Clergy/Leaders’ Mail-list No. 1-027 (Sermon)
FOUNDATIONS FOR PERSONAL IDENTITY (or What Makes You Tick?)
by Rod Benson
What makes you tick? What gives you a sense of identity, or consciousness? If we conducted a poll of attenders tonight, we’d probably come up with a variety of answers – some general, some focused; some deep, others superficial.
When we consider the basic foundations for understanding personal identity, we could start by examining the phenomenon of consciousness. We could investigate the human capacity for intelligent interpersonal communication. Informed by Christian reflection, we could probe the Greek philosophical notion of tripartite personality, or the more biblically sustainable bipartite understanding of personality.
But perhaps the most basic foundation for understanding personal identity is the biblical revelation that we are all made in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:26-28; cf 5:3; 9:6; Psalm 8:5- 8; 1 Corinthians 11:7; Colossians 3:10; James 3:9).
“Man is great,” says Baptist theologian Millard Erickson, “but what makes him great is that God has created him. The name Stradivari speaks of quality in a violin; its maker was the best . . . Of man it can be said that he has been made by the best and wisest of all beings, God.” Of course, “man” here includes men and women on equal footing.
This fundamental principle, and its unfolding significance throughout progressive biblical revelation, teaches me three things about personal identity.
OF INFINITE VALUE
First, every person is of infinite intrinsic value. That we are made in the image of God is the absolute foundation for human dignity. You are made by God, and God knows you and values you. You are of infinite value to him. That is why he wants to share a personal relationship with you. That is why he sacrificed his only Son to heal your brokenness and end your alienation from him. That is why he wants you to live forever with him in heaven. God values you more than anything in the universe.
Another implication of the vast worth of the human person is that the fact that we are made in the image of God must be an important consideration when we examine contemporary issues such as abortion, euthanasia, capital punishment, foetal experimentation and genetic engineering.
When we read that God says, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness,” two implications are immediately apparent. First, we discover relationship within the Godhead. This is one of the first hints of Trinitarian theology: members of the Trinity are engaged in a divine conversation!
Second, it suggests that there is a fundamental difference between humans and all other animals created by God. Everything else has been created: Adam (and Eve) are both the masterpiece and the finale of God’s original creatorial action.
There is some disagreement about whether we should regard “image” and “likeness” as two distinct concepts, or as an example of synonymous parallelism (that is, a duplication of synonyms). Most evangelical theologians today would, I believe, follow Luther and Calvin in affirming that humankind was created originally pure, in the image of God, and that the impact of original sin and the Fall corrupted every aspect of the image, although a relic of the original image remains in people, giving us God-consciousness and enabling us to be reconciled to God. Most would also share Erickson ‘s view that “the image is the powers of personality which make man, like God, a being capable of interacting with other persons, of thinking and reflecting, and of willing freely.”
MADE IN HEAVEN
Second, every person belongs to God. By this I do not mean that God is the universal Father of all people, regardless of how we respond to him. I mean that each of us find our origin in Adam and Eve, and therefore in some way bears the image of God in our person.
The interaction between Jesus and the Pharisees and Herodians in Mark 12:13-17 illustrates what I mean. They tried to trap him with a trick question about whether to pay taxes to Caesar.
Jesus asked for a denarius (a small coin), and said, “Whose portrait is this, and whose inscription?”
“Caesar’s,” they replied. Then Jesus said to them, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” (verses 16b-17a).
What do I possess that ultimately belongs to God, that I can give to him? I have my self. So, to paraphrase Jesus, he instructs us to give to Caesar (that is, the government) the money we are legally bound to give in the form of taxes, because the money bears Caesar’s image (or that of our head of state); and to give ourselves to God because we bear God’s image!
We belong to God, every one of us, and because of this we each have a responsibility to live as God wants us to live, to obey the principles he gives us in his Word, and above all to establish a positive relationship with him through faith in his Son, Jesus Christ.
INTENDED FOR RELATIONSHIP
Third, every person can experience full humanity by relating to God through Jesus Christ, and by following the teaching and example of Jesus, who is the complete revelation of the image of God.
In Basic Christianity, John Stott writes, “Augustine was right in the oft-quoted words which come near the beginning of his [autobiographical] Confessions: ‘Thou hast made us for thyself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in thee.’ This situation is tragic beyond words. Man is missing the destiny for which God made him.”
Jesus is the solution to our deepest problem; his work achieves what we desperately need, but which we cannot achieve by our own strength and intelligence: the forgiveness of our sins and reconciliation with God. If our greatest need had been information, God would have sent us an educator. If our greatest need had been technology, God would have sent us a scientist. If our greatest need had been money, God would have sent us an economist. If our greatest need had been pleasure, God would have sent us an entertainer. But our greatest need was forgiveness, so God sent us a Saviour.
Jesus was the last hope for humanity, expressed the way God intended: in intimate fellowship with God, in perfect obedience to God, higher than any angel, with universal authority over the created order, and constituting the complete revelation of the image of God in human form.
Through his incarnation, humiliation and exaltation, Jesus fulfilled God’s master plan, solved the sin problem, tore down death’s barrier, and opened the door on the path that leads to our spiritual potential and heavenly destiny.
Jesus perfectly and profoundly imaged God in his life and ministry, and the Bible promises that his followers will one day have the image of God fully restored, and bear the likeness of Jesus in their person (1 Corinthians 15:49). The image of God is shared in some degree by all people, but the image of Jesus is shared only by those who have been redeemed by his blood.
Peter Singer (b. 1946) is an Australian philosopher whose controversial views on euthanasia and overseas aid have stimulated much debate here and overseas. But his views on “speciesism” and his bestselling Animal Liberation have generated his greatest international impact. In it he argues, “If you think the rights of human beings are superior to those of non-humans, you need to explain why.”
Tonight you have heard why: humankind is uniquely created in the image of God. Every person is of infinite intrinsic value. Every person belongs to God and is made to enjoy a positive relationship with God. And every person can experience full humanity by relating to God through Jesus Christ, and by following the teaching and example of Jesus, who is the complete revelation of the image of God.
Do you know who you are? Do you understand how precious you are to God? Have you given yourself wholeheartedly to God? Are you on the road to experiencing full humanity as a born-again child of God, growing daily more like Jesus?
God made you in his image, to enjoy a relationship with him, to be fulfilled and to have a great purpose in life. He rescued you; have you responded and accepted his love, his forgiveness, his sacrifice for you? Discover your true identity as a human person, and as a member of God’s great global family.
E014 Copyright (c) 2001 Rod Benson. All rights reserved. Unless otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: New International Version (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1980).
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