Ask Steve: The Image of God

 

Currently Reading:

Biblical Eldership: An Urgent Call to Restore Biblical Eldership

by Alexander Strauch

Category: Church Ministry / Biblical Studies

Lewis and Roth Publishers, 1995, 3rd Edition

 

 

 

 

Question: Steve, lately I have become interested in the topic of the image of God. But as I read my Bible, I don’t see any definition of what the image of God is. Can you help me understand what the image of God is?

 

Answer:

The image of God does not have a direct definition in Scripture, yet many passages comments about man in such a manner that it becomes evident that the image of God is a doctrine that Scripture teaches, and such teachings makes it clear that those made it God’s image are different and unique that those that are not. Humans are the only ones made in the image of God. Gen 1:26-27 makes this identification, which the rest of the Bible does not assign to angels, animals or any other living creatures. Many scholars and Christians differ as to what the image of God actually means. In response to your initial question, I must say that the image of God is more than the ability to walk upright.

Being made in the image of God means that we are like God in some ways and represent God. This does not mean that we are made like God in essence and being. We can never be mini-deities or be another ontological son like Jesus Christ. Rather, we as finite beings are made to mirror or reflect God’s image for the glory of God. We are made to represent God’s character. We are in God’s image in that we have intellectual, cognitive, and rational capacities that no other created things have. We also have moral capabilities, or the ability to understand right and wrong, and are thus held accountable to God because of it (Rom 2:14-16). Animals, reptiles, and fish do not have an understanding of right and wrong or a conscience, but humans do because they have been created like God in this respect. Humans also have relational and stewardship abilities that other created beings have (Gen 1:28; Psalm 8:5). Because of all these factors that show that man alone reflects God’s image, they are endowed with a sense of dignity and worth that no other created beings have. This becomes important to understand because it reveals why humans alone have been given the opportunity to be redeemed from sin, and how humans are to rightfully respond to God and to other people.

In terms of their relational and stewardship capacities, men reflect God’s image in their duties towards God, fellow men, and creation. In being made in God’s image, men are created to have a relationship with the Lord. He is to love, glorify, serve, and obey the Lord, since that is the reason why they exist, and they have moral accountability to Him. Isaiah 43:7 states this theme perfectly, “Everyone who is called by My name, and whom I have created for My glory, whom I have formed, even whom I have made.”

One of the Lord’s commands involves loving and having a right relationship with my neighbors, which is a crucial part of reflecting God’s image to others. This is the command of loving your neighbor as yourself (Matt 22:39; Mk 12:31).  In teaching the brethren, helping the poor, showing hospitality to our neighbors, evangelizing the lost, we live out an important aspect of God’s image. How we treat others and how we engage authority, service, and human institutions reflect how much we are reflecting God’s image.

Reflecting God’s image also involves being a proper steward of creation. We are called to rule over and subdue the world with proper care, according to God’s command in Gen 1:28. In doing so, we reflect God’s own nature of ruling over the heavens and the earth. In all of these relationships, love is at the center, since it is by love that God relates to and properly governs His creation.

We have a picture of God’s image as being mental, moral, and social. Humans have a rational and volitional capability which gives them the power and ability to choose, to relate to others, to be creative, and to have authority over creation. This is what it means to be created in God’s image. However, the image of God in man was affected when sin entered the world through Adam and Eve. Sin did not destroy or totally obliterate God’s image in man, but rather distorted and defaced it. We are still made in God’s image, but it is a flawed and broken image. God affirms this when He told Noah regarding the value of human life, “Whoever sheds man’s blood by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God He made man” (Gen 9:6). We still do have all the functions and traits that make us a reflection of God, but because of sin, we do not reflect them properly anymore. Sin has affected our relationship to God, to others, and to creation, in which we no longer relate to them as we were called to, but lord it over them and act with selfish motives.

Though the image of God was introduced as perfect in creation but twisted after the Fall of Man, Christ’s redemptive work on the cross was purposed to restore the perfect image of God in believers. Those who are justified by faith in Jesus Christ and indwelt by the Holy Spirit are given a new heart and new desires, which removes the believer’s love for sin. Because of this, believers have the ability to love God, seek Him, and obey His commandments. When this happens, the image of God is renewed in people (2 Cor 4:16). The sanctification process shows the Christian’s progressive renewal in the image of God as they become capable of once again reflecting and representing God the way that they were originally created to do. Because of the presence of sin, believers cannot reflect the image of God perfectly. When the Christian is glorified, he is forever removed from the presence of sin, and thus the image of God is fully restored to him. Afterwards, he will reflect God’s image perfectly forever on (1 John 3:2).

Having a right understanding of the image of God impacts how we obey God and how we respond to our neighbors and worldly issues. Because we are made in God’s image, we come to understand that Christ died for humans alone so that they can be saved from eternal punishment. This privilege is not extended to angels or animals. Understanding this also helps us to know our place in relationship to other created beings. We are not the same as animals and should not categorize ourselves as such. Evolutionary theory and animal rights activist may think that animals have as much dignity and worth that we do, but Scripture affirms that we are of higher worth and dignity than animals, and even over angels (Hebrews 1:4-14). We are called to subdue creation and to rule over animals, but not to do abusively. We must be responsible in how we relate to them.

Understanding the image of God also informs us about how we are to treat others and respond to social and political issues. We understand that taking a human life is serious because it is the murder of someone made in God’s likeness. This is why the Bible upholds capital punishment as a just retribution for murderers (Gen 9:6; Lev 24:17-22). Understanding God’s image in humans also makes practices like abortion wrong, since unborn infants are still created in God’s image. Babies should be protected from such acts of injustices. The image of God may be applied to other areas as well, such as our treatment of people of other races, which must never amount to racism. Even when we deal with people who are struggling with sin issues like drugs, alcohol, sexual immorality, and idolatry, we must not treat them with indignity, but rather how Scripture calls us to treat them with love and patience (while at the same time not condoning or encouraging their sinful behavior). Understanding God’s image also helps us to not abuse human institutions and to treat wives, children, employees, slaves, and laypeople as if they were not of the same essence as us, but to exercise our relationships and responsibilities to them in love and humility.

 

Recommended Reading Resource: Created in God’s Image by Anthony Hoekema