The Importance of the Imago Dei

One of the most influential sermon series I’ve listened to is “A Beautiful Design” by Matt Chandler, pastor of The Village Church in Texas.

Focused on God’s design for men and women, the series left a profound mark on me when I first listened in 2014, several months before I married my wife, Lisa. Today, I’m revisiting these sermons with Lisa and a couple we’re close to, and I’m reminded of how these messages began to transform me in a number of ways.

The first – and most important – way came by introducing me to a concept I had never before thought critically about: the “Imago Dei,” a theological term that means “image of God” and signifies God creating humans in His image.

Chandler defines the Imago Dei as “God’s investment in humanity of God-like glory and moral capacity to reign and rule the earth as His representatives.”

This definition is supported in Scripture. In fact, if you were to open your Bible and begin reading at Genesis 1, you’d read only 26 verses before the Imago Dei would pop up: “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.’” (Genesis 1:27-28)

For most Christians, this comes across as Sunday school material. Basic stuff.

But do we truly know this? Do we live our day-to-day lives as if we know the Imago Dei is true?

The Imago Dei has wide-ranging implications (which is the focus of one of Chandler’s sermons). But the one ramification that resonates loudest is this:

Because I am made in God’s image, I have an intrinsic value, given to me by God, that is higher than the rest of creation. So do you. And so does every other human being.

Let me repeat that: So does every other human being.

Understanding the Imago Dei means understanding that every human being has an inherent, unwavering God-given dignity.

Put another way, the Imago Dei is a defining principle of our humanity. It signifies our high value and dignity, given as a gift from God, as creatures made in the image of our Creator.

Yet in today’s culture, defining each other by other standards – by seemingly any standard other than the Imago Dei – is what we often do best. It’s how we as a society determine people’s value and dignity.

Disagree? Read the following statements, and take note of whether you begin to make judgments — positive or negative — about each person.

She’s black. He’s white.

He’s a Democrat. She’s a Republican.

She’s stylish. He wears sweatpants all the time.

He’s rich. She’s poor.

She’s Jewish. He’s Muslim.

He has an associate’s degree. She has a Ph.D.

She’s a VP of Marketing. He’s a custodian.

He’s an ISTJ. She’s an ENFP.

She’s gay. He’s straight.

He’s vegan. She’s gluten-intolerant.

She’s slim. He’s overweight.

He’s a newlywed. She’s divorced.

Did you find yourself making value judgments about each person? (Don’t worry – I won’t tell anyone.) For most of us, the answer is yes.

Too often, we let society tell us who has value and who doesn’t. Too often, we place too high of a premium on differentiation and forget what we all have in common.

This is not to say that diversity isn’t beautiful. God made us diverse (in a multitude of ways), in His image, for a reason. In my opinion, a more diverse world is a better one.

But before we can get there, we need to begin by defining ourselves and treating one another as if we’re all created in the image of the Creator. We need to stop allowing our culture to tell us how we stand out and we need to begin focusing on how God tells us we fit in.

We can start with the Imago Dei, which shows us that societal definitions, stereotypes and judgments pale in comparison to God’s truth.

Consider: The Imago Dei tell us that the CEO of a Fortune 500 company and the homeless person asking for a few spare dollars near the highway share the same inherent God-given dignity. It tells us that my 15-month-old niece and LeBron James share the same God-given dignity. It tells us that you and the coworker you cannot get along with share the same God-given dignity. It tells us that Hillary supporters and Trump supporters share the same God-given dignity.

It tells us that Christians and non-Christians share the same God-given dignity.

Picture what our relationships with one another might be like if we were to recognize the intrinsic value that God has gifted to humans in every person we come across.

I’m serious. Think about that. What might our households, our neighborhoods, our workplaces, our cities look like? What might Hope Community Church look like?

I believe that understanding the Imago Dei and acting on it is our imperative as Christians. My worry is that, although we know this in theory, we will continue to let society tell us who has value and who doesn’t, instead of treating every person with the God-given dignity they deserve.

We must not fall for the lie.

“But oh,” as Chandler puts it so fittingly to end his sermon, “if we understood the image of God. Can you imagine?”

Let’s not imagine. Let’s live like we understand the image of God in ourselves and everyone else around us.

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