Am I failing at life? Am I succeeding? And why do I exist in the first place?

These questions are huge, we all ask them, and thankfully the Bible helps us with answers in the form of a litmus test.

We are made by God to image him in the world. That’s our purpose. Genesis [1:27]: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”

But what exactly does this mean for my life?

Such a simple sentence can put you on a long search in the attempt to wrap your arms around the full implications. It turns out, what it means to be made in God’s image comes with a lot of right answers.

“Historically,” John Piper said in oneAsk Pastor John episode, “people have said to be made in God’s image is our morality, our sense of right and wrong. Our rationality, our ability to reason. Our spirituality, our ability to relate to God. Our aesthetic sense — you don’t find too many monkeys creating Mona Lisas. Our judicial sense, the whole legal system, a sense of right and wrong and justice and injustice. And I think, frankly, all of those are true and aspects of what it means to be in God’s image” (episode 153).

And they all help to inform why we stand for the dignity of all human life, including the unborn, the disabled, the terminally sick, and the elderly.

The bottom line is, image bearing has a lot of right definitions because we are unique and complex creatures made by an infinite and gloriously multifaceted God.

But what I find especially interesting is how Pastor John focuses on onemeaning that often gets missed, perhaps for its simplicity. But to find this one point, there’s not one place to go, not simply one book chapter on image bearing. How he explains our role as image-bearers is consistent, but it’s also scattered throughout John Piper’s articles, paragraphs in books, statements, interviews, and forewords. I’ll attempt to gather and superglue together the image-bearing picture.

Glory Spreaders

First and fundamentally, to image God means in our most human selves, we are spreaders. In his foreword to Sam Crabtree’s book Practicing Affirmation, Piper writes: “The point of being created in the image of God is that human beings are destined to display God. That’s what images do. And the point of being redeemed by Jesus, and renewed after the image of our Creator, is to recover this destiny” (7).

The imago dei remains present even in fallen humanity, but in a marred and broken capacity. Redemption recovers some of the lost luster and amplifies the spread.

Next, in his seminal book Desiring God, Piper goes on to explain: “According to the text [Genesis [1:26]–27], creation exists for man. But since God made man like himself, man’s dominion over the world and his filling the world is a display — an imaging forth — of God. God’s aim, therefore, was that man would so act that he would mirror forth God, who has ultimate dominion. Man is given the exalted status of image-bearer, not so he would become arrogant and autonomous (as he tried to do in the Fall), but so he would reflect the glory of his Maker, whose image he bears. God’s purpose in creation, therefore, was to fill the earth with his own glory. This is made clear, for example, in Numbers [14:21], where the Lord says, ‘All the earth shall be filled with the glory of the LORD,’ and in Isaiah 43:7, where the Lord refers to His people as those ‘whom I created for my glory’” (314).

Image bearers are glory spreaders. But this still remains rather abstract and can be made more concrete.

Marble (Likeness)

Piper illuminates his point with a metaphor of marble in a few paragraphs published in the book A Holy Ambition (2011). There Piper says:

Books by the hundreds have been written on the imago dei, as it’s called. It’s a huge issue.

I’m going to avoid the whole controversy and say something much simpler, and I think just as profound: Images are created to image. Right? Why do you ever set up an image of anything? To image it!

You put up a statue of Stalin, you want people to look at Stalin and think about Stalin. You put up a statue of George Washington to be reminded of the founding fathers. Images are made to image. So if God made us, unlike all the other animals, in his image, whatever it means in detail, this it means clearly: God is the reality and we are the image. Images are created to set forth the reality.

Why did God create man? To show God! He created little images so that they would talk and act and feel in a way that reveals the way God is. So people would look at the way you behave, look at the way you think, the way you feel, and say, “God must be great, God must be real.” That is why you exist.

Written by Tony Reinke
Read more at Desiring God

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