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Monday, January 24, 2022

The Beautiful Image

This message series was inspired by a book I read last year by an enlightening book by James Dickson I read last year titled Bullies and Saints.

When the Church is true to Christ, we are His body, the perfect image of God. Our respect for the image of God means all human life is sacred and must be respected equally.  This helped change the way people are treated and is still changing hearts and minds today. 

Unfortunately, the Church has not always represented Christ well.  When we misunderstand Christ’s teachings or use religion to pursue our own selfish ambitions, we distort the beautiful image of Christ.  But we shouldn’t judge Jesus or His teachings by those who fail to follow them.  Instead, let us consider how the Church makes the world radically better when it was faithful to Christ’s teachings.  And let us resolve to set aside our own selfish ambitions, take up our cross daily, and follow Christ. 

The Ancient Value of Human Life
In the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jeferson penned the beautiful, revolutionary idea that “…all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”  America's founding fathers didn’t pluck these ideas out of thin air.  They actually gleaned them from Biblical Christian teaching.  Jewish and Christian sacred texts hold that all people bear the image of God, and thus, we are all loved by God and sacred to Him. 

In our times, we take for granted that all human life is sacred.  People did not always believe this way.  In fact, ancient societies did not believe it at all.  Kings, Pharaohs, and Caesars were sometimes thought to be the image of God, but not ordinary people and especially not children, the elderly, slaves, or the infirm. 

Here's an example.  In 1 BC, a Roman soldier named Hilarion stationed away from home wrote a letter to his pregnant wife to say if the baby was a boy she should keep it. But if the baby was a girl, she must “throw it out.”[i]  What’s even more striking is Hilarion mentions this in passing.  It’s not even the main point of the letter.  The life of the child—which we hold to be sacred and worthy of all dignity, respect, and protection—was just a thing to be kept or discarded and mentioned as nonchalantly as if it were instructions about throwing out of an unneeded and worn-out rug.

Hilarion's letter seems callous and cruel to us.  We would arrest anyone today who acted that way.  However, people in Hilarion’s day would not have thought he was being cruel or immoral.  This was what was expected of good citizens.  It was actually considered a danger to society to keep unwanted or disabled children. 

It was common practice in the ancient world for families to “expose” unwanted or deformed children.  Exposure meant parents simply left the child outside and let it die of exposure to the elements.  Ironically, people who were too soft-hearted to do their “civic duty” were seen as weak or uncivilized.  Aristotle—the great, Greek philosopher lauded by historians and scholars today—recommended there should be a law "to prevent the rearing of deformed children."[ii] 

This practice seems horrific and evil to us today, but suppose you were somehow transported back in time to Hilarion’s time to convince him not to throw out his unwanted daughter.  What argument would you make?

You might say, “It’s cruel and immoral.”

Hilarion and his neighbors would counter that it was cruel to let an unwanted child live, that it weakened society, that the child had no useful purpose, and that it would be an unnecessary drain on the family and society.  

You see, in the ancient, non-Christian, non-Jewish world, people believed a person's worth was based upon it’s capacity (or potential) to contribute to the family and society.  A person or a child who with little or nothing to offer had no intrinsic value.  Non-religious people today struggle to make an effective argument against this.  Why do people have value if not for what they provide?  Why is human life sacred if someone does not accept the reality of religious sacredness? 

Our outrage in modern times at the exposure of an infant reveals that modern people have a very different fundamental belief that all life is sacred—especially the life of a helpless infant.  We feel compelled to stand up for the weak and vulnerable and voiceless.  Where do we get this urge?

The answer is found in Scripture.  Right back at the very beginning of the Christian story of faith, we see that God instilled sacred value in human life.

Genesis 1:27
So God created human beings[a] in his own image.
    In the image of God he created them;
    male and female he created them.

Genesis 1:27 tells us that every person is created in the image of God.   And throughout Scripture, we are reminded to respect and protect people because they bear God’s image.  God loves them and we are to love and respect people too.  The reason we don’t murder is because people are made in God’s image and to take another person’s life is an attack on God Himself.  Genesis 9:6 says, “If anyone takes a human life, that person’s life will also be taken by human hands. For God made human beings in his own image.”  

Thankfully, the civilized world no longer “exposes” unwanted children.  The reason is Jesus came and showed us the perfect image of God and established the Church to carry out His mission on earth.  And for 2,000 years, the Church has been working to transform the way the world thinks.  So many of the blessings we enjoy today started with Christ and came to fruition through His Church.  Consider: 

The Blessings We Have Because of the Church
Because of the Church, we have laws forbidding the abandonment of children.  The Christian Church led the Roman Empire to establish a law forbidding the exposure of the of unwanted children.

Because of the Church, we have orphanages.  The Christian Church founded the first orphanages and foster care systems to take care of unwanted children.  How many millions of people are alive today because the church rescued unwanted children who would have otherwise been abandoned or exposed?

Because of the Church, we have public hospitals.  The early Church invented public hospitals where everyone—rich and poor alike—could receive care because we are all equally sacred to and loved by God.  Christians believed all people should be cared for when they are sick because they are made in the image of God.  Before the Church era, the infirm, elderly, deformed and outcast (especially those that were poor) were disposable and often abandoned because they could not contribute to society.  Christians changed this—establishing the first hospitals, monasteries to care for widows, and rest homes for the elderly.

Because of the Church, we had the abolition of slavery.  Church teaching led to the ending of slavery.  Early Christians frequently purchased freedom for slaves or rescued them by other means.  Eventually, Christians led the fight to abolish slavery in Europe and then America. You can’t own someone as property, because they are made in the image of God.  Their life is sacred to God who made them to be free and only under the authority of One Master—God.  

Because of the Church, we have free legal representation.  Today in America, you have the right to an attorney.  If you can’t afford an attorney, the court will appoint one to serve you for free.  Do you know who started that?  The early Church started this practice because they said “Everyone is equal in the eyes of God and deserves equal justice, whether rich or poor.”  The justice system in ancient Rome was very corrupt and favored the rich who could afford court fees, bribes, and expensive legal representation.  The Christian Church stepped in to level the playing field--paying court fees and advocating for the poor so they would receive equal justice.  Later, the Roman Empire adopted the same practice to ensure equal justice for rich and poor.  This practice has been handed down to America today.

So we see, these are just a few of the example of how Christ’s Church has beautifully transformed our world in countless ways that we take for granted.  Even people who are not Christians today (or who would never set foot inside a church) benefit from these blessings faithful Christians normalized in our world.  

Of course, the Church has not always been faithful to Christ’s example & teachings.  And it is very destructive when people stray from Christ and use religion for their own selfish gain.  We must always be on guard, realizing the image of God in us is broken and distorted by sin.  We do not naturally do the right thing.  That is why Christ had to come—as the perfect image of God—to atone for our sin and set our feet back on the right path.

Colossians 1:15-20

15 Christ is the visible image of the invisible God.
    He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation,
16 for through him God created everything
    in the heavenly realms and on earth.
He made the things we can see
    and the things we can’t see—
such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world.
    Everything was created through him and for him.
17 He existed before anything else,
    and he holds all creation together.
18 Christ is also the head of the church,
    which is his body.
He is the beginning,
    supreme over all who rise from the dead.
    So he is first in everything.
19 For God in all his fullness
    was pleased to live in Christ,
20 and through him God reconciled
    everything to himself.
He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth
    by means of Christ’s blood on the cross.


Join Christ’s Mission to Save the World

When the Church is true to Christ, we are His body, the perfect image of God.  Our respect for the image of God means all human life is sacred and must be respected equally.  This helps change the way people are treated and is still changing hearts and minds today.


We have much work left to do.  Look around at the world and see there is still so much suffering and injustice and oppression.  The answer is not found in human reasoning, a college degree, politics, government programs, or nation building.  The answer is Christ.


We must surrender.  We must recognize we are not our own and cannot live however we please.  We must recognize Jesus is Lord.  We must repent of our sin and pledge our lives and livelihood to Him and Him alone.  Then, we must be faithful and follow Jesus.  We must be the Church He calls us to be—which Colossians 1:18 says in Christ’s body.  Rise up men and women of faith!


And so I plead with you today.  

Turn from your sins and turn to Jesus.  

A world without Christ is a very dark place and a life without Christ ends in eternal death and damnation.  Turn to Jesus and be saved.  Serve the Lord and help save the world.

It’s as simple as that.



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