One of the thorniest issues today is ethics. Basically, how do I determine what is right and wrong regarding how I need to live? And granted: this is complicated. Nevertheless, for Christians, ethics is much deeper than just knowing and doing what is right and wrong. The primary concern is this: how do I glorify God? How do we show one another God’s character in how we live? How do we imitate our Creator? How do I live for God?
What has made this hard is that we don’t really have many great examples out there as to what it means to “glorify God”. More often than not, at some stage we experience disappointment in the people we have once aspired to be like, once we have discovered that their “feet are made of clay” just like ours. Whether it is Socrates, Luther, Gandhi, or Mandela, every hero has some flawed aspect to their character or past actions. And there is a reason for this… we need to realize, like creation, that we are…
- A broken people
Sometimes we view our sins or moral failures as being part of what it means to be human. We even consider moral failure as being “normal”. Yet, what the Bible reveals is that there is nothing really normal about it, because we were not originally created and designed to be like that. In Gen. 1:26-27, God reveals our original purpose, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness… So God created man in His own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them”. We were created to be “image bearers” of God.
People have often tried to figure out what it is in our humanity that makes us “God’s image” (like our emotions, intelligence, relationships etc.), but it is impossible to boil down God’s image to one aspect. Rather, God created humanity in its totality for one specific purpose or function: to “image” Him. Like a mirror is meant to reflect the person who looks into it, so we were created to reflect God to His creation. We were made to be His representatives, to show the world its Creator in our thoughts, desires, words and actions in our relationships with a) God, b) one another and c) creation.
Yet, what Gen. 3:1ff highlights is that humanity in Adam and Eve rebelled against this purpose. Rather than wanting to “image God”, we opted to be our own gods, as the serpent tempted Eve, “you will be like God” (Gen. 3:4). Ever since humanity’s rebellion the image of God has been marred by sin; whereas we were meant to be clear mirrors reflecting God’s glory, we have become cracked/shattered and smudged mirrors that have become distorted.
What sin has done, rather than showing the world a perfect picture of God’s glory, we now show a distorted picture of God. Theologian R.C. Sproul puts it this way, “when we sin as the image bearers of God, we are saying to the whole creation, to all nature under our dominion, to the birds of the air and the beasts of the field: ‘This is how God is. This is how your Creator behaves. Look in his mirror; look at us, and you will see the character of the Almighty’ We say to the world, ‘God is covetous; God is ruthless; God is bitter; God is a murderer, a thief, a slanderer, an adulterer. God is all of these things that we are doing’”.
That’s why sin is so serious, rather than bringing glory to God, we bring dishonour to God. We misrepresent God or show people and creation a distorted picture of Him. There is nothing “human” about sin or moral failure. Sin is falling short of what it means to be truly human. As Tim Chester puts it, “We often excuse our actions by saying, ‘I am only human’. There is nothing ‘only’ about being human: we’re truly human as we reflect God’s glory”. Sadly, as Rom. 3:23 puts it, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” A cracked/shattered mirror will never reflect a perfect picture.
- Jesus: the True image bearer
Knowing that humanity is in a mess (Eph. 2:1-3); in Ephesians 4:17-19, Paul tells the church that we cannot base how we live (ethics) upon how humanity is now (it fallen and devoid of a true knowledge of God), rather, as he highlights in Eph. 4:20-21, we need to base how we live on Jesus. We are called to be “imitators of God”, living a life of love “just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us” (Eph. 5:1-2). Jesus becomes the blueprint for Christian ethics, what it means to live for God. And there is a reason for this…
When Jesus came into this world, both the Gospel of Matthew and Luke point out that Jesus’ humanity was not ruined by sin, because He was, “from the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 1:18-25) and due to His unique origin, He is, “called holy” (Lk. 1:35). As God the Father is holy, so Jesus’ humanity will reflect that holiness. After Adam, Jesus is the first person born who is not a shattered/cracked/smudged mirror of God, but a perfect mirror of God. In 2 Cor. 4:4-6, Jesus is described as “the image of God”, and it is only “in the face of Jesus Christ” that we see, “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God”. He is described in Col. 1:15 as, “the image of the invisible God”. In Heb. 1:3 Jesus is described as, “The radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being”. It is only in Jesus, that we see God’s glory reflected (Jn. 1:14).
Consequently, when it comes to living for God, we need to look no further than Jesus, because Jesus is the perfect image-bearer of God. Tim Chester sums it up beautifully, “Jesus is the glory of the Father. He makes God known in the world. He is God in human form. He shows us what it means to be the image of God and to reflect God’s glory. That’s why the New Testament sometimes says we should be like God and sometimes says we should be like Christ. It’s because Christ is the true image of God”.
Even so, Jesus did not merely come to show us what it means to be truly human (true image bearing) looks like. He also came to transform us to become like Him. It is in Christ, that we are “created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph. 4:23). And it is in looking at Jesus, knowing Him through the Scriptures, that we are continually transformed to become like Him, “And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:18). It is in the knowledge of Jesus that we are “being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator” (Col. 3:10).