The Image of God and Public Theology

Earlier this week, I considered the personal effect of meditating on and living in the truth of being made in God’s image. Today, I want to show how the image Dei should inform our public theology and social ethics. In a sentence, the image of God should inform the way we look at the world, because only when we keep the image of God at the forefront of our mind will we rightly be able to glorify God in all of life.  Here are five ways the image of God should inform our ethics—four specific, one generic.

First, the Image of God opposes any form of racism. It is impossible to maintain ethnic superiority when you realize that all men are made in God’s image, that all men stand in the same need of grace, and that Christ died for all races. Ephesians 2:11-22 is the key passage on this reality, and there Paul explains how being made new creation in Christ (Eph 2:10), believers are now united in Christ, as one new man. Therefore, a biblical theological understanding of being made in God’s image bears constant witness against any form or racism.

Second, the Image of God defends the value of the unborn.  The image of God is not something we become, or something that unique to full-grown adults. It begins with conception and is based on the telos of the gestating baby. Whereas advocates of abortion rename the image of God a clump of cells or deny it personhood, Scripture teaches us that from the moment of conception God is the one forming that child in the womb (Ps 139:13-16). Therefore, what God has joined together, let no man tear asunder.

Third, the Image of God esteems the value of invalids and rejects practices of euthanasia. At the other end of life, recognition of the Image of God causes us to care for the weak and dying. While the world denies value to those who mental capacities are weak or physical bodies are crippled, Scripture assigns value based on intrinsic design. Made in the image of God, the man in the comma, the woman in the wheel chair, and the child NICU is worthy of our love and care.

Fourth, the Image of God propels and shapes our evangelism. As image-bearers, God created men and women to live for eternity. Sin ruined that plan such that some men will experience an eternal death. For this reason, this everlasting reality propels the church to proclaim the gospel. At the same time, evangelism finds its point of contact with unbelievers in this reality—they already know God. Made in God’s image means that every person you meet—atheist, agnostic, Buddhist, or materialist—knows the triune God. If they profess ignorance of him or assault him with vitriol, the problem is not that this image-bearer does not know God. The problem is that they have suppressed the truth in unrighteousness. On such occasions, Christians can share the gospel not by mounting evidence to prove God’s existence. Rather, they can help people made in God’s image to reckon with the lethal shortcomings of their own worldview and then move to the need for a Redeemer, who is also their Creator. In this was, understanding the image of God propels and shapes our evangelism.

Last, the image of God should inform every area of Christian ethics. In general, the truth of humanity’s role as image-bearer must shape any and all ethical decisions. To forget this biblical truth is too dehumanize and devalue people. Even those engrossed in humanitarian aid cannot make consistently wise and judicial decisions apart from this truth. The image of God must inform our thinking about others, even as we are being conformed into the image of Christ. Indeed, without the former, the latter is stunted and skewed.

These are just a few ways the image of God informs our public theology and social ethic. What others can you think of? I’d love to include more.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss