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In the early days of the Ligonier Valley Study Center, R.C. Sproul became closely acquainted with Wayne Alderson, who went on to spearhead the Value of the Person movement. Alderson was a steel industry executive who found himself on the horns of a bitter labor dispute. The management was frustrated over the bottom line, while the workers felt as if they were being treated like animals. All this culminated in a labor strike that brought Alderson’s company to its knees. Eager to settle the dispute, Alderson championed more than just a brokered peace; he set out to change the work culture to include three missing elements: love, dignity, and respect. In time, this approach revolutionized the steel industry, and Alderson was regarded as a hero. R.C. recounted the amazing story in the 1980 biography Stronger than Steel, but he zeroed in on the notion of human dignity in his 1983 book In Search of Dignity, later retitled The Hunger for Significance. The quest for human dignity became a hallmark of R.C.’s ministry, as he sought to educate people on who they are and how they ought to live as Christians before a watching world. These ideals are expressed in the twin virtues of dignity and integrity. That’s what I want us to examine together.
the origin of our dignity
In the beginning, after God created the heavens and the earth, He immediately spoke to the value of the crown of His creation. More than making humanity alive, the Lord imprinted in the human soul something of the divine. We read, “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness’ ” (Gen. 1:26), at which point the Lord acted: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (v. 27). We understand that this verse and others like it teach the doctrine of the imago Dei, the image of God.
What is meant by the “image of God”? Certainly, we understand that it does not mean we are just like God in every way. We are not “little gods.” God is holy, and we are not. However, being created “in His image” means that God stamps something of His reflection—however faint—onto us. We are marked with His divine fingerprint in a way that distinguishes us from every other earthly creature. Furthermore, human beings share, in a manner appropriate to creatures, certain attributes with God (known as communicable attributes) such as love, kindness, wisdom, and justice. We bear witness to the character of God on earth as His image bearers. And because we are image bearers of God, every person possesses inherent, God-given value and worth.
Because of this, no person is worthless, regardless of class, color, or capacity. Whether newborn or preborn, bedridden or on their deathbed, every person is valuable in the eyes of God. Every person has been given dignity by God Himself. However, understanding human dignity is more than simply an intellectual exercise. Rather, it ought to influence how we see others around us as well as how we live in the world.
There is a word for being true to your own moral principles—it’s integrity. However, for the Christian believer, it goes beyond personal convictions. It is an issue of bearing witness to the truth of the Word of God. This is often referred to as maintaining a biblical worldview. Living with integrity means that you live your life with a clear conscience according to revealed biblical truth. Put simply, it means living as Christians before a watching world. How do we see this played out?
On a most basic level, having integrity means that we keep our Christian testimonies. While our personal testimony is not the gospel itself, it reflects the transforming power of the gospel that saved us. If we believe that Jesus Christ went to the cross to pay for our sins, and that we have been born again to a living hope (1 Peter 1:3), then we must live in light of that truth. Before leaving earth, the Lord Jesus told His disciples, “You will be my witnesses” (Acts 1:8). In obedience to this, we testify to the power of the gospel to transform us and to conform us to the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29; 12:1–2).
Another way we maintain integrity is by living above reproach before other people. We remember the words of Jesus: “Let your light shine before other, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:16). In keeping with this, we strive to live an upstanding life before others. We tell the truth. We keep our word. We do not act as hypocrites. We carry ourselves in a way that bears witness to who we are in Christ.
One final way we can have integrity is by exerting our Christian influence in society. To be clear, our Christian mission is not to “Christianize” the world but to proclaim Christ and live in obedience to Him. But because we love righteousness and value justice, we are to use our voices, our votes, our resources, and our influence to stand for what’s right. With regard to our battlefront, Paul noted in 2 Corinthians 10:4–5 that “the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh” but are for the destruction of “arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God.” We war against evil ideologies, worldly philosophies, and doctrines of demons. Our weapon is divine truth. In the end, what we do before a watching world is important, but it is secondary. What should ultimately drive us to maintain our Christian convictions with a clear conscience is that, as the Reformers affirmed, we live coram Deo—before God who sees all.