Created to be God's Image Bearer
In the first book of the Bible, Genesis 1:26 we read, “Then God said, let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness,” and in verse 27 it says, “God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female, He created them.” We know from the first verse and from others in the Bible that God is three persons in one: God the Father, God the Son (who is Jesus), and God the Holy Spirit. We call that the Trinity. So when God said let Us make man in Our image and likeness, He meant that He created us to be three dimensional beings like Himself — body, soul, and spirit. This is what separates us from the animals, but these verses and others also say that we were created to be like God in character — to be His image bearers. What does that mean? What is God like exactly? A thorough read of the Gospels (particularly John) will reveal that Jesus and the Father are one in the same. There is a verse in Ephesians that calls us to be followers and imitators of God. How do we do that? Is it even possible?
Well…the Bible goes on for another 65 books, telling us all about who God is, what He is like, why He created us, who Jesus is, and how we’re supposed to live like Him. Let’s look at a few of those verses.
Deuteronomy 6:5 says, You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your might, and these words which I command you today shall be in your heart; you shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. You shall set them before your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates (paraphrased).
This verse is often memorized and quoted, and sometimes even displayed on a wall, but do we actually live it? I took this verse seriously when I was a new believer and young mom. I taught my son, Zach, to read and write from the Bible, which is truly my greatest accomplishment. The result of those seeds being sewn is evident in Zach’s life. Glory to God! However, I have failed miserably to live according to this command, and I have repented to God for misrepresenting Him. What is amazing is how much God has lavished His love on me in spite of my wretchedness. Because of His amazing love, I am compelled to keep this command in the forefront of my mind to remind me of my calling to be His image bearer. I’ve studied this command, and when it says “all”, it means all our heart, all our mind, all our soul, and all our strength should be focused first and foremost on God before anyone or anything else. Easier said than done, but it is possible in Jesus.
In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus calls us and instructs us to follow Him, to shine His light in the world, to be reconciled to one another, to love our enemies, to forgive one another, not to worry about anything, not to condemn one another, to look first at our own faults and get right with God before we look at other people's faults, to treat others the way we want to be treated, to understand that not everyone who says to Jesus, “Lord, Lord” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only those who do the will of the Father will be in heaven. This should cause us to pause and reflect, to check our heart daily with the Lord. How are we doing?
Jesus goes on to say in Matthew 11:28-30, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”
This is our invitation to get rid of all the stuff that’s weighing us down and stealing our joy, to cast all of our cares, worries, anxiety and hurt on to Jesus, and allow Him to take it. In doing so, we get His peace that passes understanding in all of our circumstances, and find rest for our weary souls. But this only happens when we come to Jesus (turning away from our ways and turning to Him), take His yoke (give up control and allow Him to rule and reign in our lives), and learn from Him, learn to trust Him, and learn how to be gentle and lowly in heart like Him. Then and only then, we will find rest for our souls and peace in our relationships.
In the gospel of Luke 9:23, Jesus says, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.”
Think about how Jesus lived, His character, the manner in which He treated people, how He loved the unloveable, touched the untouchables. He loved everyone the same, no matter how low their station in life, or how badly they had messed up. The only people He didn’t get along well with were the religious hypocrites. Who do we relate to and act like the most?
The command in Deuteronomy 6:5 is repeated in Matthew 22:37-40 and Luke 10:27. In both instances Jesus is being questioned. In Matthew, the question was posed by a lawyer who asked, “What is the greatest commandment in the law?” To which Jesus answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” In Luke, another lawyer asks Jesus, “what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus asked him a question back — “What is written in the law, what is your reading of it?” The man answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus said to him and to us, ”Do this and you will live.”
Jesus said, do this and we will live. Could that mean if we don’t do it we will die? Perhaps not physically die, but I think it’s safe to say if we don’t love the way Jesus does, our spirit will certainly wither and die, as well as all of our relationships. I have seen evidence of this in my life. How about you? How are your relationships?
Luke 23:34 records Jesus’s last words before He died on the cross for our sins. He said to those who persecuted Him, tortured Him, mocked Him, and cried out for His death, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they do.” Jesus calls us to follow Him and His example. That’s a tall order. Isn’t it? And it’s impossible in our own strength. But all things are possible with God when we fix our eyes on Jesus.
In the gospel of John 13:34, Jesus says, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” How did Jesus love us? Romans 5:8 says, “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Jesus goes on to say in John 15:12-13, “This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.”
This tells me that we love others by dying to ourselves, killing our pride, giving up our selfish desires, hurt feelings, our “right position,” and treating each other the way Jesus does — with kindness, gentleness, patience, forgiveness, and looking out for their interests above our own. Notice it never says Jesus waited for an apology before He forgave and lovingly accepted us. Nor should we.
The apostle Paul instructs us in Ephesians 4 to put off the old man and to put on the new man. The old man is our old sinful ways of thinking and doing. The new man is the new creation in Christ we have become, with His Spirit (who gives us the ability to be like Christ) dwelling in us. Verses 23-32 tell us to stop lying, speak truth, don’t sin in our anger, let no corrupt communication proceed out of our mouths, but what is good for building up one another and imparting grace. It goes on to say, let all bitterness, wrath, anger, loud quarreling, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. It ends beautifully with this, “Be kind to one another, tender hearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ Jesus also forgave you.” And in Ephesians 5:1-2 it says, “Be followers (some versions say be imitators) of God as dear children. And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God.”
Wow. I don’t know about you, but I fail miserably to be a proper image bearer of God. But God in His grace redeems, restores, and renews. When we come to the end of ourselves and surrender to Jesus, in humility acknowledging our sin and shortcomings, He loves, accepts, and forgives us unconditionally, and then calls us to do the same for others. That’s what I want to do. So I keep pressing on.
Last but certainly not least (in fact it’s probably the most powerful and compelling of all the verses about being God’s image bearer), 1 John 4:7-21 says, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God, and everyone who loves is born of God, and knows God. He who does not love, does not know God, for God is love. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. If someone says, ‘I love God’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also.” Then, 1 John 5:2-3 sums it up — “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome.”
As I said, this is how I want to be, but I’m reminded every time I fail that I can’t love unconditionally like Jesus in my own strength. We can’t muster this kind of love, because God is love, so it can only come from Him through us as we abide in Christ. It happens when we are surrendered to Christ. When we realize our own depravity, and how badly we need Jesus to save us from ourselves. When we are truly born again, born of the Spirit of God, and wake up profoundly grateful for God’s mercies that are new every morning, we become compelled to live as He designed us — as His image bearers, His expression and reflection of love. As we are converted, we begin to say, "not my will, but Your will be done.” Like Jesus said, it takes picking up our cross daily and dying to ourselves. It’s not easy, and it’s painful sometimes, but it is well worth it.
The Bible teaches us from Genesis to Revelation the character of God and the calling He has put on our life to be His image bearer to everyone, everywhere. God is forgiving and merciful. As His image bearers, we are to be forgiving and merciful to everyone, in the family, in the community, and in the workplace. But this truth won’t be realized or transform us if we don’t know God’s word. The Bible is God’s love letter to us, and it is our life manual to help us know Jesus as Lord and Savior, and to live as God’s image bearers. Knowledge of the Bible is essential to our well being. We are called to a relationship with Jesus, not to a religion or denomination. Our relationship with Jesus is cultivated through reading the Bible, prayer, and fellowship with other believers, not by just attending church on Sunday, or being a member of a particular denomination. There’s a difference, a huge one, possibly the difference between life and death. Too often people think that if they just go to church, then they are okay with God. Some get caught up in religious activities, checking the boxes of religious and denominational do’s and don’ts, and think that satisfies God, but they’re not reading the Bible, and they're in contention with people constantly. Religion doesn’t save us, or transform us, or make us right with God, or make us loving, only Jesus does.
We are forgiven. We are free. Let’s live this way
If we dare call ourselves Christian, then we ought to act like it, or we should remove that label from our identity. It doesn’t matter what we have done, or what someone has done to us, we have no right to hang on to hurt. No one has been wronged or hurt more than Jesus. My earnest prayer and request is that we each look into the mirror and ask God and ourselves: Am I bearing God’s image? Am I following Jesus and imitating Him? Not am I obeying the rules of the church, or the priest, or the pastor? But am I obeying God’s word, loving the Lord my God with all my heart, soul, strength, and mind, and loving others as Christ did, by dying to my way and esteeming others higher than myself?
I dream of reconciliation. Some think it’s not possible. Some say hearts are too hard. I’m a big dreamer though, and a big believer that all things are possible when we fix our eyes on Jesus. My dream, my prayer, is that we purpose in our hearts to be God’s image bearers to one another, and to the world. May we live in light of the forgiveness and freedom that Christ won for us. God saved us and set us free to live for Him, and He gave us an example to follow — Jesus. He is our standard to measure ourselves by, not anyone else. Let us seek Him and His righteousness, and love each other the way He does (unconditionally, gently, mercifully, patiently), forgiving each other just as God in Christ forgave us. Let us strive for peace with each other rather than strive against each other. How do we do this? We go first. We don’t wait for someone else to go first, or wait for an apology. We go first, just like Jesus did. We each take that first step toward one another in pursuing peace and reconciliation. Forgive and put the past behind, focus on the way of Jesus, and love and accept each other with all of our imperfections, because we’re not perfect either, and move forward showing the world how much we love God by loving one another, for loves sake.