William “Duce” Branch on the Image of God in Every Person
Duce Branch talks about The Image of God in Every Person. This keynote was given during the 2022 Stand for Life Campus Tour on October 19, 2022, at Union University. Duce, also known as The Ambassador, is a Christian hip-hop artist and a founding member of the group The Cross Movement.
It’s good. How are you all doing? Praise the Lord for the music turning our attention and our affections heavenward. And I pray to God to use His word to not only turn our attention heavenward but address us as we horizontally engage in what God would say to us now that He’s got our attention. Let me ask for the Lord’s help. Father, we bless Your name. We thank You. I need help. The matters before us are waiting. They affect time and impact eternity. And so we pray that you would have Your way right now. In Jesus’ name, amen.
Okay, so you already know that if we’re talking about Standing for Life, the immediate context has a lot to do with the way our society judges and values life. Valuing is interesting because there’s influenced valuing. I mean, values that are influenced by not what, but firstly, whose. Like, it’s not what it is, it’s whose it is. I was interesting to find a painting that sold for $106 million. I said, “I got a painting I got for you. I don’t even need 106 million.” Turns out, it happened to be Pablo Picasso’s. A lock of hair, I don’t have much anymore. However, you should have caught me when I was a seminary. I graduated with braids, but a lock of hair was sold for $115,000. It just so happened that it was Elvis Presley’s.
Again, an extracted back tooth. You could have all my teeth, and they gave him $31,000 to John Lennon for his molar. For his molar. A baseball card sold for over $12 million. It just so happened to be Mickey Mantle. So a dress sold for $4.8 million, take my whole wardrobe, just give me half of that 4.8 million. Happened to be Marilyn Monroe’s “Thank You, Mr. President” dress, “Happy Birthday, Mr. President” dress. Here’s my point. These were valued not because of what they were. It was a dress. It was a lock of hair. It was a card. It was because of whose they were.
But in this culture, not only often roots their valuing in the whose but also the condition of the what. In other words, these things wouldn’t have sold as much if they would’ve been destroyed. These things probably would have been devalued had the card been crinkled, and had the dress been torn. And again, had the painting been marred. It probably wouldn’t have sold for much because every now and then our valuing is based on the condition of the what. That’s what we call influenced valuing.
But then there’s something else that we’re familiar with and that is intrinsic value. Intrinsic value, value that’s not predicated on the condition. It’s value based on what it is. If I had a crisp $100 bill up here, and I said, “Who wants it?” All the hands will go up, it’s yours, it’s free. If I creased it, and I say, “Now, who wants it?” Everybody’s hands will stay up because guess what, a creased $100 bill is worth the same thing that a crisp $100 bill is. If I was to crumple it, you’d say, “I still want it.” Why? Because a creased or a crumpled $100 bill is the same as, valued the same as a crisp $100 bill.
If I tear it and re-tape it, if I step on it, you would say, “I’ll take it. I’ll do my own repairs,” because a torn and re-taped $100 is intrinsically $100. And therefore, we know what it’s like for something that had intrinsic value. Well, it’s the same thing when we talk about life. God has allowed us to know that our culture often values life based on the condition of the person, based on who we know or who we’re connected to. But God has designed life to have intrinsic value, and I want to make that case from the scriptures. Now, as a Black man in these times, these racially tensed times, you know sometimes in my community it’s hard to sell people the ideas that come out of the Bible because someone has lied on the Bible.
There are many who’ve lied with the Bible. And there are many who have lied on the Bible. The Bible was used to promote things that are actually contrary to what the Bible would say. You know that the Bible was used to promote racism. The Bible was used to promote the slave trade, the chattel slave retrade that America is all too familiar with. Sometimes people use the Bible to divide neighborhoods, and divide voting blocks, and to divide us in ways that the Bible would say, “No.” Rather than indicting the Bible, the Bible will indict our behavior. The Bible will tell you because of something we’re going to talk about today, the intrinsic value of the human person. The Bible will indict racism, not support it.
Partiality based on ethnicity. The Bible says, “That’s why God cleverly made us all from two parents. Again, Adam and Eve.” Classism. One of the earliest indictments in scripture in the New Testament, [inaudible 00:05:37], from James, one of the earliest New Testament letters that we have, is the sin of partiality. It’s the sin of looking at the door and seeing a man whose got nice clothes on and a gold ring and saying, “Here, you can have VIP seating.” And then looking up and seeing somebody who looks more like me today and say, “Please, would you go to the overflow or would you sit at my feet?” Classism.
Colorism. Everywhere we go in the world, somebody says that the lighter you are the better you feel. You can go to India, you can go to China, you can go to America, it doesn’t matter where you go, colorism is a thing. The lighter are preferred over the darker. That’s partiality based on external factors like color. Sexism, how about that? Which sex, which gender are you, I will treat you differently and diminish you one way or the other. Here’s the bottom line, the Bible would say because of God’s image, His imprint, what He says about life, that all of these things are the vandalizing the property that God values. Desecrating those that God has dignified. And today, we want to get you to take God’s perspective and join God’s calls when it comes to life. We want you to stand for life.
So what I’m going to do is I’m going to use the Bible to make my case. I only have a few minutes. So let’s go. First of all, you may have heard that Genesis 1:26-27 is the classic text for mankind, human beings, male and female being made in the image of God. The text says, “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image after our likeness, and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the heavens, and over the livestock, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’ So God created mankind in His own image. And the image of the God, He created him male and female, He created them.”
That is the believer, the Christian, the Bible believing person says, “This is my foundational text, because this is the first time we heard that we’re not just apes. It’s the first time we heard that even though we’re similar, we have continuity with creation, we’re distinct among all creation.” We don’t just come up with that. We get it from here. So when God made persons, the Bible says that God distinguished them, all of them, and dignified them. Is that us getting besides ourselves, too big for our breeches? No. The text in Genesis lets us know. Man is the climax of Genesis 1 and the center of Genesis 2. There’s more time and space dedicated in the Bible to the sixth day when He created humanity.
And anytime you elaborate it means that you’re giving something more importance. If you’re introducing a group of people and you say, “Hey, this is John. He joined our ministry yesterday. And this Joe. He just got here but he’s going to help you with media. And this Missy, my wife. Now, me and Missy again, we met back in the days when she was in high school.” And if I were to elaborate, you could tell that Missy means something to the conversation that John and Joe do not. Well, that’s what happens in Genesis. Just by telling us more about when He made man than anything else, more elaborate, more detailed. God was distinguishing and dignifying human persons.
Up until that time God said, “Let it be. Let it be. Let it be. Let it be,” which just means decree. When He got to man, he deliberated. He said, “Hmm, let us.” It will be almost like somebody saying, “Now that’s what I’m saying. It’s time.” I don’t know about you but I do 90-minute rice, a bag o’ salad, but I go hard on my meats. I spend a lot of time on my meat. Guess what the centerpiece of my meals are? The meats, you’re right. 90-second Uncle Ben’s, microwaved. Bag o’ salad, season the salad, shake it up a little bit. And then a filet. Garlic, seasonings, room temperature, salt liberally, pepper, a little bit of soul food from Sylvia’s, don’t tell anybody.
In other words, just by God distinguishing us and giving us more attention, He says that the human life has more value and is more distinct that distinguished and dignified than other life. Mankind. This is why the Psalm in Psalm 8 said, “How majestic is your name in all the earth? When I look at you I’m blown away because you’re majestic.” He said, “Then I can see the work of your hands,” I’m like, wow, look at Jupiter, look at Mars, look at the trees, look at the beautiful color. What is man that you’re mindful of him? What’s with you putting all this emphasis on human life when your soul, dope Lord, let me use that, please, here in chapel. Dope mean something good, professors who don’t know.
You’re so good. Your creation is mind-blowing. Why, Mr. William Duce Branch, he’s so small, you made him lower than the angels but crowned him with glory? Genesis 1 and 2 tell us that God was setting the stage for human life. I’m just making a case that we could stand for life because God values life and has dignified life and want you to do the same. If you were to read Genesis 1, you see that God was setting the stage. He wasn’t just doing stuff. He set the stage for life. He made arrangements. The Bible if you were throwing a party for a guest maybe you go to the facility and you turn the lights on. The Bible says, “Let there be light.” So I’m talking about how he was going to set the mood, turn on the lights.
He arranged the furniture. 6-10 in chapter 1 says that he separated warders from the earth. He said, “Okay, this is where everybody will be. You all are going to be on here. You all are going to be there.” He stopped the [inaudible 00:11:22]. 11-13, the Bible says, “Let the earth sprout vegetation.” It’s almost like what he was doing was preparing. He’s like, I need a world where the mood is right, where the sun is shining, where the [inaudible 00:12:03] and the vegetation is sprouting. And then it says he set the thermostat, 14 and 19 says, and then he set up things so that there would be seasons. Again, I keep getting distracted by this because when I left the northeast, I stopped seeing beautiful, beautiful stuff like this.
In North Carolina, I had been seeing trees that look orange. I’m around a place that’s either no trees or evergreens, so beautiful seasons. In other words, he was doing this because he was about to bring in the grand entrance. He made the arrangements, he set the atmosphere for a special guest. So he started making creatures. He said, “Well, hold on,” he made apes, he made antelope, he made lions. Okay, the Bible does say that, verse 24 of chapter 1. God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds.” Livestock, creeping things, beast of the earth according to their kinds, and it was so.
And God made the beast of the earth according to their kinds, and livestock according to their kinds, and everything that creeps on the ground according to its kind. And God said, “Good.” In other words, God made creatures, flesh, bones, slice and they bleed. So what’s the big deal about man? I like the way the text says, “Then God said, ‘Let us make man.'” In other words, the scene is set, the arrangements are made. Inferior creatures who will have it the same space but I’m going to give man a distinct privilege over them. In other words, humanity not only is distinguished from creation, and dignified among creation. He propped up our purpose in creation.
That’s when our text says, “Let them have dominion over all the earth, over everything.” Here’s what I’m saying. Chapter 2 tells us that not only did he give him a wife, but then God began to say, “Here’s your purpose, humanity. This is why I made you like me. This is why I gave you a mentality like mine. This is why I gave you a heart like mine. This is why I created you after my image and my likeness.” To get to Genesis chapter 5, what you see is the Bible says that Adam, he birthed or he brought forth a son after his image and likeness. Which means that we resemble God. There’s a lot of debate about what the image of God means. But it at least means that when I see you, I think about Him. We resemble God so he gave us a purpose to show what God looks like.
Human beings are able to reflect God, to show what God looks like. Back in ancient times when a king was on his throne, he would set up statues of himself at the boundaries of the kingdom so that people would know when you see this statue, this image, this representation of the king, you know that the king is running this right here. The Bible says what God did was He gave humanity, the physical and the visible representation that God runs this here through his lookalikes. But not only that, God’s actalikes. One of the things that separates us from even those we kind of favor, apes and all these others, is we have a moral capacity.
No one ever has a lawsuit with the gorilla that went ape. Nobody ever holds the chimpanzee that slipped their wig, nobody ever takes them to court or puts them in Gitmo. Why? Because they don’t have what we have. We have a moral capacity that show off God’s virtues. So God lookalikes, God actalikes. And then to ensure that God is liked. You know, one of the things that Genesis tells us that God and man entered a relationship and God blessed man with the ability to procreate not so we can have a bunch of people who look like Adam, but so we could have a bunch of people who look like God, who act like God, and who then respond and worship to God.
Which is why the first thing that happened to let God know something was amiss was instead of running to God, they run from God. That’s chapter 3, verse 8. What am I saying? What I’m saying is He dignified and distinguished human life. He propped up our purpose over all creation. God values life and it’s intrinsic. Now, Genesis 3, if you know your Bible, it’s where everything sort of the wheels fall off. The virtue leaves and the varnish is off. When God made man, He didn’t say, “Good,” he said, “Ah, very good.” And now, what do we see from Genesis 3? The very good seems to have gone very wrong. No more varnish, no more virtue as though it were. The party seems over.
Shalom is shattered like a house of cards [inaudible 00:17:19] at and the whole thing collapsed as you got a mess on the floor. What do we see? The blame game between husband and wife. The first wife and husband spat. [inaudible 00:17:21] chapter 4, the boasting of avenging oneself, a revenge in chapter 5. A whole chapter that just says, “And he died, and he died, and he died, and he died, and he died, and he died,” to let you know that something is different than Genesis 1, 2, good, very good. Constant evil in chapter 6, God says, “I regret it.” And then what does God do? The flood, chapter 8.
Has the value of man ceased to be because the varnish is off and because the virtue has gone? Nope, because after the flood, not only did God save a representation of the human race that he would repopulate the earth with His image, bear us, he says this in chapter 9, “Whoever sheds the blood of humanity shall his blood be shed.” Why? Here’s the rationale. For God made him in His own image. God is still into His image bearers. He still values them even though it just comes after He swiped the earth because of the lack of moral compliance, because of the lack of God focus, because of the lack of showing off and being what we were called to be. But yet, the virtue is, the value is still there.
James 3, which goes further after the flood says this, “We bless the Lord and Father, and we curse people who are made in the likeness of God.” There it is again. In other words, we will do damage to people, and that’s wrong because they’re in the image of God. We will verbally do damage to people, and that’s wrong because they’re the image of God. What am I saying? Without the varnish, without the value, and because we can talk about abortion, we can say without the person being visible to the naked eye but present in the womb, we could say still valuable like a crumpled $100 bill. Some people because of Genesis 3 come out with different lens. Some come out with different diseases. Some come out with different distresses. Some come out differently.
We go and are Black, and some Blacks are safe, and some Blacks are not. And some people are more intelligent and some people are less intelligent based on circumstances and capacities. But valuable and still the same. So what’s left? What does God do? Well, God has always been about redeeming and restoring what was lost. If you go to Ephesians 4:24, you don’t have to turn there, because I’ll read it, but he says this, “Put on the new self. Create it after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” One of the things that God did was he said, “I will preserve this life, but I will rebirth people and prepare them for a life to come.” This life right now is where God is restoring and redeeming people because God plans to reboot Shalom and take it to another level. So we care about this life and we care about the life to come.
Paul said it this way, he said to the Galatians, “You heard about me. You know I was a gangsta. When I was in Judaism, I was religious. But I was so religious I would murder you thinking I was doing God a favor. I violently tried to destroy the church.” He says, and then, “God who had set me apart before I was born.” I got a amen corner, let’s go. He says, “I know what you’re seeing it present. I know that you heard about my past. But have you heard about God’s purpose?” I wish I had time. My God, my time is set. It’s about to be over. He says, “I know you heard about my past. I know you see me and I’m not impressed, I’ve been depressed. But have you considered that God had purpose?”
We look at the unborn baby and we say, I know what you’re thinking about how this is going to affect your present. But have you thought about God’s purpose? No performance. Not your presents, visible at least. God’s purpose. So here’s the conclusion. We know that the over Adam came. The Bible calls him the last Adam or refers to him as the New Man, the New Adam. How many of you are going to go see Black Adam? He’s bad. Now he look like he might try to switch at the end. They made me think he was starting to like, oh, wait, maybe he’s going to turn good. But all the trailers make this Black Adam look like the Adam we don’t want.
But Jesus is the last Adam. And the Bible says He came down to do what the first Adam did not do. To perfectly what? Look like God. To perfectly what? Act like God. And to perfectly what? Ensure that there will be a people who would like God, worship God, love God. He says the father’s looking for worship as you worship him in spirit and in truth. And he told the woman, “And I’m the key to that.” What I’m here to tell you today is that there is life and it’s intrinsically valuable to God. Genesis tells us that it was about humanity that God made all the preparations for to reflect himself. Have people who resemble him, look like him, act like him, and ensure that others would like him, and be like him.
But the varnish is off. The virtue is gone. Because the Bible says, “Through one man, last Adam, send in to the world and death. But through the last Adam just as sending in to the world life, resurrection, birth to the newness.” So I want to do something right now is I want to exult in Christ, and I want to get you all to commit yourself to breaking with the culture and doubling down with Christ. When I was 19 years old, I got the news from my then girlfriend, “I’m pregnant.” First thing that I said at my mouth, “Abort it.” Again, that was culture had me so trained that was just instinct, abort it.
I called my father who was a minister, led me to the Lord. I said, “Hey, pop, I got a girl pregnant, but that’s all right. I told her get an abortion.” And he rebuked me. He said, “What are you talking about? You don’t understand life.” Well, I told her to stop. Now that son lives today, because regardless of what happened in the past and regardless of what I was thinking at that present time, God has purpose. Right now, you all need to reflexively say, “I want to stand for life. This life and the new life.” So what I want you to do right now we want to give you this opportunity. We’re here as a ministry to rally people up.
When I was coming here on the plane, a pilot came out and he put on a pink bird costume, and he’d said, “I want to raise money for cancer, to right cancer.” And he started, he said, “I raised $600 when we went on another flight. I want to do it again.” He tried to recruit people to do something that would do something about life. Well, we’re Christians in here. I came through, I saw Christ-centered on one of the flags. So we can do better than just take care of raising some money and then turn them away. We want you to stand for life. I like the story that happened back in the time of American revolution. There was a pastor who was hated by a man in his community. And he always harassed him, “Oh, there’s Pastor Pete Miller. There’s Pete Miller. Oh Pastor Pete Miller, always preaching. Can’t stand Pete Miller, couldn’t stand him.”
One day, Pete Miller’s adversary went and joined the British Army. At the time, General Washington, under his watch, that man was arrested, tried for treason, and sentenced to die. Pete Miller made a long trek to General Washington and asked for a pardon for this man. George Washington said, “Nope. I’m not extending a pardon for people who are trying to get their friends off the hook.” Pastor Miller said, “Oh, no, no, no, no. I’m not asking for a pardon for my friend. He’s actually been my enemy.” Washington, stunned, said, “I will give you a pardon because I’ve seen people seek pardons for friends. I just never seen anyone seek a pardon for their enemies.”
He grant the pardon and he walked a great distance down to the place of execution. When the man who was about to be executed saw the Pastor, he said, “Oh, Pastor Pete come to see me get what I deserve, huh?” He pushed through the crowd and Pastor Miller said, “No, I didn’t come to see you get what you deserve. I came to see you get pardoned from it.” If he will do that for the unworthy like Christ has done it for us, there should be nothing stopping us for standing for life, whether they’re the worthy or the unworthy, your friends or your foes, those with your or those against you, let us, in the name of Christ, stand for life.
Gracious God and Father, we’ve used this moment in an attempt to remind us that life is Your thought, life is Your creation. And we play a very special role with or without our varnish, with our without all the virtue that you call for us. And Father, we pray that whether we’re not visible to the naked eye because we’re in the womb, or we’re not virtuous, that union will produce some of the greatest standings for life. We bless, we praise You. In Jesus’ name. Amen.