I want to talk about something I have become more and more passionate about over the years. Even more recently, I’ve had conversations with different people where it was relevant and even necessary for their ability to recognize a way to move forward in their lives and find Jesus present with them.
I could describe what I’m talking about a lot of different ways. In systematic theology, I would link it with the branch of anthropology. For others, I might bring up imago Dei. In reformed circles, I might start a discussion about total depravity. But for every day, regular people and for something that matters for me day in and day out, I should probably just talk about the value of every human being.
With this topic, I could easily get pulled in a thousand directions and tied up in unnecessary and unhelpful semantics and never-ending arguments. Forgive me if that starts to happen, but I really want to try to avoid that if I can. This is something that is important to me not just as an idea but because I know it makes a huge difference for how people view themselves, view life, and view God. I have had conversations with people who are broken in part because of a destructive perspective on this topic. I know people who essentially have been abused by the church regarding this topic.
Bear with me, and read the following passage, even though it’s kind of long:
14 For the love of Christ controls us, since we have concluded this, that Christ died for all; therefore all have died. 15 And he died for all so that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised. 16 So then from now on we acknowledge no one from an outward human point of view. Even though we have known Christ from such a human point of view, now we do not know him in that way any longer. 17 So then, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; what is old has passed away – look, what is new has come! 18 And all these things are from God who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and who has given us the ministry of reconciliation. 19 In other words, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting people’s trespasses against them, and he has given us the message of reconciliation. 20 Therefore we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making His plea through us. We plead with you on Christ’s behalf, “Be reconciled to God!” 21 God made the one who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that in him we would become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:14-21).
Thanks. Now, look again at verse 17. The rest is important too; it gives the foundation and the significance of verse 17, but verse 17 especially is what’s important for what I’m thinking about. I’ll come back to this in a moment.
I want to affirm that, yes, I believe in something called ‘sin.’ Yes, I believe that everyone who does not reconcile with God through Jesus is currently and will continue eternally to be separated from God. Yes, I believe the only way to overcome the effects of sin and establish a relationship with God is by God’s grace, through faith and faithfulness.
I also read the rest of my Bible.
I notice in the very first chapter of the whole Bible that God created us in his image. Then he said that it was “very good.” I know this was before sin entered the scene, but seriously, if we think sin is able to completely undo what God did in creation, we have a seriously unbalanced view of sin’s power relative to God’s power.
I know for the types of people who typically might disagree with me, my own observation might not be good enough. I need to pull out a Bible verse or two. OK, fine. If you want, take a look at Genesis 5:1-3. Clearly, the likeness of God in Adam is referred to and connected with the image of Adam being passed on to his son Seth. So, something of the image remains from Genesis 1. It survived Genesis 3.
Even more seriously, read your New Testament. While my initial point is that everyone—EVERYONE—has the image of God as a foundational part of who they are and are valuable and good because of it (even despite sin’s presence and power over their lives), my main goal is to point out that it is not only present but renewed and elevated for those of us who know Jesus. Me. (Probably) You. Everyone who is part of the body of Christ.
Let me say that again in a more straight forward way. If you are a Christian, you are made perfectly in God’s image. This is what the passage from 2 Corinthians is talking about. Not only are we made into new creations, but the Greek in that verse more literally translated is actually more like this: “if anyone is in Christ—new creation!” Not only are we made new, but it is a piece of God’s re-creating the whole world, making everything perfect and good once again.
Unless we feel bold enough to start questioning the value of God and his image, we have no room to deny the value of any Christian. None.
I am going to use a word that I don’t use lightly. Blasphemy. I use it sparingly for many reasons, but one is that not many things actually qualify. But I think this is one of them.
To tell Christians they are sinful, to teach believers they are not good enough, to inflict guilt and shame on someone who loves Jesus is blasphemy. It is a denial of the power of the Father over sin. It is a denial of the work of the Spirit in our hearts. It is a denial of Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection. It is a denial of the gospel.
To preach to Christians that they are unworthy, that they are sinful, that they are anything less than God’s perfect image, created new as the first part of the eventual new creation of all the heavens and earth is blasphemy. It puts something, anything (sin, death, shame, guilt, theology, John Calvin…) over and above God himself.
Now listen, I know I’ve been pretty conceptual here and not very practical, not very focused on how this matters to you and me in our day to day lives. Sorry. Let me say something about that now.
I don’t have to feel guilty. I don’t have to be ashamed of who I am. I don’t even have to be afraid or guilty about any of the things I have done and will continue to do wrong. I shouldn’t do them. It’s destructive for me to do them, but ultimately they don’t matter. But I do matter.
You do too.
In the church, my gifts matter. In my home, my presence matters. In my life, who I am matters. What I want matters. What I care about matters. I have something to offer. I have something to contribute. No one can tell me I’m not good enough. No one can say to me that I am too sinful to be worth their time. No one can say to me that I’m too broken to accomplish anything for God.
And that goes for you too.
I don’t care what your mistakes are. They might be huge. Confess them. Move forward because guess what: The only people whom God loves and involves in his plans are people who have made huge, destructive, selfish, sinful mistakes.
The fact is, we have Jesus, and Jesus welcomes us home into his family. In his family, no one is a ‘sinner.’ We all sometimes sin, but for those of us in Jesus’ family, we are brothers and sisters, children of God. We are essentially good, loving, and holy because God is good, loving, and holy.
Sometimes we mess up and do things that don’t make sense for good, loving, and holy people. But being part of God’s family means an endless supply of second chances, and it means that we can go over the heads of people who try to bring us down and tell us we aren’t good enough for God. Our Father will side with us every time.
Thanks for letting me get some of this off my chest. I will probably write more about it because it means a lot to me, and it means a lot to other people I know. If you have any questions or problems or feedback of any kind about these ideas, I want to talk with you. Let me know.