The Image of God and Human Dignity (2)

For this post, I want to focus on two parts of the image of God, righteousness and holiness. I’ll be using two definitions from Hoeksema’s Reformed Dogmatics.

Righteousness: “Man’s righteousness was the virtue of his whole nature by which, according to the judgment of God, he was wholly in harmony with the will of God; he was fully capable of doing the will of God, and doing God’s will was his delight” (vol. 1, 298).

Holiness: “That original rectitude of his nature according to which he was consecrated to God in love with all his heart, mind, soul, and strength” (vol. 1, 298).

When man fell into sin, his righteousness became unrighteousness. It seems like by default, when people think about unrighteousness, they think of it as the opposite of righteousness. By this I mean that we often see righteousness as following God’s law and unrighteousness as going against God’s law. However, there’s this massive theme in scripture about man always doing what is ‘right’ in his own eyes and I think it’s better to view unrighteousness ultimately as self-righteousness. Instead of looking up to God and following His law, we look at self as our god and want God (and everyone else) to conform to our own law. Just as God has His righteous law which is derived form His righteous nature, unregenerate man has his own laws derived from his own self-righteous nature. Likewise, we have a desire to be seen as righteous, or, to put it another way, declared as righteous, a.k.a justified. But by nature we seek to be declared righteous apart from Christ and according to our false righteousness. The same is true when it comes to holiness. Instead of being consecrated, set apart and dedicated to the service of the Creator, man became consecrated, set apart, and dedicated to the service of creature. If you want a summary of what happened at the fall, replace the word God from the two above definitions with the word man.

Based on this, I want to list off some implications as it relates to the topic of race. Although these implications also extend far beyond race.

  1. Man sees self as god and therefore sees those who are similar to self as more “godlike,” according to their unregenerate, twisted understanding of what it means to be “godlike.” We are more inclined to gravitate towards those who walk like us, talk like us, act like us, and look like us because we see us as “god.” So when someone talks, looks, and acts very different from us we have a natural tendency to be drawn away from them, to think evil thoughts about them, and unrighteously judge them in our hearts.
  2. Man exchanges God’s law for laws similar to themselves and thus man is inclined to have certain rules particular to his own culture. Those who abide by those rules are seen as righteous. Those who disobey are unrighteous. I’m not saying that it’s wrong to have certain cultural rules, but it can be wrong to unrighteously judge those who don’t follow your own culture’s rules.
  3. Man has a natural tendency to justify (declare righteous) the actions performed by those similar to himself and similar to his own culture, and likewise to condemn the actions of those of different cultures who are different from himself. This is, in my opinion, the crux of all the racial division that’s currently happening in our country. There’s a natural inability to see things objectively according to truth, because our sinful pride.
  4. By nature man is consecrated, set apart, and dedicated to the service of self. He also easily  becomes dedicated to those similar to himself and forms groups of men similar to himself. This ends up creating an us-vs-them mentality toward those who unlike themselves.The result is that becomes difficult for groups of people who are alike to sympathize with and get to know those who are outside of their groups and understand things from the perspective of those unlike them.

The gospel however, restores all these:

  1. In Christ, we serve the one and only true God. We see all those who are in Christ as equally one with Christ Jesus. Instead of unrighteously judging people based on how different they are from us, we exercise righteous judgment according to Scripture and seek to have others be more like Christ.
  2. In Christ, man submits to Christ’s law as the law above all. He is able to be a Jew to the Jews, a Greek to the Greeks, in order to win all to Christ. He has the gospel freedom that frees him from cultural rules. Yet he is able to appreciate the differences between cultures and respect that some are of a weaker faith and therefore try not to offend their conscious.
  3. In Christ, there is no need to justify any of the actions of our own ethnic groups because Christians from all ethnic groups are justified by Christ and united to Him by faith alone. It’s easy for us to understand that people from our own ethnicity, even large groups of them, are depraved sinners and are capable of the most heinous of sins.
  4. In Christ, man congregates to those who are set apart and dedicated to the service of the Lord. Believers of all races together become a holy people and a royal priesthood. The us vs. them mentality is no longer between different ethnicities, or even people in general. It’s us vs the world system, the prince of the power of the air, the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against spiritual forces of wickedness in heavenly places. Thus, we are united to fight a common enemy and worship an uncommon Lord.

Hopefully these realities can give us a proper context by which we can understand much of what’s going on in our nation and give us a desire to spread the gospel all the more.

Mike Murrell



The Image of God and Human Dignity

Since this month is black history month and since I’m one of the rare African American voices in the PRCA, I figured it’d be fitting to speak on (mostly critique) an article titled “The Image of God and the African American Experience,”  which you can read here:

When I first saw the title of this article I got a bit excited, it was around the time of the Mike Brown shooting when debates of race where constant and honestly a bit (lot) annoying, and I was hoping this would help bring some theological sanity to the situation. The fact that it was on the image of God also excited me since it’s one of my favorite theological subjects to ponder. Sadly, I was left a tad disappointed, because the image of God theology that was presented in this was one that I’m not too fond of. It follows a formula that I often see when people discuss the Imago Dei (I’m gonna start calling it that now because I don’t feel like typing “image of God” over and over and it sounds cooler). The formula basically goes like this:

  1. Mankind (even reprobate) are the Imago Dei
  2. They therefore have inherent dignity/value
  3. Therefore should be treated as such

Here’s some quotes from the article that correspond to this formula:

  1. “Every person is a jewel in the crown of God’s creation and precious in His sight.”
  2. “The image of God in humanity gives everyone—regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, ability, economic level, or anything else—inherent dignity and value.”
  3. “Every person-regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, ability, language, or any other factor-has teh right to a dignified life.”

The first point usually comes by having a very broad understanding of the Imago Dei. In the article he writes, “It is best to recognize that all elements of humanity in some way speak to being made in the image and likeness of God.”  however, a reformed and more biblical approach narrows the Imago Dei to three things: holiness, righteousness and true knowledge. We get these from Ephesians 4:24 and Colossians 3:10 where it talks about our being made into a new man. If these three things make up the Imago Dei, then what happened at the fall? Instead of being righteous we became unrighteous, instead of being holy we became unholy, instead of a true knowledge we became a slave to the father of lies. The image we once had, was lost.

Some would say that the Imago Dei is something that’s so essential to what it means to be human, that to say that man has lost the Imago Dei is to deny man’s humanity. This is where the genius of Herman Hoeksema comes in to play. He makes a distinction between the image in a material sense and in a formal sense. By material sense what is meant is holiness, righteousness and true knowledge. He explains the formal sense this way, “By the formal sense is meant the fact that man’s nature is adapted to bear the image of God. Not every creature is capable of bearing God’s image and of showing forth the reflection of God’s own ethical perfections of knowledge, righteousness and holiness. It is evident that it requires a rational, moral nature to bear that image of God” (Reformed Dogmatics, 296).

Thus, though we lose the image in the material sense, we are still creatures that are capable of bearing God’s image. Some may look at the fact that we retain this formal sense as something that gives man inherent dignity and value. Professor Hanko,  in the book For Thy Truth’s Sake,  had this to say when speaking on that formal sense we retain. “In fact, his retention of rationality and morality only makes matters worse, because now, still a rational and moral being, but having lost the image of God, he has become an image-bearer of Satan. The wicked are children of their father, the devil. They look like him in that they do his works (John 8:44)” (For Thy Truth’s Sake, 347).

This may sound so dark and bleak for man to be considered the image of Satan. But it’s this truth that makes the gospel message so much more powerful and beautiful. We are redeemed from being an image of Satan to being conformed into the image of Christ who is the true image of God (2 Corinthians 4:4, Hebrews 1:3).

It’s for these reasons that I do not feel comfortable saying that (reprobate) man has this inherent dignity and value. It may be true, and many intelligent, godly, reformed men would agree with it. However, as I believe that the image of God in man is not just simply “damaged” but utterly destroyed,  I don’t know how to reconcile that. It is for this reason that I always try to look for alternatives to using that line of reasoning.

Many who believe in this inherent dignity within man, use this fact as the basis for all ethics. As this article tries to argue, racism is wrong because it defaces the image of God. Yet it’s not necessary to appeal to the image of God in man in order to argue for the sinfulness of racism. This is because the true basis for all ethics is found in the righteous character of God which is explained to us in His commandments. “Thus saith the Lord” is all that’s necessary for me to know the sinfulness of any sin.

Therefore in my next post, I’ll take an alternative approach in my use of the image of God to explain racism and then show that racism is a denial of the gospel.

Mike Murrell