So, you’re at a gathering and you meet someone for the first time. He asks you a key question so that he knows who you are: “What do you do?”
What we do is so inextricably linked to who we are. It just is. Why? Because, in the beginning, God made humans this way!
In Genesis, God says,
“Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule…”
So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” (Genesis 1:26-28)
It is very clear that God created humans in his image, and what is directly connected to that is a job description: (1) Be fruitful (2) Increase in number (3) Fill the earth (4) Subdue the earth (5) Rule over all the creatures.
Backward Thinking About Who We Are and What We Do
We’ve got to get things in the right order. First and foremost, God created mankind in God’s image. Being the “imago Dei” is the essence of what it means to be human. And that is what’s amazing.
But our ability to be human is the very thing that broke when we rebelled against God’s order of things. We are not fully what God created us to be.
Think about it: We all have this innate desire to “be somebody,” to be significant. But we are convinced that in order for us to be someone special, we have to do something special.
But that’s backward thinking. It’s thinking that has been damaged by The Fall. Theologians call this the “Noetic effects of our sinful nature.” Sin is subtle in this way, right? We are blessed with these minds that are capable of doing things like inventing new gadgets and ingeniously solving problems. But with these same minds, we are also capable of figuring out how to cheat to get ahead without anybody finding out. And we see this all the time: People believing (fervently believing) that their view or their cause is absolutely righteous when the rest of us look at them and ask, “Huh? Really?”
These are the noetic effects of our sinful nature.
So we have come to believe that who we are flows from what we do, rather than the other way around.
First Things First
So while what we do flows out of being part of the only class of creatures “made in God’s image,” it is just that. It flows from that image bearing.
An image-bearer is one that primarily glorifies God by representing God. The human race is glorious – but only when we are reflecting God. That is what we were created for!
When the rest of the creation (including the animals and birds and fish and trees and other humans) looks at humans, they should see a people that look like God in their character, in their care, and yes, in their work. But being a human is not first based on what we do. It is first based on being an image-bearer.
Jesus Restores Our Image-Bearing Humanity
What Jesus has accomplished for humanity goes far beyond a promise of going to heaven when we die. He has redeemed what it means to be human. Why? Because he is the perfect human – the image of God as it should be. * And when we submit to the Lordship of Jesus, the Spirit of Christ transforms us into being what we were made to be: Glorious image-bearers!
“He (Christ Jesus) is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.” (Colossian 1:15)
“And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18)
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” (Romans 8:28-29)
It is by grace you have been created as an image-bearer. It is also by grace that that image-bearing capacity (that has been damaged by the Fall) is being redeemed in Christ. This is why the Bible is emphatic that humans cannot be redeemed by their own work.
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by work, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good work, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:8-10)
So, who we are in our very being is redeemed in Christ. We are being redeemed into what humans are meant to be. We were created primarily as “human beings” not “human doings.”
But then what flows from our being the image of God is our good work. Why? Because we can’t separate God’s grace in making and redeeming image-bearers from the work that God has for them to do.
But first things first. Don’t get it backwards!
(*The Bible teaches that Jesus is fully human. That is what restores our humanity. The Bible also teaches that Jesus is fully God. He is the King and worthy of our worship)