In 2014, Americans paid for 15.1 million cosmetic surgery procedures. Magazines promise their readers the secret to “flawless skin” or “6-pack abs.” A month ago, social media caught fire when former Olympian Bruce Jenner became Caitlyn Jenner, the woman he feels he is, rather than the man he actually is. There’s an obsession in our society, and in our own hearts; an obsession with image. Why? Why do we worry so much about our image? Why do we care so much about how we look, or how the world views us? Because we have an image problem…a sin problem. Today, we’ll look back to the beginning of the world and see how our first parents’ desire for a different image created the sin problem we face today.
When God created man and woman, breathing life into lifeless dust, he created them in his perfect image. As the Triune God declared on Day 6 of creation, “Let us make man in our image.” From the very millisecond that God breathed life into them, Adam and Eve possessed the image of God! That doesn’t mean they were the spittin’ image of their Creator Father, like you might resemble one of your parents. Rather, it meant they were perfect, holy, without sin, just as God was perfect. Their will mirrored God’s will! Their thoughts were God’s thoughts. Their emotions were perfectly in tune with God’s emotions. Without the guilt and shame of sin, Adam and Eve could walk carefree with the God of the universe, like a father takes a walk with his kids.
That image also meant they were a reflection of God to each other and to all of creation! Adam and Eve had a perfect relationship as husband and wife. They literally were made for each other, carrying out the specific roles that God had given them—Adam as head, Eve as helper– without fail or complaint. Their love for each other perfectly reflected God’s love for them! When God told them to care for the garden and the animals in it, they didn’t complain, because serving God wasn’t a burden. It was a joyful task! What pleased God pleased them!
But we can see in ourselves that perfection wasn’t permanent. Satan, a fallen angel who failed to overthrow God, had already lost the perfect image. His eternal destruction was set, and so his hatred burned against everything that bore God’s image. His one desire was to destroy the image, whispering into Eve’s ear, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden?’”
Satan tried to change Eve’s perception, to make her see God’s one command–to not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil–not as a God-given opportunity to express their perfect love for him. Satan wanted her to see God’s command as an unfair restriction; like a mean older brother, laughing as he dangles their toy just out of reach.
At first, Eve knew better. She knew that God lovingly provided for all of their needs; that even this command was out of love, noting God’s careful warning that if you eat of it, “you will die.”
But Satan, the Father of lies, strikes back with his venom. He lies, contradicting the clear warning God had given. “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
And with that lie of Satan, Adam and Eve became the first new image seekers. When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree…was also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate it. Adam and Eve threw away the perfect image of God, so they could “be like God.” The sad irony is that they lost perfection, striving for what they already possessed! They already were like God!
But in seeking a new image, the perfect image was lost, shattered like a mirror hitting concrete. In their hearts, Adam and Eve had disconnected from God. They sought joy in what grieved God. What God knew was evil, they thought was good. Their will was to do what God had forbidden. They had a new image, but it didn’t include wisdom. Instead, it included experience…experience of the perfection they’d lost, and of the curse of sin that now consumed their lives.
The same curse is ours. When we look in the mirror, we don’t see God’s image. Instead, we see the disgusting blemish of sin covering every inch of our bodies. But our problem is more than just skin deep. We’re broken to our very core. Our outward sinful actions are just symptoms of the true disease, like chills are just an outward symptom of the flu. The real disease is sin, the lost image of God. As much as we try to change our image, dressing up the outside with nice deeds and kind words, our core is still rotten. Yet we try, sewing together some leaves to cover our shame. But changing our appearance to try to cover the sin that dwells inside is like trying to heal cancer with a band-aid. It’s only superficial.
And Satan continues to lie, trying to convince us we’re OK when we’re really dying. He whispers, “Did God really say that there’s such a thing as sin? No! You determine right and wrong. Society is more enlightened than God. There’s no such thing as sin!” Whispering, “You will surely not die! God just wants to keep you from seeing the image you want to see in yourself!” even as God clearly warns, “The wages of sin is death.”
But don’t be fooled, there are consequences for the lost image. Formerly innocent, Adam and Eve now tried to cover their guilt, just like we do. Formerly rejoicing at the sound of God’s voice, “they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden,” hopelessly hiding from the all-knowing God of the universe, like toddlers playing hide and seek. Sin separates God from his people, but sin also separates people from each other. Their once perfect relationship as husband and wife crumbles into finger pointing and blame.
Separated from God by sin. Separated in hatred from one another. Open your eyes to the reality. That’s what you…were. Did you catch that? That’s what you WERE. Past tense. But no longer.
Although Adam and Eve’s sin left them with “eyes opened” to their broken image, God had one eternal thought. A plan to restore the perfect image that had been lost in sin.
God reveals the first gospel promise, his plan to destroy Satan, and restore his fallen people. “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”
Mankind could never get rid of the sin that marred them. But God would send his son to take on a different image as both true God and true man. Jesus Christ would be what we sinners couldn’t; perfectly united with the Father. As Jesus tells us in John 10, “I and my Father are one.” What his Father wanted, Jesus wanted. What his Father rejoiced in, Jesus rejoiced in. And so Jesus willingly and perfectly carried out the plan of salvation the Father had revealed to his flawed creation.
By living a perfect life, he gave his perfection to a world whose image was imperfection and sin. His perfect obedience to his Father’s will gave us the perfect obedience we fail at every day. By his death on the cross, Christ, who had no sin, took on the shattered image that we possessed, and gave us his perfect image that we were created to have. Jesus gives us new life, breathing the breath of life into us, just as God breathed life into Adam at creation.
Although the serpent struck his heel with suffering and death, Christ crushed Satan’s head. Through Christ’s victory, we have, “put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.” Because of Christ, now, when God looks at us, he no longer sees broken sinners scrambling to hide from him. Now, when God looks at us, he sees Jesus! Because Jesus restored the image we were created to possess!
Soak in the beauty of this fact. When you have fears and doubts, be bold, because you are clothed in the image of the all-powerful God! When you remember your sins, remember that when God looks at you, he doesn’t see your sins. He sees you as the image of the perfect Savior of the world! When you look in the mirror and see all the labels that the world has placed on you, focus on the most important one…loved by Christ; and all others fall away. We don’t need to be like Adam and Eve, striving for what we already possess. When God sees us, he sees Jesus.
The restoration of God’s image means so much for our lives! We’re again in perfect unity with God! In the new heart God has planted in you through faith, what God rejoices in, we rejoice in as well! What God wills us to be and do, that is our will also! His commands aren’t burdensome restrictions. Instead, following them is pure joy! Robed in God’s image, living for him isn’t obligation. It’s opportunity.
And when you have Christ’s image, you don’t just look like Christ to God. You look like Christ to other people as well. As you carry out your tasks at work, you look like Christ, joyfully carrying out the work God has called you to do. As you faithfully serve your spouse, you’re a glimpse of Christ’s self-sacrificing love for his Church!
As you carry out your calling as a parent, making God the number one priority in your family, you are a glimpse of God. As a child, you’re the image of God as you diligently obey your parents and teachers.
Maybe you’re sitting in the pew right now thinking, “But Pastor, all those things you just talked about…I don’t always do them. That’s not always me. That’s not the image I always see when I check out a mirror.” And you’re right. Even though you have a new self with a restored image, we still battle our old sinful nature. But to borrow an illustration from Christian author and Pastor Tullian Tchividjian, your life as a Christian is about exploring caves, not climbing mountains. He says, “Spiritual growth is not about climbing a mountain, getting better, and therefore needing Christ less and less. Spiritual growth is about discovering more and bigger caverns of need into which more and more of Christ’s grace can flow.” In the restored image, we don’t need Christ less. We better understand how much we need him. Only in realizing our complete dependency on Christ can we live in our new image.
On our own, we’re a shattered image. But through Christ, and through faith worked by the Holy Spirit, when God looks at us, he sees Jesus! So live in that perfect image of God. You can do so confidently, because “In Christ, you are a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come.”