In Genesis chapter one, the creation of man and woman is at the apex of God’s creative work. Verses 26-29 read,
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.
And God blessed them. And God said to them, “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.” (ESV)
All human beings are made in God’s image. And since the rest of creation is not referred to as being made in God’s image, humans have an inherent, higher, worth and dignity than the rest of living beings. What does being “made in God’s image” mean? For starters, humans are unique among living beings because they have a God-given capacity for reason, intelligence, morality, emotion, creativity, and spirituality.
As a result of sin entering the world–what is referred to as “the fall”, or “humanity’s fall into sin”–the image of God in humanity has been marred and corrupted, but it has not been completely obliterated. The self-evident truth that each person is made in God’s image is the main reason we have laws protecting individuals and penalties for treating people in inhumane ways. In general, our society has continued a Judeo-Christian ethic by taking steps to recognize the inherent dignity of the individual person.
At the same time, however, the way our culture answers the question, “What does it mean to be a human being?” has little to do with being made in God’s image. When the concept of a personal, transcendent, creator-God is dismissed, the reverse happens: human beings will make God in their own image. In our postmodern context, the self-realization of the individual, or autonomous, individual expressivism-viewed as an evolutionary process-has become humanity’s God. Here are several basic ways in which humanity, that is, “the modern self”, has defied God and continues to rebel against the truth of being made in God’s image:
1. Ignoring basic biology and erasing gender distinctions to suit one’s desires. In a 2017 position statement, titled “Gender Ideology Harms Children”, the American College of Pediatrics stated, “Human sexuality is an objective, biological, binary trait: “XY” and “XX” are genetic markers of male and female respectively-not genetic markers of a disorder.” A person’s biological sex is an objective trait, despite how a person may identify their own gender or seek to alter their gender. In the same paper, the American College of Pediatrics reported that “According to the DSM-V [Diagnostic Manual used by Psychiatrists and Psychologists], 98% of gender confused boys and 88% of gender confused girls eventually accept their biological sex after naturally passing through puberty.” By elevating alternative gender-identities over biological sex, modern man continues to distort the image of God in humanity and in the individual.
The image of God in mankind is beautifully displayed in the following way: the two sexes, male and female, are each unique and complementary. Together they are designed to be a one-flesh union in marriage, are able to reproduce, and each person is a “helper suitable” for the other. As pastor Alistair Begg put it, men and women are “Different by Design” and that is the way God intended it to be. In Ephesians chapter 5, the Scripture tells us that marriage between a man and a woman is a picture of the mystery of Christ and the Church.
2. The worship of sexual freedom and pleasure. In Romans chapter one, the Scriptures go into detail about the arrogance of mankind’s sin against God and its consequences:
For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. (v. 26-27)
Let’s be clear, a husband who has an adulterous affair with another woman is just as sinful as a man who practices homosexuality or a woman who is a practicing lesbian. But the emphasis in Romans chapter one, which declares how the wrath of God is being revealed against all unrighteousness, is on the arrogance of mankind—not only his arrogance to commit sexual sin–but his arrogance in going against the creator, against natural law, in open defiance. Our culture is blind to the truth that a person can be completely emotionally and spiritually fulfilled without ever being sexually active. Therefore, one way Christians can be a counter-cultural witness is by expressing our highest, personal fulfillment and joy in Christ–above all other worldly pleasures.
3. The de-valuing of human life. Once society begins to separate sexual activity from procreation within God’s design of marriage, human life becomes more disposable. On the popular sitcom of the 1990’s “Friends”, there was plenty of sexual activity in each episode (or overtly implied sexual activity), however, very rarely was the sexual activity of young adults within the healthy design of one man-one woman marriage and child-rearing. The Bible says that we are fearfully and wonderfully made, knit together in our mother’s womb (Psalm 139). When Elizabeth saw Mary, the baby leaped in her womb, indicating that God knows children from the moment of conception. God says to Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you.” Sadly, our society puts the insistence and exercise of women’s “rights” above the dignity and worth of those created in the image of God from the moment of conception.
Yet in a strange way, these days hold much opportunity for Christian witness. In each of the examples above, people coming from a non-Christian or secular viewpoint are often expressing the “image of God” as individuals or as groups: that is, people are yearning for their inherent dignity and worth as created beings to be recognized (even though their expressions and assertions are often hostile). For example:
a) The person experiencing gender dysphoria and pursuing hormone treatments is possibly- under the surface- yearning to be loved and valued. He or she desires to have someone listen to their story without judgment or a suspicious glare. That person has probably never spent time with a Christian long enough to see what genuine, loyal, sacrificial friendship looks like.
b) Someone practicing a homosexual or lesbian lifestyle may have already written Christians off as hateful and bigoted. Yet underneath that person’s strident opposition to Christians, there lies a heart crying out, “I need to prove myself, that I am worth something. I need to be recognized for who I am.” Perhaps this attitude is an open door to tell the person about the Savior who welcomes people who cannot “prove themselves worthy”?
c) A woman who faces a decision about abortion is in a heart-wrenching situation. No matter how she ended up in that situation, questions she may be asking deep, down inside are: “Who can I trust now? Am I going to be all right after this? Will my family still love me and not reject me?” These are questions of someone who yearns to be recognized as a unique person made in God’s image, and yearns to know that someone is willing to walk alongside her day by day.
Even as our society drifts further away from biblical morality (which is maddening!), as Christ followers we have the opportunity to show empathy, compassion, and truth as we interact with people one on one. May we be people of grace, love, and truth. Let’s remind ourselves that difficult social and political issues cannot be simplified with a tweet or Instagram post. Let us love people, listen to their stories, and follow the leading of our Lord Jesus Christ.