Transformed Into Christ’s Likeness: Birth
Genesis 1:26-28; 2:4-25

The ingredients or materials used to make something really matter. Deb and I frequently buy generic brand items at the grocery store, and we are often happy with what we get. But not always. On one occasion years ago—I was still in seminary—we bought a half gallon of IGA strawberry ice cream. After tasting it, we realized that the only hint that it was in fact strawberry, apart from the words on the box, was the pink food coloring used in manufacturing it! Suffice it to say that IGA ice cream would never be confused with Bruesters.

You know what I mean, don’t you? You once bought a skirt or a pair of pants, knowing full-well that they were made out of synthetic nylon or something—you saved money. Never mind that the entire seam fell apart the second time you wore them. Or you were snookered into buying a $19.95 gadget advertised on T.V. The thing actually worked—once! What goes into a product inevitably affects the quality and usefulness of that product.

Much the same can be said about us—human beings. We often ask ourselves, “Who are we?” and “Why are we here?” We think about purpose and passion, and we talk about salvation and transformation. As a starting point, the opening chapters of Genesis, long before the advent of modern disciplines like psychology, sociology, and anthropology, help us to understand better what it means to be human.

Human beings, first of all, have been created “in the image of God.” Perhaps no phrase in all of Scripture has stimulated more discussion and debate over the centuries than this one, even though it appears nowhere else in the Bible. Some interpreters have suggested that the image of God is physical in nature; that is, there is actually something about our bodies that captures an aspect of the divine nature. Others have argued that the image of God involves the rational qualities of humanity—our ability to think, reason, and reflect. If you or I notice a beautiful flower in the field, for example, we might very well stop and say to ourselves, “That is a beautiful flower.” If my dog were to see the same flower, he would probably lift his leg, pee on it, and move on without a moment’s thought! Still others propose that being created in the image of God involves our moral and spiritual dimensions. We have souls, they say. No doubt all of these have elements of truth in them, but I can’t help but wonder if we haven’t made something complex out of something rather simple.

The term translated as “image” here in Genesis 1:27 occurs elsewhere in the Old Testament, and it typically refers to a statue, more often than not to a pagan statue or idol. In Numbers 33:52, for example, the Israelites are instructed, upon entering the promised land, to destroy all of the Canaanites’ carved idols (tzelmim). Likewise in 2 King 11:18, all of the idols (tzelmim) of Baal were smashed. But a particularly interesting passage appears in the familiar story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, preserved for us in Daniel 3. There, the Jewish boys refused to bow down to the statue (tzelem) that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up.

Several years ago, I went to Memphis, Tennessee, to participate in a conference focusing on Israel’s exodus from Egypt. As part of the conference, a major exhibit on loan from the Cairo Museum in Egypt was on display in a huge auditorium. The display consisted of various artifacts from the reign of Ramases II, perhaps Egypt’s greatest pharaoh. The exhibit hall was full of items—jewelry, weapons, paintings—but everything there was dwarfed by a single display that stood just inside the main entrance to the hall: a massive stone statue of Ramases himself. Ramases had set up a statue—more than one, in fact—so that everyone could see what he was like.

In these opening verses of Genesis, might God be doing much the same thing? He has completed the overwhelming majority of creation, and it is good. The giraffes are kind of cool, wart hogs noteworthy, and sunsets memorable, but none of these quite captures God’s own character and personality the way he would like. While all of creation declares his handiwork, nothing reflects God in just the right manner.

Do you remember the excitement that surrounds the arrival of school photographs for younger children? I do. When I was in elementary school, a photographer came to Jefferson School every year to take student pictures. One year—I think I was in 2nd grade—I wore a grey, black, and maroon checked sport jacket. I had a lot of hair back then, and I combed it up in a pompadour. My dad had a small, metal canister that looked like a deodorant container. It wasn’t. When you pushed up on the bottom, thick gunk emerged from the top. You then smeared that gunk on your pompadour to keep your hair intact. If you had the misfortune of walking through a tornado on your way to school, you at least knew that your hair would survive! After the pictures were taken, you would wait for a few weeks for the photographer to return with a stack of large, manila envelopes. As he distributed these envelopes, each anxious student nervously loosened the metal clasp and slid the photographs out. “O, that doesn’t look anything like me,” one would moan. “They are terrible,” another cried. But then, from the back of the room, one student announced, “These are the best pictures I’ve ever seen of me! They look just like me.” And when the students took the photographs home, their parents would either hang them on the refrigerator door or set them on top of the piano. Why? So that everyone who entered the house would know what their children looked like.

As God looked over his marvelous creation, something was missing. So he said, “I want to erect a statue of myself for all of the world to see. I want to hang a picture of myself on the refrigerator and stand one up on the piano.” And when he did, that picture took the form, not of wood or stone, but of flesh and bone. When God formed his image, it came out looking like you, and you, and you.

People—you and me—created in the image of God, bursting with potential, overflowing with possibilities. Why, just notice the context of the verse. Human beings are to be fruitful, increase in number, fill the earth, subdue the earth, and rule over it. Human Beings have been created with a glorious purpose, and the stamp of divinity has been burned deep within everyone of us. Created in the image of God, to reflect his goodness and power and to experience an intimacy with him that no other part of creation enjoys. People—you and me—the climax of God’s creative activity.

But as we move into the creation narrative recorded in Genesis 2, we see another dimension of humanity, another side of the coin. Human beings, created in the image of God in Genesis 1, are here fashioned out of dust. Note how drastically different the entire context is in chapter 2. Rather than God acting in the cosmic arena, he now moves around Eden. Rather than speaking, he is forming and fashioning. And the man? Rather than ruling, he is serving. Rather than serving as the climax of creation, he is a gardener. Note the verbs: work it, take care of it, provide names, needs help, is naked. Nowhere in this account is there any hint of evil, to be sure. Being formed out of dust does not require disobedience and sin—it merely implies limitations. Clearly, human
beings, created in the image of God, are created nonetheless. We are part of the created order, blessed with potential but bound by limitations.

These two accounts, then, show us both sides, both dimensions of humanity. Created in the image of God. Formed out of dust. And it is vitally important for us to be fully aware of both sides, for we are prone to danger when we lose sight of one or the other. Are any of you today suffering from what we modern-types call a “poor self-image”? Do you wonder if you are worth anything? You don’t have the gifts and abilities that the person does who is sitting next to you. Everything you try to do results in failure. Or you don’t like your appearance—your teeth aren’t straight, your hair is the wrong color, you are either too short or too tall, too skinny or too fat. Let me remind you. You are created in the image of God. The stamp of divinity has been placed deep within you, within the very fiber of your being. When God looks at you, he sees something of himself, and it is not only good, but very good.

But others of you may not suffer from such poor conceptions of yourself. Indeed, you have the opposite problem. You have trouble accepting and acknowledging your limitations. The sky is the limit. You can do anything if you simply put your mind to it. Here is a simple reminder—we’ve been formed out of dust. We have limitations and weaknesses, everyone of us, even the seemingly most gifted among us. And one of our tendencies is to think at times too highly of ourselves—to see ourselves as the creator rather than the created. Some years ago, Eldon Fry gave me a poster that I still have today. It simply reads:
Two foundational principles of human knowledge:
There is a God.
You are not him.
Created in the image of God. Formed out of dust. Both of these components, joined together, give us a clearer and healthier understanding of who we are as human beings. To acknowledge both sides of our nature is to be fully human, bursting with God-given capabilities but restricted by creaturely limitations.

These somewhat contrasting dimensions of human nature do, of course, produce considerable tension at times as the “image of God” and “dust” meet—perhaps I should say “collide.” God has given us the potential to rise to the heights or to sink to the depths. If we want to experience genuine biblical wholeness—if we want to keep our “image-of-Godness” and our “dustiness” in proper balance—these opening accounts in Genesis further emphasize two additional items that we will want to explore further in the coming weeks. First, we experience wholeness only as we genuinely submit to our Creator. Throughout Genesis 1 and 2, God is in control, providing his treasured creatures with meaningful work and steering them away from harm. “Don’t eat from that tree,” he instructs them. “Do things my way.”

And finally, we experience wholeness only as we recognize the fact that we—you and I—are profoundly social creatures who desperately need each other. The one thing in these accounts that is declared “not good” is that a person be alone. While we generally and justifiably apply this verse (2:18) to the marriage relationship, it is certainly clear throughout the entire narrative that people were created in community. We follow God—together.

Who are we human beings? What ingredients were used when we were created? We are created in the image of God, bursting with wonderful possibilities. We are fashioned out of dust, bound by creaturely limitations. And to experience true wholeness, we are called to follow God in community with others. When God created us, he did it right! There is nothing “generic” about us.