Image-Bearer vs. Child – which one are you?

Often, during tumultuous times in our culture, someone with a microphone will stand up and say something to the affect of “we’re all children of God.”  The sentiment is intended to bring unity and cohesiveness to a divisive situation, acknowledging that we are all human.  However, the truth behind the matter is that we’re not all children of God.

A better way to say this is that we are all image-bearers of God, made in the image of God, although that doesn’t roll off the tongue quite as nicely as “children of God”.  Check out what it says in Genesis 1:26-27:

26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

27 So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.

However, the truth behind the matter is that we’re not all children of God, if you believe the God of the Bible.  Being called a child of God is a special designation God reserves for those who have, through faith (belief) in Jesus Christ, become His followers.  John 1:12 says:

12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God,

Having faith in Jesus Christ is to acknowledge that Jesus is God in the flesh, that He was born of a virgin, lived a perfect life, died on a cross to pay for our sins, and rose from the grave on the 3rd day.  Those who have confessed this to be true and have asked God to forgive them of their sins and chosen to follow Jesus with their lives, these are the ones whom God refers to as His children.  This is a significant distinction not to be thrown around lightly.

The proper way to think about it is to understand that our value, our worth as people is in the fact that God made us in His own image, that is to say, in His likeness.  We are granted this the moment He began forming us in our mother’s womb, as the Psalmist writes:

13 For you formed my inward parts;
you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
my soul knows it very well.

What does that mean?  Well, we are unique creatures on the earth, and what makes us unique is what reflects the image of God.

Physically speaking, we’re not that much different than animals.  Both animals and humans need oxygen to breathe, blood in our veins, and water & food to survive.  This is not what God is speaking of when He says “in our image”.

What makes us distinct in all creation are the unseen attributes of human beings: the ability to reason, the ability to deny oneself of something we want, the ability to experience a gamut of emotions (specifically the emotion love, which trumps all other emotions) & the ability to create, both other humans as well as all the things we see and experience in life, like music and art.  These are all qualities God possesses, and these qualities speak to human beings created in the image of God.  So this fact is nothing to dismiss, but it’s not the same thing as being a child of God.

When I think about my own children, I think about the rights and privileges bestowed upon them simply because of their status as my children.  Think about it; their are certain things I give to them that I don’t give to other children.

  1. I love them unconditionally and I provide for all of their needs.
  2. They have access to me at all times, whether it’s to talk, embrace, laugh, cry, play or just sit together.
  3. They have access to everything I own (i.e. if my wife & I were to pass away, everything we have would go to them).
  4. They will always have a place to call home, no matter where they go or what they do.

Many of us understand this as quite natural, because our children are ours by nature.  We chose to have kids, but we didn’t choose the ones we received.  What makes this distinction truly remarkable is that is comes not as a result of a natural birth, but more in the realm of what we refer to as adoption, which is when someone chooses to accept another as their own child.  It is an amazing gift, and this is what God did for us.  As you read through that list, consider the fact that all of these rights and privileges are given to those whom God knows as His sons and daughters by way of adoption, that God chose to take us in, not out of obligation, but out of His great love for those who call on His name.  As it says in Galatians 4:4-7:

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.

So the question is, are you merely an image-bearer of God, or are you also a child of God?  One has unique qualities for this life, and the other has unique rights and privileges for this life and for the life to come.  If you have questions about this, reach out to a local pastor in your area and ask, “What must I do to be saved?”, just as a Philippian jailer asked Paul 2000 years ago.



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