‘You are the very image of your dad’ is a comment I have often received from those who knew my father. Our facial features, voice and perhaps certain mannerisms or turns of phrase can remind people of our parents.
Human beings the world over are a reminder to us of God. It is a fundamental belief among Christians that we humans have been created in God’s image, and it is often expressed when we are in conversation over certain moral and social issues. Yet, how can this be when one of the fundamental truths about God is that he is invisible and spirit? In addition, we are also told not to make any images of God (Ex. 20:3).
All human beings can be described as ‘God’s offspring’ (Acts 17:28). The first human was in some sense a ‘son of God’ as Seth was a son of Adam, and David a son of Jesse (Luke 3:23-38; Gen. 5:1). It should also be remembered that God is the only one who can create a true representation of himself and who has the right to do so. All human efforts fail and are blasphemous.
Humans are unique
While the whole creation is remarkable and witnesses to God’s being and nature (Ps. 19) only humans resemble God (Gen. 1:26-30). ‘Image’ and ‘likeness’ emphasise that we humans, male and female, are a representation of God and are in some respects like God. This is what makes us distinct from the rest of creation. Only of humans did God deliberate with himself before creating them and then spoke personally to them and made them his representatives on earth to oversee the rest of creation (Gen. 1:26-30). While all living things that breathe have the ‘breath of life’ (Gen. 7:22), only of humans does the Bible state that ‘God breathed into his nostrils’ (Gen. 2:7), thus expressing metaphorically a more intimate personal bond. The triune God, Father, Son and Spirit, has made us to have a special relationship with himself. As he communicates with himself, so he can communicate with us in such a way that we can appreciate his mind and will.
It also means that God holds us responsible for all our thoughts and actions and we are accountable to him. As we are not purely spirit but have bodies by which we express our thoughts and actions, it is important to add that the whole human person, body and soul, images the triune God who is spirit. We humans are finite, created representations of the infinite, uncreated God. Though angels are at present a little higher in rank than humans, they were never created in God’s image and will soon be ruled by humans (Ps. 8:5-6; Heb. 2:5-10; 1 Cor. 6:3).
A disfigured image
God’s image was spoiled when Adam and Eve rebelled against God so that the whole human race which is descended from them no longer images God in the way they did when they were first created. Despite this tragic situation, we sinners have not entirely lost that likeness. We still remain human beings even though we can sometimes behave like brute beasts. There is no hint that God’s image was lost in humans of either sex (Gen. 5:1; 9:6; 1 Cor. 11:7; Jas. 3:9). It is because we still bear the divine image, even if it is in a distorted, corrupted state due to sin, that we shall be judged as humans and the unrepentant will experience eternal damnation.
Christ, the image of God
Jesus the Messiah, the perfect man, is described as the image and glory of God (2 Cor. 4:4). He is the image of the invisible God, the exact representation of God’s nature (Col. 1:15; Heb. 1:3). By taking human nature, he assumed a creaturely existence that displayed most wonderfully that divine resemblance, so that the incarnate Christ could say, ‘He who has seen me has seen the Father’ (John 14:8-9). Since the man, Jesus the Messiah, was without sin we see that image of God in all its perfection. What we observe in Christ’s humanity is what God intended when he created humans and what will be true of everyone who belongs to Christ in the new creation.
The Christian’s destiny
That which was lost and defaced as a result of human sin is restored through belonging to Jesus who lived, died, was resurrected and ascended to God’s right hand in order to bring his people to glory. God predestined his people to be conformed to the image of his Son (Rom. 8:29-30). Those who belong to Jesus Christ have put off ‘the old man’ or ‘old self’ and have put on the new which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its creator (Col. 3:9-10).
From this new position in Christ, Christians are urged to put off all the characteristics of the old life in Adam and to put on the lovely features that we see in the second and final Adam, Jesus Christ (Eph. 4:22-32). Such traits as ‘righteousness and holiness’ that were lost through Adam’s disobedience as well as love for God and his people should characterise the life of a Christian more and more. This restoration of the perfect image which is now taking place will, at Christ’s second coming, be complete when we shall be like him for we shall see Christ just as he is in all his purity (1 John 3:2-3). This will include new glorified bodies like the Lord Jesus’ resurrection body (1 Cor. 15:49-53). We shall share his glory.
What does this mean for us?
The truth that humans are made in God’s image means:
- We were created to worship the Creator not the creature (Rom. 1:21-25).
- We shall only find true satisfaction in God (Is. 57:19-21; Matt. 11:29).
- We are not robots but responsible to God for our actions and failures (Acts 17:31).
- We are without excuse concerning God (Rom. 1:18-20).
- Our rebellion against God deserves the ultimate punishment (Mark 9:42-48).
- All air-breathing life deserves respect but human life is special (Matt. 6:26).
- No human in life or death is rubbish or worthless (1 Sam. 31:8-12; 2 Sam. 1:4-6; Amos 2:1)
- All lives matter and that includes children, women and men of any race and colour and all who are despised by others for whatever reason (Luke 6:34-36; 7:36-39; 18:9-14,15-17; 19:5-7; 24:46-47).
- Murder is a crime that deserves the penalty that speaks of the ultimate punishment (Gen. 9:6; Jas. 3:9).
- God sovereignly chose to go to infinite lengths to redeem humanity (John 3:16; Ps. 49:5-15; 1 Pet. 1:18-19).