When Paul proclaims in Romans 3 that “no one is good, no not one,” he makes a bold statement. Indeed, the scope of sin's reach within creation is wide and its effects are devastating. In the case of mankind, it’s safe to say that we do not naturally compare to the original model of moral perfection. At the start, God created man and woman in his image, placed them in a garden, and assigned them dominion over everything that he had created and had called “very good” (Gen. 1:27-31). He marveled at his work, including the pinnacle of his labor, Adam and Eve. The beginning of the Bible portrays God and his masterpiece dancing in perfect harmony. As the story goes, this did not last (Gen. 3:24).
Though the first sin laid waste to the perfection of God’s creation, his glory still radiates from the skies (Ps. 19:1) and creation reveals his attributes for all to see (Rom. 1:20). Sin marred creation such that we can still clearly see the beauty of God’s handiwork in sunrises and ocean tides, but as those looking through a dim mirror (1 Cor. 13:12). Likewise, God’s image-bearers now reflect him in a rather distorted way, but reflect him nonetheless.
Love: the Divine Reflection
As the world around us drudges along in a perverted mirage, those redeemed by Christ have the unique opportunity to truly portray God’s beautiful design for his people. Though mankind’s image-bearing manifests itself in various arenas of life, it could be said that love is most practical way that we as God’s reflections can join in his reconciling of all things (Col. 1:20).
Jesus teaches that the two greatest commandments are to love God and love others (Matt. 22:37-39). John tells us that God is love and that those who claim to love God had better show it through love (1 John 4:8). These statements are not trite; they are monumental.
Sin brings death, destruction, and a mighty chasm between God and man. If love is a defining attribute of God, then his image-bearers should be distinctively known for their love. This means that we counter grudges with forgiveness, harshness with gentleness, abuse with tenderness, and derision with encouragement. Satan pushes us into self-absorption but God pushes us to radical acts of service. As Jeff Vanderstelt so aptly charges, “We should live a life that demands a gospel explanation.”
The natural bent of the human heart is to play the role of king. Whether it’s belittling others, stock-piling material goodies, griping at other drivers on the road, or working hard to reach maximum success in personal endeavors… people will find a way try and manipulate for themselves a world to their liking. When God’s people respond to such urges with unexplainable selflessness, they take part in the reconciliation of creation. Every time Satan’s lies are met with the character of God, things look much like they ought to. Love forges more paths than violence.
And let’s be clear, love is not always warm and fuzzy. It is paramount to remember that love is often displayed in hard truth. When Peter argues against the plan of God, Jesus uses strong language: “Get behind me Satan!” (Matt. 16:23). In the next verse, he reminds his disciples that they must be willing to give up everything to follow him. Now, this is not to say that we should liken everyone to the Prince of Darkness, but it is a reminder that sometimes the most loving thing to do is to rebuke others in order to point them to something better: Christ.
As previously stated, we are imperfect carriers of the divine image. We are not pre-Fall Adam and Eve, but we are still the apex of God’s creation. This is significant, life-changing.
Wayne Grudem rightly reflects: “This realization will give us a profound sense of dignity and significance as we reflect on the excellence of all the rest of God’s creation: the starry universe, the abundant earth, the world of plants and animals, and the angelic kingdoms are remarkable, even magnificent. But we are more like our Creator than any of these things.”
As we assess our own purpose and reason for existence, may we remember that God is renewing us into his image (Col. 3:10) and that he wills for us to be conformed into the image of his Son (Rom. 8:29). This gives us hope in the fight to love him and those around us. Though it will not always play itself out perfectly, God’s people can know that the gospel is powerful enough to overcome their weaknesses and propel them into service for his eternal Kingdom.
[Portions of this article originally appeared at Servants of Grace.]