I used to think being made in the image of God revolved solely around what I looked like physically. However, if we look at humanity, very few people look enough alike to both be made in the same image. As I began to understand this I realized that being made in the image of God couldn’t be primarily about my physical appearance, God is described in so many ways, from a Lion to a Shepherd, but He is also described as being Spirit, which has no physical appearance whatsoever. What if the image didn’t rely so much on the physical but on who we actually are, in our personality, actions, and heart motivations? If this was the case it would make so much more sense when Jesus said, ‘Anyone who has seen Me has seen the Father.’, because He did what He saw His Father doing. His heart reflected the heart of the Father.
Realizing this made me ask the question, ‘What does it mean to be made in the image of God?’
Before I could even begin to answer that question I had to ask another question, ‘What is the image of God?’
In the book of Exodus, Moses asks God to show him His glory, which God agrees to. He then formally introduces Himself to Moses proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness…”’ – Exodus 34:6 [NIV]
The first word God describes Himself as is “compassionate”.
Therefore one of the aspects of the image of God is compassion. But, what does it mean to be made in the image of a compassionate God? First, I had to understand what His compassion looked like when it was played out; so I looked at Jesus’ life. Many times throughout the Bible it says Jesus was “moved by compassion”.
Compassion motivated Him to heal the sick, love the marginalized, reach out to the broken, and to continually bring the Kingdom of God to earth.
Then, I had to ask Him what this compassion could look like played out in my own life. However, because God is passionate about relationships, before He began giving me actions to better reflect His compassion, I found myself starting a nine-month process of discovery, beginning with looking at my heart and what motivated my actions.
There is a famous passage in the Bible that basically states we can do a lot of things that look like love, without actually having love. When we do this our ‘love’ is empty and stale. I’m learning that compassion is closely linked to this idea of love;
in the same way, we can do a lot of things that look compassionate, but if our motivation isn’t actually compassion, our compassionate works are worthless.
I discovered I can masquerade as many things for a long period of time, but unless my heart motivation actually changes, I can’t help but eventually give up this facade.
Because of this God first took the time to show me what a heart motivated by compassion looks like. He began by showing me what was currently motivating my heart, things like the desire to be liked and appreciated, wanting approval from others and trying to be a good Christian.
The majority of the things motivating my heart stemmed from selfishness.
I was acting kind to people so they would be kind to me, or being compassionate to receive compassion. After God showed me this, I began to shift my heart motivations, and honestly, this wasn’t something I was able to do on my own!
When I asked God how on earth I was supposed to change what motivated my heart and my actions, I was reminded that Jesus only did what He saw the Father doing, and so I began to ‘watch’ my Father and mimic what I saw Him doing.
I spent a lot of time either inviting Him into different moments or problems in my life and asking how He felt about this situation, or bringing my own brokenness to Him and asking Him to show me how much He loved me, feeling His compassion for me.
I found that the more time I spent seeking Him in different situations, either within myself or in external circumstances, the more my heart motivations came from a place of love and compassion, having already received this from God.
I also found that I didn’t feel like I was having to create compassion within myself, but rather I was simply showing to others what I had already been given. Over the next several months I continued to sit with God, feeling His compassion for me and seeing His compassion for others, and little by little my own heart began to be motivated by this same compassion.
So, what does it mean to be made in the image of a compassionate God? I believe it is an important reminder of the opportunity we have to be in a relationship with a compassionate God, and to feel that compassion in our own lives. Because of this, it also means we have the privilege to show others what His compassion looks like, not out of duty or selfishness, but simply out of walking in who we are created to be; God’s image bearers.
God is passionate about heart transformation, He doesn’t expect us to run around doing nice things for people, making sure we’re at every church event, or saying all the “right” things to be a good Chrisitan.
No, He wants to see our hearts seeking after Him and encountering His transformational love and compassion. He created us for relationship, and the beautiful thing is that being in relationship with Him changes our hearts to look and act more like Jesus to the people around us. Let’s allow God to move our hearts with compassion daily!
by Reily Drye
January DTS Staff