Paul painted a bleak picture of the fallen heart:
“God’s wrath is revealed from heaven against all godlessness andunrighteousness of people who by their unrighteousness suppress thetruth, since what can be known about God is evident among them,because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, that is,his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen since thecreation of the world, being understood through what he has made. Asa result, people are without excuse. For though they knew God, they didnot glorify him as God or show gratitude. Instead, their thinking becameworthless, and their senseless hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise,they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God forimages resembling mortal man, birds, four-footed animals, and reptiles.Therefore God delivered them over in the desires of their hearts to sexualimpurity, so that their bodies were degraded among themselves. Theyexchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served whathas been created instead of the Creator, who is praised forever. Amen.
Romans 1:18-25, CSB
Sin leaves us with deeply corrupted hearts. Paul said, “What can be known about God is evident” (v. 19), but humanity chose to suppress the truth. As a result, our “thinking became worthless” and our “senseless hearts were darkened” (v. 21). God turned humanity over to its rebellion and let us go from bad to worse. Key here to our discussion of the imago Dei is Paul’s teaching that humanity “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man, birds, four-footed animals, and reptiles” (v. 23). In rebellion we looked for lesser gods—idols—and we failed to reflect the goodness of God. The image of God was effaced, but it wasn’t erased. Humanity retains its dignity and a measure of its glory, even at its most corrupt. But that glory is dimmed or hidden. Only through Jesus can we begin to flourish and reclaim God’s design for our lives.
Romans 1 is true for all image bearers. When have you exchanged the glory of God for lesser images? What were the results?
If we’re not reflecting God’s glory, we begin to reflect whatever we worship. As one psalmist put it:
Those who make them [idols] are just like them, as are all who trust in them. Psalm 115:8
If we give our lives over to worshiping fame, power, money, or sex, we’ll begin to reflect what we worship without reflecting the God who gives any of those things their purpose. And the image we present won’t be pretty.
List specific ways you see image bearers (including yourself) becoming like the idols they worship.
When we worship idols, we fail not only to worship the image of God but also even to recognize it when we see it. Paul wrote:
The god of this age has blinded the minds of the unbelievers to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 2 Corinthians 4:4
As a result, we’re left blind to Jesus’ identity and His nature. It’s a hopeless situation apart from the grace of God. But that grace is extraordinary, and when it touches our lives, it changes everything.
Grace comes by the power of the Holy Spirit. Just as blind men were healed and able to see when Jesus touched them, our souls are cured of their spiritual blindness when the Holy Spirit touches them. Jesus Himself described this transformation when He promised the coming of the Holy Spirit. He told his followers:
It is for your benefit that I go away, because if I don’t go away the Counselor will not come to you. If I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will convict the world about sin, righteousness, and judgment: About sin, because they do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will no longer see me; and about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged. I still have many things to tell you, but you can’t bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth. For he will not speak on his own, but he will speak whatever he hears. He will also declare to you what is to come. He will glorify me, because he will take from what is mine and declare it to you. Everything the Father has is mine. This is why I told you that he takes from what is mine and will declare it to you. John 16:7-15
Jesus was describing the work of grace. It begins with the Holy Spirit’s convicting work, revealing the sinfulness of the world, the righteousness of God, and the judgment that’s coming as a result of our rebellion against God. Only when we’re taken to this low place and made aware of our sin and our idols are we able to fully comprehend the depth of our sin. At that point,we’re able to see the light of the gospel in the redeeming work of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. From this place of humble brokenness, the Spirit continues His work, guiding us to truth. The Spirit enables us to see Jesus for who He truly is, and that’s the first step on the road to the restoration of the imago Dei within us.
As you’ve walked with Jesus, how have you begun to see more clearly the sin in your own heart and in the world around you?
How does the Holy Spirit’s ongoing restoring work help you see the image of God more clearly?
Restoration continues as we live our lives with Jesus, seeking to follow Him in all the ways He taught and learning to trust in the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Such a life is transformative. As we begin to look more like Jesus, we begin to more beautifully reflect the image of God:
We all, with unveiled faces, are looking as in a mirror at the glory of the Lord and are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory; this is from the Lord who is the Spirit. 2 Corinthians 3:18
The imago Dei is shattered and distorted by sin, but it doesn’t have to remain broken. In Jesus we have a pathway to its restoration and, furthermore, to a restoration of the world around us. The restored imago Dei makes us better neighbors; better caretakers of creation; and better husbands, wives, brothers, and sisters. Image bearers are the best-equipped people to bring peace and reconciliation to society. They’re best equipped to tear down boundaries of race, class, and ethnicity. Their presence heals their communities as they carry the glory and love of God with them wherever they go. As we go about our lives in this tumultuous world, we should pray that God will give us a vision for ways to demonstrate the healing power of His image.