I don’t know that even the greatest theologian could ever plumb the depths of all it means that humanity was created in the image of God. But whatever else it means, we know that because we are made in God’s image, we are like God in certain ways and for a certain purpose. John Piper gets at the heart of it when he says “the image of God in man is man’s ineffably profound fitness to image forth Christ’s glory through everlasting joy in God.” We were made in God’s image in order to glorify God by finding our highest joy in him.
Just one small facet of our being made in God’s image is that we have an innate sense of justice. Because God is just, we too have a sense of justice. Somewhere deep inside us we long for and demand justice; somewhere deep inside we hate it when someone makes a mockery of justice, and especially so when we are the ones who feel victimized. It might not offend my conscience too much for me to cut you off in traffic, but woe to you if you inconvenience me and make me tap my brakes.
Why this great variance? Because we disrupted God’s image in us when we sinned. Where we were at one time exactly the image God wanted us to be, functioning in exactly the way he wanted, we soon chose to disregard his good will. When that happened, we distorted the image. It is not broken or destroyed altogether; but it is now a picture that is all out of focus, a picture that is sometimes accurate and sometimes completely deceptive.
I was thinking about the difference this twisted sense of justice makes in our relationship to God, even as Christians. Our relationship to God is now one of grace; we could not satisfy the demands of justice, so Christ satisfied them on our behalf, making us the joyful recipients of this amazing grace. Yet we find ourselves wanting to repay God for this grace. We want to earn that grace. At least, I see this temptation in my own life. I want to live a holy life not to glorify God, but to satisfy myself that I’m now a worthy recipient of his gift. I want to do good things to pay him back for all he did for me.
But in order for me to do this, there must be at least two gaps in my theological understanding.
I Don’t Understand the Debt
I could only attempt to pay the debt myself if I have a fundamental misunderstanding of the debt I owe. I may think that my debt is equivalent to a million dollars or a billion or a trillion—incredibly high but still finite and, therefore, still attainable. A billion dollars is an awful lot of money, but there are a few billionaires in the world, so reaching that level of wealth is at least in the realm of what’s possible. But my debt to God is infinite, infinitely greater than I could ever repay. The person who has committed a single sin could be perfect for the rest of his life and do nothing but honorable deeds for the rest of his life, and he would be no closer to paying the debt than the greatest, most hardened criminal. When I try to earn grace, I am not taking my debt seriously.
I Don’t Understand Grace
I could only attempt to pay the debt if I have a fundamental misunderstanding of grace. The amazing, wonderful, soul-stirring reality is that there is nothing left to pay back. Christ has paid everything I owed and he paid it to such an extent, to such a degree, that nothing remains. This is not the kind of payment that leaves an everlasting weight upon me, or a bill that at some point I will need to settle. This debt has been paid in full and the payment has been accepted. When I try to earn the gift, I do not take grace seriously.
I cannot earn the gift. God does not want me to earn the gift. His desire for me is that I simply receive it as a gift, that I acknowledge the debt has been fully and finally paid, and that I now live before him with joy and gratitude, serving him not as a means of repayment, but as an overflow of my delight in him.