It’s right for us to look back at the heroes of the faith, who fought for biblical values when it comes to human equality and who fought against slavery. But we must also reckon with the sins of our same sort of spiritual ancestors who didn’t. Because the imago Dei had to kill slavery twice. And just as a disproportionate number of folks in the early Church were enslaved, people who are clinging on to Jesus — who died a slave’s death for them — so Jesus has been calling enslaved people to himself through the centuries.
Chuck Colson would often say that the greatest gift Christianity gave the world other than the message of salvation is the idea of the image of God.
It is important for Christians to know and understand the image of God for three distinct reasons. First, the image of God has been among the most consequential ideas in all of human history. Even atheists like Friedrich Nietzsche or the modern-day philosopher Luc Ferry, have acknowledged that our ideas about human dignity, human equality and human value were not present across cultures and civilizations, but were introduced to the world in Christianity. Why? Because of its core belief that humans were made in the image and likeness of God.
Second, the image of God is central to a truly Christian worldview. Scripture has been given to us in a grand, sweeping narrative: the story of creation to new creation, from the heavens and earth to the new heavens and new earth. And one of the central characters in the Christian story is the image of God. We see this right away in Genesis 1, in which God creates the heavens and the earth; then He creates His image bearers to rule over them in His place and for His glory.
Finally, the image of God is critical if we are going to understand the issues and challenges of our day. The most significant challenges we face in our culture are not fundamentally moral ones. We do face moral challenges but the ones we face are the fruit of the problems, not the root. It’s the effect, not the cause. At the root of the issues of our culture has been a dramatic shift in how we think about the nature and value of the human person.
At the recent Wilberforce Weekend, Rebecca McLaughlin talked about the significance of the image of God. This idea is in all of human history. She referenced the Declaration of Independence, went on to highlight how the image of God directs our hearts to freedom, and how the greatest freedom ever won is the freedom we find in Christ.