When God created mankind, he proposed to Himself to “make man in our image, after our likeness” (Gen 1:26). In modern Christian language, we’ve attached the term “image bearer” to describe this phenomenon. As I reread this passage, I personally found that term (even though I’ve used it many times in the past) unsatisfying and a bit misleading. To bear something implies a burden that we carry, or at least something external we wear upon ourselves. But this is not what Scripture says. First of all, the process of man’s creation is twofold; his body was made from dust, but his spirit, the spark of life, was made from God’s own breath, filling up our otherwise lifeless bodies from the inside. Genesis 1:27 pronounces that “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (emphasis is my own). You see, God did not make us wearing, carrying, enduring, or bearing his image. He made us in His image. From the inside.
Being created in his image means that the very core of what it means to be human is to hold within oneself the image, the reflection, the likeness of God. Our very being, our very existence is his likeness, and as such we were offered a place and position that was extended to no other created being. God is three in one, a trinity ever moving in love and sacrifice and community within itself. As a likeness of Him, mankind was invited into that beautiful dance of relationship with the God of the universe.
It is only to such a creation, that has such a close relationship with Himself, that He entrusts the care and keeping of his other creations. To the being that He created after His likeness, He gives the commandment to “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Gen 1:28). Our status as caretakers reigning over the earth is founded on the fact that we are to be His reflection and His shadow for all the rest of creation.
Now, when sin entered the world, it was because we chose gaining something for ourselves over relationship with Him. In this ultimate form of pride, we actually rejected the likeness of God within ourselves by rejecting Him. Because of this, our sin wasn't only a sin against God; it was a cosmic distortion of the hierarchy of God's creation wherein He is the sole author and ruler of the world, and we, his chosen creation, reflect him and have dominion over the earth and lesser beasts. We sinned against our own created being. We sinned against the intention of our creation. We stepped out of the ongoing relational dance of the trinity to which we had the privilege of being invited to join, and chose to reflect ourselves instead of reflecting Him.
It is quickly proved that in breaking our relationship with him in this way, our position in the earth, the things we were created for, are also quickly destroyed. When Adam’s son Seth is born, Scripture says that Adam “fathered a son in his own likeness, after his image” (Gen 5:3). By the time of the book of Romans, Paul can create a whole list of the ways we’ve distorted the commands we were given at creation. Instead of ruling over creatures, we “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.” Instead of filling the earth, we were given to the “lusts of [our] hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of [our] bodies.” We “served the creature rather than the Creator.” Our prolific friend Paul goes on to include in this list envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness, gossip, slander, hate, boastfulness, foolishness… and etc. (Rom 1:22-32). His point is that we cannot possibly fulfill our destiny, the destiny given to us at our very inception, when we are denying the very essence of our own being: God’s image in us.
So, what is God's solution to this problem of epic proportions? This cosmic distortion of the intention of our creation? Our sin of pride, of choosing ourselves, of rejecting relationship with Him?
God’s solution is Christ. Who is Christ? God Himself. What does Christ offer? Relationship.
God’s solution is Himself. "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). God takes care of the sin problem Himself, then simply reaches out a hand to invite us back into the holy dance of relationship with Him. Because to everyone who received Christ “he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man” like Adam’s son Seth and all who came after, “but of God” (John 1:12-13).
Through Christ, God made it available to each individual person to have the same choice that Adam and Eve were faced with. We are given the option to choose relationship with Him, or choose ourselves. It is on this choice, and this choice alone, that our destiny hangs. Jesus himself says “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light” (John 3:19, emphasis my own). What He asks is just for us to love Him, the light. To be in relationship with Him once
again. To allow Him to restore us to our place within Himself. In fact, when we, as Christians, speak of being a “new creation,” what we mean is actually that we are returning to our origins. In Colossians, Paul says that this “new self” is “being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator” (3:10). It may sound strange, but it is only in giving up our flesh and choosing Christ that we can become truly human: human as human was intended. For while we remade ourselves in our own likeness, through relationship, Christ restores us to being made in His image, the way we were always meant to be.
In all the dogma, theology, and muddy waters we get into when we think of Christianity, it is only this that is the core and crux of religion, that God’s answer to the problem is always just simply Himself, and that by choosing to know Him, love Him, and dance with Him, we give Him permission to restore us to Himself, and say to us “You are my Son;
today I have begotten you” (Psalm 2:7).