If you a follower of Jesus, you find identity in being made in the image of God and being adopted as a child of God. This is what makes you special and sets you apart. However, that identity has been stolen from many Christians. Has your identity as a Jesus follower been mistaken or even worse, has your identity been stolen?
This is the second in a series of posts addressing this issue of spiritual identity theft. The last post was an introduction to this problem. This post will define for you half of your identity as a follower of Jesus – being made in God’s image.
Identity + Image
I have vivid memories as a kid and young adult of seeing images (photos and video) of the former Soviet Union. It was a oppressive, washed out and drab world. I’m sure part of it was western propaganda, but it worked. I wanted nothing to do with that world.
One of the images stuck in my head is that of public and private displays of pictures of the former leaders Stalin and Lenin. They hung pictures on the walls, they plastered posters to buildings, and they erected statues in city squares of these Soviet dictators.
I was transported back to these childhood memories as I began to consider what it means to be made in the image of God. As a follower of Jesus, being made in the image of God is half of my identity. In fact, as a human being, it is a large part of your identity. God made all of humanity in His image. So, as I considered this, I thought of the world of Stalin and Lenin.
Made in the Image of God
I love the book of Genesis. I could write or speak on Genesis all day if you would let me. So, let me begin with finding our identity in the beginning of both the bible and of time.
The concept God creating humanity in his image flows from the creation story in Genesis 1. In the narrative, God has made all we know of the universe – the sun, the moon, and the stars, the oceans and seas, dry land, flowers, trees and vegetation, the fish and the birds, and finally the animals roaming the earth. With a word, God created life out of nothing. On the sixth day of creation God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) has this conversation among themselves:
“Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us. They will reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals on the earth, and the small animals that scurry along the ground.” So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” -Genesis 1:26-27 NLT
God created humanity to rule over creation, and God made this special creation in His image. So what does it mean to be made in the image of God?
Is There More to Image?
Search, and you’ll find most theologians believe the image of God means humanity is created with a spirit, mind and soul. Those things make us like God. Humans have the ability to reason. God created us with with a spirit to directly connect with him. We have a soul giving us a full range of emotions. This is all true, but is there more to God making us in his image?
That’s the question that brings me back to my memory of the 70’s and 80’s era Soviet Union. Lenin and Stalin were cruel, but they weren’t stupid. The technique they used in Russia is still used today. I was reading about the recent unrest in Iran concerning the treatment of women in their culture. Amid all the protesting against the government, there have also been counter protests. Women covered head to toe in burkas are walking the streets in support of the government, and as a sign of their support, they held up printed pictures of the Ayatollah Khamenei.
Lenin, Stalin, Khamenei and others all follow the same pattern rulers throughout the ages have used. Before the time of digital or printed images, emperors and kings would erect statues of themselves. They would place these statues to the farthest reaches of their empires.
Why did they do this? Images of these kings reminded everyone who saw them that the land belonged to that ruler. The statue was a reminder that the power and authority the king held in that realm reached even to that place far from the capital city.
Image of God = Remind + Reflect
So what does it mean to be created in the image of God? Yes, we been set apart from the rest of creation with a spirit, mind and soul, but we are also created as a reminder of Who holds true power and authority. We are made to reflect God to the rest of creation. This is part of my identity. I am made to reflect God to creation.
However, my reflection of God’s power and authority is skewed and twisted. We see this only a few chapters later in the Genesis narrative. We are made to reflect God to creation, but the fall of man dulled this reflection. God used the lineage of Abraham in attempt to redeem our dulled image, but it waxed and waned throughout the ages. My brokenness cannot accurately reflect God, in fact, that problem is a better reflection of the world around me than of God. So if you are a follower of Jesus, it means we need one more piece to find true identity (which allows me to be a true image of God).
Next week, we’ll dive into that piece. Remember, as a follower of Jesus your identity is found in being made in the image of God and being adopted as a child of God. You are an heir to all God has!