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Identity, Image, and Imitating

Updated: Apr 10, 2022

Imago Dei

“So God created human beings in his own image.

In the image of God he created them."

Genesis 1:27a

There’s a lot of confusion today regarding identity and purpose. Many voices ring out their answer to the question, “Who am I? And what is my reason for living?”

In Lois Tverberg’s wonderful book, Walking in the Dust of Rabbi Jesus, she recounts a wonderful illustration which demonstrates the unique Jewish perspective of one of the famous interactions Jesus had with the religious leaders.

Trying to trap Jesus, someone asked him, “What about Caesar—should we pay taxes to him or not?”

Everyone knew how loaded this question was. Should the Jewish people support a corrupt regime that oppressed them and opposed their faith in the one true God? They knew Jesus would be trapped, whatever he said.

Jesus replied, “Show me a denarius.”

Jesus inquired, “Whose image, who likeness is on this coin?”

Caesar’s of course. It was precisely that image that made the coin forbidden in the Temple. (No graven images were permitted, especially not the likeness of an emperor who insisted that he be worshipped as deity. Caesar’s taxes were not just about financial support, but about religious veneration. You were honoring the “god” Caesar by paying tribute to him.)

Jesus shocked the listeners by answering, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” (This is traditionally interpreted: we should pay our taxes and give to the church.)

But Tverberg points out Jesus is saying something more. And I LOVE this!

“What has God stamped with his image?

Human beings!

Therefore, we should offer our lives back to God. Humans are the handiwork of God.”

In Ephesians 2:10, it says, For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.

“We owe our very existence to him. The fact that we bear his image shows his ownership over us.

Caesar was not God, so let him have his measly coins back. But humans owe our very lives to God. He’s stamped his seal on us to show that it is he alone that we must serve.”

There was a saying according to Tverberg, “For a king mints many coins with a single seal, and they are all alike. But the King of Kings…minted all human beings with the seal of his with which he made the first person, yet not one of them is like anyone else.

It shows the infinite glory of God that we are all stamped with his image, and yet we are unique.”

“A king engraved his image on his coins to show that he “owned” them—they were under his authority and part of his reign. Wherever his coins circulated, the king was claiming that territory as part of his kingdom.

By making this parallel, Jesus was pointing out that because God had stamped his image on us, God’s reign was far beyond anything Caesar could imagine—it is over all of humanity, Humans are God’s coins, meant to be spent on his world, proclaiming God’s kingdom wherever we circulate.” (This imagery is beautiful!)

“Paul says that we should put off our old corrupt self and live as our new self that is “created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:24)

We are to be imitators of God displaying his compassion and faithfulness.

Tverberg goes on to recount the following story:

Physician Paul Brand relays an experience from when he was training doctors in India that taught him the effectiveness of teaching by imitation.

One morning on rounds, he watched as a young intern interviewed a new patient. Brand’s student kneeled by the woman’s bed, and examined her for sign of pain as he gently inquired about her private past, his calm demeanor reassuring her all the while.

Suddenly, something caught Brand’s eye about the young man’s expression. It reminded him distinctly of a mentor of his back in England, Professor Pilcher. The resemblance was uncanny, as if the student had taken acting lessons.

Later Brand asked the young man if he had ever studied with the esteemed Dr. Pilcher. At first, he and his fellow students stared at him, confused, but then they grinned.

“We don’t know any Professor Pilcher,” one said, “But Dr. Brand, that was your expression he was wearing.”

Brand writes, “I thought I was learning from him technique of surgery and diagnostic procedures. But he had also imprinted his instincts, his expression, his very smile so that they too would be passed down from generation to generation in an unbroken human chain. It was a kindly smile, perfect for cutting through the fog of embarrassment to encourage a patient’s honesty.

Now I, Pilcher’s student, had become a link in the chain, a carrier of his wisdom to students some nine thousand miles away. The Indian doctor, young and brown-skinned, speaking in Tamil, shared few obvious resemblances with either Pilcher or me. Yet somehow he had conveyed the likeness of my old chief so accurately that it has transported me back to university days.”

Tverberg goes on to say that Dr. Brand had been imprinted by his mentor’s demeanor and was unconsciously passing it on.

In just the same way, as we imitate Christ as his disciples, we carry his image to those around us and cause them to become like him, too.

Every human being is God’s creative work, specially and uniquely designed by him.

“For You made all the delicate inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb. Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex. Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it. You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb.” Psalm 139: 13-15

And every human being should be treated as a special creation of God, because all are precious to him.

God has given us our worth. Though we are insignificant as dust (from which we were formed), we reflect the glory of God himself.

We can see ourselves as useless, untalented and insignificant or we try to prove our worth through competition, pride and tearing others down.

Tverberg recounts an eighteenth-century rabbi who put it this way: A person should always carry two slips of paper, one in each pocket.

On one it should be written ‘The world was created for my sake,’ and on the other it should say ‘I am but dust and ashes.’ On days when we feel discouraged and worthless, we should read the first one. On days when we’re consumed with pride and our own self-importance, we should read the other.

Tverberg adds that since we often struggle with knowing our worth, we should also have another slip of paper which reads, ‘All of humanity is precious to God, not just me.’

“God’s idea of humility is to realize that each one of us is precious in his sight, and yet everyone else is too!”

Created in God’s image, humans are lovingly fashioned to be his royal representatives. As Christ’s disciples, our calling is to join him in his rescue mission. He gives identity and purpose.

“Each one should use whatever gift they have received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.” (1 Peter 4:10)

Our creator God gives us our unique identity and we belong to Him. When we repent of our sin and believe that Christ’s death on the cross paid the price for our sin-- we are chosen, redeemed, and adopted into God’s family. Jesus’s resurrection from death to life gives us a hope and a future. Our life gains meaning and purpose. He gives us gifts and abilities to be a blessing to others.

What are your gifts and abilities?

What mission do you feel drawn to?

What is your calling?

Where are you using your gifts to serve others, administering God’s grace?

When have you seen the demeanor of Christ imprinted on the life of someone?

How does knowing that God formed every human in his image affect your thinking or attitude about others? Even those you don’t like or disagree with??

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