A lot more than what I am about to write needs to be said about the Imago Dei, the image of God in man, but I need to start getting some of this out, or I will forget.
The first fact of human existence is that we are the image of God. From this single fact comes all ethics, all art, all value, all relationship, and all mission. This is the fundamental fact that people need to be taught, the germ seed of faith, and this is the fruit which is borne in their lives when that seed is full grown.
Jesus Christ is the Gospel, the Good News, himself, in his own person. He is the image of God, from birth to ascendence, full of grace and truth. He is all dignity, all pride, all glory, and at the same moment he is all shame, he is all humility, and he is all servitude. Christ saves us in many ways, and his salvation can be understood through a whole mess of different metaphors, but one of the most critical for non-theoretical living is just this: he is the perfect image of all that we can be, in fact were born to be.
The work commonly called evangelism tends to be transactional, not transformational. "Believe, repent, engage in non-universal ritual, and salvation will be yours." This is a true statement like a map is a true statement about a trip - it can show you the terrain, but it is in now way the trip itself, much less the person you are or those you travel with along the way. This way of seeing salvation is as if you were transformed into a pencil mark and slashed onto a map, compressed into a two dimensional rub of graphite.
Instead, God says that salvation is that process whereby we go from glory to glory, "being predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son." In the Garden we were made the image of God, and after the fall, we are saved to be the image of God.
Rights and Responsibilities
I normally hate talk of rights. It seems arrogant, it seems demanding, it seems un-Christ-like, the man of all men who laid down every conceivable thing called a right for the good of the lost. But you can't jump to the end, and you can't lay down what you never had.
The first thing many people need to hear is that their identity as the Imago Dei is full of blessing, because it has all things that God himself has:
- creativity - God creates, it is his fundamental identity as the base of existence. More than producing, God expresses himself in details that no eye will see, and says his work is Good. So too, humanity's own creativity is a wild branching tree, full of fruit and flower, each person given some voice unique to that one person, to return the compliment God has given his creation.
- dignity/value - No one can challenge God and stand. No one can doubt his value, because no one can truly sit in judgement on him. His worth is independent of an observer, his only judge is himself. No man's worth is assigned by anyone but God, and given that God stooped to share his nature, one can be sure man's worth is infinite.
- strength/power/agency - God spoke, and all the universe blazed into new light. God called, and mountains sprang up and oceans unfolded. Christ lived and died, and sinners were made whole and good news was preached to the poor. We to can level mountains, and our voice, however small, can join the divine chorus that sings to the broken hearts and demands justice. Our hands can make a difference.
- beauty - not only do we have value and creativity, but those things combine to give us beauty. One of God's many names was the Rose of Sharon. We are a rose too, each life story in some ways similar, but in some ways different, and each difference is one more petal, one more curve that the dew traces.
- provision/abundance - God wants for nothing. The cattle on a thousand hills are his, and so are all the McDonalds. He has made humanity to have dominion over it all - and we do, whatever we may make of it. All God's children have equal share in God's earth, what comes out of it and what grazes upon it. Never should the image of God have ribs you can count.
- right to justice
- ability to grow
Each of these things needs a chapter or something, but the one line summary out to the side should give you a rough idea what I mean.
I have to go, I will edit this post more later, but the flip side to the power of the Imago Dei is what is done with it. God constantly sacrifices, goes low to lift up, dies to bring life. So too must his image, sharing in his glory, share in his shame. In fact, neither thing can exist independently of the other, just as a vine without a fruit is useless, and a fruit without a vine is wormfood.
This should go somewhere else, but follow this:
Sacred > Holy > Set Apart > Separate > Distinct > Defined > Understood > Named
Basically, the idea is that the sacredness of a thing, it's holiness, is not defined by its austerity, or its separation in terms of distance or whatever, but in being known for what it is, for being fully named. That each thing should be what it is, as it was created to be.