We are First and Foremost Image Bearers of God

June 17, 2020
By: Erik Cooper
I’ve defined myself a number of different ways over the course of my years on this earth. I will often open my speaking engagements by telling the audience I’m probably the most confused person in the room, yet they gave me the microphone. Here’s why. I started my college career as a music major (piano […]

I’ve defined myself a number of different ways over the course of my years on this earth. I will often open my speaking engagements by telling the audience I’m probably the most confused person in the room, yet they gave me the microphone. Here’s why.

I started my college career as a music major (piano performance to be exact).

I graduated four and a half years later with a degree in accounting (yes, from counting beats to counting beans), and right out of college, I worked through two busy seasons at a CPA firm in their auditing department. This was as close as I ever want to get to hell itself. Then I transitioned into private accounting for three years, until…

I agreed to go on staff at a suburban church as what? The music pastor. I spent 10 years as a worship leader and songwriter, before leaving to embrace a four year calling as a church planter in a downtown urban context.

(In case you’re having trouble keeping up, that’s musician, accountant, musician again, pastor, church planter).

Today, I find myself back in the business world leading a nonprofit real-estate company as well as a global missions organization that engages the world with the gospel through business and the marketplace. When people ask my kids what I do for a living, they have no idea how to answer.

Mistaken Identity

Because our identities as humans are so often mistakenly defined by what we do for a living, I’ve struggled through a number of “identity crises” over the past 25 years. Just about the time I got comfortable with one definition of who I was, it seemed like it was time to figure out how to embrace another.

And it’s not just our work that drives our identities. I’m also a Christian, husband, dad, board member, writer, caucasian, middle-class, suburbanite, comedian (ok, this is more of a dream than reality), traveler, Indianapolis Colts fan, pastor, midwesterner, leader, entrepreneur. The list goes on and on. There are countless identities and sub-identities that make up who I am.

And the same can be said of you, too. Well, with your own list that is. And this where our troubles usually start. These different self-assigned identities tend to collide, not just internally but collectively.

Identities Collide

As a Colts fan, I’m morally obligated to hate anyone from New England. It’s in the handbook, see for yourself. As a suburbanite, I’ll be honest, I struggle to understand the cultural mentality of many urban dwellers. As a midwesterner, I migrate toward tenderloins and apple butter while my northeastern friends are all about kale and quinoa.

But then the stakes (and the emotions) get even higher. As a white man, my worldview and experience differ greatly from blacks and those of other races and ethnicities, even in my immediate community.

What do we do when our identities collide? How do we embrace our God-made diversity and uniqueness? How do we take our different giftings, preferences, cultures, tastes, and desires, and learn to live together, not just in “tolerance,” but in unity?

The world University that we use to describe institutions of higher education actually originates from the blending of two words: Unity and Diversity. The late apologist Ravi Zacharias said it best:

“University means to find unity in diversity. To find unity in diversity you must start from the sacred definition of what life is all about.”

If we want to find unity in our diversity, especially as followers of Jesus, we need a new starting point. We need to re-sort the database. Here’s what I mean.

Re-Sorting the Database

While I consider myself a “recovering accountant” (I’ve been clean for 20 years now), I did pick up one important skill from that season of life that I continue to use today – how to use Microsoft Excel (or Google Sheets for all you hip trendsetters out there). To this day, I still love to build a good spreadsheet, to formulate data into all the rows and columns, to work up complex calculations that will help make quicker and better decisions.

One of my favorite tools is the “sort” feature. Excel gives you the ability to instantaneously reorder massive quantities of information by whatever primary column heading you choose. I use it every month, for example, to reconcile my credit card statements. I can sort all the information by date, description, amount, vendor, whatever column I deem is most important for what I need to see. It doesn’t mean the secondary columns become less important – all the data is vital. It simply determines which value will lead and which will follow.

Unity in Diversity

As Christians, I think we often misassign our “primary sort” field when it comes to our identity, and it’s why, I believe, the Church is more often a reflection of the culture at large rather than the “salt and light” we are called to be.

We “primary sort” by our job: blue-collar, white-collar, high paying, low paying, upwardly mobile, stagnant.

We “primary sort” by our race and ethnicity: white, black, Hispanic, Middle Eastern, Asian.

We “primary sort” by our political affiliation: Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, FoxNews, CNN.

The list of “sub-identities” that we make into “primary identities” could go on and on and on. And while God made all of us beautifully unique, a tapestry of His creative genius, when we start from the wrong primary identity, those differences can quickly become points of contention. Sociologists refer to it as Othering. We embrace what drives us apart rather than what binds us together.

Child of God.

Stamped with His image.

Marred by sin.

Pursued by love.

Sustained in every moment by the grace and mercy of Jesus alone.

If this is the primary way I understand myself, it’s impossible to look down on others. All other identities become secondary or fall by the wayside.

It’s time to re-sort the database.

We are all image-bearers, children of Almighty God stamped with the very likeness of the Creator Himself.

This is our primary identity. This is how followers of Jesus sort the database. This is how all of our diversity finds hope of unification.

“There is [now no distinction in regard to salvation] neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you [who believe] are all one in Christ Jesus [no one can claim a spiritual superiority].”
–Galatians 3:28 (AMP)

Church, Let’s Lead the Way

When we know who we are, it transforms the way we see everyone else, too. The world preaches tolerance, Christ offers unity. Unity in diversity. If God’s people truly are the “deposit” or “down payment” of His coming Kingdom, we have a resurrection power at work in us that the world doesn’t have.

Church, let’s lead the way. Let’s re-sort the database around our primary identity as redeemed image-bearers of God. When sub-identities collide, our primary identity will always draw us together.


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