However, if we followed up that question with another one, asking, “What is the image of God? What difference does the image of God make?” I think the response would involve far more crickets than clarity. Our lack of understanding and our inability to articulate what the image of God means, and what difference this doctrine makes, is an incredibly debilitating oversight in the Church right now, and this for several reasons.
First, the image of God is essential to understanding the story of Scripture. Today, when we talk about identity in churches and especially youth group Bible studies and things like that, we use this phrase, “identity in Christ.” But, to fully understand what this identity in Christ is, we need to understand our identity in creation.
Many people have rightly summarized the biblical story in four chapters - Creation (how God made the world); Fall (what went wrong with the world); Redemption (the work of Christ to redeem what God made); and Restoration (when all things will be made new again). Before we were Christians, we were made in the image and likeness of God. Then, the Fall affected not only our behavior and what we do, but who we are. That's what Christ restores in His death and resurrection. In other words, we're not saved from being human, were saved to be human.
The image of God is essential to understanding the notions of human equality, human dignity, and human value. We all know that the Declaration of Independence says that “we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” Yet, if you look around a room full of people, the most evident thing is not that we're equal. Instead, we're actually quite different.
If there's anything about our humanity that grounds equality and dignity and value, it can't be any quality that we share on the outside, because there is no quality that we all share on the outside. Some of us are older. Some of us are taller. Some of us have higher IQ's. And so on.
Even atheist thinkers have recognized that the only source in history that has grounded equality, dignity, and value and given us an understanding of a shared humanity is the image of God. Not only is the image of God essential to understanding the story of Scripture and essential to establishing these notions of human equality, dignity, and value, but the image of God is essential to our cultural witness right now.
That's why we're going to focus our attention at the upcoming Wilberforce Weekend Conference, May 21st through the 23rd in Fort Worth, Texas, on this one doctrine of the image of God. From a dizzying variety of angles, we will look at this cultural question and this biblical question, “What does it mean to be human?” And we will bring a level of clarity so that we can have confidence for this cultural moment. To learn more about the conference, go to WilberforceWeekend.org.
I cannot think of a more important question for Christians to lock in on right now, than the idea that every single person is made in the image and likeness of God. Again, go to WilberforceWeekend.org to learn more about this incredible event in Fort Worth, May 21st through 23rd.