Sin—Opposite of Living in the Image of God
A Christ Teaching on Righteousness
Christ uses parables to describe separation of people into two categories based on living in the image of God: the righteous and the wicked.
The righteous are people that live in the image of God, whereby each person is a channel for God’s compassion and conveyor of his image. As a channel for God’s compassion (i.e., God’s provider assistant), a person recognizes needs placed in their path, commits to providing for the need, and perseveres until they succeed: much like the Samaritan in the parable of the Good Samaritan. Being a conveyor of God’s image means providing reasonable opportunity for people to feel the hand of God through your interactions with them. In contrast, the category of the wicked consists of people that decline God’s call to compassion by denying services placed in their path: much like the chief priest and the Levite in the parable of the Good Samaritan. Christ describes the categorization through the parables of the weeds [Matthew 13:24–29 and 37–43], the net [Matthew 13:47–50] and the sheep and the goats [Matthew 25:31–46].
ETERNAL LIFE FOR THE RIGHTEOUS He explained through the parables that the righteous will inherit eternal life in the kingdom of God. The wicked, in contrast, will be condemned to eternal punishment in a fiery furnace where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Also, he explained through the parable of the weeds that God offers every person a persistent opportunity to repent from a life of wickedness to a life of righteousness. The opportunity persists until death or final judgment, whichever comes first [Matthew 13:40]. We examine the three parables in this study and use information contained in them and other related teachings of Christ to discuss the meaning of righteousness.
Parable of the Weeds
In this parable, Christ describes a farm in which the owner planted good-quality seeds of wheat. However, his enemy came in the night while people slept and sowed weeds among the wheat. When the weeds sprouted with the wheat, the farmer’s servants requested permission to pull them out. He acknowledged they were sown by an enemy but told his servants to leave them in place to grow with the wheat [Matthew 13:30]: “Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.”
He explained [Matthew 13:37–43] that the parable identifies two categories of people: the righteous, represented as wheat, and sinners, represented as weeds. God considers the righteous useful (as wheat is to the farmer) because they fulfill what he created them to do. He describes the righteous simply as “people of the kingdom” in this parable, leaving their detailed characterization for a subsequent parable that we discuss later. He describes the others as “everything that causes sin and all who do evil” that will be gathered like weeds and thrown into a “blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” [Matthew 13:41–42]. As the parable describes, sin creeps into our lives surreptitiously as “we sleep” (i.e., when we are not fully deliberative of what we do). However, God provides every person persistent opportunity through lifetime, as represented by the farmer leaving the weeds in place until harvest, to turn from sin to a life of righteousness.
Parable of the Net
In this parable, Christ likened the categorization of people to the separation of “bad fish” from “good fish” by fishermen that caught all kinds of fish in their net as they pulled it up from the lake. They collected the good fish and threw the bad away, as angels will separate the “wicked from the righteous” [Matthew 13:49].
Parable of the Sheep and the Goats
Christ uses this parable [Matthew 25:31–46] to explain in detail the separation of people into two categories. He likened the categorization of people to a shepherd separating his flock into two groups: sheep and goat. The first category consists of people that recognize needs placed in their path and do what they can to provide for the needs. The second category are people that deny needs placed in their path: either they fail to recognize the needs or they recognize but choose to “look the other way.” He uses this parable to explain clearly that people separate into two categories based on living or not living in the image of God.
LIVING IN THE IMAGE OF GOD As we discussed in a previous bible study at This_Link, the essence of living in the image of God consists of two components. First, God creates every person to be a channel for his compassion, i.e., his provider assistant; such that every person is potentially a provider to others and a receiver of what others provide. When there is a need, God positions one or more persons to provide for the need. The chosen person is to recognize the need and do what they can to provide for it. Second, God creates every person as a conveyor of his image, whereby each person provides reasonable opportunities for others to feel the hand of God in human interactions. In this parable, Christ uses performance of the provider assistant responsibilities to categorize people. The righteous are those that fulfill their responsibilities as God’s provider assistant, i.e., those that live in the image of God. In contrast, the wicked are those that deny their responsibilities as God’s provider assistant, i.e., those that do not live in the image of God.
THE RIGHTEOUS Christ uses this parable to define the righteous as people that recognize needs placed in their path and do what they can to provide for the needs. They will inherit the kingdom of God: “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world” [Matthew 25:34].
In the parable, he describes their performance as God’s provider assistant in terms of basic needs. As we discussed in a previous bible study at This_Link, every human need can be broken down in terms of the basic needs of food and drinks, clothing, shelter, protection, and community values. Therefore, by describing the characteristics of the righteous in terms of basic needs, he includes every need and emphasizes fulfilling the provider-assistant responsibility instead of the specific goods or services provided. He explains that the righteous are blessed because of fulfilling their responsibilities as God’s provider assistant (channel for God’s compassion): “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” [Matthew 25:40]. They are rewarded for fulfilling their role in the mutual provider-receiver relationship that God created, whereby every person is a potential provider for others and receiver of what others provide. The “least of these brothers and sisters of mine” describes any person that has a need, irrespective of social status.
THE WICKED Christ also uses this parable to describe characteristics of the other category of people, who he refers to as the “wicked” in the parable of the net. The wicked are people that decline God’s call to compassion, by denying services placed in their path.
A person denies a service by failing to recognize it or looking the other way, like the chief priest and Levite in the parable of the Good Samaritan. In this parable, Christ describes their characteristics in terms of the denial of basic needs. As we explained previously, by describing in terms of basic needs, he includes every need and emphasizes failure to perform the provider-assistant responsibilities instead of the specific goods or services that are denied. The wicked are cursed to be thrown into “the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” [Matthew 25:41].
NO NEUTRAL BEHAVIOR The categorization of people described through this and other parables places every person in one of two categories: righteous or wicked. There is no neutral category. God creates people as his provider assistants and assigns us responsibilities as he chooses. Performing the responsibility is an act of righteousness. Denying the responsibility is an act of wickedness. Failing to recognize a responsibility is a denial, therefore, an act of wickedness. The provider-assistant responsibilities include recognizing a need placed in your path, which calls on every person to be attentive to their environment.
Christ defines righteousness in the Beatitudes in terms of human interaction. As we discussed previously, God’s purpose for humankind is that every person should convey his image and be a channel for his compassion in every interaction. Christ describes this purpose in the Sermon on the Mount (see previous bible studies at This_Link and This_Link), where he emphasizes that human effort alone is inadequate to accomplish God’s purpose.
RESIGN CONTROL TO GOD The first step in fulfilling God’s purpose is to recognize that each person needs God in his/her life to direct everything we do. One has to declare with God: be totally immersed in God in order to fulfill his call to righteousness. Christ describes this in the first three Beatitudes, which call on each person to resign control to God, repent from a life characterized by predator-prey type relationships to a life characterized by positive human interaction, and humble yourself toward God and other people.
LIVING IN THE IMAGE OF GOD The fourth through eighth Beatitudes describe the human aspects of righteousness (living in the image of God) and can be summarized as follows.
- Seek to make people feel God through your actions (hunger and thirst for righteousness).
- Be sensitive to needs around you, to recognize needs placed in your path and do what you can to provide for them.
- Your only motivation should be to provide for needs that God places in your path to the best of your ability. You may provide through free or for-fee service, charging only a fair fee if you choose the for-fee option.
- Desire to instill peace in every situation.
- Do not be afraid of persecution for righteousness.
Hope for the Wicked
Christ informs us through the parable of the weeds that every person is offered a persistent opportunity to turn to living in the image of God. The opportunity persists through one’s lifetime until “the end of the age” [Matthew 13:39]. In the parable, the farmer (representing God) told his servants to leave the weeds (representing the wicked) to grow with the wheat (representing the righteous) until harvest (representing judgment time) [Matthew 13:30]: “Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.”
THE “WHEAT” IN EVERY PERSON can sprout to life at any time. God creates every person with the capacity to be righteous and offers same a persistent opportunity to turn on the capacity. However, the opportunity is only available through the end of one’s life or until God’s “harvest,” whichever comes first. Because we do not know and cannot predict the timing of either of the two events, this opportunity could be your best. Your best time to turn to righteousness (turn to living in the image of God) could be now. It begins with a spiritual decision as described in the first three Beatitudes and progresses with the fourth to eighth Beatitude. Living in the image of God is a life-long decision. You make the decision and grow in it. Don’t look back.
Summary of What We Learned
Christ uses three parables (the weeds, the net, and the sheep and the goats) to describe his separation of people into two categories: the righteous and the non-righteous. The non-righteous also are described as the wicked or sinners. The basis for categorization is “living in the image of God.” The righteous consists of people that live in the image of God. They convey God’s image through every human interaction. They recognize needs placed in their path and provide for the needs through free or for-fee service. The wicked are the opposite of the righteous. They do not live in the image of God. They decline God’s call to compassion by denying services placed in their path. The righteous will inherit eternal life in God’s kingdom. The wicked will be condemned to eternal punishment in a fiery furnace prepared for the devil and his servants. However, God offers a persistent opportunity to every person to turn from a life of wickedness to a life of righteousness.