The Godwardness of Sin

THOUGH WE ARE CREATED IN THE IMAGE OF GOD, the tragic reality is that we have rebelled against God and now live under his judgment and wrath (Gen. 3: 16–19; Rom. 1:18). The image of God is therefore distorted. In Calvin’s words, God’s image is deformed, vitiated, mutilated, maimed, disease-ridden, and disfigured.

This is true for all of us. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). We have failed to glorify God by not loving his person, obeying his laws, and delighting in his glory. Rather than exclusively worshiping our glorious Creator, we have served and worshiped created things (Rom. 1:21–23). We are “alienated from the life of God” and “dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph. 4:18; 2:1). The image of God within us has become so marred and distorted that each of us, without exception, fails to display his character in fullness.

But we don’t realize the gravity of this evil. Our souls are so calloused by sin that we do not sense its infinite offensiveness to God. In Rediscovering Holiness, J. I. Packer observes that the biblical words for “sin” portray it

in a variety of different ways: as rebellion against our rightful owner and ruler; as transgression of the bounds he set; as missing the mark he told us to aim at; as breaking the law he enacted; as defiling (dirtying, polluting) ourselves in his sight, so making ourselves unfit for his company; as embracing folly by shutting our ears to his wisdom; and as incurring guilt before his judgment seat.

These pictures reveal several distinct aspects of our sin, but the common denominator they share is their Godwardness. All sin—even so-called little sins—are evil because they are ultimately committed against our infinitely holy God. When we sin against God we spurn his honor, preferring other things to his glory. Even when we sin against other human beings, we simultaneously assault God’s glory by hurting those who bear his image. James condemns us for using our tongues to curse others because they are “people who are made in the likeness of God” (James 3:9).

David committed adultery with Bathsheba, murdered her husband, and covered his sin so the public would not know. Yes, these were grievous and horrible sins against people, but David’s confession to God reveals his deeper understanding. They were not just sins against people. They were sins against God: violations of his law, infractions of his will, assaults on those who bore his image, and therefore, on God himself. That is why David confessed, “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight” (Ps. 51:4).

Every sin against a human being is also a sin against God. Egotism, lust, bitterness, gossip, slander, racial prejudice, violence, the devaluing of human life— these are sins against God’s image-bearers, and therefore sins against God himself.

Reflection Questions

  • Why are your sins against people also sins against God?
  • Take inventory right now: how have you fallen short of God’s glory?


Almighty God, Please help me to view my sins in a Godward way. Help me to see that all of my sins are distortions of your glorious image and violations of your perfect will. Amen.

From To Be Like Jesus: 40 Meditations for Your Journey Toward Christlikeness by Brian G. Hedges

Shepherd Press