First Things First – How the World Came to Be
2. Image is Everything: Highly Valued, Deeply Fallen, Greatly Loved
Genesis 1: 26 - 28
We’re not in Eden anymore. The world of the 21st century is far removed from the world of Genesis 1. Things have changed. We wake up every morning to find out where the latest killings took place. There is so much violence, so much bloodshed, and so much hatred in our world. The struggle continues with no end in sight. Children are abused, sometimes under the cloak of religion. Every time we go to the airport and go through security checks, we’re reminded that we live in dangerous times.
G. K. Chesterton - “Whatever else is true of man, it is certainly true that man is not what he was meant to be.” Man is not what he was meant to be because he was meant to be something better than he is. God never intended the world to be in such a mess. At the end of Creation Week, the world was ideal and complete in every respect. Nothing was out of order, nothing was out of place and sin was nowhere to be found. How sin entered the world is a story for later. For the moment, let’s focus on “the way things were meant to be.”
1. The Divine Plan v. 26
In all the previous moments of creation, the Bible simply says, “And God said,” and it was done. This time the text reads, “Let us make man.” The words are reflective and purposeful, as if God, having created everything else, stops for a moment to consider the huge implications of creating man and woman. Because he is God, he knows the end of the story. He sees the rebellion in Eden long before it takes place. He knows the trail of tears that will wind across the centuries as the sin of the first couple spreads to the whole human race. Like a runaway virus, sin will infect everything and everyone. The end result must be the offering of God’s own Son on a rough Roman cross. But God, knowing all that would transpire, seeing both the glory that Adam and Eve would share and the pain both they and their descendants would know, creates them anyway. It is an awesome moment in the history of the universe.
The “us” refers to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. There is a perfect balance in this verse. It is God who says, “Let us.” One God and only one, who communes within himself—the Father to the Son, the Son to the Spirit, the Spirit to the Father—and in perfect divine agreement, Adam and Eve are created.
The crucial point comes with the words “image” and “likeness.” The words are synonyms that tell us that man is created to be like God on earth. But what does that mean in practical terms?
A. We are forever separated from the animals. If you have a dog, you love your dog. If you have cat, you love your cat. You may have hamsters, rabbits, even a snake or a lizard or some goldfish. Your pets are not made in the image of God. You are, they aren’t. There is a great gulf fixed between Adam and Eve and all other creatures. That gulf is labeled “the image of God.”
B. The image of God enables us to know God personally. There is in each one of us the ability to know God and the desire that makes us want to know him. Your dog doesn’t pray and your cat doesn’t seek the Lord. They can’t. A dog is a dog and a cat is a cat, and they can never know God personally in the way we can know God. The same is true for horses and hippos. Only humans have self-consciousness and God-consciousness. Only we can make conscious moral choices to do good or to do evil. Only we can know the God who made us.
C. The image of God gives true significance to every individual. The world looks at who you are, what family you come from, how much money you have, your health, your good looks (or lack of), your connections, and above all else, your ability to contribute to the bottom line. If you can’t make a difference, you aren’t worth much to the company and out the door you go. But Christians look at people differently. We know that each person has worth and value because he or she is made in the very image of God. In God’s eyes there are no “little people.” Everyone matters to him because his image is in each person—small or great, rich or poor, young or old, educated or illiterate, healthy or sick, strong or weak, and his thoughtful care extends from the moment of conception when the unborn child is just a microscopic bundle of cells all the way to the moment of physical death.
Think of it! In the womb the pre-born baby is made in God’s image. The aged adult languishing in a nursing home, old and infirm and in desperate physical condition, is also made in God’s image. How important it is for us to keep this truth in mind, especially in a day when the unborn are routinely killed and the elderly are regarded as a burden and a nuisance and a drain on our resources. We abort the one and “mercy-kill” the other, and then we wonder why modern society has grown so callous.
D. This truth gives enormous clarity to the great moral issues of our day. When we curse and show disrespect for others, we are really showing disrespect for the God who made them. If it is true that we are all made in God’s image, how then can anyone dare to enter the womb and kill an unborn child? Abortion is wrong because it is an attack on God the Creator. Just because the unborn baby is small and unable to defend itself doesn’t make it morally right. The child in the womb is made in God’s image. Leave it alone! Every unborn child deserves respect and protection.
The image of God forms the basis for human rights. How can anyone persecute or mistreat another person simply because of a difference in skin colour, language or culture? The person you mistreat is also made in God’s image? This truth is the answer to those who wish to create human embryos only to destroy them in search of stem cells. That little clump of cells, that seems so foreign to us, is a human life. What it is, we once were. What we are, it will become, if we respect it enough to leave it alone. The image of God is present from the very beginning. So we learn the value of human life from conception to the point of natural death. We learn the value of human life despite physical limitations, disabilities, crippling diseases or mental handicaps. People have value despite their outward circumstances. All are made in God’s image.
We know that sin has marred the image of God in all of us. After the fall in Eden, things have never been the same. Sin has marred the image but it has not destroyed it. Sometimes the image of God seems to almost disappear. But it’s never really gone. At exactly this point we see the power of Jesus Christ. If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature. That’s the whole process of conversion and Christian growth. In this lifetime we’ll never have the perfection that Adam had. In heaven the image of God will be finally and completely restored. But even now there is substantial change and improvement as day by day we are transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit. The best advertisement for Jesus is someone whose life has truly been changed. It says to those whose lives are marred and badly damaged by sin, “You don’t have to stay that way. Jesus can repair you from the inside out.”
If all people are made in the image of God, then anyone can be saved. There is no sinner who cannot be saved. There is no person who is beyond the reach of God’s grace. Even the worst sinners can be saved because each one is made in the image of God. Sin can mar God’s image but it cannot destroy it.
2. The Divine Pattern v. 27
3 times this verse says “created,” thus emphasising the unique thing God was doing in creating man as male and female. Here we find the basic pattern of life. Humanity is forever divided into 2 groups — male and female. This is what marriage is meant to be—1 man with 1 woman for life. The details will be fleshed out later; the basic principle appears here.
This teaches us that human sexuality is a gift from God. Some people have taught that sexual desire is part of the judgment of God after the fall, but that is not true. Many people believe that the whole subject of sex is somehow dirty and shameful. But God thought of sex long before Playboy did. God is the one who created mankind as male and female. What it means to be man, what it means to be woman—emotionally, intellectually, physically—that difference comes from God himself. Men and women are different because God made them different.
Over 2,000 years of church history, some leaders got way off. They taught that the body was sinful and that marriage was at best a necessary evil. Many people concluded that the sexual relationship between a man and a woman was something to be endured, not something to be enjoyed. Let us be clear on this fundamental point. Sex was God’s idea in the beginning. He made us different so that our very differences would attract us to each other.
Male and female both bear the image of God. There is equality here and also a crucial difference. Boys are not girls and girls are not boys. To fully enter into this truth requires that we raise masculine men and feminine women. This touches how we act and dress and how we should properly relate to each other. It also teaches us that we deeply need each other.
This truth helps us resolve many moral issues. The “one man/one woman” truth rules out fornication, adultery, polygamy and homosexuality. In God’s plan, marriage consists of 1 man with 1 woman, not 2 men or 2 women together.
Does this mean that only in marriage is the image of God fully seen? Where does that leave single people? The answer is that each one of us is complete and truly made in God’s image. You aren’t one-half of God’s image if you are single. It is also true that certain aspects of God’s character are best seen in the marriage relationship. That’s why Paul compared the husband and wife to Christ and the church.
3. The Divine Purpose v. 28
What did God intend for Adam and Eve? He begins by blessing them. “Have a great life! Enjoy yourselves. I’ve given you everything you need. Enjoy it, don’t mess it up!” Then he said, “Be fruitful.” Have some babies. Raise some children. Play with your grandchildren. Start a family. Children are the normal fruit of marriage. While God has the sovereign power to give or to withhold children, his general will is that married couples bear children. Marriage and children go together. Sometimes even in the church we look upon children as a burden, not a blessing.
Then God told Adam and Eve to “fill the earth and subdue it.” That means they were appointed to do as they pleased in the world God made. They were to be King and Queen of Creation. And what a world God made for them. He filled it to overflowing with animals and birds and fish and plants and trees and rivers and streams and oceans and mountains and meadows. He crammed it full of colours and textures and shapes and aromas and tastes, and then he said to Adam and Eve, “It’s all yours. Take care of it. Rule over it. Study it. Learn from it. Develop it. Have a ball. Enjoy yourself. Go exploring. Take a cruise. Go rock-climbing. Go skiing in the Alps. Crack open a coconut. Plant a garden, grow some vegetables, play with the lions and go swimming with the otters. This brand-new place called the earth, it’s paradise. It’s brand-new. I made it just for you. Do whatever you want, wherever you want, whenever you want. Every part of it is for you.” It was paradise. The only rule God gave was, “Don’t eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.” As we shall see, they couldn’t even follow that one simple rule. That explains why we aren’t living in paradise today.
This is called the “cultural mandate.” To subdue the earth means to study it, develop it and to bring it under control. This is the basis for agriculture, industry, commerce, enterprise, exploration, art, music, drama, literature, education, research, technology, progress and new inventions. The tragedy is that believers have largely abandoned these fields and left them to unbelievers who are not qualified to lead them from God’s point of view.
One final word - “be fruitful and multiply.” I have always liked it that way because it reminds me that I must be about the business of multiplication for the Lord. Life is not a dress rehearsal. We are only here once, so briefly, and then we pass into eternity. While you are here, multiply! Find out what matters and then go and do it. Don’t waste your years on small things. So much of life is just irrelevant details. You’ve got 60 or 70 years to invest. Make sure you invest it well because you won’t get a second chance.
Psalm 8: 1 - 5 “A little lower than the angels.” That’s who we are. That’s who we were meant to be. “Crowned with glory and honour.” This is Adam and Eve in the beginning. This is life as God intended it for all of us. But what a mess we have made of all this. How far we have fallen from our high destiny. We all need to be completed by Christ. We need to be restored by Christ. Do we not all feel this way? Do we not all sense that we could and should be much better than we are right now?
That is the glory of the gospel of Christ. He takes men and women deeply fallen in sin and radically reshapes them. The work of restoring the shattered image of God within us is a miracle that continues until the day we finally get to heaven. We are not yet what we will be nor what we want to be, but by God’s grace we are not what we used to be. Amen.