August 31, 2005

Some Christian defenders of the value of human life will argue that since human beings were created in the image of God human life has special value. Others will argue that this is improper since the image of God was lost when Adam and Eve sinned.

Certainly the “image of God” argument regarding the value of human life cannot be used in a way that ignores the depravity of humanity brought about by sin. Nevertheless, it is not improper to equate the value of human life with being created in the image of God. To better understand this, let’s review some of the basic Scriptural facts about the image of God. 

The Image Given
God created the first man-Adam-and woman-Eve-in his image and likeness (Genesis 1:26-27). Biblical scholars have written much about exactly what that means. A simple yet very inclusive definition is offered by Rev. Dr. Nathan R. Jastram of Concordia University in Mequon, WI. He defines the image of God as being “like God” in a variety of ways. There is the righteousness and holiness associated with being like God. Adam and Eve had a perfect knowledge of God and his kindness. Adam and Eve were holy and righteous and, consequently, immortal. But being like God also includes having reason and intellect that makes us different than the animals. It includes being able to make moral choices and ruling over God’s creation.

The Image Lost
Genesis 5:3 tells us that Adam had a son in his own image. After their fall into sin, Adam and Eve were no longer like God in terms of righteousness and purity of the knowledge of God. They still had knowledge of God, but it was no longer the pure knowledge of his kindness. It was only a knowledge seen in his creation (Romans 1:20), a knowledge that brought fear of God (Genesis 3:10). There was no longer joyful conformity but hostility that did not submit to God (Romans 8:7). Humans are now by nature God’s enemy-unholy, unrighteous, and mortal.

The Image Reversal
In order to rescue his creation that was no longer like him in holiness, God took on the likeness of man (Romans 8:3; Philippians 2:6-7). Although he remained sinless, Jesus took upon himself humanity’s unholiness, unrighteousness, and mortality. He bore the wrath of God that all humans deserved as he was forsaken by his heavenly Father on the cross. Jesus rose from the dead to validate all that he had done through his holy life and unholy death. Complete payment for sin was made once and for all.

The Image Renewed
By God’s favor and through faith in Christ’s victory, the likeness of God’s holiness is being renewed in believers. There is renewal of the knowledge of God. “You have become a new person. This new person is continually renewed in knowledge to be like its Creator” (Colossians 3:10). Unlike the original knowledge of God, however, this knowledge is not natural and is only revealed “from Christ’s face” (2 Corinthians 4:6). There is renewal in righteousness and holiness. “You were also taught to become a new person created to be like God, truly righteous and holy” (Ephesians 4:24). Unlike the original righteousness and holiness, however, this is not perfect or complete. Paul spoke of the sinner that still remains in all of God’s saints. “I don’t do what I want to do. Instead, I do what I hate” (Romans 7:15). The image is being renewed—we “are being changed into his image with ever-increasing glory. This comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18)—but it is not yet complete. One pastor captured this succinctly with the sermon title Now-Not Yet. What believers have now is good, but the best is yet to come!

The Image Restored
The end of time will mark the full restoration of the image of God. In the new “heaven and earth” God creates there will once again be the direct knowledge of the goodness of God. The intimate relationship with God that Adam and Eve experienced will be restored. Sin’s consequences will cease to exist: “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There won’t be any more death. There won’t be any grief, crying, or pain, because the first things have disappeared” (Revelation 21:4).

The Image of God and the Value of Human Life
With all the above in mind, we are now ready to discuss the place the image of God has in the innate value of human life. 

Passages like Genesis 9:6 and James 3:9 indicate that even after Adam and Eve’s fall into sin, value is attached to human life because of the image of God. Murder is prohibited on this basis as is the cursing of human beings. After the fall into sin, human beings are no longer like God in terms of holiness, but there still remains a likeness to God that engenders inherent value and respect for human life. Human beings are still like God in terms of reason, intellect, and the ability to choose. Despite the fact that these all have been marred by sin, such things do elevate human life above animal life.

It seems proper, therefore, to argue that the child in the womb has value to God not only because God is intimately involved in the creation of that child (Psalm 139:13-14) and declares that the child is a gift (Psalm 127:3), but also because in the beginning human life was elevated above all other aspects of the creation and was created in the image of God. It would not be proper to argue that the child in the womb has value because that child is like God in the way Adam and Eve were like God before the fall. This would contradict God’s word that clearly reveals that we are sinful from the moment of conception (Psalm 51:5). The child in the womb is no longer like God in holiness, but is still like God as outlined above and, therefore, has inherent value as a human being.

We can also argue that all human life is given special value because God sent his Son to make complete payment for the sins of the world. The gift of God’s Son is the ultimate proof of the value God places even on unbelievers, be they born or unborn. Jesus came to die for the “ungodly” (Romans 5:6) and those who were his “enemies” (Romans 5:10). Every human life is a life for whom Jesus died.

It is also proper to argue that people of faith have special value because God is at work in them. Indeed, their bodies are temples of God’s Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19). Through the Word and Sacraments, the Holy Spirit is at work renewing in believers the true knowledge of God “from the face of Christ” and applying to them the “righteousness and holiness” of Christ. Christians do not have value because they bear the image of God as did Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Christians have value because God’s Spirit is at work in them renewing that image through Christ. It cannot be fully restored until the sinful flesh is finally laid aside.