Who were you made for? What are you made for? These are questions that cause us to rack our minds and plunge into the depths of our hearts to find out the answer. But the problem with that is that the answer to these questions cannot be found inside us; the answers can only be found outside of ourselves. Only God holds the answers.
Central to the doctrinal statement about humanity is that we are created in God’s image. We are first introduced to the concept of God’s image in Genesis 1:26-28, which demonstrates that being made in the imago Dei is something unique about humanity. Nothing else in all of creation was stamped with the imprint of God. But what does this mean? What does it mean to be made in God’s image? We must first understand the original context of the book of Genesis.
Moses wrote Genesis to a burdened, frail, and helpless people. The Hebrews had been in captivity in Egypt for 400 years. They were burdened by slave drivers, forced to do manual labor, oppressed, and surrounded by false gods. They would continue to struggle with idolatry even when they were brought out of captivity: remember the golden calf incident? It was hard for them to shake off the effect of being immersed in idolatry. The God who saved them could not be confined to an image made with hands.
Why is this such a misrepresentation of God? Because God initially designed humanity to be his image! We were meant to be God’s representatives on earth, his images! Idolatry inverts the original plan of God in so many ways, and this is one of them. So, the Hebrews were out on their own without a place to call home, no army to protect them, and no tangible god that they could look to for hope. They had to trust in an invisible God who revealed himself through both mighty acts of deliverance and his word to them. What Moses wrote was the Word of God about the origins of creation and the original plan of God for his people.
So, if humanity is meant to represent God as his image, what does that mean?
Essentially, to be made in God’s image means that he gave his people a distinct identity and a purpose, or function, in the world. The identity is rooted in sonship. People were meant to be the sons and daughters of God who ruled the earth as God’s representatives. As sons and daughters of the King of the Universe, we originally shared a royal status and the King’s children and a royal vocation to rule over the earth. We received our identity from God, and we’re meant to look to him for our fulfillment and hope. He defines who we are. He gave Adam and Eve his word, blessings, and commands to guide them in the garden of Eden. So first, to be made in God’s image means humanity has a special identity as those who were meant to be God’s sons and daughters who had royal status because of our special relationship with God.
Secondly, he gave us a specific purpose or a function. Through our words, works and worship, we were meant to glorify him. Everything in our life was supposed to be shaped by his Word. We were supposed to worship him on his terms as God alone. We were to work in the world, knowing that our work is a means of service to God and others. Through all of this, we were made to worship God and bring him glory. Adam and Eve’s works, words, and worship are rooted in the identity that God gave them.
But something went tragically wrong.
Adam and Eve rejected God’s word, did not work and rule over the garden as they were meant to (the serpent coerced them instead of them ruling over it), and they refused to worship him and worshipped themselves instead. The result was that the image of God in them was inverted and perverted. They lost the original identity that God had given them as sons and daughters and allowed sin to reign. But we see a glimpse that God would still seek to reconcile his relationship with humanity in Genesis 3:15 and following. God sought them out, and gave them a covering, to cover their shame and nakedness. He initiated reconciliation with them.
Though humanity was still created in the image of God, every person who was born after Adam and Eve was born without the originally intended relationship with God because of sin. They were rebel prodigals instead of submissive sons and daughters. As a result of their sin, they could not worship God rightly, they couldn’t hear or understand his word, and their works were self-serving and aimed at the wrong ends. The major problem with this is that God’s intended means for reflecting his glory in all the earth, and people, was not fulfilling their intended purpose. When we lose our identity in God, we lose everything.
But God has acted to restore our lost identity through Christ.
Jesus Christ came as the true image of God. He was the exact imprint of God’s nature (Hebrews 1:3). He radiated the glory of God, as we were originally intended to do, but he did it perfectly because he was perfectly God and perfectly man. He displays God’s glory in ways that we never could because we are still plagued by the remnants of sin. He was perfectly and fully God, but also fully man. He was everything that man was supposed to be. His sole concern in life was to bring glory to the Father (John 17:1). He listened to his Father and heard and understood and obeyed his Father’s word. His works were works of service toward God and others, ultimately through his work on the cross. Through the cross, Jesus provided the reconciliation that humanity needed with God. By faith in Jesus and his atoning work for our sin, we can rightly call God our Father and he can again call us his sons and his daughters. True sons and daughters of God are children by faith in Jesus.
Through Jesus, our identity is restored, and because our identity is now restored, by the power of the Spirit we can know God again through his word, worship him with our hearts, and serve him and others with his love. Though we still battle sin, we know that through Christ, the battle is won, and when Jesus returns, we will be like him, without sin, and finally adopted as full sons and daughters of our God (Romans 8:14-17). We can know that God’s purpose is to conform us into the image of his Son Jesus will not fail no matter what we face because he has given us his Spirit to accomplish the work (Romans 8:28-30). Those who trust in Jesus are now and will forever be God’s sons and daughters.
Why is this significant?
As we live this life, we live still battling the lies of the enemy who takes God’s word and twists it. He accuses us on the basis of our sin, but this sin has already been forgiven in Christ. He will try to convince us that we are not children of God because of our failings, our sufferings, and our weakness. He will try to break us down. But we must resist his lies and trust in God’s word.
We know the character of our God toward us, even though we are weak. Isaiah 42:3 says, “a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice.” Our Father does not kick us while we are down and bruised, but he nurtures us and keeps us safe in Christ. Though we face doubts and struggles, he does not abandon us or forsake us, like many of our earthly fathers have done. Hebrews 13:5 says, “God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” No matter what ails us, we can trust that God is for us in everything we experience.
As our Father, God will use everything and anything to discipline us as his children. But discipline does not always equal punishment. God’s discipline is for the sake of conforming us into the image of his Son, Jesus. He will take our sufferings, our struggles, and our pain and use them for our good. This is good news! Hebrews 12:5-12 says:
And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?
“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
nor be weary when reproved by him.
For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and chastises every son whom he receives.”
It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed.
We can be strong, lifting our drooping hands and strengthening our weak knees, because we have our Father there with us every step of the way, disciplining and guiding us to be more like Jesus.
This is a great comfort for those of us who have not had good experiences with our earthly fathers. Our earthly fathers are meant to give us a sense of our identity, teach us how to love God and his word, and discipline us to follow him. But when our earthly fathers abandon us, fail to love us, and do not lead us to God, we have a heavenly Father who searches us out, binds up the brokenness in our hearts through Jesus Christ, and never forsakes us. He is our good Father, and he loves us to the extent that he will do everything and anything to restore us back to our relationship with him. That is fatherly love. Those of us without an earthly father can rejoice to know that the Father in heaven is our hope and our rest and our peace. He restores our identity as his sons and daughters and teaches us how to live joyfully in his presence and his image-bearers in the world.
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.