The Image of God, Part 1

PLEASE NOTE: these are the notes I use to preach from, if you would like to hear them in context, please watch our YouTube video.

Genesis 1:26-31

Intro: Last Spring we walked through the book of Amos, that was a really hard book! If you haven’t read through any of the minor prophets they deal with some really weighty and heavy issues that are wildly applicable to our life today. Things like: justice, misplaced/disordered worship, treating fellow image bearers as God has commanded us to. Some of the things that came up in that series were SUPER convicting and I had a number of meetings with people afterwards to talk about some of what I said. I realized that I was making some assumptions about how people were thinking/approaching some important contemporary issues.

-There are always ways in which the Bible will cut through or against some of the ideals we hold most dearly. Part of why we need to meet together every week is to be reminded how we should view and live in the world we find ourselves.

-From last Spring through today I’ve been studying and wrestling through how do we engage and talk about some difficult topics that taking place regularly in our culture? Specifically: why is it so hard for us to talk about racism without canceling each other?

-In order to study this, I applied for a grant from our seminary to be better equipped to understand and engage this very important issue. 

-Through the course of this grant I’ve had a number of conversations with other pastors/theologians who have said racial reconciliation is one of the most important topics for the church to be equipped to speak carefully and intentionally about today, because our world keeps trying to provide solutions to this issue that don’t work.

-This is going to be very hard for us, because so much of our lives are influenced by politics today. But just because it’s hard, doesn’t mean we should shy away from it. I am by no means an expert on this topic, nor do I claim to be a sociologist, I am an amateur historian, but I have devoted my entire life to understanding and applying the Bible, and because of that I am completely convinced that in order to understand how we approach and address the topic of racism, we need to better know what the Bible says AND how that applies to our lives and context today. If you want to be an overachiever, read these 2 books.

-Which means: at the core of this conversation is the doctrine of humanity, or theological anthropology. DEFINE. Anthropology is pretty trendy today to study (how did the last 2 years affect us, how are smartphones affecting us, etc)

-“true knowledge of the human person begins with the relationship between God and humans.” (Cortez, 5)

-John Calvin: “true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.”

-There are 2 aspects to both of these quotes: if you want to grow in knowledge/wisdom, it begins with growing in knowledge of God, before we can grow in awareness or understanding who we are. As I shared last month, we are both Dependent and INTERdependent beings, God alone is Independent. 

-Catchisms often begin with a question: who is God? That communicates something. Who’s first? God. This is why we open our time together each week hearing from God’s Word. This is why we spend so much time reading and studying God’s Word together each week. This is why we sing God’s Word. It’s all centered on God’s Word: our highest source of authority. God’s Word is where we learn who God is, what He’s like, and how we got here!

-In essence, in order to understand humans, we need to make sure we understand God.

-This is going to be a very different sermon series. We studied some of these texts last Fall but I approached them intentionally through a biblical theological lens (tracing the themes through Scripture) this time we’re going to look at the same texts, but look at them through a systematic theology lens. (pick a theme, look at everything the Bible says and put together a systematic description of what the Bible says) 

-Additionally, these sermons will sound different than I typically preach as we’ve got a lot to cover. So the first 2 weeks will be largely information and foundation work to get us to the application of racial reconciliation over the next 3 weeks.

-So in order to understand the racial dynamics going on in our world today, we need to go back to an understanding of what a human is.

-So at the very beginning of this series, here’s what I would ask: listen carefully. Listen to the whole sermon, please don’t take one phrase out of context and run to conclusions with it. I’m also going to be working really hard to carefully define the words I’m using, but each word has specific uses and understandings, and you might be using a different dictionary than me.

-Additionally, we’re going to have a time for some Q&A and further conversation at 9 AM upstairs starting next week. This will give you a week to think through the messages and have room to dialogue further. If you have questions, please plan to come.


  1. What is a human?

-How would you answer that question? There are MANY contemporary discussions related to this issue. Trans-humanism is a modern ethical discussion, what is consciousness has turned into some fascinating sci-fi movies, even theologians get into the debate and have discussion about whether or not we are comprised of 2 or 3 parts (mind, body, soul vs. mind/body) 

-Our culture is even debating this! Are we gendered beings? What about my attractions? What about my desires? Watch this video from 2015 where Bill Gates tries to get at a definition. (social -> passing of knowledge, essentially enlightened animals, assuming the passing of knowledge makes us better and better)

-And who gets to define these things? I’ve talked before about our hyper-individualistic culture today, where each person gets to define their own identity. You can trace these ideas back to the Enlightenment, which (I think) culminated in Frederick Nietzsche (philosopher) saying “God is dead, we have killed Him.” The enlightenment tried to make everything an intellectual pursuit, so the way the Western world has answered this question since then is summarized in another famous philosophical statement from Renes Descartes: I think, therefore I am. Since the 16th Century, the predominant belief has been we are merely thinking beings. All issues require better thinking to tackle, leading to people starting to think they could out-think God. This leads to hyper-individualism because we just have to think. 

-Leads to bodies being evil, leads to treating less intelligent as inferior, it cannot provide the whole answer to what a human is.

-All of us are approaching these topics with some preconceived ideas. Anytime you’re asked a question, you have mental models and ideas that help shape/inform the way you answer the question. 

-Did you know that our minds literally create ruts (like if you’ve seen the remains across the Midwest plains of the wagons going west) that cause your brain to make similar connections repeatedly, saving time & energy? So then we have to intentionally and actively work to knock our brains out of these ruts to pull in new information and distill it in new ways. 

-Additionally, I am becoming increasingly convinced that the primary idol in our world today is comfort. Don’t want to be sick, don’t want to be stretched, don’t want to be challenged, we want all the benefits that come from working through difficulties, but don’t want the difficulties. Yet the difficulties is what God often (probably always) uses to make us more like Him.

-So just as we do with any question in front of us, we need to find out what the Bible says about it. 

-We read Genesis 1 – which the text I read even requires some background. One of the most important things to realize about the Bible is it begins in a specific place for a reason. What is the first thing we learn about God? He is the Creator. 

-The New City Catechism says it this way in question 2: “God is the creator and sustainer of everyone and everything. He is eternal, infinite, and unchangeable in his power and perfection, goodness and glory, wisdom, justice, and truth. Nothing happens except through him and by his will.”

-I’ve been hammering this idea lately for a reason: God being the Creator means He gets to determine how everything is supposed to function together. Essentially if you want to figure out the best way to have flourishing in our world today: obey the Creator, He’s told us how it all fits together. 

-The problem is, and we all feel this, sin has broken even our desire to completely obey our Creator, so we’re not as human as we SHOULD be.

-So humans are: creatures (Gates called us animals). Just as one day God created other creatures, so on the 6th day God created humans as creatures. We’ll get to the differences in just a moment, but let that sink in, the first thing we see is we’re like the rest of creation.

-Next, created in the image of God – we’ll explore that further in a minute.

-Then we see how we’re different from the creation: we’re to have dominion over. I have a friend who loves to talk about how we can disciple people through earth care. (don’t have time to go further on that, if you want to learn more come grab me and I’ll explain that)

-Finally, in addition to reminding that we are in the image of God, we see another important reminder: we are gendered beings. That’s all I’ll say for now, we’ll be looking at THAT issue a little more intentionally in a couple weeks.

  • What does it mean that humans are created “in the image of God”?

-Lots of ink/confusion brought to this issue. This is a very weighty topic that explores some big ideas in systematic theology. Remember: true wisdom relates to understanding God and self. We won’t get true knowledge without growing in knowing who both God is, and we are.

-This means we are both like and represent God.

-Represent is what I’ve shared before: that images of rulers were sent throughout kingdoms to remind people who was in charge. So in this case we’re meant to show people that God is our King.

-But how are we like God? 2 legs, 2 arms, etc? Thinking? Emotional? Relational? 

-Yes. All of the above! It is a multifaceted idea, has all sorts of implications.

-Same idea comes up again in Gen. 5:3. This gets to the idea that being created in the image of God means we are His children.

-Frankly, I’m still working to wrap my mind around this topic and keep getting blown away by all the crazy implications of this for our lives. So the best way I’ve come to define this topic can be written as a math problem: human = image of God. If you are a human, you are created in the image of God because as soon as you start defining beyond that you start to leave people out. Ridiculous: 2 legs so if I get cancer and they cut off a leg I’m no longer a human. Thinking: what about someone who is intellectually handicapped, are they any less in the image of God?

-I hope you know what happens in Gen. 3, the Fall, so the image today is distorted. Paul in 1 Cor. 13, we see in a mirror dimly.

-The true/full image will be complete when Jesus returns, so until then people will better/more poorly reflect the image of God, but it’s still there. This is the foundation for treating every human being with dignity, honor, and respect, regardless of any issue (age, intelligence, strength, height, wealth)

Marc Cortez: “God manifesting his personal presence in creation through his covenantal relationships with human persons, whom he has constituted as personal beings to serve as his representatives in creation and to whom he remains faithful despite their sinful rejection of him.”

-Part of the goal of humanity is to help subdue the earth so the whole world is a temple dedicated to the worship and glory of the creator God. That’s where we saw last month that we are now Jesus’ body! 

-Covenantal relationships. God is a covenant making God. God covenants with Adam, Noah, Abraham, David, then promises a new covenant in Jer. 31 that we now live in today.

-“He has constituted.” That’s the Creator idea that is so vital to this whole conversation

-We’ve already talked about the representative part (we’ll look even further in a minute)

-God’s faithfulness. This past week at the EFCA Theology Conference, Micah and I got to lead some music for it, and there was a session where we read through Psalm 136 as a call and response. You have half of it memorized: for his steadfast love endures forever, repeated 26 times. Time 10, I was like “OK, I get it.” And then it hit me at about time 16: this Psalm is walking through the history of Israel, and reminding them that every step of the way: his steadfast love endures forever. If anyone ever complains about new songs being too repetitive, remind them that God was the one that invented that. And this love/grace toward us is toward both the saved and unsaved (doctrine of common grace)

  • What does that look like?

-Structural, functional, relational.

-Structural is what we’ve just been looking at. We can’t help but be created in the image of God. It’s stamped on every single one of us from the moment of conception. 

-Functional. This is related to the representative nature. How do we represent God on earth?

-Prophet, priest, king (John Frame – Systematic Theology)

-This description is often used to summarize Jesus’ ministry, and all 3 roles in the OT were vital to the flourishing of God’s people. Prophets spoke God’s Words to his people reminding them to obey Him, priests acted as mediators between God and humans to help address the relational divide, kings ruled in a way that allowed the people to more faithfully follow God on earth. We now, as Jesus’ body, have the same job/goal.

-Prophet (Authority)

-One primary aspect to this is to speak prophetically to the world around us. When I use that word I’m not using in the sense that I fear many Christians use it today for either end times theology, or telling someone the future. I was asked about this when I candidate: 2 parts to prophecy: foretelling and forthtelling. I’m talking about forthtelling, this is the kind of authority we’ve been given by God.

-This connects to being Word people. We can speak prophetically (forthtelling) into the world because we know that’s not the way humans are to live.

-This also connects to subduing the earth and fulfilling it. Remember back to our study in Genesis, God’s task to Adam and Eve (and thus us) was to spread throughout the earth, extending the borders of Eden until it covered the Earth.

-Priest (Presence)

-The co-reigning we do with God isn’t meant to be rule from afar – we’re to go everywhere using every opportunity to point people to God. And the way we can do that is by filling the earth and subduing it. This is getting to what we talked about last week, worshipping God as a living sacrifice. 

-We are meant to spur one another on toward love and good works, we’re to confess our sins to each other, we are the priesthood of believers, and we need each other.

-King (Control)

-Have dominion over. There’s a kingly rule, serving under the King of kings to care for the rest of the creation (at least days 3-6). Our job is to create a place in which the worship of God is happening.

-This means fostering places and spaces that are conducive to fix our eyes/gaze on Jesus. 

-Relational this will be the topic of next week’s message because I think it’s that important!

-Summary: We are called into a relationship (relational) that entails a role (functional) that we are uniquely designed (structural) to do.

-Begins with God calling. All of this centers around God, we always need to be growing in understanding of who He is.

– I realize this was a LOT of content today, and potentially some new words for you. So what things do I want you walking away with today?

-First is: isn’t God amazing? He’s created us as these unique, one of a kind creatures who are tasked to join with Him in bringing order to the world. Who could come up with this intricacy? God!

-Second: Are you doing what you can to join with God and His people in filling/subduing the earth with God’s glory? 

-Third: because of the realities we saw today, in what ways do you need to grow in your treating other image bearers as true image bearers instead of using the world’s standards or measurements of what it means to be a human? What we studied today is just the tip of the iceberg in an ocean of knowledge that gets to this unique interchange God has commanded us to pursue. 

-Fourth, finally: the goal for all of us to daily become more like the most human person who ever lived: Jesus. He is the perfect model of what humanity is supposed to look like, and He alone has provided the only way that we can grow in our true humanity, beginning with growing in our understanding of who God is. This is an eternal pursuit, but the best part is we get to do it together, in the context of community! 

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