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The Image of God

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
The Truth Network Radio
April 27, 2024 12:01 am

The Image of God

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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April 27, 2024 12:01 am

People often look at the issues of abortion, euthanasia, and capital punishment in political terms. But these are profoundly theological issues. Today, R.C. Sproul looks at the foundation of human life and dignity: the image of God.

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R.C. Sproul (1939-2017) was known for his ability to winsomely and clearly communicate deep, practical truths from God's Word. He was founder of Ligonier Ministries, first minister of preaching and teaching at Saint Andrew's Chapel, first president of Reformation Bible College, and executive editor of Tabletalk magazine.

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Nathan W. Bingham is vice president of ministry engagement for Ligonier Ministries, executive producer and host of Renewing Your Mind, host of the Ask Ligonier podcast, and a graduate of Presbyterian Theological College in Melbourne, Australia. Nathan joined Ligonier in 2012 and lives in Central Florida with his wife and four children.

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R.C. Sproul

There's a lot of debate among theologians, but there's no debate in Scripture. Scripture unambiguously, clearly teaches that after the fall, man is still in the image of God. Why do Christians believe in the sanctity of human life?

Why did the Old Testament prescribe capital punishment for those who commit murder? Because all people are made in the image of God, and as a result, all of us, no matter what we believe, our status in life, whether we're inside or outside of the womb, have dignity. Welcome to the Saturday edition of Renewing Your Mind.

I'm your host, Nathan W. Bingham. As we said last Saturday, people today have an identity crisis. People don't know what it means to be human. They can't explain why humans have worth, and they can't agree why or if human life is more valuable than animals in a zoo.

So we're spending Saturdays working through R.C. Sproul's series, A Shattered Image. You can own this series and study guide, and we'll send you Dr. Sproul's book, The Hunger for Significance, when you give a donation of any amount at So let's consider what it means when the Bible says that we are made in the image of God. In our first session in our study of the doctrine of man, we had a little historical reconnaissance where we skated lightly over various ways in which people have attempted to define our humanity in the biological sense or in the psychological sense by pointing to our mental capacities or to our ability to make choices, our volitional inclinations. We saw a brief glimpse at attempts to define man in terms of his sexuality or in terms of his economics or existential philosophy and the rest. And I think that one of the philosophers in the 20th century wrote a book by a title that itself said something somewhat captivating. Herbert Marcuse wrote a book called The One Dimensional Man.

Have you ever wondered if you are who you think you are? There was an article in one of the recent women's magazines when it answered this question, how does a wife keep her husband monogamous? And the response that this psychologist gave to that question said that the insightful woman understands that when she's dealing with her husband, she's not dealing, well in one sense she's dealing with one person, but in another dimension she's dealing with three persons. That that man that she married is part boy, part adolescent, and part mature adult.

The wise woman will recognize that she has to deal with all three of those competing at times personalities that she has just married. And I think that what Marcuse was trying to say and what this other woman was trying to say is that no human being is simply one dimensional in their makeup. You have a chemical dimension and your body chemistry influences your life. You do have a biological aspect to your humanity. You have a sexual dimension to your life.

Your work is very important to who you are. You have an economic aspect to your being. You have a sociological dimension, a psychological dimension, an ethical dimension and you have certainly a theological dimension. And any attempt as I said earlier to reduce the essence of a human being to only one of those is to produce a distortion, a simplistic distortion out of what it means to be human because as human beings we are very, very, very complex. And it always amazes me when somebody will come up with a type and say there are four basic psychological types of human beings, you know, the disk test, the driver, the influencer and so on. Well there may be general big picture trends or types of personalities, but the great beauty of the diversity of our humanity is that there are no two people in this room or in this world exactly alike.

And the economic dimension drives this person not the same way this one is driven by it. And that's part of the beauty in the diversity of God's creation. But what I want to do in this session is to look more closely at the theological aspect and it is that, it's an aspect, it's a dimension to what it means to be human. The Scripture doesn't use this language often, but where it does use it, it uses it in crucial and critical ways by defining man and male and female as a creature that is made in the image of God.

We have a Latin term for everything, so naturally we have one for that. The Latin term for to be a creature in the image of God is the imago Dei. We call that aspect by which we are in the image of God to be the imago Dei.

Now that little phrase, that little theological description makes a couple of important statements. The first one is to call man the imago Dei or the image of God in the first instance differentiates man, all men, male and female, from God because it calls attention to whatever else it means to be human. The first thing it means is that we are creatures and all that that implies, finite, dependent, derived, accountable, that we are not God. We may be the image of God, but the image of God is not God. The image of God is subordinate to God. The image of God is a creature. And so the phrase image of God says about us that we are to be distinguished from God.

No human being is divine. The second differentiation that this phrase does biblically and theologically is that it distinguishes mankind from all the other creatures in the world. That this sets man apart from the animals, sets man apart from the animals. This is a major motif in the biblical account of creation that man, though he is subordinate to God, is given a role by which he is to have dominion over all of the earth, that man is given a position of authority over the rest of the world.

And there's a certain sense in which the world is a trust given to man with all kinds of responsibilities imposed upon him, and yet at the same time the world is also a support system for man. I remember Albert Schweitzer was so committed to the sanctity of life, you recall, that he wouldn't swat a fly with a fly swatter. If he found a scary bug in his bed, he wouldn't squish it. Have you ever found yourself standing on an ant or something like that and say, I've just killed something?

I did that the other day. I stepped on one and I thought, you know, I hope Shirley MacLaine's wrong. And I thought, you know, that creature's existence just ended with a kind of an arbitrary move of my foot.

There's a movie out called Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, and it sort of puts a perspective on this of what would happen to you if you got shrunk to the size of an ant. It'd be a tough world to live in, wouldn't it? But Schweitzer had this reverence for life to a remarkable degree, and I always wondered how he squared it with being a physician. You say, well, wait a minute, the physician's task is to save life, to heal life.

Well, yes and no. But to save one life as a physician, if there's an invading organism into your body that represents a clear and present danger to your survival, the physician will find every means he can to kill that parasitical type of life. Even cancer itself is a form of life, but it's a form of life run amok that kills normal life. And so at some point we have to make a distinction between what we're going to save and what we're going to kill. If you're really committed to the sanctity of life in every imaginable way, you wouldn't be able to kill animals to survive, nor could you kill vegetables because they're alive too. I mean vegetarians don't go far enough. We have to stop eating if we're going to really take that to its consummate point, aren't we? But we understand that biblically the animal world is given partly as an adornment of the creation, but also partly as a support system to the one that God has placed in dominion over all of the earth. Again, that's a two-edged sword. One of the things for which mankind will have to stand trial before the heavenly tribunal will be for our ecological transgressions.

The way in which instead of dressing the garden and tilling the garden and keeping the garden, we have polluted the garden, exploited the garden, and raped the garden. On the other hand, we'll have to answer to the fact that in the world we live in right now, in the United States of America, by law, fish eggs are protected beyond the measure of human embryos. You look at India where you have people worshipping cattle, and the cows have free reign on the street while people are dying of starvation, and to kill one cow can save all these human lives, but the cow is more valuable than the person. I mean, to understand the biblical view of man is man is not God, he's answerable to God, he's ruled by God, but nor is he a creature, and he has a position of responsibility and authority and privilege over the rest of the world. So, we see these distinctions, and the fact is that man is different, and that difference is somehow described biblically with these words. Let me read them from the Genesis account from chapter 1 where we read, and God said, let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea, and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all of the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground. And God created man in his own image. In the image of God, he created him. Male and female, he created him.

Now what the Bible teaches us here in Genesis is about the origin of man. Man in creation is made in the image of God. I've often wondered if the rest of the creation is looking to me and to you to get their idea of what God is like, what kind of idea the creation has. In other words, if I am the image and the likeness that my dog looks to to understand God, what a terrible picture of God my dog would have, because what the Scriptures are describing for us here are man in his origins, that is, original man. And the next question that this presses us to is, are we now in the image of God? We were in the image of God. Are we now in the image of God?

That's a crucial question for this reason. One of the great conflicts today between a theological understanding of man and a secular understanding of man, I see as a difference between evaluating man from a descriptive perspective or from a normative perspective, or to say it another way, to understand what it means to be human from a theological perspective or from a phenomenological perspective. The phenomenological perspective says if you want to know what it means to be human is that we study human beings now in their normal patterns, in their normal activity. We study a universe. We examine behavioral patterns, and on the basis of sufficient research of behavioral patterns, we come statistically to a description of normal humanity.

And then we build an ethic on it. I call it statistical morality, where we go around and we find out that 67 percent of people were involved in premarital sexual activity. Therefore, it's normal. If normal, it's human.

If human, it's good. Whereas the biblical theological view of man is that the view of man we have in creation is normative, but the descriptive version of man today is man under judgment, man in dreadful corruption, and a descriptive analysis, a statistical analysis of what we do in our normal behavioral patterns only gives us the profile of a normal sinner. Again, is that normal sinner still the image of God, or has the image by which we were created been lost? There's a lot of debate about that among theologians, but there's no debate in Scripture. Scripture unambiguously, clearly teaches that after the fall, something radical happens to man, and we're going to spend a long time looking at that, but whatever else happens to man in the fall, man is still in the image of God. Now, how do we know that?

Well, we know it's simply because the Bible describes man as being in the image of God after the fall at a most critical point, and I'm going to skip over to that for a second. Before I read this passage, I'd like to give a little comment on the side. With the abortion issue reaching zenith proportions in this crisis in America, it seems like every newspaper editorial has something to say about it, and I have seen a particular argument used now three or four times in editorials in major newspapers where the writer has said that they have no respect for advocates of pro-life because of the major inconsistency in the pro-life movement. Namely, that many, if not all, but most at least, of the advocates of pro-life, that is who are opposed to abortion, are also in favor of the death penalty for capital crimes, and the editorials, have you seen this in the papers where they say, how in the world, what a gross inconsistency, if these people are really pro-life, they're going to be picketing the penitentiaries where inmates are held and incarcerated on death row.

And when I read that perspective from the editors of the newspapers, I say, boy, they just don't get it, do they? They don't understand that in the whole history of Christianity, the overwhelming majority report has been pro-life to such a degree that the church, overwhelming majority report historically has been pro-capital punishment in the case of murder. I heard the governor of Pennsylvania, when the state legislator passed a bill restoring capital punishment in the case of first-degree murder in Pennsylvania, the governor vetoed it, and then when he gave a press conference, he said that the reason he vetoed it was because the Bible said, thou shalt not kill. He didn't read the next page where the violation of the Decalogue, the violation of the prohibition against murder was to be punished by death.

And that goes back way before Moses, all the way back to what's called the Noahic Covenant, when God restores His fallen universe, His fallen creation, and sets the basic laws of creation anew for Noah and his family, when he's more or less starting over. That's where capital punishment was instituted and ordained biblically. Now I know that there are vast numbers of people who could care less what the Old Testament says about capital punishment, particularly as far back as the patriarchal period or even back into the period of Noah. But for those of you who do have some consideration for what the biblical warrant is, I think we need to at least try to understand it. That if I would say to people, whether you agree with Christianity or Judaism or Islam or not, can you articulate for me why Judaism historically, Christianity historically, and Islam historically favored the death penalty?

I can tell you what is not the reason. It's not because these world religions had a low view of life. The whole impetus for the death penalty in all three of those great religions has been out of a profound commitment to the sanctity of human life. All tracing their roots back to Genesis 9 now, which I will read for you, beginning in verse 5, I will demand an accounting from every animal, and from each man too I will demand an accounting for the life of his fellow man. Whoever sheds the blood of man by man shall his blood be shed.

Now let me just make a statement here. Whoever sheds the blood of man by man shall his blood be shed. That is not a prophecy. The literary structure of this passage does not indicate that what the Word is saying is that those who live by the sword will perish by the sword and so on. The literary structure here, the grammatical composition of that statement is in the imperative. God is actually a command. If you willfully, maliciously shed the life of a human being, you forfeit yours.

Now I want you to follow the next clause. For in the image of God has God made man. In other words, the rationale God gives for capital punishment is that God regards a malicious assault on a human life on an image bearer of God Himself as virtually a tack on His own dignity. What God is saying here is that if you murder my image bearer, you die. I require your death. In fact, the death penalty at this point in Israel was not optional.

It was mandatory. Because, they said, God's demanding this because He said human life is so sacred that I will not tolerate the malicious destruction of human life. Now again, I don't mean to turn this into a discussion of capital punishment, but I want you to see that how we understand the image of God and its significance, how we understand the holy foundation of a human life, will in large measure determine where you come out on abortion, where you come out on euthanasia, where you come out on capital punishment. And there is a consistency here. I had one person advocating pro-abortion told me that a discarded fetus is, quote, domestic sewage.

Well, if it is domestic sewage, there's nothing to be concerned about. But if it's human and it's alive, then we're talking about the greatest ethical issue in the 20th century, if not in history. Okay, what does it mean when the Bible says we are created in the image and likeness of God? Notice that there were two words, image and likeness. Two Hebrew words, Salem and Demuth, are used there in the text.

In the Hebrew language, there is a common grammatical structure called a hendiotis whereby one thing is defined by two distinct words that are similar. I would take the position on this passage that what the author of Genesis is saying is that there's one thing about man that is described here as being image and likeness, and the Greek here is icon and homoiusios, that we are icons of God in the sense that we resemble Him. Now, how do we resemble Him? Some would reduce it to the abstract dimension, as I've indicated already, that we can think and God can think. We can choose and God can choose.

We can love and God can love. The Mormons take it to mean that God has a body, because if we're His image and we have bodies, then the original archetype must also have a body. Well, what is it that uniquely stamps us as the image of God?

Well, I'm not going to answer that now. I was going to say that there is something special and vitally important and unique that Scripture speaks of again and again wherein is invested our basic humanity. Now, I'll give you a hint of it before the next lecture. It has to do with our ability to mirror and to reflect the character of God, that the image that God gave to you, the likeness that He has put in you as a creature, is an ability to show what it means to be holy.

Now, is that still there? We'll look at that in our next lesson. Theology is not merely theoretical. Our theology has direct implications for how we live, how we treat each other, how we protect each other.

So I'm glad you're joining us as R.C. Sproul unpacks the doctrine of man and helps us understand biblically what it means to be human. This is the Saturday edition of Renewing Your Mind, and the message you heard today is from a six-message series that also has a study guide. So this could be a wonderful series to work through with your small group, youth group, or Bible study, especially as we live in a time of great confusion when it comes to answering the question, Who am I? Own this series for life and receive Dr. Sproul's book, The Hunger for Significance, when you give a gift of any amount at This offer ends at midnight, and thank you for your support as your generosity is helping produce and spread teaching that is providing answers to the fundamental questions of life and eternity that so many are getting wrong. So visit today. Is man body and soul or body, soul, and spirit? Next time, R.C. Sproul continues exploring the makeup of man and what it means that man is made in the image of God. So join us next Saturday here on Renewing Your Mind. .
Whisper: medium.en / 2024-04-27 02:38:32 / 2024-04-27 02:47:17 / 9

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