Sunday, January 21, 2018

[Matt's Messages] "Imago Dei"

“Imago Dei”
Sanctity of Human Life Sunday
January 21, 2018 :: Genesis 1:26-31

We’re going to take a one-week break from our study of the Gospel of Matthew because today is Sanctity of Human Life Sunday, and I’ve felt called for the last couple of weeks to focus specifically on that with today’s message.

Thank you, Karen, for being with us today and sharing with us about the important work of the State College Pregnancy Resource Clinic. We are glad that we’ve been partnering with you for many many years.

The PRC has a motto that they go by: “YOU MATTER.”

And by that, they mean that people matter to them. They care about people both born and pre-born people. People matter to the PRC.

But it’s more than that.

They don’t just mean that people matter to them.

They mean that people matter to God.
That people have intrinsic value.
That people have God-given value and worth.

That there is a sanctity, a sacredness to human life.

Where does that come from?

And what does it mean?

That’s what I want us to think about a little this morning. It’s a big important thing!

And, like most big important things, it starts in the first book of the Bible.

Genesis chapter 1 introduces us to God and to His creation. In highly stylized a wonderful language, Genesis 1 reveals an awesome God Who is indisputably sovereign over His creation. I wish I had time to read the whole thing.

Genesis 1 tells a beautiful story of God’s seven days of designing and implementing His world: Time, Space, Environment, Agriculture, and Animals.

And there’s a pattern to the story:

God spoke, what He wanted happened, He saw that it was good, and a day was over.
God spoke, what He wanted happened, He saw that it was good, and a day was over.
God spoke, what He wanted happened, He saw that it was good, and a day was over.

6 Days of Creation like that and then 1 day of Sovereign Rest.

Today, I just want us to go into the Sixth Day of Creation (vv.26-31) and ponder together (at length) one major concept introduced there.

On this sixth day, God didn’t just say, “Let there be...” and it happened. The pattern breaks. God says, “Let us make...” and then He created.

There is a break in the cycle of repetition as God puts the masterful finishing touch on His masterpiece. This stroke of the Artist’s brush was what all the other 5 days of creating had been leading up to. It’s as if God now gets personal in His creating.

And what He makes

It’s been a while since we learned any fancy Latin terms.

So, I’ve got one for you today!

I don’t know very much Latin, but this is an important one that theologians use all of the time. Ready?

“Imago Dei.”

Imago Dei means the Image of God.

And Genesis 1:26 and 27 says that you and I were made in the image of God.

We were we made in Imago Dei.

Turn to the person next to you and say, “You have the Imago Dei.”

It sounds romantic, doesn’t it? Like some kind of funky perfume!

It sounds funny, but you are really saying something amazing when you say it!

Genesis 1:27. “God created man in his own image [Hebrew: zelem], in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”

I want us to ponder today [looking at this passage and at other passages throughout the Scriptures] the meaning of this phrase, “created in the image of God.”

What is the Imago Dei? And what does it mean for our lives?

Well, to understand what something is, it is often helpful to understand what it is not.

So let’s start there.


When v.26 says, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness,” He is not saying that God had a body with certain physical features that we now have, too.  Arms and legs, and noses and ears and so on...

My favorite theologian, Calvin (and his friend Hobbes), made this mistake in this cartoon.

That’s not what Genesis 1 is saying. Jesus said in John chapter 4 that God is fundamentally Spirit, and therefore the resemblance here in the image of God in humanity is not physical.


It doesn’t say that God made “little gods.” It doesn’t say that we are exact replicas of God, gods in our own right. We are “in the image of God, in His likeness.” We are not exact copies, but we are like Him. It is God-likeness not God-hood itself.

Do you see the difference? It is God-likeness not God-hood. And along with that, it doesn’t mean that we are on our way to becoming gods. God-likeness but not God-hood.

Both of the words used in verse 26–“image” and “likeness”–“refer to something that is similar but not identical to the thing it represents” (Grudem, p. 442).

God didn’t make gods. He made God-reflectors.

Anyone who tells you that you are a god is not a Christian and is not thinking biblically.

In Genesis 5:3 it says that Adam had a son in these same two words, “In his own likeness, in his own image; and he named him Seth.”

And that doesn’t mean that Seth was Adam. Right? It means that Seth was like Adam in some fundamental ways. In the same way, we are not god because we have the imago dei. We are like God. And we were made to reflect God’s glory.

And the third thing it is not, is completely lost.


In the Fall.

In Genesis chapter 3, sin enters the world, and in its wake, the image of God goes through a traumatic transformation.

It becomes deformed, debased, distorted, and defaced.

But, not erased.

Defaced but not erased.  (I get that language from Robert Pyne in his helpful book Humanity and Sin, pg.67.)

The image of God is defaced in fallen humanity, sinners like you and me, but not erased. It is still there. Still active. Still present in humanity. Defaced but not erased.

How do I know this?

- Genesis 9, verse 6 says that we are still in the image of God.
- 1 Corinthians 11:7 says that we are still in the image of God.
- James 3:9 says that we are still made in the likeness of God.

Though “marred, hampered, and reduced” in sinners, the image of God is not completely lost. It is present in each and every human.

From the little baby crying in the pew to the oldest person here today.

The Imago Dei is present.  Defaced but not erased.

Now, from what it is not, we begin to get an idea of exactly what the Image of God actually is. Let me try to put it in positive terms:

Being made in the image of God describes our unique, God-given ability (more than any other of God’s creations) to be like God and to represent God. It describes our many inherent capacities to be like Him and to act like Him.


It is our God-given capacity to be God-like. [Not to be God! But to be LIKE God.]

The Image of God is our capacity to be like God and to represent God.

Now, we are like God in a whole lot of ways:

(The following list is adapted from Grudem's Systematic Theology, pgs. 445-447 and an unpublished sermon by Russell Muilenburg.)

Theologians have noted moral similarities. We have an inner sense of right and wrong that sets us apart from animals. We have a sense of fairness and justice (something like God’s). We don’t always do what is fair and just (or even want it!), but we are able to sense it. No one likes it when their things are stolen. “It’s not right,” we say.

And we are spiritual beings.  One writer says, “There is an ‘invisibility’ about us. We know that when we look in the mirror we are only looking at the surface, we know that the real ‘us’ is inside. Just as God is Spirit, so are we.  This means that we have a spiritual life that enables us to relate to God as persons, to pray and [to] praise Him, and to hear Him speaking His words to us.” (Muilenburg)

The rest of creation doesn’t. It does not matter how intelligent your dog is. You will never see him spend an hour in intercessory prayer for the health or salvation of a friend!

There are also mental likenesses in us with God. “We have an ability to reason and think logically and [to] learn. We can weigh options and wrestle with our conscience. We can think through abstract problems and make plans for the future. We can develop technology and use tools.  Obviously, our knowledge and wisdom will never match the omniscience of God [not even close!], but our ability to think reflects the intelligence of the Creator who made us.” (Muilenburg)

Of course, even as we say these things, we have to acknowledge that sin has tarnished the image of God in us. “We have become very adept at twisting morality and ignoring the spiritual dimension of our lives. We have turned our mental abilities to shameful pursuits. But God's image in us is not erased completely. If you look closely, you can still see glimpses of His likeness. If you look around, every once in a while, you will see the Creator reflected in His people.” (Muilenburg)

We are like God in all these ways and many more. And we are called to represent God.

1 Corinthians 11:7 says that Man is “the image and glory of God.” That means we are supposed to reflect His glory like a little mirror. That’s why I put up all of these mirrors here in the background.

When God painted Adam into the Masterpiece of Genesis 1, He was placing a representative ruler on Earth of the Ruler in Heaven. An Ambassador of Glory!

Think just a little about the God of Genesis 1, and you will be amazed at the humans of Genesis 1:26&27!

Ambassadors of the Almighty God! Miniature Royal Images of the King of Glory.  The small self-portraits of the Sovereign dotted on the landscape of history.

That’s what we were supposed to be! Like God and Representing God on Earth.

However, Genesis 3 happened. We fell into sin. And an ugly black stain streaked across the self-portrait of God.

The little mirrors of God continued to reflect a little of His glory, but they were shattered by the heaved rock of sin.  V.31 says that everything was made “very good.”  But now it wasn’t “very good” any longer. It was depraved.

And everyone here in this room, not only has the Imago Dei, but has a deformed version of it, a defaced version of it. Everyone here is a sinner. Fallen short of reflecting the glory of God like we should.

We were created to be much more than we are!

And that’s some of the saddest news in the world.

But God! But God immediately went on a rescue mission to restore His image in us. It’s called “Redemption.” In Genesis chapter 3, God promised a Redeemer.

And that Redeemer is Jesus Christ.

The Person we’re learning about in the Gospel of Matthew.

Some of the best news in the world is that Jesus Christ is the Image of God that we were supposed to be.

What we (in Adam and every day) messed up, Christ does perfectly.

Just like what we saw last week when Jesus passed the test in the wilderness.

Listen Colossians chapter 1, verse 15, “[Christ] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.”

2 Corinthians 4:4, “ the image of God.”

And if we are in Christ, then we have the image of God again!

That’s the Gospel! That’s the best news in all the world.

Let me give you five points of application this morning.

I know this is a very different kind of a sermon. We don’t normally focus on just one phrase, like “created in the image of God.”

But it’s a really important concept, isn’t it?

Let’s tease out 5 implications of this concept for us today.:


The Bible says, “If anyone is IN CHRIST, they are a NEW CREATION, the old has gone, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

If you are in Christ, then you have the perfect image of God again. His righteousness, His obedience, His glory is credited to your account before God. He is what you were supposed to be. And if you are in Him, God sees you as you should be!

And that is reason to rejoice! That is a reason to sing. Every day!

You know we have a church in our district called, “ikon church.” And that’s because the Greek word for image is “ikon.” They are bringing this out. Whenever they explain the name of their church, they share the gospel.

We were made in the image of God.
That image has become defaced.
But Jesus is the perfect image of God, and if we are in Him, the image is restored.

If that isn’t a reason to rejoice, I don’t know what is.

We Should Rejoice That Christ Is the Perfect Image of God.

Second implication of the Imago Dei.


As we become like Christ.

If you are a Christian, every day of your life, God is working on redeeming you.  He redeemed you at the Cross, and He is redeeming you each day.

Listen to what Paul says is going on in our lives in 2 Corinthians 3:18:

“We [that is, believers]...are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord...”

Theologians call this “Progressive Sanctification.”  God is at work transforming us back into His likeness.

And because Christ is the image of God, He is transforming us into Christ-like-ness.

Romans 8:29. “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son.”

If you are a Christian, God wants to restore God-likeness in you. And He does it bit by bit each day.

And He desires your co-operation. He wants you to give in to His designs for you and your character. For you and heart. For you and your behavior.

He wants to make you like Jesus.  He wants to conform you to Christ.

Are you cooperating?

Listen to Colossians chapter 3, verse 10. As it describes the process of changing from the old you to the new you.

“ have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.”

More like Jesus every day. The image of God restored in us in Christ-like-ness.

We should allow God to restore His image in us as we become like Christ.

What is the Lord trying to do in your life? Is it painful? God has a purpose for that pain. He is conforming you to Christ. Let Him!

Because one day soon, His redeeming work will be done. 1 Corinthians 15 tells us that on Resurrection Day, “Just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven.”  Perfectly.  Without blemish, spot, or wrinkle. 1 John 3:2 says, “We know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.

The “very good” of Genesis 1:31 will be perfectly restored once more. And therefore John goes on to say... “Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as [Christ] is pure.”

We should allow God to restore His image in us as we become like Christ.


God is after our hearts. To make our hearts like His. But that is going to change the way we act. We should more and more act like God, right?

Doing the kinds of things that God does. Imaging Him. Representing Him in the world. Fulfilling, in many ways, our original marching orders.

For Adam and Eve it was Genesis 1:28, “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.”

For us it is Ephesians 5:1, “Be imitators of dearly loved children and live a life of love...”

Imitate God. Do the kinds of things He would do if He were in your situation. In your skin.

What would God do in the situation you are facing right now?

Do that. It might not be fun at first, but it would be right and will yield good fruit.

The Image of God Means That (Right Now) We Should Do What God Does. What we see God doing.


That’s why Karen is with us today from the PRC.

This is why people matter.

Because of the Image of God.

The Image of God in every single person gives them dignity and value.

Each life is precious because God’s image is stamped on each person.

We are inherently valuable because we are made in God’s likeness.

Humans (unborn or born, aged or young, disabled or completely healthy) are valuable.

We are not disposable. We are not just pieces of matter conveniently or inconveniently assembled together into bodies. We are wonderful CREATIONS of a wondrous Creator with His own image indelibly engraved on each of us.

In the Ancient Near Eastern culture in which Genesis was written, other people groups also believed in men being made in “the image of the gods...”

...but only the kings!

The King was seen as a representation (an image) of the God of that people. But only the King!

In Genesis, however, every person has the image of God. Every person is a likeness of the Creator. No matter how tiny. All humans were made to be “royal.”

That’s a reason to value and to protect human life. When a woman has an abortion, she is damaging the “Mona Lisa” of God.

The Image of God in every person means that we should value and protect human life.

And that goes for more than just the littlest humans.

It goes for everybody.

This last week, our nation recognized Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. It’s been 50 years since he was killed.

And our nation has made some major strides in racial harmony over the last 50 years.

But we’re not there yet.

Dr. King’s dream has not yet become a reality.

And it’s easy to point fingers and lay blame to say whose fault that is. There is plenty of fault to go around.

But it’s harder to look inside of ourselves and ask what we’ve been doing to improve things.

Personally, I’ve been doing a lot more reading on racial reconciliation and on compassion and justice. [I recommend Benjamin Watson's recent book Under Our Skin for a readable introduction to the current state of things.] I’m thankful that our upcoming EFCA Theology Conference  is on that subject, and I’m looking forward to learning more and growing in this area.

And doing my part to see true healing between the races. And not just black and white. But also red and brown and yellow.

“Because all are precious in His sight.”

Because all have the image of God.

This is why “people matter.”

We should value and protect and RESPECT other people.

James chapter 3 verse 9 says, “With [our words] we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God's likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be.”

Do you see how that disrespects the image of God?

Do you see how seriously God takes this?

What have you said about others this week?

How have you treated them?

What have you said on Facebook? What kind of words have you used about other human beings also made in the image of God?

The Image of God in every person means that we should value and respect and protect others.


Here is a coin.

One day, a group of Pharisees tried to lay a trap for Jesus. They came to Him with a trick question, hoping to either get His popularity to drain with those who hated the Romans or to get Him in trouble with the Romans.

They asked Him, “Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”

And Jesus loves to answer trick questions with trick questions.

So He said, “Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius, and he asked them, “Whose portrait is this? [Greek Word: EIKON, IMAGE, LIKENESS.]”

They said, “Caesar’s,”

Then he said to them, “Okay. Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”

What is Caesar’s? Well, the money with Caesar’s image on it.

But what is God’s? The people with God’s image on them.

Give yourself to God.

So often, we say, “It’s My Life, I’ll Do With It What I Want!”

But that’s wrong.

It’s His life. And we should give it to Him.

If you have been holding back from God, stop today. Give yourself fully over to Him.

Because He wants to not just own you in creation, but to own you in redemption!

He wants to return you to His image, conforming you to Christ.

Give in today. Turn yourself in to God.

Because you belong to Him!

Know how I know?

You are stamped with His image.