Re-Imaging Our Personal Identity

A friend of mine once quipped that when we tell people we are ‘fine,’ we are really saying in code that we are Freaked Out, Insecure, Neurotic, and Emotional (F. I. N. E.). I think he has a point, as ‘fine’ is so often used to cover up deep-seated insecurities and hurt.

Sad as it may be, this is the human condition. We are masters of making fig-leaf coverings. We have lost our original covering of righteousness, and deep down we all know that something is not quite right.

On biblical terms: We are made to bear the image of God’s glory, but in our sin we have fallen short. Therefore, we need restoration to be who God made us to be. In other words, we need to be remade in the image of God. Praise be to God that this is what the gospel of Jesus Christ accomplishes. Consider just a few verses.

1 Corinthians 11:7. For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man.

Romans 8:29. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.

1 Corinthians 15:49. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.

Colossians 1:15. He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.

Colossians 3:9-10. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.

In 1 Corinthians 11, we see that man is made in God’s image. By extension, woman is too. This is God’s design. Because of sin, we fell short of this calling, but in God’s eternal decrees, he predestined a people to be conformed into his image. This is the goal of salvation—our new creation into the image of God. 1 Corinthians 15 speaks of this eschatological reality; we will one day be resurrected and become just like the man of heaven. Until that day, we must each day put off the old self and put on the new self, such that we are being renewed to be like God himself. In other words, Colossians 3 says that through gospel knowledge we are being renewed.  Or to say it differently, by beholding in love the true image of God (Col 1:15), we are becoming like him. As we let go of our old patterns of life and adopt his life, we become like him.

Long story short, the image of God is vital for each of us, because we need to find our identity in the God who made us. This truth has a myriad of applications, but let me suggest four ways that the image of God recalibrates our personal identity.

First, it dignifies the depressed.  

For those who are critical of themselves and who have been belittled by the world, the truth that every person is made in God’s image gives the depressed a new way of looking at themselves. Instead of meditating on their weaknesses, it calls attention to their special creation and relationship with God. In truth, there is no greater calling then to bear the image of God, and thus the image of God dignifies the depressed.

Second, it humbles the haughty. 

Because men are prideful by nature, the fact that we are made in the image of another keeps us from thinking too highly of ourselves. It humbles us by reminding us that we are nothing apart from God (cf. John 15:5). We are mirrors of his glory, and if God removed himself from our lives, non-existence would be our fate.  God does not do that, but in our sin, we leave our existential and ethical source.  Therefore, the moment we stop looking to him: our design destructs; our image collapses. Apart from God, we are nothing. Therefore, the image of God humbles the haughty.

Third, it motivates the lazy. 

To image God is a work. We are not lifeless statues; we are commanded to image. Imaging is a noun and a verb. Therefore, the truth of how God has made us impresses upon us the need to work in a way that glorifies him. In Genesis 1, God created Adam and Eve in his image, and immediately gives him the task of ruling the earth, being fruitful and multiplying.  In the same day, he called the man to cultivate and work the earth (2:15) and to name the animals (2:19).  Therefore, imaging God is not a static reality; it is a dynamic vocation. It is, in fact, the primary vocation of every person.  Therefore, for those who lack purpose, being an image-beater—with its accompanying commands of ruling, being fruitful, cultivating, and naming—gives each of us a new sense of significance, duty, and joy. God has created us for a purpose, and when we realize that it motivates us to forsake sloth and pursue the glory of God. 

Last, it refreshes the weary.

The call to image God is more than we can do. Therefore, our human vocation of imaging calls us back to God.  In this way, being an image-bearer is both a task and a gift. In creation, God created the Sabbath (Gen 2:1-3), so that his children would enjoy a time of rest with their Heavenly Father. In the Fall, God cursed the ground and made work hard. This toil should make mankind search for rest in God; sadly, those on the broad path kill themselves by depleting their resources in the process of doing some work.  They suppose that in them, they can make something of themselves. But this is fundamentally mistaken.

The gospel calls us to find rest again in God, and the reality of being made in God’s image tells us that we do not have the resources to be or do what God wants us to do. We must look to him, to regain our glory. In Christ, God renews our image, and refreshes us who are tempted ceaselessly work at maintaining and improving their image.

In the end, there is no better news than that we are made in the image of God and that in Christ God is renewing our image through a gracious knowledge of him.

Today, may we look to God through the perfect image of the Son, that we might be like him—moving from one degree of glory to another.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

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  1. Pingback: The Image of God and Public Theology | Via Emmaus

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