GIVE TO GOD WHAT IS GOD’S
Jesus turns the tables on his critics
During Jesus’ last visit to Jerusalem, a group of Pharisees and Herodians came to him and attempted to entrap him with a question: “Is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” (Luke 20:22) If he had said “No,” then they would have reported him to the Roman governor. But if he had said “Yes,” then he would have incurred the anger of the people, most of whom deeply resented Roman rule. Jesus, aware of their insincerity, asked for a Roman coin:
“Show me a denarius. Whose portrait and inscription are on it?” “Caesar’s” they replied. “Then give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” (Luke 20:24-25)
The coin that bore Caesar’s image belonged to Caesar. Because his government minted this currency, he had the right to tax the people who used it.
The meaning of currency
Some people don’t know it, but the cash that they carry in their wallet or purse really doesn’t belong to them. It belongs to the government that created it. This has many implications.
A sovereign nation has the right to mint coinage, or print currency. This also means that governments have the right to tax their citizens. But when that coinage no longer serves a purpose, then they have the right to destroy it as well. Some coins or bills that are too worn to use are taken out of circulation and destroyed.
Give to God what is God’s
How do we interpret the last part of Jesus’ statement, to give to God what is God’s? What are we give to God? To answer this, we turn to what the Apostle Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome:
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. (Romans 12:1)
The image Paul uses here is of an Old Testament priest offering the body of an animal as a sacrifice on the temple altar. It also brings to mind Abraham offering his own son on the altar he prepared on Mount Moriah, as God command him. And of course it reminds us of Jesus offering his own body on the cross as a sacrifice for us.
Many Greek and Roman leaders proclaimed themselves gods and demanded the people worship them. But when Jesus told us to give “to God what is God’s,” he was saying that only God is worthy of our worship. Caesar can require that we pay taxes but cannot demand our worship. We owe that to God alone.
So what is our sacrifice to God? It is to give our bodies, ourselves, in total and complete surrender to him. This is our true and proper worship to God: to offer all that we are, and all that we own, because we bear his image.
Bearing the image of God
Scripture asserts that humans are made in God’s image (Genesis 1:27). This means that God has imprinted his image on us. In one sense, we are the coinage of God. Therefore, we belong to God, and he has ultimate ownership of us. We exist to serve his purposes and we owe him our worship.
Because humans bear his image, to some degree the attributes of God can be seen in us. Although we worship God for his eternal attributes, we humans can still marvel at the attributes that we share in common with God: personhood, reason and intelligence, love, understanding of a moral law, emotion, creativity, and appreciation of beauty.
The human spirit especially was created similar to that of God’s Spirit, so that there could be communion between the two. God’s desire is that we would walk with him, commune with him, and know him intimately. He created our spirit like his to allow this to happen. And we were also to use these attributes to represent God and extend his rule and influence on the earth. None of the other earthly creatures created by God have been given this privilege. When God’s Spirit indwells and fills a person, there is intimate communion between God and that person.
Are all humans God’s image bearers, or just some?
Some have maintained that animals also possess intelligence and emotion, so the term “made in God’s image” could not apply to some or even to any of these attributes. Others maintain that this term applies only to the attributes of God that were lost when Adam and Eve sinned, such as holiness. But the term “God’s image” refers to salient characteristics shared by all humans and God himself, not just to godly or sanctified humans.
James admonishes us for consistently ignoring that others have been made in God’s image:
“With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, this should not be.” (James 3:9-10)
James is saying that those who curse those made in God’s image are by logic degrading God himself.
All humans have retained “God’s image” to some degree, even though we all sin and frequently don’t demonstrate the character of God. As a result of the fall in Genesis, the attribute of moral knowledge was corrupted. But humans still retain a degree of awareness of right and wrong through conscience. In fact, all of the attributes that we share with God were corrupted or degraded at the fall, but these attributes of God still remain to some degree in all humans. Although humans don’t always demonstrate that they are God’s image bearers, they nonetheless retain that image in significant ways. And our original mandate to multiply and represent God and his rule on the earth still stands. The fact that we have fallen from God’s intent doesn’t thwart God’s plan.
The value of a human life
Since we bear God’s image, only God has the right to permanently destroy us. He can create, and he can also destroy that which he creates. Those of us who destroy innocent humans that are God’s image bearers we call murderers. God instructed Noah on the value of man:
“And for your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from each man too, I will demand an accounting for the life of his fellow man. Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man.” (Genesis 9: 5-6)
This accounting would require that those who intentionally take the life of an innocent human be killed also. An animal that had no fear of man and who killed humans was also to be killed. And humans who had no respect for or placed no value on other humans were also to be killed. Humans are made in God’s image, and thus more valuable than animals.
Question: Which has more value: an old faded and crumpled 20-dollar bill, or a crisp, brand new 20-dollar bill?
Answer: The old bill is of course worth just as much as the new. It has just as much purchasing power, and a store clerk will not question the value of the old and indeed cannot. That is not the authority of the clerk, or anyone for that matter.
Question: Which has more value: a movie star with ten cars and four houses and lives mostly in Hollywood, California? Or a young paraplegic boy born in the slums of Calcutta, India, who is unable to contribute anything to his family or society?
Answer: Well, now we know the answer. Being in the image of God, humans have great worth before God, value based on the inward salient human characteristics and not the outward attributes. The outward attributes of appearance, cleanliness, physical attractiveness, or beauty are not what human value is based on. The broken, bruised, sinful, and hopeless have just as much worth as those that are outwardly together and attractive, or well off.
How do we treat those made in God’s image?
Because all humans bear God’s image, they are of great worth, and for this reason we are to treat others with love and respect. In an ingenious way, God hid his image in every human being so that our love for God is proven by our love for others. If we don’t have any love for others, it is proof that we don’t have love for God. This of course speaks to all of us. There have been countless times in my life when I didn’t treat other humans like the image-bearers that they are.
The command to treat others like we would like to be treated ourselves is a difficult one. It is not because we don’t understand it, but because we just don’t have it in our hearts to keep it. Our human love is just not sufficient to please God. We not only need God’s help to love others, but we actually need his power in us to over-ride our selfish tendencies so that we love them as he loves them.
We’ll all be working on this together, until Christ comes.