What is the “Image of God”?

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“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness’ … So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:26-27)

What did the writer mean by the idea of being “made in the image of God”? Clearly, he was differentiating between the creation of humanity and all other aspects of creation. In fact, though it might seem a scary way of putting it, he was pointing to an intrinsic “godlikeness” in humanity.

A big claim! But whilst we immediately recognise that we are not gods (!), we often act as if we’re the god of our own lives. Again, this idea of image suggests dependency rather than autonomy. The shadow cannot exist without the substance.

It also suggests responsibility. Having been given so much, how then shall we live?  To be fully human is to fully reflect God’s creative, spiritual, intelligent, communicative, relational, moral and purposeful capacities.

So, what does it mean to be created in God’s image? The Hebrew root of the Latin phrase for image of God—imago Dei—means image, shadow or likeness of God. You are a snapshot of God. At the very least this means humans occupy a higher place in the created order because we alone are imprinted with godlike characteristics. I heard a TV preacher say this, and I don’t think he was half wrong, once you think about it: “Your godlikeness is the path to your destiny.”

As John Piper put it: “You are most yourself when the God who made you is fully expressed.”

But in what way are you an image of God? How are you godlike?

First, the truth about you is that you are creative because God is creative: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). God made us makers, poets, artists, designers, builders, dreamers, actors, singers, scientists…. Creating and imagining new things is in our DNA.

The second truth about you is that you are spiritual because God is Spirit: “The Spirit of God was hovering over the waters” (Genesis 1:2). Every human possesses spiritual aptitudes and capacities. We are more than the sum of our physical parts. Our spiritual nature, though unseen, is as real as our physical nature. Nurturing our spirit is as important as eating, drinking and exercising are to our physical body.

The very essence of God is spiritual, and that essential quality has been imprinted on humans.

A third truth about you is that you communicate because God communicates: “God said, ‘Let there be light’” (Genesis 1:3). Anthropologists agree that the emergence of symbolic language—first spoken, then written—represents the sharpest break between animals and humans.

A fourth truth about you is that you are intelligent because God is intelligent: “In the beginning was the Word [logos, a Greek word meaning reason, or logic] and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1).

Logical sequential thought flows from the orderliness of God’s mind. As a result, though we are not all intellectuals, we each possess a mind and a way of thinking and learning, so Jesus commanded us to love God with our minds (as well as our hearts and all our strength).

A fifth truth about you is that you are relational because God is relational:It is not good for man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18). As we noted before, the phrase, “Let us make man in our image” reveals an “us-ness” in the very nature of God. The very being of  the godhead is  a tripartite relational community, and that essential quality has been imprinted on humans.

A sixth truth about you is that you are morally responsible because God is a moral being. “And the Lord God commanded the man, ‘You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die’” (Genesis 2:16-17). Just as there are natural laws that govern the universe, universal moral laws govern human behaviour.

When we fully grasp what it means to bear God’s image, we are at once struck with both the grandeur and the tragedy of our unrealized possibilities. To be fully human is to fully reflect God’s creative, spiritual, intelligent, communicative, relational, moral and purposeful capacities.   In God’s infinite creativity there are no duplicates; you are the only you there has ever been or ever will be.

As a final thought, John Wesley used the idea of “Image of God” thinking to explain the full meaning of salvation and all that it meant.

“By salvation I mean not barely according to the vulgar notion deliverance from hell or going to heaven but a present deliverance from sin a restoration of the soul to its primitive health its original purity a recovery of the divine nature the renewal of our souls after the image of God in righteousness and true holiness in justice mercy and truth.”

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5 Responses to What is the “Image of God”?

  1. Michael Rodgers says:

    Amen.

    “By salvation I mean not barely according to the vulgar notion deliverance from hell or going to heaven but a present deliverance from sin a restoration of the soul to its primitive health its original purity a recovery of the divine nature the renewal of our souls after the image of God in righteousness and true holiness in justice mercy and truth.”

    kenbaker | December 4, 2015 at 9:18 pm | Categories: Uncategori

  2. EKMCronin says:

    This is the exact topic of the essay I am writing this week. I thought I’d add that we are not yet fully the imago Dei too, if Christ is the perfect image, and we are becoming more like Him, God is still working on us, purifying us, and it is an eschatological concept too, part of a “now and not yet” kingdom image. The closer we get to get, the more we follow Christ, the more Christ-like we become. It is His plan for humanity, a kind of destiny, and one full of grace.

    I’d also say that too often the image of God is used to separate us from creation. I believe this to be a distraction, we are meant to be looking up to God, not down to what we could be superior too. There will of course be fingerprints of God in the rest of His creation, but the image of God is about who HE is, not what we are better than.

    Great article 🙂

    • kenbaker says:

      Hiya! Thanks for that. You’re obviously flying a little higher than the audience for which I’m currently writing!
      Whilst the Genesis narrative clearly uses the idea of “image” as a dividing point between humanity and other forms of creation, God is still supremely Lord, whilst we are mere farm managers.But in the narrative, man is called to name the animals, to exercise rule and to “subdue” the earth. All “godlike” qualities, right? So I can’t quite accept the word “distraction” though I do see your point.

      • EKMCronin says:

        Although I get that, I think it has caused some pretty horrendous problems in how Christians (not al but some) have exploited the environment, particularly in recent times. The royal language is of course there and yet the biblical/Christ ideas of what being a king is are about serving, which is often lost in the interpretation.

        By distraction I think I just meant that people tend to focus on why we are superior and therefore can do whatever we like, it tends to connect to an attitude of “well, we’re in charge so it doesn’t matter if we…” which leads to what I would say is an abuse of God’s creation. Also, in terms of naming, Adam also named Eve, which could mean women are on the same level as animals.. but I wouldn’t suggest that is a safe subject for this conversation 😉

        I think you are writing at a great level! I just can’t help digging into fascinating subjects 😀

  3. Al DeFilippo says:

    Thank you for the post. For more on John Wesley, I would like to invite you to the website for the book series, The Asbury Triptych Series. The trilogy based on the life of Francis Asbury, the young protégé of John Wesley and George Whitefield, opens with the book, Black Country. The opening novel in this three-book series details the amazing movement of Wesley and Whitefield in England and Ireland as well as its life-changing effect on a Great Britain sadly in need of transformation. Black Country also details the Wesleyan movement’s effect on the future leader of Christianity in the American colonies, Francis Asbury. The website for the book series is http://www.francisasburytriptych.com. Please enjoy the numerous articles on the website. Again, thank you, for the post.

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