums of People Made in the Image of God.
- From Male to Female
It’s as clear as can be in verse 27: “male and female he created them.” Both men and women were created in the image of God. What does this mean? Well, it certainly speaks to the absolute equality of men and women. Men are no more valuable than women, and women are no more valuable than men. We are equal. The lives of men and women are sacred, and full of dignity.
Now I know in the church, we are often accused of not treating men and women as equals. And frankly, where this is true, we need to repent. But, equality between men and women does not necessitate that men and women are exactly the same. There are certain roles that God has given men, and other roles he has given women. Why do we have only men as elders of the church? Is it because men are better, or smarter, or more holy? I mean, have you met our elders? That’s the easy way to answer that question! No, of course men and women have the same intellectual and spiritual capabilities.
And yet, God, in His Word has limited the role of elder to men. He also commands wives to submit to the servant leadership of their husbands, and commands husbands to love their wives like Christ loved the church, which in my opinion is probably the harder command! Because how did Christ love the church? He died for it! We’re to serve and love our wives, even unto death! We’re to treat their lives as more important than our own. Now, for clarity, the Bible does NOT teach that all women submit to the spiritual leadership of all men! It does not say that, this is specific to the marital relationship.
Now, for most of you, this isn’t new. You know God made men and women equal. And yet, I bet there is more prejudice against men or women than we think, and I mean among those of us in this room. Do you assume certain things of women because of a few bad experiences, or perhaps a really rough relationship with a woman in your past or present? Do you do that of men? In hearing that God made men and women both in the image of God, we shouldn’t just assume that we treat men and women with the utmost dignity. We need to check ourselves, because, again, this might be more common than we think.
Now, male and female are the two genders. That’s how God has designed humanity, as we see in this verse and throughout the Bible. So, obviously the question comes in today’s context, what about those who do not identity with their biological sex? The short answer to that question is that God does not make mistakes. He does not accidentally or on purpose trap a woman in a man’s body, or a man in a woman’s body. We could say a lot more about that, but I want to talk implications for you and for me, as Christians.
Here’s a challenging question: do you see and treat transgender people, or intersex, or those of any other self-proclaimed sexual or gender identity, as made in the image of God? Obviously, we don’t have to agree with sinful attitudes and actions, that’s not what I’m asking. I’m asking: do you see people like Bruce Jenner, who now goes by Caitlyn Jenner—do you see people like this as anything less than human? Or do you understand and see these people as human beings made in the image of God, who have marred that image in different ways than we have?
As Bible-believing Christians, we’re likely never going to fit into a category in broader culture of those that support the LGBTQ movement, because we believe that God is clear in his Word as to his desire for men and women and marriage. But, please hear me: we must NEVER be on the side of those who bully LGBTQ persons and treat them as anything less than God’s creations, made in the image of God, who have marred that image like we have. They should be treated with absolute dignity, and respect, and they deserve to have us come to their defense when they’re treated otherwise.
From male the female, and every self-proclaimed shade in between, made in the image of God. The 2nd Spectrum of People Made in the Image of God:
- From Conception to Death
This Sunday, National Sanctify of Life Sunday, really is focused on pro-life causes, as in fighting abortion. As Christians, being truly pro-life means far more than merely being anti-abortion (which is something we need to realize), but being pro-life certainly includes fighting abortion.
It is estimated that there have been over 1.4 billion abortions worldwide since 1980. 1.4 billion lives lost. The problem with that is that we see in the Scriptures clear proof that from conception, human beings are made in the image of God. Psalm 139: “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.” Jeremiah 1:5- “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart.” Job 31:15- “Did not he who made me in the womb make them? Did not the same one form us both within our mothers?” If you want more on Scripture’s testimony to the life and humanity and dignity of the unborn, please talk to me. The clarity is overwhelming.
As Christians, this is not merely a political issue. I’ve actually been told before that I shouldn’t bring up abortion, because pastors aren’t supposed to talk about politics. Can I just tell you: it is a tragedy for anyone to think of the killing of the unborn as merely or even primarily a political issue. This is a moral issue of the utmost importance. We must do everything we possibly can as individuals, and as a church, to fight for the lives of the unborn, because they can’t fight for themselves!
But, being pro-life also goes beyond being anti-abortion. Understanding all people as made in the image of God, all people from conception to death, means we care deeply for children, especially children that are neglected and not cared for. Christians should be the most active group of people in the world when it comes to foster care and adoption. Not that every one of us needs to bring children into our homes (though that’s certainly something to pray about), but that we all should desire to do what we can to help and provide for children that don’t have parents taking care of them. I mean, this is where the implications for what it true means to be pro-life are extraordinary.
Think about special needs children. Every person from conception to death made in the image of God means the lives of those with special needs and severe developmental delays or other issues—their lives are just as important and valuable to God as any other life! A few months ago, I saw a heart-breaking article about Iceland, and how they have basically eradicated down syndrome by providing prenatal screening and allowing parents to abort fetuses with down syndrome. Let’s just be clear here: Down syndrome has not been eradicated in Iceland. HUMAN BEINGS with down syndrome have been eradicated in Iceland. Human beings made in the image of God, who have intrinsic dignity and value.
But, even more practical for you and for me: do you and I treat people with special needs as fully human? Do you actually converse with them? Or do we just kind-of ignore them, maybe say a quick prayer for them and their families? That’s great; do that. But then have conversations with people made in the image of God who have special needs. Don’t see that as less value of an investment of your time.
There are lots more specific examples I could bring up of people between conception and death that are sometimes treated as less valuable or less important. But the last one I want to bring specifically are the elderly. No one really talks about how our society, at times, outcasts the elderly. Why do we do this? “Oh, well, they’re the past. They’re on their way out.” Even in the church, “Hey, we need to reach and emphasize young families; it’s all about them. They’re the future of the church!” Sometimes I think we worry a bit too much about the future of the church, instead of just caring for THE CHURCH!
In society, and in the church, the 97-year-old widow that can’t even leave her home is just as important and valuable as the 30-year-old that just started his career and just had his first child and has his whole life ahead of him. From conception to death, all people are made in the image of God, and therefore have the same sacred value to God, and to us. The 3rd Spectrum of People Made in the Image of God:
- From White to Black
By implication, I obviously mean “and every shade in between.” From white to black, and every shade in between, made in the image of God. This principle of the image of God was a major theme in the civil rights movement. But this is not merely an American issue. It’s a global and a gospel issue. We are followers of Jesus before we are anything else, which means that our hearts are to reflect the heart of our God. And our God’s heart is for the nations! I’d like to read to you what is maybe one of the most beautiful pictures painted in all of Scripture. Revelation 7:9-10.
After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And the cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”
From white to black and every shade in between: made in the image of God. And from white to black, and every shade in between, God will restore his full image by regenerating hearts. He will save some from every nation in the world. What does that do for us? It should completely eradicate any prejudice based on race.
You know, I think it’s easy to assume that we don’t have any prejudice against people of different races. It’s easy to assume that by just thinking, “I have no problem with other races.” Or, “I have black and Asian friends; I’m not prejudiced.” That’s not what it means to be prejudiced. You can have lots of black friends and still be prejudiced. You can have lots of Asian friends and still be prejudiced. Prejudice means that you have preconceived opinions about people based merely on their race. That’s what it means to be prejudiced. You don’t have to hate them at all.
Do we truly consider all people, from white to black and every shade in between, as made in God’s image, and therefore having utmost intrinsic value and dignity? Do we truly think of all people in that way, and also treat all people in that way? There’s so much more that could be said on this, and I’m sure we’ll return to this topic, but for now, the 4th Spectrum of People Made in the Image of God:
- From the Garden to Prison
Why I have this last spectrum is to include people who have made all kinds of different decisions with their lives. Whether those decisions best fit within the Garden, in other words, perhaps good, innocent, and wholesome decisions—all the way to those decisions that land people in prison. No matter what decisions people have made with their lives—they are made in the image of God, and therefore are valuable to God, and they should also be valuable to us.
If you haven’t been particularly challenged yet this morning in thinking through this, I’m guessing this is where we’ll all get a little uncomfortable. Think about those who even society at large consider to be the worst of the worst, those who’ve done the worst things. It is very difficult to truly consider them to have been made in God’s image, and to be valuable to God.
Those who severely neglect and even abuse children, the most helpless of people. You know, Lauryn and I are just barely starting to get our feet wet in the foster care world, and we’re certainly learning a lot, including about the things that people are capable of. Our foster care trainer when we were going through the requirements to get licensed, she was a believer. She’s a Christian.
She and her husband have fostered over 100 children and have now adopted 15. Let me just tell you: she has more stories than you can imagine, especially stories of what these children went through. Things they most often had no control over; things that just happened to them. And our trainer was teaching us that one of the hardest things, sometimes, is really having as one of your own goals, that of reunification. The goal in foster care is to reunify children with their parents, of course assuming the parents have gone through the necessary steps and prove themselves to be ready to take care of their children. If not, then obviously other routes are pursued.
But after having gotten to know so many bio-parents, parents of children who’ve been removed from their homes due to neglect or abuse, she said something to us that I will never forget. She said, after getting to know so many parents who had made terrible choices that directly scarred the lives of children in often irreversible ways, she said this: “I’ve learned that I’m not all that different from them.”
I know we like to put ourselves into little categories and constantly compare ourselves to others. Perhaps this makes us feel better than other people. The truth is, though, we’re not all that different than everyone else in the world. In particular, as believers, the only thing truly keeping us from depravity is Christ. I’m not saying that we’d all make decisions like these parents that abuse or neglect their children. But I am saying, we were dead; now we’re alive—that’s because of Jesus Christ and his work in saving us. Depraved people will act depraved. And maybe that will show up in a lot of different ways. Saved people don’t act differently because we’re just better…saved people act differently because we’ve been saved. By God’s grace, he placed our sin and shame on his own Son, and placed his righteousness upon us.
We’re not all that different, except for Christ. If anything, I hope that truth humbles us. I hope that truth gives us a desire to treat even the supposed “worst of the worst” as human beings, made in God’s image, who have marred that image differently than we have. And any restoration of God’s image that exists in us over others, is ONLY due to God’s saving work in us, his Grace.
From male to female; from conception to death; from white to black and every shade in between; and from the garden to prison—all people were made in God’s image. They reflect the nature of our God more than any other creature, and because of that, they have value. Their very lives are sacred. And they should matter greatly to us, because they matter greatly to God. Let’s pray.