Thank you all for coming to our young adult worship service again. It’s been more than a week since the new year started. At the beginning of a new year, we normally make resolutions to do something positive and productive. And as Christians, we might decide to try to grow closer to God.
It’s a good idea. It’s important to restore what has fallen apart, especially in our relationship with God. But what has fallen apart? What does God really want us to restore as His people? When I thought about this subject, there was a theme that came to my mind. That’s the image of God.
The Bible starts with the statement that God created the whole world with His word. After that, God created human beings in His own image. That’s one thing that explains who we are. We are created in the image of God.
However, there are also verses about recovering the image of God. Paul said in Romans 8:29-30,
“For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.” (Rm 8:29-30)
Here, we find 5 steps of God’s salvation. God foreknew, predestined, called, justified, and glorified us. And we find the purpose of God’s salvation—it is to conform us to the image of his Son.
God’s will for us is to make us like His Son—Jesus Christ. That’s the image that God wants to restore in us. So salvation isn’t only about being forgiven or going to heaven, but about being transformed to be like the Son of God in everything we do.
Colossians 3:9-10 explains who we became in Christ.
“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.” (Col 3:9-10)
Paul said that we took off our old selves and have put on the new selves. The old self refers to who we were without Jesus and the new self refers to our renewed selves in Christ. And the renewed self must reflect the image of God.
Paul also said that the last step in our salvation is to be transformed into the image of the Lord.
“And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2Co 3:18)
So the image of God, or the image of the Son of God, is what we were created in, what we should restore, and what we will be fully transformed into. You could even say that recovering the image of God is the reason God sent His Son to us.
I think, therefore, that restoring the image of God must be the goal of every believer of Christ. As Christians who were forgiven and saved by the precious blood of Jesus Christ, we must make every effort to be conformed to His good image by reflecting who He is in our everyday lives.
The fact that we must recover the image of God implies that we’ve lost it. In the Bible, we see three different types of humanity—created humanity, fallen humanity, and new humanity in Christ.
Even though human beings were created in God’s image, we lost it when the first man disobeyed God and sin entered the world through him. The great fall came to all human beings. They lost the image of God and began to fill their lives with their own images. But God sent His Son, Jesus, to break the barrier between Him and us and therefore restore His image in us through His Son.
That’s the story of the Bible. The Bible is filled with stories of how God reached out to His people who had abandoned Him and continued to show them His unconditional love and grace regardless of whether they understood it or not.
Again, God’s purpose is to make us new creations in Christ that are conformed to His image, and He will never stop until He accomplishes what He desires for us. And when the set time comes, we all will be fully transformed into His image that we were created in.
The Image of God
So, as Christians, it’s very important to understand what the image of God is.
I think human beings are the most mysterious and interesting creatures. We are rational and irrational. We are capable of deep friendship but at the same time we can be murderous. We love and hate people. We are selfless and selfish.
Throughout human history, there have been great leaders who sacrificed themselves for others, but at the same time we’ve seen many notorious leaders who committed genocide.
The Bible expresses the mystery of the good and evil within human beings through three declarations: we are created in the image of God; we are sinners who distort the image; and we are forgiven sinners who begin a new life in faith.
So, depending on how much we recognize and restore the image of God in ourselves, our lives can be very different. If we try to be conformed to the image of Jesus by remaining in Him, we’ll naturally bear good fruit. But if we intentionally deny Jesus and live in darkness without God, it’s clear what kind of fruit we will bear.
I think that’s why human beings have the capacity to do good like God yet at the same time do evil like Satan. So, recognizing the image of God is a very important matter that’s closely related to how we live in the world.
Then, what does it mean that human beings are created in the image of God?
God said in Genesis 1,
“Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” (Gn 1:26-27)
Here, the phrase “the image of God” has been interpreted in a number of different ways throughout the history of Christian theology.
1) Physical Resemblance
Some have interpreted the phrase to mean that human beings have a ‘physical’ resemblance to God, which means that God also has a physical form like us. This opinion isn’t really supported by the rest of the Bible.
2) Human Reason
The dominant Western interpretation has been that “the image of God” refers to the rational nature of human beings. It says that the exercise of human reason is a reflection of divine reason.
It is true that one of the most distinctive qualities that differentiates human beings from other creatures is that human beings can use reason. However, even though human reason reflects one of God’s attributes, I don’t think it’s enough to explain the image of God.
3) Authority to Dominate
Another interpretation of God’s image focuses on the fact that God gave humans authority to rule over all the creatures that He had created. In this point of view, the image of God refers to humanity’s right to dominate. It says that humanity resembles God in its exercise of power and dominion over other creatures.
Sadly, this interpretation has often been used to legitimize the reckless exploitation of nature. It is true that God gave human beings the authority to rule over other creatures.
But the authority entrusted to humanity must involve respect, protection, and care for others rather than domination and exploitation.
4) Human Freedom
Still other interpretations have emphasized human freedom as the meaning of the image of God. They say that the free creative activities of human beings reflect the free creativity of God.
However, even though freedom is undeniably important, this interpretation has serious limitations, especially as the cultural idea of freedom has become associated with being disengaged or independent from others.
So, I’ve briefly introduced some interpretations of the image of God that have been suggested throughout the history of Christian theology. Some say it refers to the physical image of God, others say it refers to human reason or the authority to rule over other creatures, and still others believe that the image of God refers to human freedom.
The Image of God: Ability to Have Proper Relationships
Each of the interpretations has its own merits, and I agree with all of them to some degree, but the interpretation that I really agree with is that the image of God describes human life as being in relationships with God and with other creatures. Here, the important point of God’s image is the ability to have relationships with God and others.
In the first story of creation in Genesis, God didn’t say, “I will make mankind in my image, in my likeness,” but He said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness” (Gen 1:26), which reflects how God lives not in solitude but in communion with Himself.
Moreover, in the next verse, the statement “God created mankind in his own image” is followed by “male and female he created them.” (Gen 1:27), which implies that God created human beings to have relationships with one another from the beginning.
Just as the triune God—God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit—have a deep and intimate relationship with one another in mutual respect and love, we were created to have a relationship with God, with others, and with every creature in the world.
Therefore, to be human is to live in relationships of mutual respect and love through the image of God within us. The image of God is not like an image permanently stamped on a coin. It is more like an image reflected in a mirror. That is to say, human beings are created for life in relationships that reflect God and His relationships.
Just as our Lord Jesus Christ lived with and for sinners, and just as the eternal life of the triune God is rooted in mutual respect and love, we were created to reflect the triune God’s relationships through our own relationships.
And we see the best example of how to live out our relationships with others in Jesus’ life. Jesus Christ is the fullest expression of what God intends humanity to be. As Paul said, “Christ is the image of God” (2 Co 4:4), and “The son is the image of the invisible God.” (Col 1:15)
So, being conformed to the image of the Son of God is no different from recovering the image of God. Therefore, the lifestyle we see in Jesus Christ must be the model of what it means for us to be genuinely human.
As human beings, created in God’s image, we must learn to respond to God in our relationship with Him. We are created for fellowship with God.
God values relationships, and He calls us to live in a loving relationship with Him. God gives us life, calls us, and creates a covenant with us. And God wants our willing response.
This essential element of human life in relation to God is seen most clearly in Jesus’ life. Jesus was fully responsive to God and the needs of others. His whole ministry was defined by total trust in and obedience to the One He called Father and to the Spirit who empowered Him for His ministry.
So, in light of the humanity of Jesus, it becomes clear that being truly human means living in response to God. God calls us out of isolation and into a life of relationship. What He wants from us is not a mere mechanical reflex, but a personal, glad response.
And, as human beings created in the image of God, we’re to learn how to have relationships with others as well. Studies about human beings emphasize that human existence is essentially communal, not individualistic. We can’t live alone. From the first time we came to exist in the world, we have all had relationships with others. We had to learn to trust others even before we took a single step on our own. So being truly human and living with others are inseparable. Again, that’s the reason God created human beings as male and female in His image, not as solitary beings.
So, because we’re created by God, we are essentially relational and social beings. We’re created for life in community with others. And the life of Jesus is the best example of how we live with others, especially with those who are poor, rejected, and marginalized. Therefore, to live as human beings in God’s image is to treat others the way Jesus would see them and reach out to them.
Today, we talked about the image of God that we were created in which we should recover in Christ, and that we will be fully transformed into on the last day.
We talked about the role of relationships in the image of God. As the triune God lives in mutual love and respect, we’re to live in a proper relationship with God, with others, and with God’s other creatures.
This interpretation of the image of God is based on a Christocentric and trinitarian understanding of God, which are essential to Christian faith.
To say that God is triune is to say that our lives must be built upon our relationships with God and others. The triune God’s love must be the source and power in our relationships with others. That’s how we can reflect who God is to those around us.
I hope and pray that our lives can be firmly built on the truth of who God is and who we are in Him so that His good image, love, and power will be revealed through our lives. Let’s pray.
Heavenly Father, thank You for giving us this new year and letting us worship You and listen to Your word together.
We want to restore Your image in us. We want to continue to be conformed to the image of Your Son day by day. Please open our minds and hearts and reveal to us who You are and who we are in You so that we can continue to live out our faith in our relationship with You and with others.
We want to reflect who You are in our lives. We are so weak that we often fail to reflect Your image. But we profess that true power is not within us but in You. Please pour out Your love, compassion, and power so that we can show how great Your love is through our lives to those around us.
We pray that only Your name be lifted up and glorified through our lives.
We thank You Lord. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Today, we talked about the image of God. And here are the questions that I want us to think about today.
1) What do you think the image of God means? What aspects of the image of God do you want to recover this year? What are some practical ways to do so?
2) To recover the image of God is to be conformed to the image of His Son. Jesus’ life showed us what the perfect human being looks like. What area of your life do you think is least in line with Jesus’ life? What do you most want to change to take after Jesus this year?