“Abel’s sacrifice was for no other reason preferable to that of his brother, except that it was sanctified by faith: for surely the fat of brute animals did not smell so sweetly, that it could, by its odour, pacify God. The Scripture indeed shews plainly, why God accepted his sacrifice, for Moses’s words were these, ‘God had respect to Abel, and to his gifts.’ It is hence obvious to conclude, that his sacrifice was accepted, because he himself was graciously accepted. But how did he obtain his favour, except that his heart was purified by faith.
‘God testifying…’ He confirms what I have already stated, that no works, coming from us, can please God, until we ourselves are received into favour, or to speak more briefly, that no works are deemed just before God, but those of a just man: for he reasons thus,—God bore a testimony to Abel’s gifts; then he had obtained the praise of being just before God.
This doctrine is useful, and ought especially to be noticed, as we are not easily convinced of its truth; for when in any work, anything splendid appears, we are immediately rapt in admiration, and we think that it cannot possibly be disapproved of by God: but God, who regards only the inward purity of the heart, heeds not the outwards masks of works. Let us then learn, that no right or good work can proceed from us, until we are justified before God.
~ Excerpt from Calvin’s Commentaries (Hebrews 11:4) by John Calvin (1509-1564)
Mankind bears the image of God. Every single person, male and female, bears the distinct mark of God. In contrast, no other created being in heaven above or earth below can make this claim. Mankind sits at the pinnacle of creation—placed there by God Himself. The importance of the image of God in mankind cannot be overstated.
Yet, despite the importance of this great truth, ambiguity persists. Some may rightly wonder if clarity is even attainable. Precision must be realized. Topics like murder and slander depend on a clear understanding of the image of God in man (cf. Gen. 9:6 and James 3:9). The Church has neglected her responsibility to articulate a biblical response to abortion because she has neglected to articulate the meaning of the image of God in mankind. Until clarity on the image of God is realized, topics like abortion will lack clear biblical direction.
To understand the meaning of the image of God, one must recognize that the image of God must be unique to mankind. No other created being possesses any characteristic of the image of God. This truth eliminates many of the possibilities of the meaning for the image of God. For example, the image of God cannot be attributes of God. Animals display characteristics like love and loyalty, yet animals do not bear the image of God. In fact, a dog can often be more loyal than a human. Therefore, the image of God in mankind cannot be attributes of God. Similarly, some have argued that the image of God is relational. Genesis 1:27 points out the relationship of the Godhead in the trinity during the creation of man (i.e. “Let us make man in our image…”). Again, relationships are evident in many created beings. Yet, no other created being bears the image of God. Therefore, the image of God cannot be relational. The image of God is unique to mankind.
Many have pointed out the connection between rule and the image of God found in Genesis 1:27-28. Ruling appears to be a result of being made in the image of God. Mankind is made in the image of God; therefore, he rules over creation. This does not mean that mankind will rule, but rather, that mankind has the intrinsic right to rule. The image of God, then, must be the intrinsic right to rule. The intrinsic right to rule is the God-given authority to rule. For example, the first-born son of a monarch in England has an intrinsic right to the throne—although unrealized until the day of coronation. At what point does the first-born son of a monarch have the right to rule? Did this intrinsic right occur at birth? Did it occur at the first heartbeat? No. At every moment of life, the first-born son of the monarch has an intrinsic right to the throne. Similarly, mankind has an intrinsic right to rule at every moment of life.
No other created being bears the image of God. When the Church argues against abortion based on a heartbeat or the ability to feel pain, she has denigrated the image of God in mankind. Does not a cow or a chicken have a heartbeat? Is it not legitimate to take the life of a cow in order to provide nourishment for mankind? Taking the life of a human is wrong merely because it mars the image of God—it takes away the intrinsic right to rule.
Since the image of God in mankind is evident at every stage of life, no individual (except a government [Romans 13] or in self-defense) has the right to take a life. Abortion is wrong because taking a human life is wrong. Abortion is not wrong because it stops a heartbeat. Abortion is wrong because it takes away the intrinsic right to rule that is stamped on every human being at the moment of life by God Himself. The Church must not fail to articulate from the Bible why abortion is wrong.
If Jesus never rose from the dead, men are still unsaved sinners, not because the resurrection would have saved them, but because without the resurrection the death of Jesus is shown to have been without saving efficacy.
That is why ‘we preach Christ crucified’ is the heart of the gospel. We also preach Christ born and living on earth (since He could not have been our Savior if He had not been made flesh and lived a sinless life). We also preach Christ risen and exalted (since by His resurrection He was publicly vindicated and by His exaltation He became our present mediator). But the emphasis in the New Testament Kerygma (preaching) is on the Savior’s atoning death for the sins of the world. Well may we echo Paul’s affirmation: ‘I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified’ (1 Cor. 2:2).
The first part of our simplified kerygma, then, is the proclamation of Jesus as Savior and Lord. The second part is the appeal to men and women to come to Him in repentance and faith.
~Excerpts from a Preacher’s Portrait (pg. 41)
By John Stott (1921-2011)