“As my hand has reached to the kingdoms of the idols,
whose carved images were greater than those of Jerusalem and Samaria,
shall I not do to Jerusalem and her idols
as I have done to Samaria and her images?”
When the Lord has finished all his work on Mount Zion and on Jerusalem, he will punish the speech of the arrogant heart of the king of Assyria and the boastful look in his eyes.Isaiah 10:10-12 (ESV)
Unbelievers have always existed. Instead of believing in gods, they believe in man. Instead of humility before the will and power of a transcendent being, they are boastful and arrogant about what they can do in their own strength. They see nothing from a supernatural perspective. Only naturalism exists for them. They see no future beyond what their mind or hand can achieve. And no hope beyond what their heart can dream. Reality is limited to only what they can sense, and the only power they know that can protect them from suffering is the accumulation of wealth and the conquering of/ruling over others.
Nothing has changed much since Isaiah wrote this 2500+ years ago.
But man still is not God (despite Satans’s misconstrued promise). Though he ignores the Lord, he cannot erase Him. He can attribute the work of God to something or someone else; he can pretend he is like God in power and sovereignty or wisdom, but he cannot eliminate God. Nor can man surpass Him. Man can only imitate (or reflect) Him.
Even the atheist does this, despite the wayward attempts to deny Him or the active practicing of sin. For in the desire to rule, they reflect God’s supremacy over all. In their pursuit of knowledge and philosophy, they point to God as the superior standard of wisdom and truth. In their attempt to remove inequalities, they prove God is love. Even with their daily choices and their radical insistence on autonomy, they mirror the sovereignty of God. Man may not be holy, but his attempt to establish a standard of “right” and to live by this “truth” attests to the perfect nature of God as the standard for all morality. Though their actions are grounded in pride, self, and denial, even the unbelieving man still manages to reflect the character and person of God.
They may ignore God. They may deny God. But they cannot, no matter how hard they try, escape Him. For every time they look in the mirror, they see the face of someone designed to reflect Him.
All men fail miserably in their character and actions to do this well. But this is our purpose: to live to give Him glory. That is why we need two things: 1) instruction on how to live in a way that accomplishes this purpose and 2) a transformation within us so that we are free of sin and able to live according to those instructions. The Bible accomplishes #1, and the cross/resurrection of Christ accomplishes #2 for those who believe and confess Jesus as Lord.
Of course, this transformation and these instructions are exactly why we Christians should be clearer reflections of God to the world than our unbelieving counterparts. It is through our morality, i.e. our choices and behaviors, that we demonstrate both who God is, His design for us, and how He interacts with His world. This is why we are given the 10 Commandments. This is why the Apostle Paul continually stresses to his readers to “cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” (Ro 13:12–14). Paul is not trying to be a killjoy here. He is reminding us that “we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us.” (2 Co 5:20)
In other words, God has made us into His messengers, those who represent their government and make known the will of our King. We reflect the character, person, and will of God as accurately as possible to a hostile, oppositional, and defiant world. But unlike the political examples in our world, we are to be mature, not “tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.” Rather, we are to speak the truth of our message in love and to “grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.” (Eph. 4:14-15) In other words, we are to reflect God as accurately as possible. We do this by “[putting] off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires,and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Eph 4:22–24, emphasis mine).
And what does this look like on a practical level?
1) We do not sin in our anger, which would give the devil an opportunity in our life
2) We labor honestly, with our own hands, so that we can share with those who are in need
3) We use our speech to build up, as fits the occasion, to give grace to those who hear
4) We remove all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander from ourselves, along with all malice, and
5) We are kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave us (Eph 4:25-32)
It doesn’t matter if you believe in God or not. You will reflect His image. But the unbeliever will reflect it through selfish and prideful means, making it difficult to clearly see who He is, while the believer will do so by imitating God Himself. We will walk in love, being a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God and removing all sexual immorality, all impurity or covetousness, and trying to discern what is pleasing to the Lord; taking no part in the unfruitful works of darkness but instead exposing them. (Eph. 5:1-21)
Therefore, believers, use your choices and behaviors today to accurately show others who God is and to relay the message of His will to them. In doing so, you will reflect God well and will “glorify God in your body.” (1 Cor. 6:20)