Of the many things that God has made, he set a special place for humanity, to be his image bearers. I wanted to look at one specific way in which that shapes our understanding of ourselves: self-image and outward appearances.
This follows on, and hopefully will complement and continue some of themes raised in the last post I wrote. I hope that this will challenge you to view yourselves in a way that brings honour to God and sees others in a way that is pleasing to God.
1. Made in his image
When God created the world, he created it as good. Part of that humanity is supposed to, according to God’s good design, to bearing the image of God. So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. Genesis 1:27
In the Psalms, David writes about this specific part of God’s design on humanity:
1 O Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory above the heavens.
2 Out of the mouth of babies and infants,
you have established strength because of your foes,
to still the enemy and the avenger.
3 When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
4 what is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him?
5 Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
and crowned him with glory and honour.
6 You have given him dominion over the works of your hands;
you have put all things under his feet,
7 all sheep and oxen,
and also the beasts of the field,
8 the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea,
whatever passes along the paths of the seas.
9 O Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
There a couple of key things to note here in this Psalm (we’ll return here a bit later)
- Firstly, the “bookends” of this psalm (verse 1 & 9) is the majesty and glory of God. That is the thing that shapes the rest of the psalmist praise, is that it is framed, quite literally by praise and adoration of the glory of God’s character.
- Especially noting verse 4, Psalm 8 seems to frame the entirety of history in a single Psalm with the beginning and the end being the majestic name of God, and the middle emphasising the “mindfulness” of God towards man, with specific mention towards the “son of man”.
- Secondly, in this Psalm, in alluding directly to Genesis, describes this special “image-bearing status” given by God to humans, in creation, is considered like a crown of glory and honour (verse 5)
- Thirdly, the Psalmist has a high view of the sovereignty and power of God, and frames humanity’s role as rulers, as dependent on the sovereign & majestic rule and name of God (see verse 6 especially)
Additionally, the Scriptures make it clear, for instance from John 4, that God is spirit; and the spirit does not have flesh or bones; make it important to notice that this image-bearer is not a physical reflection or appearance. This is important to note.
2. Wonderfully Made
However, David also describes the beauty and intricacy of God’s design of humanity, specifically more towards physical and inner design of humans.
13 For you formed my inward parts;
you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
my soul knows it very well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them
Again to note, there is again a high view of God’s sovereignty, as well as a proper acknowledgement of the role of God in determining and designing each person. In his exclamation of praise, the focus and recipient of his praise is God and the acknowledgement is of the works and in the sovereign purposes of God.
It also highlights the intimacy that God has in designing each and every individual human person, from conception.
3. The centrepiece of Jesus
It is important to realise how Jesus fits into this. To do this lets first look at Colossians:
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn* of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. Colossians 1:15-16
This passage certainly has a high Christology, linking Jesus’ as the image not only to the divine God, but by alluding to Genesis, makes it clear how Jesus is the “ultimate” human, in the sense that he succeeds in being the humanity that reflects God as the image, where humanity fails because of its rejection of God as ruler. The next verses (verses 17-20) strengthen this by asserting and establishing the supremacy of Jesus, in being over creation, the church and sustaining and reconciling all things.
And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.” Colossians 1:17-20
Verse 20, is of note, as it is repeated almost exactly later in the letter, as follows:
For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority.
Obviously much could be said on this passage itself. However, another place where this is described in detail is in Hebrews:
“Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.” Hebrews 1:1-4
The writer of the Hebrews, in these verses, when read alongside Colossians, certainly brings more clarity to the words used by Paul. Jesus is the exact representation or imprint of God, and displays his glory. But unlike humanity itself, which is designated and made in his image, Jesus radiates, with precision and exactness, the very nature and essence of God; and again this is reflected in his role in creation and sustaining creation both by the “word of his power”
Verse 4 is an allusion to the Son of Man figure (see Daniel chapter 7). This is significant as it relates revelation in the Old Testament in pointing to the superiority of Christ, as the Son, especially quoting mainly from the Psalms, as well as his superiority hence over angels and hence the Gospel being the ultimate revelation (see Hebrews 2:1-4).
It is in this context, of superiority of the Son, we come to Hebrews 2:6-9, which specifically quotes Psalm 8:
“But there is a place where someone has testified:
“What is mankind that you are mindful of them,
a son of man that you care for him?
You made them a little lower than the angels;
you crowned them with glory and honour
and put everything under their feet.””
The writer of Hebrews continues:
“In putting everything under them*, God left nothing that is not subject to them*. Yet at present we do not see everything subject to them*. But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honour because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.”
In doing so, he helpfully helps us understand how Psalm 8 is alluding to Jesus, in a kind of a “archetype” which can be applied initially to humanity and then specifically to Christ. In Psalm 8:5, it is clear that Jesus in becoming a man is of a lower status than angels (see Philippians 2:5-8), and yet Jesus in rising again from the dead received glory and then everything is subdued under Christ and put under his feet (see 1 Corinthians 15:20-28, Ephesians 1:9-10).
This is helpfully related in Hebrews 5 to the death, with special emphasis on the resurrection being the vindication:
During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him
The above passage brings up the themes of Jesus’ perfect obedience and submission to the Father, and such was completed (perfected) in his suffering & death on the cross and then in his resurrection.
In conclusion, we see Jesus as the obedience Son to the Father, who rather than considering equality with God, humbles himself before God and exalts his majestic name. Not only does Christ do well where we fail, he presents to us the image that we are now being shaped towards. It is important to remember how our understanding of ourselves and God comes together in the person of Jesus Christ, who is both fully God and fully man. And in being fully man, he was obedient to the Father, when everyone else in humanity who was supposed to be wasn’t. This becomes important to recognise Jesus as the pinnacle of humanity, but also as the incarnate God himself, as it influences our understanding of who we are, who we will be, our salvation, and how these things change how we present ourselves.
I will continue these loose threads, in a following post and will seek to apply this to our new identity in Christ in Colossians 3, which will be linked here