Idolatry and the Image of God

Today we feature an article from guest contributor Ekemini Uwan. Ekemini received her MDiv from Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, and is an accomplished writer and speaker. You can read more of her work and listen to her lectures at Ekemini has adapted this article from a lecture given at CANVAS, an event hosted by Humble Beast Records.


Prophet. Priest. King. Adam. That is what he was.

A prophet, for God gave him the command not to eat of the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

A priest, for he was charged with working, keeping, and guarding the garden-temple of Eden against any unclean thing.

A king, for he was given dominion over every living thing and was to rule on the earth.

Yet as Prophet, he disobeyed. As Priest, he became unclean. As King, Adam allowed the serpent, Satan to take dominion over him. He obeyed Satan and sinned against God by eating of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

Adam’s sin was imputed to us and brought forth a cosmic and anthropological reversal. Cosmic in that sin, death, and misery entered the world. Anthropological in that his posterity would have also been Prophets, Priests, and Kings, but due to the imputation of Adam’s sin, they were now banished from the garden-temple.

The root of Adam’s sin is idolatry and that is where I will focus our attention.

Idolatry and the Image of God

Idolatry is anything or anyone we put our hope, faith, and trust in apart from the Triune God. Dr. G.K. Beale of Westminster Theological Seminary describes it this way, “[Idolatry is] whatever your heart clings to or relies upon for ultimate security.”

Adam hoped, believed, and trusted in Satan’s lie that he would become like God. He failed to see that he was already made in the very image and likeness of God! According to theologian Herman Bavinck, “The whole being…not something in man but man himself, is the image of God.” Adam’s idolatry blinded him to such a degree that he could not see that he was already like God. His idolatry led him to believe that it was not enough for him to reflect the One True God by being in His image and likeness—he had to be god.

Instead of the elevation of status Satan promised, we observe a demotion of sorts. “The LORD God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them” (Gen 3:21). My former professor, Dr. Douglas Green has a fascinating insight regarding the symbolic meaning of Adam and Eve’s animal skin garments. I’m paraphrasing here, but Dr. Green argued “the putting on of new attire implies a change in status. For instance, when a man puts on a cape, we think superhero.” Or when a woman puts on a bridal gown with all the adornments, she becomes a bride. In Genesis 3:21, Adam and Eve, “the previously glorious humans have had a change in status. They are now more like the animals they are supposed to rule over than they are like God.”

You’ve heard it said that “sin is what makes us truly human.” No, sin dehumanizes us!

Always and at every point.

Take Esau, for instance. You can read about him in Genesis 25 and 27. He was a man who lacked self-control and forfeited his birthright, his firstborn status, for a bowl of stew. Esau was driven by his instincts like an animal. His belly was his god. Again, we see a change in status. Esau, the older brother, trampled his firstborn status underfoot for temporary satisfaction. Now, the older brother serves his younger brother, Jacob. Esau is a chip off the old block, he followed in the footsteps of Adam, our first father, who forfeited his status as prophet, priest, and king for a piece of fruit.

Israel, God’s chosen nation whom He delivered with a mighty hand from slavery in Egypt and through the desolate wilderness, was an idolatrous nation. Hear what the LORD said through the prophet Jeremiah, “What fault did your ancestors find in me, that they strayed so far from me? They followed worthless idols and became worthless themselves” (Jer. 2:5). Instead of reflecting the image of the perfect and holy Triune God, the sin of idolatry changes us in such a way that we mar and distort the image of God within us. In the words of Dr. G.K. Beale, “We become what we worship.”

Truly Human

Sin is not what makes us truly human. To be truly human is to have the fruit of the spirit—self-control, which causes us to resist the sin of seeking false refuge in created things rather than the Creator who is praised forevermore. In order to truly reflect the image of God, as we were created to do, we must exercise self-control and dominion over our instincts and passions.

Jesus is the true human, par excellence. And as the God-Man, he is the embodiment of self-control. “Though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Phil 2:6,7). Here, we have an ethical example that we ought to replicate in our own lives. Jesus, the Second Adam, did what the first Adam did not.

The First Adam grasped for equality with God and sought to exalt himself from his status as a creature to Creator, thereby sinning against God. In his effort to grasp that which was not His, he demoted himself and his posterity by losing his and their roles as prophet, priest, and king.

However, the Second Adam, Jesus Christ, came to destroy the works of the devil by accomplishing what the First Adam failed to do. He died for us while we were still enemies and now those who are in Christ, the Second Adam, are dead to the First Adam. His resurrection life dwells within every believer by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Not only that, the Second Adam restored our roles as prophet, priest, and king.

Christians are “little p” prophets in that God’s moral law (e.g. the Ten Commandments) is still binding. We are empowered to keep His commandments through the power of the Holy Spirit and, as prophets, we encourage others to keep the law as well.

We are a royal priesthood, and as priests, our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, temples we are to keep and guard against any unclean thing.

We are kings in that we multiply and expand God’s kingdom on earth by sharing the gospel and making disciples.

Who is your idol?

What idol has your ear? What idol are you trusting in?

Is your political affiliation dividing your allegiance to God in such a way that you parrot your party’s’ political agenda and platform without running it through the sieve of God’s Word?

Is your identity so tethered to your job – whether it be a ministry job or not – that you cannot pull away to spend time in prayer, read the Bible, and fellowship with other Christians for your edification and theirs?

Is it social media that has you anxious for the next “like,” “retweet,” “comment,” and “double-tap” to such a degree that you have become just as dull, uncommunicative, and inanimate as the phone you are holding while in the presence of friends and loved ones?

Be careful, brothers and sisters. We become what we worship! So let us worship God in the knowledge and security that we are made in his image and bear his likeness. Let us flee the temptation that ensnared Satan and rejoice in our station. For we are prophets, priests, and kings.
“Little children, keep yourselves from idols” – 1John 5:21

Reformed Margins

Reformed Margins exists to celebrate the glory of God and exalt the person and work of Jesus Christ among the nations. We pray that this site provides a platform for Reformed Christian thinkers from various ethnic minority backgrounds to join in the broader Reformed and Evangelical conversations.

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