Last week when I was studying one way women reflect God’s image, a familiar verse caught my eye in a new way. It’s a verse we usually quote when talking about why you need to pay your taxes. A group of people came to Jesus asking, “Should we pay taxes?” hoping to trick Him into saying something that would get Him into trouble (Matt. 22:15-22). Jesus does answer that question, but it’s not the only thing He talks about in this verse. He uses their wicked attempt to entrap Him to teach a valuable spiritual lesson.
“Show me the coin used for the tax.” So they brought him a denarius. Jesus said to them, “Whose image is this, and whose inscription?” They replied, “Caesar’s.” He said to them, “Then give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”Matthew 22:18-21, NET
Jesus answered a question they thought would back Him into a corner in a way that left them marveling (v.22). Then on top of that, He gave them–and us–a deep lesson to ponder. The thing stamped with Caesar’s image belonged to Caesar. The things stamped in God’s image belong to God.
Made In His Image
When Jesus pointed out that we should give “to God the things that are God’s,” He isn’t just talking about paying God our tithes or owing Him things like worship, praise, and thankful offerings. We do owe Him those things (Mal. 1:6-8; 3:6-18), but the context here has to do with giving someone the things which bear their image.
Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, after our likeness, so they may rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move on the earth.”
God created humankind in his own image,Genesis 1:26-27, NET
in the image of God he created them,
male and female he created them.
We are made in God’s image. We are what we’re supposed to be giving to God. Just as the coins stamped with Caesar’s face showed that the money circulating came from and ultimately belonged to Caesar, we’re “stamped” with God’s image. We come from Him and belong to Him.
Owe Him Our Lives
Paul also teaches about the idea that we owe all of ourselves to God. “You are not your own,” he writes, “for you were bought with a price. Therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s” (1 Cor. 6:19-20, WEB). Here, the focus is on the service we owe Jesus as our redeemer–the one who saved us from death and now has a claim on our lives. We also owe Him and the Father service as our creator. We’re loyal to God and serve Him because “our citizenship is in heaven” (Phil. 3:20, NET). We belong to God and, following Him, our lives are on a path toward spending eternity in His kingdom.
Therefore I exhort you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a sacrifice—alive, holy, and pleasing to God—which is your reasonable service. Do not be conformed to this present world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may test and approve what is the will of God—what is good and well-pleasing and perfect.Romans 1:1-2, NET
We would be dead–or we wouldn’t even exist–if it wasn’t for God. It’s reasonable and logical (G3050 logikos) to present ourselves to God as a sacrifice. Not a dead sacrifice laid once on an altar, but an ongoing, holy life devoted to following the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God. That’s how we give ourselves–the things made in God’s image–back to God: by serving Him faithfully.
Everything is Already His
God has the right to demand anything He wants of us. And yet all He asks is that we give Him things that are already His. It is–as Paul said of us being living sacrifices–a reasonable request.
“The God who made the world and everything in it, who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives life and breath and everything to everyone. From one man he made every nation of the human race to inhabit the entire earth, determining their set times and the fixed limits of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope around for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. For in him we live and move about and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we too are his offspring.’ So since we are God’s offspring, we should not think the deity is like gold or silver or stone, an image made by human skill and imagination. Therefore, although God has overlooked such times of ignorance, he now commands all people everywhere to repent”Acts 17:24-30, NET
Here, Paul presents a reasonable case to the Athenians. They already worshiped an “unknown god,” so he uses that to introduce the one true God (Acts 17:16-23). They already know the writings of Cretan philosopher Epimenides and Cilician Stoic philosopher Aratus, so the idea of being God’s created children ought to be familiar (NIV footnotes on v. 28). The big, stunning new idea here is that the “Lord of heaven and earth” is the only real God. He can’t be represented by “an image made by human skill” or contained “in temples made by human hands.”
People like to make gods in their own image. Much like the Greeks and Romans, we often imagine a God who’s flawed like us, or who needs something from us, or who does chaotic things without reason, or who could be swayed to do things our way if we could just find the right bribe. But that’s a backwards idea. God is the one who makes us in His image. We belong to Him and we need to do things His way, not the other way around.
Courage in Knowing
Sometimes, the idea that we belong to God and owe Him everything rankles us. Humanity’s independent spirit often rebels against the idea that we have a Creator to whom we owe our existence. It’s easier in some ways to believe that we just happened; the product of lucky chaos and millennia of evolution. But God reveals that He created us in His own image. We’re precious and we’re made for a purpose.
We can see owing all of ourselves to God as stifling, or as encouraging. Jesus modeled the latter response. In John’s gospel, we learn this about Jesus’s mindset going into the Passover right before His crucifixion.
Just before the Passover Feast, Jesus knew that his time had come to depart from this world to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now loved them to the very end. The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, that he should betray Jesus. Because Jesus knew that the Father had handed all things over to him, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, he got up from the meal, removed his outer clothes, took a towel and tied it around himself. He poured water into the washbasin and began to wash the disciples’ feet.John 13:1-5, NET
Jesus knew He was facing a horrible death. He also knew “he had come from God and was going back to God.” Though it’s different for us, we also know we’ve “come from God.” For Jesus, He was God already and had been with the Father forever before coming into this world as human. For us, we came into existence through the creative work of both Father and Son. We’re also heading toward God, though for Jesus He was “going back” and for us we’re looking forward to being there for the first time. Despite the differences in why we can say we’ve come from God and are going toward God, we can have the same focus Jesus did here.
Knowing we’re made in God’s image opens our eyes to marvelous truths and gives us courage for whatever we face in this life. We can love “to the very end” and keep following God’s will, knowing that we belong to Him and He cares for us. We know we are special to Him. We know He made us for a purpose, which involves looking fully like Him in the future if we follow Him faithfully now (1 John 3:1-3). We also know that we owe Him all of ourselves. We’re stamped with His image, marking us as belonging to Him and (if our lives are oriented properly) we’ll be giving ourselves to Him as well.
Featured image by Med Ahabchane from Pixabay
Song Recommendation: “In His Eyes” by 1 Girl Nation