Alfred Place Baptist Church

9:5-7 The implications of bearing the image of God

Genesis 9:5-7 “And for your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from each man, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of his fellow man. Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man. As for you, be fruitful and increase in number; multiply on the earth and increase upon it.”

The greatest discovery is to know who God is and then to know who you are. These two discoveries are inseparable; you cannot know who you are unless you know who God is because God was the beginning, the alpha, the first, the author of all things, and the only God there is created mankind in his image. Knowing God is eternal life. There is a 32 year old author called Ben Schott who has published three books which are all bursting with facticity. He has sold two million of these books, and in an article about him in the Times (November 4, 2006) he released a list of 75 facts about himself. He reveals most of those things that all of us generally know about ourselves, our height, weight, date of birth, eye colour, hair colour, collar size, shoe size, what children or brothers and sisters we might have, how we like our coffee, any tattoos, distinguishing marks, phobias and allergies. Then he tells us things about himself that most of us haven’t thought of, his ring and glove size, some of his likes (but not his dislikes) – his favourite word . . . font . . . charity . . . radio stations. Does he like Marmite or not; has he had an inspirational teacher and who is that person? Then Schott discloses facts we didn’t particularly want to know about him like his blood pressure, haemoglobin level, white blood cells, and pulse when resting, and even more …

But stop! At the end of all this information do we actually know the personality and nature of the man Ben Schott any better? We certainly know odd facts about him, and that he is a compulsive list-maker. Are any of those details that important? Do they tell us what he lives for? Do they show his heart? What is his purpose in life? What is his chief end? What does he think is the good life? Is he a man of self-control and purity and gentleness and humility? Would he define what he himself is by his list of 75 facts? That would be a pauper’s definition of a man. It’s rather like defining oneself by the compounds that make up a person. Who is Geoff Thomas? “He is a body that is 65% oxygen, 18% carbon, 10% hydrogen, 3% nitrogen, 1.5% calcium and 1% phosphorous.” That may well be true of me but it doesn’t tell you who I am. That definition absolutises the chemical compounds of my body. Aren’t we much more than that? Who are you? Do you know who you are?

1. ALMIGHTY GOD HAS MADE MAN IN THE IMAGE OF HIMSELF.

We are told this of fallen men and women in verse 6. What does it mean? A statue is an image of someone – there is that image of the first principal of the University, Thomas Charles Edwards, on a plinth in front of Old College looking out to sea with his Bible in his hand. He is preaching the Word of God. The sculptor has captured in bronze that fine man in an activity in which he delighted. For many years Dr. Edwards was an evangelist and preacher. He shrank to become a university principal.

God has made man in his own image. If we should mock this and say, “You mean God has two legs and two arms and a nose and mouth?” Then we all know how inappropriate that would be for defining God. He is a Spirit and so God is invisible; you cannot make a physical replica of God. As much as the sum of what a man is is far more than the size of his neck and feet and the length of his arms and his blood type, so the essence of God is quite different from our physical appearance. Let me use the definition of the image of God that Graham Harrison gives us in his always helpful book, Beginning at the Beginning (Bryntirion Press).

i] In the first place man is a rational being. That does not mean that he is hyper-intelligent. When we speak of man as a rational being we are not speaking of degrees of intelligence, rather we are saying that he has this faculty, this power of reasoning. Sometimes we may wonder if we have this at all because we make terrible mistakes. Yet isn’t this one of the things that marks us off from the animals – this power, this faculty of being able to think and reason? Zoologists tell us that chimpanzees are supposed to be the highest in the animal realm, and if they have been trained for years they learn to do simple things in order to receive some bananas. But that is not rationality in the sense that you and I are rational, intelligent beings.

ii] Add to these a second thing and you begin to reach a more complete understanding of what is meant by the image of God. Man is not only a rational being, but man is also a spiritual being. Man was made to worship God. You have this in the first two chapters of Genesis. It is as if the Lord were in the habit of coming down in a wonderful, intimate way and communing with Adam. Adam was made to worship God. Augustine, one of the great fathers of the Christian Church who lived in about AD 400, put it like this: ‘Thou hast made us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee.’ God has implanted in your heart and mine, and in the hearts of every human being, a need for him – a need to worship him, to fall down before him and adore him as God.

iii] The image of God in man means not only that he is a rational and spiritual being. It means also that man is a moral being. God made Adam and Eve and put them in the Garden of Eden under ideal conditions, but he put a moral restraint on them. There were things that they could and ought to do, but there was something that was forbidden them: they were not to eat the fruit of a particular tree. That injunc­tion stood as something of a moral test. Man is a moral being. He is able to understand morality. He knows what is right and what is wrong. He understands the difference between right and wrong. Man made in the image of God is made with this capacity to understand the area of mor­ality. He knows he is under an obligation to obey God (Graham Harrison, Beginning at the Beginning, Bryntirion Press, pp. 87-89, 1999).

So based on all that let me give you an acronym, a device to help you remember what is the essence of the image of God in man. It is the letters ‘RSM’; they are the mnemonic. RSM stands for ‘Regimental Sergeant Major’, and the three facts about us that distinguish man from the humbler creation are that we are R – Rational beings, S – Spiritual beings and M – Moral beings. We can think, create, analyse and discuss at great length and with deep profundity. You may be here this morning for the very first time and yet you are understanding me (if not yet agreeing with me) as I tell you that you bear the image of God. We are rational people, and we are also spiritual people; material things alone cannot satisfy us. We have an instinct to call out to God in prayer when we are in danger, and sometimes to be overwhelmed with the glories of the creation around us. And we are moral people; we have a conscience; we possess the graces of self-denial and self-control; we know guilt and shame which animals don’t experience. Tell me about such things in your life, your own self sacrifice, your knowledge of God. How is it with your soul and spirit?

Let me tell you of the Son of God, Jesus Christ, that he is the only one who is the express image of God, the sole man ever to live on this earth who always manifested the brightness of God’s glory. With every one of us the image has been twisted by sin; considering the divine image in fallen man is like looking at yourself in a distorting mirror in a fair, but when God looks at his Son there is no distortion at all. “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased,” says God. God sees himself at his most glorious in Christ – full of grace and truth. Christ is God the Son, but he is also the true man, the ‘right man’ as Luther calls him in ‘A mighty fortress’, the archetypal man, God’s great definition of what a man is.

So that if you want to know who you are – and you may think that you’ve come here on a brief trip of self-discovery whereas I want you to be on a pilgrimage to knowing God – then you must consider the Lord Jesus Christ. I would suggest that all that is in you that is most like the Son of God is the best of what you are. Nourish that! Cultivate that! Nurture that! The devil will cry to you, “Watch out! Becoming a Christian will make you extreme and less human,” but I am saying to you that we become fully and truly human when Jesus Christ is received into our hearts and we become sons of God. Then you become more like God and also more fully human, warmer, gentler, wiser, kinder, purer, stronger. Go on to know Christ more and more! Go on to reflect the image of God more and more! Go on to becoming real people!

2. GOD DEMANDS AN ACCOUNTING FROM PEOPLE MADE IN HIS IMAGE.

You notice this striking refrain in our text, in verse five, “And for your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from each man, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of his fellow man.” What is our relationship with our mighty Creator? Not one of some sublime cosmic indifference, God totally self-absorbed and muttering, “work it out . . . do your own thing.” God makes demands of his creatures. “I will demand,” he says three times, one of which is, “I will surely demand.” What is he demanding? An accounting, in other words, accountability to him for our conduct. If this is true, and it is here in the Bible aren’t we being told some awesome words? How we live matters to God. He has the whole universe to supervise but he holds us specks of dust accountable for our lives, and he warns us that we shall indeed answer to him. There is no way we can escape from that. I suppose there is scarcely a verse in all the Bible which contains the doctrine of human accountability as starkly as this verse.

For what is God holding Noah and his sons accountable? Is it our relationship with himself? Not directly in this verse. We are being held accountable by God for the horizontal relationships we have with our fellow man. God is saying that how we relate to other people who are made in his image is going to affect our relationship with him. It is for how you deal with people that God is holding you accountable. You think of the people you have hurt; the hearts you’ve broken; the people you took advantage of; the lives you made worse. You wonder at times how they are today, and where they are this minute. You think that you’ll never see them again and you are full of regrets, and then I’m breaking the news to you that we are being held responsible to God for all that. Isn’t that fearful? In a moment I’ll tell you some wonderful news of God’s way of forgiveness, but first I want the reality of your accountability to God to sink in. You’re going to take the good news for granted unless you see and feel what being made in the image of God entails.

Think of King David who took a man’s wife so that she became pregnant, and then arranged for the brave young husband to be killed. David was the author of Psalm 23 “The Lord is my shepherd,” which he wrote in a moment of divine inspiration, and yet the same man did this dastardly act too. He tried to hide it and bluff his way out of that wickedness. He sought to brush it all under the carpet. Some carpet! But there is a God in heaven who says, “I will demand an accounting for the life of his fellow man.” He knew everything, and he fired the arrows of conviction into David’s heart. David finally became deeply repentant. His repentance was commensurate with his evil. What did he say in Psalm 51? “Against thee, thee only have I sinned and done this evil in thy sight.” “But David,” we protest, “you sinned against your wives, and against Bathsheba, and against Uriah her husband, and against the whole nation.” “True,” he replies, “but most of all I am accountable to God for everything – all I tried to hide from him. I have to answer to God for my life.” In our text God says, “from each man . . . I will demand an accounting for the life of his fellow man.” Isn’t that very solemn? From each one of us, from the great and the insignificant, from both men and women, from old and young, from the rich and poor God will demand an accounting for the lives of our fellow men.

Listen to the great accountability narrative of Jesus in Matthew 25:41-46, “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” All the world is accountable to the Lord Christ. Now such claims which Jesus made are either the words of a megalomaniac or they are the words of the living God. Would a megalomaniac preach the Sermon on the Mount, and heal all the sick brought to him, and take not a penny for what he did? Would a megalomaniac give up his life to crucifixion? He rose on the third day. Some megalomaniac! We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ where he will demand an accounting for the life of our fellow men.

3. GOD HOLDS MAN ESPECIALLY ACCOUNTABLE FOR ENDING A LIFE.

Do you see how our text focuses on this? “And for your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from each man, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of his fellow man. Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man.” (vv. 5&6). Why this theme so soon? There were so many other aspects of conduct and assurances that God could have brought to Noah at this time, but right at the beginning of their new life outside the Ark God brings up this theme of murder. Isn’t it a bit remote from Noah and his sons? How strange it initially seems, but then, do you remember the state of the world before the Flood, and what had become its dreadful main characteristic? We read these words in chapter six and verse eleven, “Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence.” Everywhere God looked there was unspeakable cruelty, murder, torture, grievous bodily harm and no woman, child or old person was safe from it. It was simply full of violence, behind every closed door as well as in the streets, in the great cities and in the country cottages. And one of the means God employs to save the world from its spread is this divine warning, “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man.”

Isn’t our own civilization drowning in a sea of violence? On television there are hundreds of acts of simulated cruelty and murder watched by millions every day. Computer games depicting brutal and sadistic behaviour are readily available to young people. The murder rate has doubled in the last decade. This is what I read in the Times on Friday, “A man was recently sentenced to life imprisonment for an arson attack in which he killed four people, including his 16-year-old former girl-friend who no longer wanted to have anything to do with him. Eight months before the arson attack, he had been released after serving only three and a half years for having killed a woman who refused to leave her husband for him. He repeatedly smashed her over the head with a mallet, fracturing her skull in seven places . . . The case is emblematic of the stubborn refusal of the British State to carry out its first and most indispensable duty, to protect the lives of its citizens” (Theodore Dalrymple, “Off to Prison – You’re a Real Oddball”, The Times, Friday November 17, 2006, p.25). Three and a half years in prison for murdering a woman and yet at the same time, last week, a man was sentenced to forty years in prison for planning to make bombs and murder people, but he had not actually hurt a single person. If planning murder merited forty years in a cell what does real murder merit? This verse tells us.

To murder a fellow human being is to take everything from him; it is to send him either to heaven or hell; it is to destroy someone made in the image of God, and so it is an assault on God. It is something God takes very seriously, but lest we start to sit back and disapprove of people more wicked than we are let me remind you that God also takes your temper very seriously. Remember Jehovah Jesus sitting on the mountain and preaching what we call the Sermon on the Mount and explaining to his disciples the nature of sin. He said to them in Matthew chapter five and verses 21 and 22, “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.” Anger! Disdain! Contempt! For these things also God holds us accountable. For these things we are to face his judgment! So let’s not be pleased with ourselves that we have never stuck a knife into anyone, we can murder someone with our tongues.

i] Let me deal with some kinds of murder, firstly with suicide; “And for your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting.” Doesn’t that suggest that if you take your own life, God will hold you accountable? I was staying in New Jersey for a few days and I spent some time with a man who had been raised in a Jesuit school. His one ambition had been to become a millionaire by the time he was thirty, and he had succeeded, but at great cost to his own conscience. He was full of guilt and despair. His life was dark indeed and he told me that he had often contemplated suicide, but that the one great barrier stopping him was that the Jesuits had told him that if he committed suicide he would go to hell. So there could be no deliverance in suicide from the mess his life was in; he would go from the bad to the worse. Thus he was encouraged to seek deliverance elsewhere, and in the providence of God he was drawn into the orbit of a gospel church where he heard of the love of God in Jesus Christ, the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, and the indwelling of our Lord. He became a real Christian and it changed his life for ever and for his lasting good.

Suicide is a very difficult subject to treat, particularly because in some of our families somewhere, if you search back, there has been at least a suicidal attempt. It is obviously a very sensitive area and I don’t want to say anything which will unnecessarily grieve anyone who has had more direct experience of it than I have. In the last year I took the funeral service of a man who never went to church who had committed suicide. I felt such sympathy for the woman he lived with and for his mother. However tender such a subject is I think I ought to explain why the attempt to kill ourselves is sinful. I don’t suppose that any of us would say categorically that if a Christian commits suicide he or she certainly goes to hell. We don’t know what happens in the hearts of men and women in the time they are dying. If a person’s life has been greatly upset by a number of factors then, even though they are Christians, they can do desperate deeds to themselves and also to those they love more than anyone else in the world. What phantoms we are.

I suppose I would say on behalf of all of you to the person who this day feels suicidal what Paul said to the Philippian jailer as he drew out his sword and was about to fall upon it: “Do yourself no harm.” Those words seem to summarize what the Christian response ought to be: “Do yourself no harm.” Why not? Because suicide is to seize the prerogative of God. It is contrary to that law which says “Thou shalt not kill,” and because if all the law is summed up in one word then that word is love. Where does charity begin? Yes, at home, and you are not to inflict damage and mortal wounding upon yourself. Love yourself; do yourself no harm.

There are not many examples of suicide in the Bible. The three major cases are the suicide of Saul; the suicide of Ahithophel, David’s counsellor; and the suicide of Judas. All three were ungodly men; there was not one believer among them. If we want to walk in the footsteps of the saints, we won’t even contemplate the taking of our own lives. Suicide is a dreadful sin – a dishonour to God, a fearful burden upon loved ones, and a dreadful sin against one’s self. One of the most peculiarly dreadful things about suicide is that, in most cases, there is little, if any, time to repent. If you commit adultery you can repent. If you kill someone you can repent. David could spend the rest of his days in a spirit of repentance and grief for what he had done, but if you commit instant suicide you put yourself beyond the reach of repentance. We need to be buttressed with the Word of God therefore, and must never allow, even in our worst moments, suicidal thoughts to enter into our mind. “This is the devil at work,” you must say. Remember when Christian and Hopeful were in the dungeon of Giant Despair in Doubting Castle that their adversary put such suggestions in their minds.

We are not the authors of our own lives. God made us. Therefore we may not end our own lives. God has appointed not only that we shall be, but how long we shall be. Be brave; be patient. God’s providence never puts us where his grace can’t keep us. God will not allow us to suffer above we are able to bear. With every trial there is a way of escape that we shall be able to bear it. We may not act as if we were God, as if we can determine the duration of our lives. We injure the glory of God as our sovereign Creator and Ruler when we dare to take these things into our own hands and become the master of our own fate, as it were. The seed of atheism lies in suicidal attempts. The scriptures teach us that the way of the godly is to wait until our change come.

ii] The second is abortion. Sexual union is not just an expression of affection and desire; it is procreative. In other words God has designed and given it to us as the means of the growth of the human race. Should there be the union of sperm and egg when you have slept with someone then that is the beginning of a unique individual life of forty-six chromosomes. Eighteen to twenty-five days after you have slept together, long before the mother is sure that she is pregnant, the heart of the child in her womb is already beating. Forty-five days after you slept together electro-encephalographic waves from the baby’s developing brain can be picked up. Eight weeks later there is not only a brain, but fingerprints on the hands of your baby have already formed and except for size, they will never change. By the ninth and tenth week after you have slept together, the thyroid and the adrenal glands are functioning. The baby can squint, swallow, move his tongue and the sex hormones are already present. Twelve and thirteen weeks later the baby has fingernails, he or she sucks his or her thumbs and the baby can recoil from pain. Four months after you were in bed together the growing baby is eight to ten inches in height. Five months later there is a time of lengthening and strengthening of the developing infant. Skin, hair, and nails grow. Sweat glands arise. Oil glands excrete. This is the month in which the movements of the infant are felt by his mother. You as the pregnant woman feel the first movements within the uterus and you say, “Today I felt life.” Six months later the develop­ing baby responds to light and to sound. He or she can sleep and awake. He or she gets hiccups and can hear the beat of his moth­er’s heart. Survival outside the womb is now possible. Seven months later the nervous system becomes much more complex, the infant is sixteen inches long and weighs about three pounds. In the final eighth and ninth months there is a time of fattening and of continued growth of this child which has a living soul. David says, “In sin did my mother conceive me” – not ‘it,’ but me. The scriptures teach that Elizabeth’s child, “leaped in her womb.”

To terminate the life of an unborn child is to terminate the life of a living person. The critics say, “But that person is not independent; it cannot live without its mother.” Men and women, a baby cannot survive without its mother. The unborn baby and the born baby are both dependent. Both are persons in the sight of God. The soul and the body are not brought together at birth, but at conception, in the womb.

Isn’t abortion the shedding of human blood? The killing of the child in the womb is not the unforgivable sin, and it is not as great a sin as David’s murder of Uriah the Hittite, but you must go to God in the spirit of David’s psalm of repentance, psalm 51, and you must confess to God your sin and ask him for mercy through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. You must seek by the grace of God to forget what is past and to know that though our sins are many and vast that the grace of God is vaster yet. It is deeper than the deepest sea. It is higher than the heavens. It takes our guilt away as far as the east is from the west. How precious the mercy of God through Christ. He by sacrificing himself bore the sin of our abortions in his own body on the cross.

iii] The third form of murder minimized today is euthanasia. Joel Beeke in a sermon preached to his congregation in Grand Rapids said the following,

Life is sacred. The Bible says, “Our times are in Thy hands.” For any authorized medical person to act as deity, and to actively end life, is a sin of tremendous magnitude. I am not saying that life should be actively continued by artificial means, when there is no reasonable hope of life being restored. There may come a time when a person has to be allowed to die. We are not talking about that. We are talking about active euthanasia, in other words, making sure that the sick baby or elderly patient does not live. You might say, “It’s easy to say that but have you seen someone suffering?” Yes, I have; terribly confused and in pain. I would respond to that objection in two ways: First, there are other means available today to grant relief without terminating life. The use of drugs to relieve pain can and should be used. You cannot find anywhere in scripture that we have warrant or authority to actively end a person’s life. “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man.” Second, let us remember that suffering can glorify God. John was told by what death he would glorify God. Through suffering on a deathbed, children of God may evidence more grace than ever before in their life. They can speak under intense pain of the value of Christ and the truth of the promises of God. They can point their families to the refuge which they have found for sinners, and in that way, by their patience and their hope and their living testimony, they can glorify God in the furnace of suffering. We are not to think that suffering is an evil which should not, under any circumstance, be allowed to continue. “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man.” If a dying person is the image of God, to kill that person is, ultimately, an attempt to kill God Himself. It behooves us therefore to live in the fear of God all the day long, striving to increase life, to sustain life, and to protect life, for God’s own glory.

Do I believe in the authority of the state to exercise capital punishment? Yes I do, and I would plead this verse as a text giving us the state that right and also Exodus 21:21, “Anyone who strikes a man and kills him shall surely be put to death.” Capital punishment honours the value of the victim; it makes sure the killer will not murder again; it makes other potential killers consider the consequences; it treats the killer not as an animal to be caged but as a responsible person to be pun­ished justly in a manner that fits the crime. The death penalty is not a matter of per­sonal revenge but public justice. It is not to be carried out by vigilantes or death squads but by legitimate government under public law. The Bible says a government official “does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punish­ment on the wrongdoer” (Romans 13:4).

A government must take great care not to execute the innocent, and it must not discrim­inate between people of different social or racial groups. If a killer from a racial minority is more likely to be executed for his crime than a killer from the majority race, something is wrong. If wealthy murderers with high-pow­ered lawyers get lesser sentences than mur­derers who have less money, then the system needs reforming. The Bible says, “Do not per­vert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly” (Leviticus 19:15). God calls government to judge justly, but God himself remains the supreme Judge.

So here God is speaking and he says, “And for your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting . . . I will demand an accounting for the life of his fellow man” (vv.5&6). Then God the Son speaks up and he says, “I will provide the accounting for the life of my fellow men. I will answer for their sins. I will provide my obedience in their place. I will pay the penalty for their debts.” What wonderful accountancy. All of us debtors; none of us able to pay our accounts to God, but Christ; wholly free from debt, possessing all the fulness of God and all the fulness of merit – he provides all we’re required to give but cannot provide. He by his life and death clears our debts. We are no longer in the red; the account has been settled by Christ for the very worst sins. The demand made on even the chief of sinners has been settled by Christ. All we are asked to do is accept the accounts of heaven. Accept what Christ has done by trusting him, and by entrusting yourself to him. He took the guilt and shame of the worst of crimes. David’s wickedness was borne by Jesus; Saul of Tarsus did the most cruel things against the people of God but the Lamb of God has cleared his account too. Will you carry your own guilt a day longer when here is the one who will willingly take it from you? Be yoked to Jesus. It is an easy yoke and a light burden. Be joined to him from now on, you, a criminal and he God the Son, joined together in saving union and with the cords of love for ever.

19th November 2006 GEOFF THOMAS