Sermon illustrations

The Image of  God

Chipping Away at the Image in Us

Epithets can chip away at the image of God in us. Name-calling and identity theft are felonious offenses against divinity and humanity. Blasphemy. Those of us who have been victims of identity theft or have been disfigured by name-calling dare not engage in such nefarious activity. We too will be blameworthy whether the offense is committed in our hearts, spoken with our mouths, or written with our hands.

This makes sense of why Jesus told his audience that anyone who labeled another person “Raca,” or fool, was in danger of the fires of hell (Matt. 5:22). In the end, only God can identify a person’s condition and make a righteous judgment. God knows our names and uses his beloved community to help form our God-given identities. But in our twisted state, in our malformation, we would rather choose our own names and also mistakenly believe we can accurately name others. We strut about as if we are God.

Marlena Graves, A Beautiful Disaster, Baker Publishing Group, 2014, p.12.

Do Something Useful

How much curious and loving attention was expended by the first man who looked hard enough at the insides of trees, the entrails of cats, the hind ends of horses, and the juice of pine trees to realize he could turn them all into the first fiddle. No doubt his wife urged him to get up and do something useful…

Man’s real work is to look at the things of the world and to love them for what they are. That is, after all, what God does, and man was not made in God’s image for nothing. The fruits of his attention can be seen in all the arts, crafts, and sciences. It can cost him time and effort, but it pays handsomely. If an hour can be spent on one onion, think how much regarding it took on the part of that old Russian who looked at onions and church spires long enough to come up with St. Basil’s Cathedral.

Robert Capon Farrar, The Supper of the Lamb: A Culinary Reflection (New York: Modern Library, 2002), 19.

Image and Dust

Our defining narrative says that we’re made “in the image of God,”[i] but also: we’re made “from the dust.”[ii]

Image and dust.

To be made in the image of God means that we’re rife with potential. We have the Divine’s capacity in our DNA. We’re like God. We were created to “image” his behavior, to rule like he does, to gather up the raw materials of our planet and reshape them into a world for human beings to flourish and thrive.

But that’s only half the story.

We’re also made from the dirt, “ashes to ashes, dust to dust”: we’re the original biodegradable containers. Which means we’re born with limitations. We’re not God. We’re mortal, not immortal. Finite, not infinite.

Image and dust.

Potential and limitations.

One of the key tasks of our apprenticeship to Jesus is living into both our potential and our limitations.

There’s a lot of talk right now about reaching your full poten­tial, and I’m all for it. Step out. Risk it all. Have faith. Chase the dream God put in your heart. Become the Technicolor version of who you were made to be.

But again, that’s only half the story.

Adapted from The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry: How to Stay Emotionally Healthy and Spiritually Alive in the Chaos of the Modern World. Copyright © 2019 by John Mark Comer. Used by permission of WaterBrook, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC

[i] Genesis 1v27.

[ii] Genesis 2v7.

The Image of God Is Far too Rich to be Contained in a Single Person

Herman Bavinck gets at when he writes, The image of God is much too rich for it to be fully realized in a single human being, however richly gifted that human being may be. It can only be somewhat unfolded in its depth and riches in a humanity counting billions of members . . . [The image of God] is an undeserved gift of grace that was given to the first human being immediately at the creation but at the same time is the grounding principle and germ of an altogether rich and glorious development.

Only humanity in its entirety—as one complete organism, summed up under a single head, spread out over the whole earth, as prophet proclaiming the truth of God, as priest dedicating itself to God, as ruler controlling the earth and the whole of creation—only it is the fully finished image, the most telling and striking likeness of God. The image of God is much too rich to be fully realized in a single human being, regardless of the extent of their giftedness.

Taken from The Beautiful Community: Unity, Diversity, and the Church at Its Best by Irwyn L. Ince Jr Copyright (c) 2021by Irwyn L. Ince Jr. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

The Imago Dei: God Injected

On July 4, 1965, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. preached a sermon at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia titled “The American Dream.” He said, the whole concept of the imago Dei, . . . is the idea that all men have something within them that God injected. Not that they have substantial unity with God, but that every man has a capacity to have fellowship with God. And this gives him a uniqueness, it gives him worth, it gives him dignity.

And we must never forget this as a nation: there are no gradations in the image of God. Every man from a treble white to a bass black is significant on God’s keyboard, precisely because every man is made in the image of God. One day we will learn that. We will know one day that God made us to live together as brothers and to respect the dignity and worth of every man.

Taken from The Beautiful Community: Unity, Diversity, and the Church at Its Best by Irwyn L. Ince Jr Copyright (c) 2021by Irwyn L. Ince Jr. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

The Importance of the Royal Image

Being made in God’s image is also about God’s purposes in the world (God through us). In order to understand how image is connected with purpose, we need to understand a common practice in the ancient world. Since the end of the Second World War in 1945, North Korea has been ruled by the Kim family.

Kim Il Sung and then his son Kim Jong Il ruled for over sixty-six years, demanding total loyalty and even veneration. To this day pictures of these leaders are hung in just about every home, office building, and school. There are over five hundred statues of Kim Il Sung all around North Korea. Kim Il Sung’s grandson, Kim Jong Un, assumed power in 2011 and is now building three enormous statues on the highest mountain in North Korea as a tribute to himself, his father, and his grandfather.

These pictures and statues are constant reminders to the people of North Korea that the Kim’s are in charge and demand their loyalty. In the same way, to show where they ruled and reigned, kings in the ancient world set up giant statues of themselves. The kings placed these images in the center of their cities and at the borders of their lands to remind people who was in charge. As we said in chapter three, an image isn’t something we look at on a screen, a reflection in a mirror, or picture seen with the eyes.

Image refers to a statue or a figure that can be touched—something we can’t ignore. In the ancient world it was understood that a god would have a living image of himself in the world. But the living image only applied to one person: the king! Egyptian and Babylonian kings—and they alone—were called the image of god. Because the king was the god’s image in the world, the king was also the rightful ruler of the kingdom, and he set up images of himself to remind everyone that he alone was in charge. Great for the king. Bad for everyone else. All of Humanity Rules!

Taken from Does God Really Like Me?: Discovering the God Who Wants to Be With Us  by Cyd and Geoff Holsclaw Copyright (c) 2020 by Cyd and Geoff Holsclaw. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

The Likeness of the Son

On a wall near the main entrance to the Alamo in San Antonio, Texas, is a portrait with the following inscription: “James Butler Bonham–no picture of him exists. This portrait is of his nephew, Major James Bonham, deceased, who greatly resembled his uncle. It is placed here by the family that people may know the appearance of the man who died for freedom.”

No literal portrait of Jesus exists either. But the likeness of the Son who makes us free can be seen in the lives of his true followers.

Leadership, Vol. 4, no. 4

The Nightly Blessing

The whole concept of the “image of God ” is the idea that all men [and woman] have something within them that God injected. .. . And this gives [man] a uniqueness, it gives him worth, it gives him dignity. And we must never forget this. . . there are no gradations in the image of God. Every man [and woman] from a treble white to a bass black is significant on God’s keyboard., precisely because every man is made in the image of God. One day we will learn that. We will know one day that God made us to live together as brothers [and sisters] and to respect the dignity and worth of every man [andwoman].

Ever since they were little, I have pronounced a specific blessing over each of our daughters as I have tucked them into bed at night. The blessing usually starts with a promise or declaration of their human dignity and value straight out of the Bible—“You are fearfully and wonderfully made…Nothing can separate you from the love of God…God will not harm you, but will give you a hope and a future…God so loved you that he gave his only Son for you.” The blessing concludes every time with the words, “God made you beautiful and special, and he loves you so much. And so does your daddy. Don’t you ever forget that. Amen.”

The reason I pronounce this nightly blessing over our daughters is that their hearts, like all human hearts, are prone to forget their fundamental identities as image bearers. I want the last thing they hear before they nod off to be a reaffirmation of what is true.

I want them to hear a counter-voice to the shame triggers of our culture and the negative verdicts from within that try to convince them that they are worth less than they actually are. In short, I want them to remember and rest in what God says is true about them. Neither the culture nor their own hearts get to name them, because their Maker already has.

By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God. (1 John 3:19 ESV)

Scott Sauls, Jesus Outside the Lines: A Forward for Those Who Are Tired of Taking Sides, Tyndale House Publishers, 2015.

N.T. Wright on the Possibility of Hell

It seems to me… that if it is possible … for human beings to choose to live more and more out of tune with the divine intention, to reflect the image of God less and less, there is nothing to stop them finally ceasing to bear that image, and so to be, as it were, beings who were once human but are not now.

Those who persistently refuse to follow Jesus… will by their own choice become less and less like him, that is, less and less truly human…I see nothing in the New Testament to make me reject the possibility that some, perhaps many, of God’s human creatures do choose, and will choose, to dehumanize themselves completely.

Nor do I see anything to make me suppose that God, who gave his human creatures the risky gift of freedom and choice, will not honour that choice…This, I think, is the way in which something like the traditional doctrine of hell can be restated in the present day.

N.T. Wright, Following Jesus (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2014), 95-96.

Practicing Compassion

Imagine making the shape of a valentine heart with your hands and holding it up to your face. That’s the posture of seeing with compassion. You might picture yourself looking through the heart at a person you struggle to forgive, remembering that they are beloved. Or you could imagine yourself being looked at in a similar way.

When I teach on the way of compassion, I often invite people to pair up, make the shape of a heart with their hands, and stare into each other’s eyes. We don’t often look at each other so intently. People chuckle uncomfortably.

After the giggling subsides, I say, “Remember who you are looking at. A being made in the divine image who is deeply loved. See them for who they really are. Precious and beloved. How does it feel to look with this

intention? How does it feel to be seen with such tenderness?”

Many people begin to tear up.

… We are being invited to see each other from a new level of consciousness.

Taken from The Ninefold Path of Jesus: Hidden Wisdom of the Beatitudes by Mark Scandrette Copyright (c) 2021 by Mark Scandrette. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

Restoring the Image in Leprosy Patients

The conversations that stand out sharpest to me now are those in which Dr. Brand recalled individual patients, “nobodies” on whom he had lavished medical care. When he began his pioneering work, he was the only orthopedic surgeon in the world working among fifteen million victims of leprosy. 

He and his wife, Margaret, performed several dozen surgical procedures on some of these patients, transforming rigid claws into usable hands through innovative tendon transfers, remaking feet, forestalling blindness, transplanting eyebrows, fashioning new noses.

He told me of the patients’ family histories, the awful rejection they had experienced as the disease presented itself, the trial-and-error treatments of doctor and patient experimenting together. 

Almost always his eyes would moisten and he would wipe as he remembered their suffering.  To him these people, among the most neglected on earth, were not nobodies but persons made in the image of God, and he dedicated himself to honor and help restore that image.

Taken from Fearfully and Wonderfully: The Marvel of Bearing God’s name: A Biblical Theology of Idolatry by Dr. Paul Brand and Philip Yancey Copyright (c) 2019 by Dr. Paul Brand and Philip Yancey. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

You Remind Me Of…

Have you ever been told that you’re like someone else, someone you admire and respect, someone you’d love to be like? I had that experience many times while growing up. My family and I were members of Hollywood Presbyterian Church, where my Uncle Don was one of the pastors. People in the church would tell me I looked like Don, sounded like Don, and acted like Don. I took that as a supreme compliment because I thought my Uncle Don was just about the coolest person in the world. The notion that I was like Don delighted me and encouraged me to aspire to live a fruitful life for the kingdom, just as Don was doing.

Genesis 1 tells us that we are not just like some awesome person but like God. Before creating human beings, God says, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness” (1:26). Then God does this very thing (1:27). Human beings are like God in a unique way, unlike any other created thing.

Taken from Mark D. Roberts, Life for Leaders, a Devotional Resource of the DePree Leadership Center at Fuller Theological Seminary.

The Value Comes from the Image

The value of a US hundred-dollar bill is not based on where it has been or how it has been used. Its value is not determined by its shape, size, or color. A one-dollar bill in American currency has the same shape, size, and color as a hundred-dollar bill. If you want to know what the bill is worth, what matters is whose image is on it. George Washington’s image tells us that it is a one-dollar bill we are holding. If we have a bill with the image of Benjamin Franklin, then we know we are holding a hundred-dollar bill. How do you determine what you are worth? You need to know whose image you bear.

…How much is a crisp, clean hundred-dollar bill worth? A hundred dollars. How much is a dirty, crumpled, hidden hundred-dollar bill worth? A hundred dollars. Why? The image might be in need of restoration and cleansing, but it is still there.

Tom Hughes, Down to Earth: How Jesus’ Stories Can Change Your Everyday Life, NavPress, 2019, p.5, 10.

What Do You Reflect?

When my two daughters, Hannah and Nancy, were about two or three years old, I noticed how they imitated and reflected my wife and me. They cooked, fed and disciplined their play animals and dolls just the way my wife cooked, fed and disciplined them. They gave play medicine to their dolls just the way we fed them medicine. Our daughters also prayed with their stuffed animals and dolls the way we prayed with them. They talked on their toy telephone with the same kind of Texas accent that my wife uses when she talks on the phone. It was amazing. Most people, I am sure, have seen this with children. But children only begin what we continue to do as adults. We imitate. We reflect, sometimes consciously, sometimes unconsciously.

Most people can think back to junior high, high school or even college when they were in a group and to one degree or another, whether consciously or unconsciously, they reflected and resembled that peer group. Members of the group may have worn polo shirts with a certain logo, and a newcomer needed to have the same shirt in order to feel a part of the group. Others may have been in a group that was very athletic, and so to be accepted in the group the new kid had to pursue athletics. And still others, unfortunately, ran with a crowd in which they felt they had to use drugs or participate in other harmful activities.

All of us, even adults, reflect what we are around. We reflect things in our culture and our society, sometimes consciously and sometimes subtly and unconsciously.

These contemporary examples follow a very ancient pattern that has its roots in the beginning of history. In Genesis 1 God created humans to be imaging beings who reflect his glory. What did God’s people in the Old Testament, Israel, reflect, whether consciously or unconsciously? We will see fleeted, we should ask ourselves whether we reflect anything similar in our culture today.

What do you and I reflect?

…At the core of our beings we are imaging creatures. It is not possible to be neutral on this issue: we either reflect the Creator or something in creation.

G.K. Beale, We Become What We Worship: A Biblical Theology of Idolatry, InterVarsity Press, 2009.

Worship and Reflecting the Image of God

When human beings give their heartfelt allegiance to and worship that which is not God, they progressively cease to reflect the image of God. One of the primary laws of human life is that you become like what you worship; what’s more, you reflect what you worship not only to the object itself but also outward to the world around. Those who worship money increasingly define themselves in terms of it and increasingly treat other people as creditors, debtors, partners, or customers rather than as human beings.

Those who worship sex define themselves in terms of it (their preferences, their practices, their past histories) and increasingly treat other people as actual or potential sex objects. Those who worship power define themselves in terms of it and treat other people as either collaborators, competitors, or pawns. These and many other forms of idolatry combine in a thousand ways, all of them damaging to the image-bearing quality of the people concerned and of those whose lives they touch.”

N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church, HarperOne.

Your Body

Think of your own experiences as a human being: your body is not just a “shell” in which you dwell. Your body is not just a body. Your body is not just any body. Your body is somebody—you! Through the profound unity of your body and your soul, your body reveals or “makes visible” the invisible reality of your spiritual soul. The “you” that you are is not just a soul “in” a body.

Your body is not something you “have” or “own” alongside yourself. Your body is you. If someone broke your jaw in a fit of rage, you wouldn’t take him to court for “property damage” but for personal assault. What we do with our bodies, and what is done to our bodies, we do or is done to ourselves.

Once again, our bodies make visible what is invisible, the spiritual…and the divine. Aren’t we made in the image of God as male and female (see Gen. 1:27)? This means that the very design of our sexually differentiated bodies reveals something about the mystery of God. The phrase “theology of the body” is just another way of stating the bedrock biblical truth that man and woman image God.

Christopher West, Our Bodies Tell God’s Story, Baker Publishing Group, 2020, p.11.

See also Illustrations on CreationHumanityLifeSelf-Image