Evangelism – Celebrating the Image of God

Assistant Pastor Chris Diebold

For the next four weeks, we will build on Pastor Donny’s presentation of evangelism from the biblical-theological, systematic, and practical perspectives. The framework we’ll use comes from Rico Tice, one of the co-producers of Life Explored: Celebrate, Serve, Ask, Exit. This week, we begin with Celebrating the Image of God.

In the last book of J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, Frodo Baggins and his faithful servant Samwise Gamgee discover that their guide through the dark land of Mordor, Gollum, has always had evil intentions against them. Though they’ve suspected it for some time, the revelation of their guide’s depravity is too much for Sam. Nevertheless he cannot take the life of this wretched creature. In part, this is because Sam knows something of the evil that has infected Gollum after travelling through dark places himself. But there is also a theme throughout The Lord of the Rings that points to the mercy and pity that Gollum repeatedly receives on account of an inherent dignity that he hasn’t yet lost amid all his evil. At the point of decision, Sam spares Gollum’s life because he takes pity on Gollum.

When we translate this into theological terms in the real world, this points to the fact that every man, woman, and child is made in the image of God and thus deserving of dignity. For a brief proof of this truth, remember that mankind was made in the image of God at creation (Gen 1:26). That man did not lose the image of God after the Fall was confirmed in the time of Noah (Gen 9:6). Finally, this truth was carried into the New Testament as a foundational truth (1 Cor 11:7; James 3:9). Humanity was, is, and will be made in the image of God.

But when we’re honest, we can admit that we’re prone to deny certain people the status of image bearer. Adolf Hitler is a good, if not extreme, example. For all the terrible and inexcusable death and destruction that he caused, he was no less made in the image of God than you are. But it doesn’t take much to view Hitler as less than an image bearer, does it?

The reality is that all of humanity, even the worst of it, possesses inherent dignity simply for the fact that all of humanity was, is, and will be made in the image of God. That is something to celebrate. Your family members, friends, neighbors, and coworkers are made in the image of God, and at least for that reason you need to take an interest in them. One way we take interest in people is to concern ourselves with their physical and spiritual health. We’ll develop this point next week when we consider what it looks like to serve fellow image bearers.

But we can extend our understanding of the image of God one step farther and say that, while each individual is made in the image and likeness of God, only the totality of humanity can fully reflect the image of God. Herman Bavinck explains:

Not the man alone [Adam], nor the man and woman [Eve] together, but only the whole of humanity is the fully developed image of God, his children, his offspring. The image of God is much too rich for it to be fully realized in a single human being, however richly gifted that human being may be. It can only be somewhat unfolded in its depth and riches in a humanity counting billions of members.[1]

Bavinck reminds us that humanity is not merely a loose collection of bodies, a “heap of souls on a tract of land.” Humanity in its variety and expanse expressed as an organic whole reflects the height and breadth and depth of God. This variety extends to both people’s associations with each other and each person’s work. “Belonging to that humanity is also its development, its history, its ever-expanding dominion over the earth, its progress in science and art, its subjugation of all creatures.”[2] Our life and work and play are all connected to the idea of what it means to be image bearers.

None of this is meant to minimize the sinfulness of mankind. The doctrine of total depravity is a reminder that there is nothing inside of us by which we can be saved. It is, though, meant to be a reminder that total depravity doesn’t mean that someone is as bad as they could be. If we are mirrors, we have been broken beyond self-repair. But we still reflect, no matter how distorted, because that’s what mirrors do.

What does this have to do with evangelism? Before you can share the good news of Jesus Christ, you must know that your family member, neighbor, friend, or coworker is made in the image of God; he or she possesses inherent dignity. You must have an attitude that celebrates the way that his or her life is wrapped up in what it means for humanity to be made in God’s image. You must see the surpassing worth of this image bearer.

And when you do, you will understand all the more deeply why you need to share the gospel with him or her.

[1] Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, ed. John Bolt, trans. John Vriend, 4 vols. (Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Academic, 2003), 1:577.

[2] Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 1:577.