Being an Image Bearer in the Old Testament
Being an image bearer of God is something God’s people have been tasked with since before the New Testament. When God created male & female in His image in Genesis 1, He created them in His “image and likeness”, two arguably separate but related reflections or characteristic categories of God’s perfect self.
When He did this, He gave humanity the gift and responsibility of bearing His image in all they did – work, rest, play, and relationship. This was originally Israel’s responsibility; they were to demonstrate their difference(s) as God’s people & image bearers to the surrounding nations by conducting themselves differently, in life, family, sex, business, worship, and anything else.
The Israelites were known as God’s people, those who would carry the unique task of being faithful to Yahweh and loving their neighbors, thus demonstrating God’s character & heart to all people through being an image bearer. However, not only did humanity fail in Genesis 3, but they later failed throughout the entire history of Israel. Yet, God continued to raise up leaders and generations of people to follow Him, teaching them to be faithful image bearers, exemplifying His character, and carrying it out through their lives. God was (and is) a God that wants to be well represented, and since the beginning of the Old Testament He has given His people this gift & task to represent Him to the world, making each of His people an image bearer of God.
While this is, and was, a beautiful gift from the Lord to bear His image & likeness, it was also a task for His people to carry out. Israel was charged to stay pure in their hearts & lives, living for God in all they do and committing themselves in loving loyalty to Him above all things (i.e., “hold fast to” God; cf. Deuteronomy 10 & 11). This was their personal task. Further, they were meant to model this sense of wholeness & purity to the surrounding nations to demonstrate that those who worship Yahweh are different than those who worship the gods of Egypt, Syria, Babylon, or other idols. In the OT, being an image bearer of God meant living differently, and it meant that others were supposed to notice. This is even more true for the New Testament Church today, who are now the Spirit-indwelled, born-again image bearers of God to the world.
Being an Image Bearer in the New Testament
The first image bearer of God in the New Testament was not a believer in Jesus, but Jesus Himself. He who was God and came from God took on flesh to be an image bearer of God to the world, and He did so as one who dwelt among us. Jesus was “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation” (Colossians 1:15), who showed the world who the Father was as His perfect & express image bearer (John 14:9). Though He also was God, so the image bearer part was a little more direct. Jesus came, lived, taught, healed, and died to represent God’s heart to the world – both Jew & Gentile.
Following the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus the Christ, the New Testament Church became the lasting image bearer for God in the world. As born-again believers, we have been empowered as image bearers in a way that the OT believers never could – we have been given God’s Spirit to dwell within us, giving us direct connection to God [through Jesus] and a new embedded unction to image Him well to the world. This indwelling of the Spirit gives us the heart that God desired for His people in the Old Testament, the heart that the prophet Ezekiel prophesied about in Ezekiel 36:26-27. By doing this, God has given us the drive we need to be His image bearers to the world. And the Holy Spirit baptism only kicks that up 100-fold! Praise God!
As His anointed image bearers, we are now sent into the world to do His will & work and to do our best to bring His kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. We are called as His image bearers, children, prophets, priests, and ministers of reconciliation to heal the sick, raise the dead, and cast out demons (Mark 16:17-18). We are called to “preach the Gospel to every creature (16:15) and to bring freedom, peace, and reconciliation to God to all people, in the name of Jesus and in the anointing & power of the Holy Spirit. This gives us the best on-earth representation of God’s heart for people. And as we love them, serve them, and pray for them, we are fulfilling the duty of being an image bearer of God.
What Do I Do Now?
God has made us in His image. He has made us His own. He has put His very own Spirit within us. This lavishing of love for His people is something that the world must know. God desires for all to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9) and for all to hear the good news of the Gospel (Mark 16:15, etc.), but “how will they hear without a preacher?” (Romans 10:14). As God’s image bearers in the world today, St. Francis would say it is our joy & duty to “preach the Gospel to all creation, and, if necessary, use words”. And I would agree.
As Jesus charged us before His ascension, we are to bring the Gospel to all corners of the world and be the image bearers of God to all lost, found, and hurting people. It is through this that we will see the restoration of people to their Father, the fulfillment of our given Great Commission, and eventually the return of Christ to completely restore creation. While the carrying out of this commission may look different in different cultures, times, and unique people, the Gospel is given to each of us both to enjoy and to share. As image bearers of a loving, personal, and all-powerful God, we are to bring this light & hope to the world in the hopes that they too will receive Him inside their hearts.
Today, it is the duty of the Church to carry out this mission of God. We can accomplish this in the local church, in the mission field, in the marketplace, and anywhere else in between. Because the body of the Church is the image bearer of God to the world, we are diverse. Because we are diverse, we are mobile, nimble, and able to penetrate light into any dark corner for any people group on earth. Often, being an image bearer of God doesn’t mean preaching at someone or telling them they need Jesus, but it just means going out of your way to be nice to people. It means showing them the love of Jesus, whether you’ve felt it that day or not, because you know, deep down inside of you, that it matters. Being an image bearer of God is important, and we need more of them in this world today. Pray, and ask God how you can show people who He is today.