In the beginning, God created all of mankind in His image, male and female alike (Gen. 1:26). And we know that before the foundation of the world, God, in His goodness and kindness, had His people in mind (Eph. 1:4). It was no surprise to our omniscient Father that Adam and Eve fell and sin entered the world. He knew people would not worship and delight in Him. Knowing this, He didn’t have to give us aspects of Himself, but He did. God—the holy one, pure and awesome—created us to reflect aspects of His beauty and character. We are not worthy of such a generous apportionment.
As God’s image-bearers, we are all equal. We are equal in dignity and worth, and we are also fallen equally (Rom. 3:23). Genesis 1:26 explains that God created man in His image. Of all the creatures in God’s creation, we are the only ones created in His very image, so we have dominion over the rest (1:28). It is a profound mystery (God is spirit, so we do not bear His physical image; see John 4:24) and yet a great privilege.
Image-bearing alone should cause our hearts to leap for joy, but, as we know, even as God has revealed Himself, many have chosen to suppress the truth that they know about Him (Rom. 1:18–19). And it is with this knowledge that the Christian delights to share the gospel. As image-bearers, we are all made to glorify and magnify the Lord. And by all, I mean all mankind. The Lord did not distinguish between the Christian and non-Christian in creating them in His image.
Understanding our equality as image-bearers changes everything about our human relationships. As image-bearers, we should view others as God views us. One way the Lord identifies us—and I’d argue this is the most important differentiation—is as either in Christ or not in Christ. C.S. Lewis said it best when he wrote in The Weight of Glory:
There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously—no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.
There is no one walking the earth who is not in need of the gospel. We are a part of humanity, each one of us heading toward either heaven or hell. It takes the power of the gospel to transform an image-bearer’s heart of stone and bring it into worship and delight of God. The only way for a heart to be aflame for God is through the pursuing, saving grace of God, which takes our hearts and transforms them from hearts of stone to hearts of flesh (Ezek. 36:26). The Christian who understands his nature before God is eager to share with his fellow man.
My own testimony comes to mind here. God sent a young girl aflame for Jesus and His gospel to share the good news with me. I was not running after God—actually, quite the opposite. My salvation required His pursuit. I remember this when I read Ephesians 2 and the truth of the words seems to jump off the page: I was dead, but God made me alive through Jesus’ death on the cross. By a free gift, I was made alive by grace through faith (vv. 1–10). I could never have saved myself, and I didn’t think my heart needed transformation, but He knew what I needed, He did the work, and He used a sinner saved by that same grace to teach me about Him.
Since that day, my heart and its desires have changed. Even as I wrestle with the sin that so easily distracts me, there remains a longing for the Lord.
As image-bearers, when we hear the good news, we are changed from the inside out. This does not mean that we are immediately sanctified, nor does it mean that we will not have ebbs and flows in our excitement or devotion to and for the Lord. For we know that we are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another (2 Cor. 3:18).
Sanctification is a process. And this, too, is God’s doing. Like Paul, we proclaim, “Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us” (2 Cor. 3:5). Fundamentally, the work of sanctification in our lives is the Lord’s doing, and we devote ourselves to Him because we know we are His—His workmanship, His image-bearers, and His children. We love God because He first loved us and gave His Son to be a ransom for us (1 John 4:9). As we interact with others, our lives proclaim what we know about God in love for them and for God.