Identify Your Self

Identify Your Self

Identify Your Self.

“And God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” (Genesis 1:27).

This is the age of finding one’s identity. It’s the way everyone wants to define themselves. We want to lay claim to who we are at the deepest level. There are many identities being proposed: sexual identity; gender identity; racial/ethnic identity; religious identity; political identity; national identity; physical identity; social class identity; professional identity. Among all these trees, is there a sequoia that stands taller than the rest? Is there one identity more important, more central, than the rest? Or are they all equally important? If all those identities were spokes in a wheel, is there a primary identity that would be the definitive hub of the wheel?

Central Identity. Traditionally, there is one central identity that is up to the task of defining ourselves. There is one identity that is the primary source of all the other identities: the image of God in each human being. Each and every person ever conceived has a common identity by virtue of their humanity. Each person has been imprinted with a likeness to our Creator God. Everyone has been individually handcrafted to reflect God’s character and Being. Each person has been created to represent God in this world. Each person is thus a sacred being, because we bear the stamp of a holy God. God’s image in us is the foundational identity that defines who are at the most basic level. God’s image in us is the hub of the wheel, and all the other identities operate out of that hub. The other identities are the spokes of the wheel. Any of these secondary identities that are put in the place of God’s image result in the frustration of a short-sighted, incomplete, insufficient identity. They fall short of defining our essential self. Without our image-bearing identity, we have lost our purpose in life, our true self, our reason for being. All these other identities are intended to be inspired by the image-bearing identity, sparked by it, formed by it. Every identity that we claim for ourselves which is not directly an offshoot of our image-bearing, reflects badly on us and on our Maker. The secondary identities are not up to the task of self-definition. They are not worthy to be in the hub of the wheel.

God’s Image. What does it mean to be made in the image of God? It means we are created to mirror God’s nature and therefore represent His presence in the world. Each person is created to be like God, one step below God, but a giant step above the rest of the created order. Humanity is the pinnacle of creation, the most wondrous and glorious of all that was made . So each person has tremendous value, is worthy, has inherent dignity above everything else in the world. Every person is worthy of self-respect, but not self-worship. Being made in God’s image doesn’t mean we share all of God’s attributes. Only God can make something out of nothing. Only God is self-existent and was not a product of creation. Only God is all-powerful and all-knowing. Humans are made to resemble God, but not to duplicate Him. We are called to imitate God’s character and display His nature, but God is the only divine Original. As rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel once said, “What is the mission of man? To be a reminder of God. As God is compassionate, let man be compassionate. As God strives for meaning and justice, let man strive for meaning and justice. If we are created in the image of God, each human being should be a reminder of God’s presence.” 

Being made in God’s image, we reflect His freedom to make decisions, to be creative, to think with reason, to exercise a conscience in discerning right from wrong. Being made in God’s image means we were created for relationship, for fellowship with others. We were not made to be alone without human contact, without the experience of loving others and being loved. Being made in the image of God means that we are living souls, speaking spirits, with an essential quality that exists above and beyond the physical, the intellectual, the emotional. We were made to be spiritual, tied to eternity, beyond the temporary. God’s image in us means that we reflect His eternal status, His everlasting existence.

God’s image in us is therefore a matter of ownership. We are not our own. Every person belongs to God. we are rightfully His. We carry God’s imprint. Therefore He is our ultimate authority. Every human being owes his/her allegiance to Creator God, in whose image we exist. It’s time for an object lesson…

Object Lesson of Jesus – Roman Coin.

‘Then the Pharisees went and plotted how they might entangle Him in His talk. And they sent to Him their disciples with the Herodians, saying, ‘Teacher, we know that You are an honest man of integrity and you teach us the truth of God’s ways. We can clearly see that you’re not one wh0 speaks only to win the people’s favor, because you speak the truth without regard to the consequences. Tell us, therefore, what do you think? Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?’ But Jesus perceived the malice that was hidden behind their cunning ploy, and said, ‘Why do you test Me, you hypocrites, you imposters? Show me the tax money.’ So they brought Him a denarius. And Jesus said to them, ‘Whose image and inscription is this?’ They said to Him, ‘Caesar’s.’ And He said to them, ‘Give therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’ When they had heard these words, they marveled, and left Him and went their way.”  (Matthew 22:17-22).

Object: A denarius, the Roman coin stamped with Caesar’s image. One denarius is worth a day’s wage. The Jews were required to pay an annual census tax to Rome, a tax of one denarius. Some of the tax went to pay for pagan temples and the unholy lifestyles of the Roman aristocracy. The Pharisees were bitterly opposed to the tax, because they didn’t consider Caesar their king. Only God was their king. The Herodians were Roman sympathizers, so they fully supported the tax.

Lesson: Knowing He was being trapped by the unlikely coalition of Pharisees and Herodians, Jesus asked for a Roman coin. It was time for an object lesson. They asked Him if Jews were supposed to pay the Roman tax. If He answered yes, He would be in trouble with the Jews who were opposed to Roman occupation. If He answered no, He could be thrown into jail for rebellion against the authority of Rome. He took the coin, pointed to it, and, like He did often, responded to a question with another question… “Whose image is on this coin?” Obviously, it was Caesar’s image on the coin. ‘So give to Caesar the things that are due Caesar, and to God the things that are due God.” In other words, it’s a question of ownership. Caesar should receive what is rightfully his, and God should receive what is rightfully His. If we are to pay taxes to Rome for government benefits and services, then do so. After all, that is Caesar’s image on the coin. But we owe ultimate allegiance and loyalty to God, because we are imprinted with God’s image. Because we are stamped with God’s image, God has overriding authority in our lives. If Caesar is due loyalty to a certain extent, then pay. We already know God is due our supreme commitment, so we owe Him that. We are ultimately obligated to God, for we carry His image. That wasn’t the answer either group was expecting, so they marveled at how Jesus outthought them once again. And they went their way amazed at His words.

Identify Each Other
Every human person carries God’s holy fingerprint. Therefore all of human life is sacred, and we all participate one way or another in the sanctity of human life. Every person we see is sacred, set apart to represent and reflect a holy God. That person we love to hate is sacred. And so is each of us. We all have a sacred center that can never be fully erased, since we all bear the image of God.
Since we are all image-bearers, let us treat each other accordingly. Let’s not limit our perspective of someone to that person’s chosen identity. Instead, each of us can certainly choose to recognize the central identity in each person, the fact that each person is created to resemble God. Let us treat each human humanely, as an image-bearer worthy of respect, empathy and compassion. God is saying to each of us… Every person is sacred to me, you are not to despise, disrespect or mistreat my handiwork!
Every person you don’t like, or who is doing something you don’t like; every person you don’t understand, or you don’t want to understand; every person you look down on simply because she is beneath you… All of them have something in common: Every person is made in the image of God, a hand-crafted original, breathing with the very breath of the Creator, possessing a dignity above the rest of creation; Each person is individually loved by a personal God, who in fact died for that person. God in the flesh would have sacrificed himself for that person if he was the only living person on earth.

When we forget that a person is an image-bearer, we essentially are dehumanizing that person. Instead, let us humanize every person before we ignore, demean or judge them.  Let us embrace the sublime humanity of each person we meet. Each and every person is sacred: gay or straight; law-breaking or law-abiding; rich or poor; all races, all religions, all ethnic groups; each gender; every age, old or young; disabled or able-bodied; undereducated or well-schooled; rural or urban; mentally impaired or not; homeless or not; emotionally troubled or at peace; progressive or traditional; promiscuous or chaste; dreamer or realist; weak or strong.

The Eyes. Look into the eyes of each person you dislike or disregard, and consider… This is a flesh and blood person with a soul, a human being of priceless value. Focus on this person’s eyes for a minute. Try to peer into those eyes. Those are a human’s eyes, same as yours. Isn’t it important to want that person to be blessed? To identify with those you don’t understand? To stand in human solidarity with the person with whom you have differences? I would like to look into those eyes clear through into their inner identity, their shared humanity.  There of course comes the time  for moral discernment of another’s behavior, but maybe we could delay the judgment of another for a moment until after we first accept their God-blessed humanity.

Sin. Sin, without a doubt, stained God’s image in us. Sin distorted and damaged God’s image in each human being. But, sin did not destroy God’s image in us. Every person remains an image-bearer and is redeemable and transformable. Since very person still belongs to God, then everybody is still important to God. God’s love for reach person overrides the stain of sin, because of Jesus. Believe it or not, God continues to identify with each person. If we mistreat a fellow image-bearer, God takes it personally. When we disrespect someone else, God objects and is affronted. “Whoever mocks poor people insults their Creator.” (Proverbs 17:5). Likewise, when we show compassion, we affirm our Maker. Loving others is a primary way we show our love for God. When we love other people, we are respecting and honoring the handiwork of God.

The Image of God to the Likeness of Christ. God created mankind in His image. Because of the entrance of sin, that image has become marred, tainted, broken. Christ has come to bring wholeness to the broken image, restoring the image to its pre-sin existence. Christ is the image of God, and now we are to be remade into the image of Christ. “For He knew all about us before we were born, and He destined us from the beginning to share the likeness of His Son.” (Romans 8:29, TPT). The Message puts it this way: “God decided from the outset to shape the lives of those who love Him along the same lines as the life of His Son. The Son stands first in the line of humanity He restored. We see the original and intended shape of our lives there in Him.” Believers are called to be “conformed to the likeness of His Son.” (NIV). Father Patrick Reardon put it still another way: “Christ is the original meaning of humanity. Christ is what God had in mind when He reached down and formed the first lump of mud into a man.” (Christ in the Psalms). We are to be stamped with the likeness of Christ. The Orthodox church believes that as Man, Christ is the image in which man was made and toward which man is moving. Christ is the perfect image of God, and believers are being restored into His likeness.