INTERSECT: What Does the Image of God Mean for Believers Today? (Part 2)
In the last issue, we considered the nature of God’s image in man and why it is important. Toward the end of our discussion, we began to draw out its relationship to the gospel. This time,
I would like to focus on its specific importance for believers today.
The Image of God,
Creation, and Culture
Previously we mentioned Leroy Forlines’s four basic relationships: God, others, self, and creation. Let’s take a closer look at our relationship to creation. As image bearers of God, we have been created to exercise His dominion over the earth. Unfortunately, sin has marred our attempts to do so. Yet, redemption is God’s means of restoring our ability to function rightly as His image bearers once again. Creation, the fall, and redemption require that we consider the nature of culture and the Christian’s relationship to it.
So what is culture? John Frame defines it in relation to creation: “Creation is what God makes; culture is what we make.”  In short, God has fashioned the world, and He expects us to do something with it. Our creativity is a reflection of God’s original creation work. Andy Crouch illustrates this point by distinguishing between raw materials and what humans do with them. He explains, “Omelets and chairs and paintings are just as much a part of the world as eggs and wood and pigments, preexisting and waiting for both interpretation and further creation.”  In other words, God has gifted human beings with both the ability and the command to make beautiful and enjoyable things within the world He has made.
Cultural creativity does not end with omelets, chairs, and paintings, however. It is even broader, including “sounds, institutions, philosophies, fashions, enthusiasms, myths, prejudices, relationships, attitudes, tastes, rituals, habits, colors, and loves, all embodied in individual people, in groups and collectives and associations of people (many of whom do not know they are associated), in books, in buildings, in the use of time and space, in wars, in jokes, and in food.”  Understood in this way, our prerogative as redeemed image bearers of God is to remake our cultural expressions to reflect the purposes of God, not the purposes of sin-fallen man.
Cultural Transformation and the Gospel
It is important to define culture in this broad way because it needs to be understood in light of our other relationships (God, others, self). It helps us in thinking about how Christians relate to culture. Sanctification in the life of believers is God’s work of restoring the brokenness of all our relationships. All these areas (God, self, others, creation) are interconnected. We cannot expect to grow in our relationship with God if we fail to give attention to our relationship with others. Neither can we grow closer to God if we ignore the inner self and the created world around us.
It is tempting for Christians to live segmented lives. To do so fails to grasp the full ramifications of the gospel for all of life. The gospel is the power of God for salvation (Romans 1:16; 1 Corinthians 1:18), and its effect in our lives is transformative. Paul urges us not to be conformed to the world, but to be transformed by a renewed mind (Romans 12:2). As the word of Christ renews our minds, it changes the way we think. This, in turn, leads to a change in behavior. It is a comprehensive change, one without boundaries.
What does this transformation look like? Let’s take Christian vocation as an example. What does it mean for a redeemed image bearer of God to transform his life’s work? Some folks would say that a Christian mechanic ought to post Bible verses throughout his shop, or perhaps play Christian music for customers. Though these measures are not necessarily bad, they do not capture the essence of gospel transformation. One obvious means of demonstrating gospel renewal as a mechanic would be to carry out fair and honest business dealings. It shouldn’t stop there, however. His work should strive for the highest standards of excellence. The underlying motivation driving his work has also changed. The sole purpose of his vocation is to glorify God in everything he does. In essence, he is exercising God’s rule over creation through his skills as a mechanic.
What about human relationships? We sometimes think our only purpose in relating to others is to lead them to Christ. While that is our primary purpose as Christians, it is not our only purpose. Every human being has dignity, because he or she is a bearer of God’s image. For instance, those in the medical profession have a unique opportunity to care for the physical and emotional needs of others. It is a noble vocation for believers. The gospel would have us invest in the lives of others. The empathy of a nurse or the listening ear of a physician genuinely interested in his or her patients both exemplify Christian virtue. We help others because they bear God’s image and are of value to Him. We serve others with excellence and sacrifice so as to glorify God in our vocations.
Many other examples could be given. How does the gospel inform our views of education, medicine, social health, science, politics, or the arts? How does the gospel transform habits as a student, an assembly line worker, a school guidance counselor, or business person? How does it affect my choices in entertainment and leisure? What about my hobbies, likes, dislikes, loves, attitudes, or philosophies? The application of the gospel is as broad as the world God made, and as diverse as the cultural expressions of the image bearers He has placed within it.
God is making creation new again. His vehicle for doing so is Christ and His glorious Church. One day this renewal will be complete. The heavens and earth will be restored once and for all. All those image bearers found in Christ will be renewed in the resurrection. On that day, we will reign with Christ forever, making culture for the glory of God, but without the taint of sin.
God’s transformational work through the Church in the world today is a sign of what is to come. My prayer is that God would grant us wisdom in understanding His world and discernment in identifying our transformational role within it.
1 John M. Frame, “Christianity and Culture,” Lectures given at the Pensacola Theological Institute (July 2001). Online:
2 Andy Crouch, Culture Making: Recovering our Creative Calling (Downers Grove: IVP, 2008), 25.
3 Ken Myers, All God’s Children and Blue Suede Shoes With a New Introduction (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012), 34.
About the Writer: Matthew McAffee is program coordinator of Theological Studies at Welch College. He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree at Welch College, Master’s degrees from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and University of Chicago, and a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago.