Image is Everything

By Dr. Scott Rodin    

Bitter and divisive politics, eroding morality, economic uncertainty, coronavirus epidemic, attacks on the Christian worldview, growing effects of climate change, out of control pornography and global sex trafficking, a growing US culture of anger and hatred…the list goes on. We are living in a time of fear and darkness that is suffocating so many both inside and outside the church. How are we, as faithful stewards of the grace of God, to respond?

Today we host the 2020 Steward Summit. A small group of 20 or so of us will gather at a retreat center just north of Seattle to spend three days discussing the implications of what it means to be stewards of the image of God. The theme could not be more timely in this present age and during this season of Lent; a time of reflection, repentance and preparation.

I encourage you to include in your Lenten season a study on this important topic. Consider these questions:

  • What does it mean to you that you bear God’s image?
  • Why did He create us this way?
  • What difference does it make in your life and relationships?
  • What does it require of us in this present culture?

As a way of inviting you into this dialogue, I have attached for you the full presentation I will make to the Summit later today. Here is a summary of this thought-piece.

When we steward the image of God, we are like a lantern with a candle burning bright that sends out its light through clear glass panes for all the world to see. We steward both the flame and the glass. We steward the indwelling flame through soul care, abiding and warfare. We steward the witness of that flame through holiness, surrender and freedom. As a result, our world can see God’s glory in us and through us.

I hope you will take the time to read through the thoughts below and consider the three questions at the end. May they inspire and commit us let the light of Christ shine in us and through us on an ever-brighter way as we journey to the cross this Lenten season.

Steward Summit 2020

Presentation #1 – Stewards of the Image of God

Scott Rodin – Presenter

As we consider this topic of stewarding the image of God there is an illustration I will use for this brief presentation. Like all icons and metaphors, it has limitations, but I believe it will serve us to better understand this topic.

I would like you to imagine a lantern that has clear glass panels and is illuminated by a large single bright candle in its midst. When you bring such a lantern into a dark room or out into a dark night, it illuminates the way ahead. When we think about what it means to bear God’s image there are two biblical strands of teaching on which I will focus. The first is indwelling, and the second is witness.

What would it look like?


In Genesis 2 we have the story of God forming a human shape from common dirt and then breathing life into it. (Genesis 2:7) Human beings are the only creatures on the face of the earth that were shaped in this way. As God’s crown of creation humans have the unique capacity to be a temple, a dwelling place for Christ himself. In the same way that the creation of the human was an event that reflected the triune nature of God, so the breath of God ignites a flame in us that burns with Christ’s presence through the Holy Spirit. That light is meant to shine out to the world through fruit, witness and glory.

Our union with Christ is very purpose for which our souls were created. The Bible is replete with powerful Scriptures that indicate how this union lies at the center of what it means to be a follower of Jesus. This is not a Gnostic idea of a divine spark that lies within us, but a gift of pure grace made possible by God’s creative intent, the Son’s redemptive work and the Spirit’s ongoing, sanctifying presence.

Using this triune act of grace as our rule, we hear in Scripture that Jesus’ desire was to dwell in us,  as in John 14:23, “Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” His priestly prayer for us echoes that desire for union, “In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.” (John 14:10)

Paul places Christ in our hearts, “according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love.” (Ephesians 3:16-17) He claims such a union for himself as his purpose for living, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20) This indwelling is also the source of our unity, “Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.” (Colossians 3:11)

It is also the Holy Spirit that indwells us, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16), and “Even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.” (John 14:17) Finally, in Revelation God depicts himself as one who knocks and waits to dwell in all who will open the door to him, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.” (Revelation 3:20)

Like a candle in a lantern, this indwelling is the flame that was kindled from creation, fueled on the cross and fanned by the wind of the Spirit. It is a flame that the enemy, despite all his efforts, can never fully snuff out. However, if it is ignored, denied or goes untended, it can be reduced to an imperceptible flicker. Therefore, this flame must be the attention of our work as a steward of the good gifts of God.

What would it require and what difference might it make?

To steward God’s image is to be a caretaker of this indwelling of Christ in us. I suggest we do this in the following ways.

  1. Soul care. Our soul was created for union with Christ. The breath of God at creation created the capacity for this indwelling. Our work as stewards of this gift is to practice the disciplines that nurture our soul. Conversely, we must come against those things that tear at our soul and sicken our spirit. We must do both at all four levels of our relational life.
    1. We are stewards of the gift of intimacy with God. So, we must ask what practices bring us into deeper union with Christ? What forces and habits tear at that union? How do we steward the former and push the latter out of our life?
    2. Our identity as children of God is continually under attack. What feeds our soul in this area of finding our true identity in Christ alone? What are the competing forces that tempt and cajole us to seek our identity elsewhere; in our job, our accomplishments, our desire to please others in our leadership roles, or our value in the world’s eyes? How do we steward our identity that the light of Christ alone shines out from us?
    3. Our relationship with others can either nurture our soul or shred it. Think about the relationships that surround you, are they healing to your soul or sickening your spirit? What is the cause and how do you steward each relationship in a way that the light of Christ can continue to shine in and through you?
    4. Finally, how does our relationship to the stuff of this world contribute to the health of our soul? Are we free in relationship to money, possessions and time? Does our relationship with each bring joy and deep contentment into our spirit? Or are they a source of fear, anxiety and stress? How can we steward each in a way that actually heals and nurtures our soul?
  2. Recover the value of abiding. In John 15, Jesus gives us perhaps the primary Biblical teaching on soul care through his use of the term ‘abide’. “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:2-5) Through the metaphor of the branch to the vine, we are most at rest, most at peace, most living the abundant life and most radiating Christ’s glory when we are fully abiding in him. Our challenge may be that in our busy, production-driven world, we don’t assess the same value to abiding as we do to doing, accomplishing, completing and succeeding. If we are to be stewards of God’s image in us, we must do a ‘values readjustment’ and find our greatest wealth and richest success in the work we do that keeps us attached to and wholly dependent upon the True Vine.
  3. Spiritual warfare. Finally, stewarding this indwelling will place us in the midst of the spiritual battle of our lives. The enemy’s primary strategy is to extinguish all that is Christ in us. He hates even the smallest flicker of light that glows from the presence of Christ in us. He cannot attack the candle, that is God’s work in us. But he can and does attack the flame. Through the whole host of weapons we give him to attack us, he relentlessly blows at the flame in us through every form of deceit, anxiousness, distraction, doubt, busyness and self-neglect. Stewarding the image of God in us will require a strategy to return back to the issues of intentional soul care and a passion for abiding in Him if we are to overcome the enemy’s campaign against us and allow the light of Christ to be seen through us.

What would it look like?


The second part of this metaphor regards the fruit of this image-bearing stewardship. As the candle of the presence of God’s indwelling burns brightly within us, it also shines out from us. We bear God’s image as we shine his love to the world. We are Christ in the world and that can only happen when his presence in us is witnessed by the world as it shines out from us. The presence of God indwelling us is the source of His light shining out from us to the world.

Paul had this conception of bearing God’s image when he wrote, “For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:6) And again when speaking of God’s glory, “And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18)

This shining forth is a sure sign of our role as image bearers of Christ, “The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.” (John 17:22-23)

Even more powerfully, Paul proclaims that this indwelling and shining out into the world is the secret of God’s coming, “To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. (Colossians 1:27)

Finally, this outward shining is both life and power. “But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.” (Romans 8:10) “Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.” (1 John 4:4)

Like a bright burning flame through the lenses of a lantern, this form of bearing God’s image is both powerful and fragile. It is powerful as long as it burns from a deep relationship with Christ. It becomes fragile when we allow the panes of glass to become clouded and covered over so that little light is ever seen by the world around us. For that reason, we must be persistent and attentive stewards to our lenses.

What would it require and what difference might it make?

To steward God’s image is to be a caretaker of this shining of Christ in us to the world. I suggest we do this in the following ways.

  1. Holiness. Sin darkens the lenses of our life. Our unwillingness to come against sin in every form will eventually obscure the flame that burns within us. If we are to bear God’s image in all its brightness, we must be careful stewards of our pursuit of holiness. This means coming against the forces in our world that threaten every pursuit of holiness; hatred, anger, pride, envy, greed, sexual immorality, bitterness and so much more. As stewards, we examine our spirit with the help of God’s Spirit to identify, name and root out every form of sin and evil that threatens our journey to holiness and clouds our witness of the love of Christ burning in us.
  2. Surrender. Just as sin darkens our lenses, ownership will serve as a cloudy film that will allow little light to shine out to the world. Stewards live by the discipline of daily surrender of everything to God. They acknowledge that everything in all creation belongs to him and they refuse to allow ownership temptations to take root in their spirit. This is a discipline we must redouble if we are to avoid the soul-darkening effects of an ownership spirit that grasps at control and pushes out the sweet surrender of a heart given over to Christ.  
  3. Freedom from fear. It may seem strange to keep this for last, but at the root of so much of our actions and attitudes that shield the image of God to a fallen world lies an often-unnamed fear that takes a variety of forms. It may be fear of failure, fear of success, fear of lost reputation, fear of losing applause, fear of being found alone, fear of rejection, fear of futility of our efforts, fear of living without purpose and dying without answers. The list goes on. Fear is the favorite media the enemy uses to draw a distorted picture of our identity on a canvas of lies. We must be ever vigilant to steward our spirit in search of all fears and surrender them back to God that he will set us free.

When we steward the image of God, we are like a lantern with a candle burning bright that sends out its light through clear glass panes for all the world to see. We steward both the flame and the glass. We steward the indwelling flame through soul care, abiding and warfare. We steward the witness of that flame through holiness, surrender and freedom. As a result, our world can see God’s glory in us and through us.

What next steps would you suggest?

The path we have suggested is not easy. The present state of our nation is making it more difficult to walk this path every day. The world is becoming uniquely fitted to act as the destroyer of the human soul. Everywhere we look it seems the enemy is having his day. So how do we steward this precious image in the midst of all of this? Let me end with three brief suggestions that mark a way ahead.

  1. Make the deepening union with Christ the guiding passion in our lives. The time has come when all forms of distraction, divided loyalties and compromise must be named and rejected. The times are dark and getting darker. Every effort is being made to tear at our union with Christ, to reduce the flame and block its radiance. We cannot be casual or occasional about this pursuit. It must dominate our prayers, our passions and our pursuits. What do you need to do today to make this passion the driving force in your life?
  2. Die to self in an ever more honest and transparent way. The self-life is the great enemy of the image of God indwelling us and shining for the from us. The self-life is the source of all that will challenge the passionate pursuit of our deepening union with Christ. We must come against it in a more comprehensive and determined way than perhaps ever before in our life. The world adores the self-life and rewards all who make it their idol. We will feel the pressures and forces of this unconditional desire to coronate the self and its fruit of a growing hatred and vitriol against any competing voice or worldview. If we are to let Christ shine in us and trough us to a dark world, we must have crystal clear panes made clean by a constant refusal to let any form of the self-life cloud its surfaces. What part of the self-life continues to dominate your life, and what will you do about it?
  3. Finally, I believe we must take the battle to the enemy in an ever-bolder way. For each of us that means expecting God to place us in situations where his light will not only illuminate the darkness but bring into the light the sources of that darkness. We will be asked to write, speak and teach the truth of the reality of this image of God in places where such truth will be condemned, and us with it. We must prepare to suffer, face persecution and be vilified for speaking this life-transforming truth. Only in this way will we fully steward this fundamental axiom of the Christian faith. Only by this uncompromising commitment will the world truly see the brilliance of Christ in us and be called to know that same internal flame. Only as we surrender fully to the path of deepening engagement will our stewardship of the image of God in us be the light of the world. How can we be such fully committed, surrender and free stewards of the image of God we bear?

Dr. Scott Rodin    

Dr. Rodin is the Founder and Content Expert of the Center for Steward Leader Studies. He also serves as President of Kingdom Life Publishing and Rodin Consulting Inc.

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