Loving God’s Image in Our Neighbors

Last Sunday, Pastor Ken Lewis began our new series in Genesis 1-11 called “Beginnings.” We considered Genesis 1:1-25, where God, by his eternal power, wisdom, and goodness, created everything out of nothing.

Read: Genesis 1:26-27

This Sunday, Pastor Jason Finley will preach from Genesis 1:26-27. We will consider the truth that God created man to resemble him, represent him, and relate to others like him. As you prepare your heart for our corporate gathering, let these words from Phil Johnson point you to further conformity to the image of Christ by loving the image of God in all people, even your enemies.

Reflect: “Loving God’s Image in Our Neighbors”

Made in the image of God

God’s image in every person is the moral and ethical foundation for every commandment that governs how we ought to treat our fellow humans. Scripture repeatedly makes this clear. Why is murder deemed such an especially heinous sin? Because killing a fellow human being is the ultimate desecration of God’s image (Genesis 9:6).

In the New Testament, James points to the image of God in men and women as an argument for allowing even our speech to be seasoned with grace and kindness. It is utterly irrational, he says, to bless God while cursing people who are made in God’s own likeness (James 3:9-12).

That same principle is an effective argument against every kind of disrespect or unkindness one person might show to another. For example, to ignore the needs of suffering people is to treat the image of God in them with outright contempt.  Proverbs 17:5 says, “He who mocks the poor reproaches his Maker.” Neglecting the needs of a person who is “hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison” is tantamount to scorning the Lord Himself. That’s exactly what Jesus said in Matthew 25:44-45: “Inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.”

The image restored

The restoration of God’s image in fallen humanity is one of the ultimate goals of redemption, of course. God’s paramount purpose for every Christian involves perfect Christlikeness (Romans 8:29; 1 John 3:2). That will consummate the complete restoration and utter perfection of God’s image in all believers, because Christ himself is the supreme flesh-and-blood image of God (Colossians 1:15).

But if you’re a believer, your conformation to Christ’s likeness is gradually being accomplished even now by the process of your sanctification (2 Corinthians 3:18). In the meantime, Jesus taught that one of the best ways to be like God is to love even your enemies. Not only do they bear God’s image, but (more to Jesus’ point), loving them is the best way for us to be like God, because God Himself loves even those who hate Him.

Loving even our enemies

Of course, the prevailing rabbinical tradition in Jesus’ day claimed that “enemies” are not really “neighbors.” In effect, that nullified the second great commandment [love your neighbor as yourself]. It was like saying you don’t really have to love anyone whom you hate. All kinds of disrespect and unkindness became impervious to the law’s correction.

Jesus confronted the error head on:

You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. (Matthew 5:43-45)

Your enemy is made in God’s image and therefore deserving of your respect and kindness. More important, Jesus said, if you want to be more like God—if you want the image of God to shine more visibly in your life and behavior—here’s the way to do it: love even your enemies.

Remember, “God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him” (1 John 4:16). Such love—expressed even toward our enemies—is the mark of the true Christian, because it is the most vivid expression of God’s image in His own people. “As He is, so are we in this world” (1 John 4:17).

Adapted from: “Loving God’s Image in Our Neighbors,” by Phil Johnson, gty.org.

Sing: Song List for Sunday

1. “Holy,” by Matt Redman
2. “The Veil Was Torn,” by Crosspoint Music
3. “Yet Not I but Through Christ in Me,” by CityAlight

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