At the risk of being hyperbolic, it is my contention that one of the most significant manifestations of the image of God in humans is the gift of speech. The God whose word “is firmly fixed in the heavens” (Ps. 119:89) has created man with the capacity to comprehend and use words; therefore, a significant part of our reflecting God’s image and representing Him on earth is how we use the gift of speech.
It is worth noting that in Genesis 2:20, Adam’s first assignment in carrying out the cultural mandate is naming the animals that God has created. A few verses later, when God presents Adam with Eve, Adam speaks with poetic eloquence and prophetic precision, reflecting the image and intent of his Creator.
So, if speech is a significant manifestation of our being created in God’s image, we must also conclude the following: (1) Improper speech is sinful speech. It is interesting to note the different descriptions we see in Scripture of sinful speech or, to use the term used by the Apostle Paul, “corrupt communication” (Eph. 4:29), including lying, bearing false witness, slander, gossip, blasphemy, false prophesy, grumbling, complaining, coarse language, taking the Lord’s name in vain, and backbiting. (2) Not only is improper speech sinful, but our doctrine of total depravity means that in our natural fallen state, we are so corrupt that we are unable to properly reflect and represent the Creator in our speech. Total depravity means not complete inability but an inability to function to the degree that God’s law demands. As Paul says in Romans 3:23, we all “fall short of the glory of God.” This is true for our speech as well. (3) The righteousness of Christ that is imputed to us (and which we embrace by faith) includes speech that properly reflects and represents God the Father.
(4) Therefore, in the spirit of Ephesians 4:29 and Colossians 4:6, we should be purposeful in “seasoning” our words with grace. Given our attachment to cyber communication, we should hold these verses in mind when we text, tweet, and post on any social media platform: “Let your speech always be gracious and seasoned with salt.” (5) Gracious speech should not be confused with “politically correct” speech. There was a time in U.S. history when racial and gender slurs were acceptable in private and public discourse. Necessary pushback against this has caused a pendulum swing in the other direction, so that it seems that even innocuous words are scrutinized and criticized as insensitive or politically incorrect. Now, the needed pushback against political correctness has led to even more vitriol in our discourse. As Christians, our chief aim ought not to be either to defend or to debunk political correctness. Instead, we should apply the words of the Apostle Paul in Romans 12:2 to our communication with our fellow image bearers: “Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”