The Image of God in Man

The crowning achievement of God’s creative week was different than anything he had already created. He saved the best for last. Genesis 1:26–27 states, “Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’ And God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” Notice that there is nothing else in the creation account or anywhere else in the Bible described as being created in this way. People are the only thing about which the Bible ever says, “made in the image of God.” As we will see, this means that there is a fundamental difference between humans and all other creation. Also, we did not evolve from monkeys or amoeba. We did not crawl out of a pool of organisms and teach ourselves to walk upright. The world and man did not begin with a big bang, it began with “In the beginning, God.” God spoke, and creation happened. But what does it mean to be made in the image of God? The Bible says Adam and Eve were in the image of God—are people today still made in the image of God? If we are still in the image of God, do we have any responsibilities that come along with being made in the image of God?

The Definition of the Image of God
The Bible speaks about the image of God in several different places. When Moses wrote the genealogy of Adam, he began in Genesis 5 by repeating the creation account. “This is the book of the generations of Adam. In the day when God created man, He made him in the likeness of God. He created them male and female, and He blessed them and named them Man in the day when they were created. When Adam had lived one hundred and thirty years, he became the father of a son in his own likeness, according to his image, and named him Seth” (Gen 5:1–3). Notice that the same words are used to describe a child and his family as were used of humans and God. In some way then, just as you can usually see a family resemblance between children and their parents, there is a resemblance between people and their Creator. The word ‘image’ is sometimes used of an idol or statue or something that is an exact replica of something else. But by placing the creation of humans and the birth of Seth in the same context, we can learn that humans are no more exact replicas of God than children are of their parents.

If you look up “the image of God” in a theological dictionary, the definition you find is, “The image of God in man is man’s spiritual, moral, and personal resemblance to God. Man replicates the infinite God on a finite level in these areas.” This begins to help us understand that God created us with the ability to imitate him in some way. The image of God is that which causes man to resemble his Maker and separates him from all other creation. Humans duplicate God on a finite level—that is, we can only resemble Him in a partial way, since God is infinite and we are limited. This definition also makes things a little cloudier, though, as you try to figure out what it means to resemble God in a spiritual, moral, or personal way.

Our spiritual resemblance to God
Our spiritual resemblance to God means first of all, that we can have fellowship with God. This is what enabled God, Adam, and Eve to be able to spend time together in the Garden of Eden. “And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. Then the LORD God called to the man, and said to him, ‘Where are you?’ And he said, ‘I heard the sound of Thee in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid myself’” (Gen 3:8–10). Notice that Adam was not surprised at God’s presence and voice in the garden. He must have been used to walking and talking with God. Adam was not hiding from God because he had never talked to Him before; he was hiding from God because he was ashamed of his sin. We as believers can have fellowship with God too. He communicates to us through the Bible and His Spirit, and we talk to him through prayer. No other element of creation has this kind of fellowship with the creator. Man is special because of that.

Our spiritual resemblance to God also means that we are eternal. Solomon refers to this in Ecclesiastes 3:11 where he states, “He has also set eternity in their heart, without which man will not find out the work which God has done from the beginning even to the end.” After our physical body dies, the spiritual part of our nature will continue on eternally—in heaven or hell, the Bible tells us. This world around us will eventually be destroyed. We will be given new bodies to either spend eternity in constant worship of God or in constant pain and torment separated from God. Animals are not like this. Contrary to modern theology, animals don’t go to heaven when they die. They don’t go to hell either, they just stop living. Because of this difference between people and animals, even the worst of humans has more value than the best of animals. There is a worth to human existence and a sacredness of man’s life that can never be erased no matter how degraded a person acts. Since all people are made in God’s image, they all have the ability to fellowship with their Maker.

Our spiritual resemblance to God also means that we can worship God. As we spend more time fellowshipping with Him and learn more about Him from His word, our natural response will be to praise and honor Him. That’s what worship is—declaring God’s greatness and giving him the honor that only he is due. “For You formed my inward parts; You wove me in my mother’s womb. I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Wonderful are your works, and my soul knows it very well” (Ps 139:13–14).

Our moral resemblance to God
Our moral resemblance to God means that we have the ability to make right and wrong decisions. Whether or not you are a Christian, you have a conscience inside you. “For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, they, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness, and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them, on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus” (Rom 2:14–16). Paul is talking about people who never knew or followed God’s law, but yet still knew the difference between right and wrong. They were born with a conscience, but all parts of humans were affected by the Fall. Sin corrupts even our conscience. Because of that, it is not our best guide. Conscience is only as good as its teacher. The more you fellowship with God and learn about Him, the better your conscience will be. You should not “always let your conscience be your guide.” It is capable of being misinformed. If you fill your mind with what the world teaches, your conscience will guide you incorrectly.

Paul writes about people like this in Romans 1:18–32: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God, or give thanks; but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures. And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful; and, although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them.” Conscience alone will never be able to lead people into a relationship with God. In fact, conscience without Scripture leads us away from God and causes us to have incorrect priorities and to value what is wrong, not what is right.

The sanctity of human life also rests on the foundation of the image of God in man. Capital punishment is taught on Genesis 9:6: “Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God He made man.” This applies to murder, abortion, suicide, and assisted suicide. These are all wrong because people are made in God’s image. Believers must remember this truth especially when thinking about issues dealing with politics and healthcare.

When God created Adam, he included in him the ability to know right from wrong. Because Adam disobeyed and sin entered the world, our ability to know right from wrong is tainted. Apart from Scripture our conscience will lead us in the wrong direction: it will never lead us to Christ.

Our personal resemblance to God
Our personal resemblance to God means that we are intelligent, able to make plans and carry them out, and can use language to talk to one another.

Our ability to know and think comes from being made in the image of God. Most of creation is not able to think. Mountains, trees, water, and other things don’t have brains with the ability of knowing things. There is no school for flowers to attend in order to learn how to be better flowers. That’s easy to understand. Due to modern science and the theory of evolution, it may be a little harder to comprehend that our minds and the brains of animals work differently. Animals simply respond to their environment, but they don’t make plans and carry them out. If an animal feels the sensation of hunger, it goes and looks for food. It doesn’t make a list and then run to the grocery store. A pride of lions doesn’t sit down and discuss which strategy will be best to use to attack a herd of antelope. Animals can be trained where to look for food and where not to look for food. They have a memory. They also have instincts to help them in their quest for food, but they don’t have the ability to know right from wrong. Through training, animals can do some amazing things, but apart from us training them, they would have never accomplished those things.

We, on the other hand, are born with the ability to know and organize truths about God. We certainly grow in knowledge, and due to our finite, sinful minds, sometimes organize those truths incorrectly, but everyone is born with the ability to “know.” Due to the effects of sin in this fallen world, sometimes that ability is limited, but that does not mean the image of God is absent. Ultimately we can never know everything about God, because he is the Creator and we are the creation, but our minds have the capacity to know him because he made us in his image. This ability to know things and use our minds sometimes gets us into trouble. Because we are depraved, we can use what God has given us in ways that are not pleasing to him, but that doesn’t negate the fact that we are made in his image.

Another part of God’s personal image in man is the gift of language. God chose to communicate with us through human language (Gen 3:8). He did not give a Bible to the animals, but only to people. The Bible is made out of words. God could have chosen whatever he wanted to use to give us the Bible, but he chose human language. Speech can be used in a way that does not reflect God’s image in us. Paul talks about lying and the image of God in Colossians 3:9–10: “Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him.” The reason that we as believers aren’t supposed to lie to one another is that we are progressively becoming more in the image of God and to lie would be to hinder that growth.

Responsibilities of Being Made in the Image of God
Because you are made in the image of God you are able to use words to communicate, and you must do that in a way that pleases God. Look at what James says about your words. “But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father; and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way. Does a fountain send out from the same opening both fresh and bitter water? Can a fig tree, my brethren, produce olives, or a vine produce figs? Neither can salt water produce fresh” (Jas 3:8–12). James points out that the reason we aren’t supposed to use demeaning language about other people is that all people have been made in the image of God. It’s very easy to sin with your mouth. The New Testament teaches that you should never use your mouth to gossip, lie, complain or swear, along with many other unprofitable uses. Instead, you as a believer should be characterized by encouraging and edifying speech that is truthful and seeks to glorify God and his Gospel.

Because you are made in God’s image, you are able to fellowship with him. While your fellowship with God is limited due of the presence of sin, it must not be non-existent due to your incorrect priorities. Daily Bible reading and a life characterized by prayer are the foundation on which an obedient believer builds his growing Christian life. The image of God in man enables God to talk to you, and you to talk to God. Animals can’t do that. Mountains can’t do that. Trees can’t do that. Only people can. Don’t trade your God-given, special, unique ability for what you can see and touch around you here on earth.

Because you are made in God’s image, you are also able to imitate some of his attributes. God is perfect, and all of his attributes are perfect. Even though you are sinful and finite you are still able to mirror some of those divine characteristics. God’s love, mercy, grace, faithfulness and patience are limitless and sin-free. Your ability to reflect these attributes comes as a result of being created in God’s image. How are you doing at being a mirror that reflects God himself?

Paul and James both base commands for New Testament believers on the truth that humans are made in the image of God. Therefore, sin coming into the world did not take that God-given resemblance completely away from us. Sin has obscured it though. Just like a foggy mirror, sinful man is incapable of reflecting God even in the way Adam and Eve did before the Fall. In order for you to begin resembling God, you must first believe that it is the payment of His Son that covers the debt of your sin. No one can get to God except through Christ. After salvation, a believer must battle every day to resemble his Creator, and not his old master. “In reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and . . . be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth” (Eph 4:22–24)). What are you doing each day to renew your mind and put on your new self so that you will grow in your resemblance to God? Satan and his world are working tirelessly to keep your resemblance to God as foggy as possible. Fight back using the armor God has graciously provided.

Remember the responsibilities you have as a result of being made in God’s image. How is your speech? Are you using it to honor God and promote his Gospel? Do you use your words to encourage and edify other believers? What is your walk with God like? Are you distant from him? Are you reflecting the qualities of God that he has enabled you to reflect? You have been fearfully and wonderfully made. Take time to consider the answers to these questions as you think about the fact that you have been made in the image of God.

September 2009


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The OBF Visitor is the official publication of the Ohio Bible Fellowship. Feature articles from past issues of the Visitor are made available here for your use. You may read, distribute, and use this material as long as you do so in its entirety and without modification. All articles © The Ohio Bible Fellowship.


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