Though I have a degree in political science and thought I’d be a lawyer, this article is not about politics. God had other plans for me. When I think through current issues, I often view situations through the lens of the gospel and how the gospel changes how we think, respond, and feel about everything. As I’ve watched and listened and learned about this current event, my heart turned towards the people affected and I’ve thought about how we view one another. That’s where this article stems from, that’s the framework, that’s the heart behind it.
Last Friday, our president issued an executive order on refugees and immigrants with the purpose to “protect the American people from terrorist attacks by foreign nationals admitted to the United States.” By Saturday morning, my news feeds were filled with cries of frustration and confusion about what this executive order meant for our nation, the many refugees seeking safety here, and for the fate of those carrying green cards and visas. I was among the confused and concerned. Although I join many who have voiced alarm over how the order was handled (if you’d like to know more about the order, you can read Joe Carter’s FAQ’s article and Dr. Russell Moore’s letter to the president), I’m also deeply troubled by how we might view our neighbor and the fear that so often is associated with the foreigner. The doctrine of the image of God is one of many aspects that should inform our love for others. This doctrine is foundational to how we view others and, as we wrestle with the implications of our president’s executive order, it’s good to remember – even the basic truths that are found in this post – what God has said and done in creating all of mankind. I wrote a portion of this a few years ago for Tabletalk magazine and thought it was an appropriate reminder as I prayed about the events today.
In the beginning, God created all of mankind in His image, male and female alike (Gen. 1:26). And we know that before the foundation of the world, God, in His goodness and kindness, had His people in mind (Eph. 1:4). It was no surprise to our omniscient Father that Adam and Eve fell and sin entered the world. He knew people would not worship and delight in Him. Knowing this, He didn’t have to give us aspects of Himself, but He did. God—the holy one, pure and awesome—created us to reflect aspects of His beauty and character. We are not worthy of such a generous apportionment.
As God’s image-bearers, we are all equal. We are equal in dignity and worth, and we are also fallen equally (Rom. 3:23). Genesis 1:26 explains that God created man in His image. Of all the creatures in God’s creation, we are the only ones created in His very image, so we have dominion over the rest (1:28). It is a profound mystery (God is spirit, so we do not bear His physical image; see John 4:24) and yet a great privilege.
Image-bearing alone should cause our hearts to leap for joy, but, as we know, even as God has revealed Himself, many have chosen to suppress the truth that they know about Him (Rom. 1:18-19). And it is with this knowledge that the Christian delights to share the gospel, but it is also with this knowledge that we respect the dignity of all human beings. We do not give others dignity that they don’t already possess, we only acknowledge the worth that has been bestowed by God. As image-bearers, we are all made to glorify and magnify the Lord. And by all, I mean all mankind. The Lord did not distinguish between the Christian and non-Christian in creating them in His image. He also did not distinguish between ethnicities, giving some a more privilege place in the created order. All humans at the root of our being are created the same, each with immeasurable value.
Understanding our equality as image-bearers changes everything about our human relationships. As image-bearers, we should view others as God views us. One way the Lord identifies us—and I’d argue this is the most important differentiation—is as either in Christ or not in Christ. C.S. Lewis said it best when he wrote in The Weight of Glory:
There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously—no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.
There is no one walking the earth who is not in need of the gospel. We are a part of humanity, each one of us heading toward either heaven or hell. The Christian who understands his nature before God is eager to love, welcome, and share with his fellow man.
My own testimony comes to mind here. God sent a young girl aflame for Jesus and His gospel to share the good news with me. I was dead, but God made me alive through Jesus’ death on the cross. By a free gift, I was made alive by grace through faith (vv. 1-10). I could never have saved myself, and I didn’t think my heart needed transformation, but He knew what I needed, He did the work, and He used a sinner saved by that same grace to teach me about Him.
We do not in any way welcome, serve or love others just to share the gospel. We love and serve others first and foremost because of the worth God conveyed in creation. We value humans because God values humans. People are not projects.
If our first thought of another image bearer isn’t compassion but fear, then we’ve failed to view them as God does. If we have been saved, bought with a price, then we of all people ought to fight the temptation to, as C.S. Lewis says, view others with superiority.
As we see our country potentially closing itself off towards certain people groups, we are left with the question of how we will view those around us, especially those who are personally affected by this executive order. Do we see them? Do we view them as those in need of compassion, care, and love, and ultimately the gospel or are we tempted to resist due to fear, assumptions, privilege, and pride? God’s word says if we confess our sin he is faithful and just to forgive us and to purify us (1 John 1:9). We don’t have to remain where we are. That’s good news. We can begin even today to see how fellow man as God does—made in his image.
Many of us aren’t engaged daily with refugees. The reality of this should also warrant a pause in our conscience if we’ve been tempted to make judgments on those who we aren’t in proximity to. (There are many organizations I’ve discovered who are working to assist the needs of refugees. If you are looking for a place to start, I’d suggest World Relief.) Most of us, however, are likely engaged with immigrants. May we as followers of Christ be a people who truly love our neighbor—not out of guilt, but because we know that God loved and gave his Son’s life for us. And because we know this fundamental truth: all people are created wonderfully in the image of God.