God's Image—The Difference Maker | thebereancall.org

TBC Staff

Are we just another animal? We can argue about DNA, brain size, and upright stature, but Genesis 1 emphasizes an infinitely greater privilege that sets mankind apart.

Implications of an Anti-Biblical View: Atheism views man as simply a material being like all other animals. In many ways, this is the predominant view of popular culture: man may have “evolutionary advantages” over animals in reason, communication, and some physical abilities but is not a spiritual or sacred being with a purpose and destiny higher than that of the animals.)

In this view, man lives and dies like the beast. Thus concentration camps, gulags, killing fields, and abortion clinics are all monuments to atheism. Such degraded views of man—particularly in denying that man is made in the image of God—inevitably industrialize human misery.

Biblical Worldview: God’s Word, in contrast, views man as the pinnacle of God’s handiwork. On the sixth day of Creation, as His final work, God created man as a physical and spiritual being. His physical aspect was formed from the ground (Genesis:2:7) and his spiritual aspect came from God (Ecclesiastes:12:7). The animals, created on Day Five, resemble man in that they were also formed from the ground (Genesis:2:19) and have the breath of life (Genesis:1:30, 6:17, 7:15, 7:22; Ecclesiastes:3:19). But although the animals resemble man in certain aspects, man surpasses them because God breathed directly into man and because He made man in His own image. Thus God crowned man with glory and majesty to rule over the works of His hand (Psalm:8:5–6).

But what exactly is the image of God and what are the implications of man being made in His image? The answers and applications of such questions are essential to the Christian because they dictate human happiness or wretchedness—and often life and death. The image of God consists of the spiritual part of man that reflects the character of God and is the only firm basis for advocating the dignity of man, the sanctity of life, and the gracious redemption of sinners.

The Image of God: Its Nature: Genesis references the image of God three times (Genesis:1:26–27, 9:6). In Genesis:1:26–27, God made man in His image—a phrase repeated in verse 27 for emphasis—that man might rule over nature. The word image often describes physical objects that are “cut out,” such as the physical images of false gods (2 Kings:11:18) or the golden images (replicas) of the mice and tumors that God had sent as plagues upon the Philistines (1 Samuel:6:5).1

Man was created in His image. This is no idle emphasis. Some interpreters have questioned whether the preposition should be read “as our image” in order to argue for a physical image of God. Others have tried to minimize the implication that we are like God in many ways. But the preposition in is significant here. It depicts the standard or pattern in which God created: God created man in (the pattern of) His image.2 Similarly, in Exodus:25:40, God commanded Moses to make the furniture of the temple “in [the pattern of] their structure.” In Genesis:9:6, the image of God is mentioned again as the reason for capital punishment because man is made in the image of God. In all three cases where the phrase appears in Genesis, God’s image sets man apart from the rest of the earthly creation as a reflection of God, equips man to rule over nature, and ennobles human life.
The image of God is further explained in Genesis:1:26 by the complementary prepositional phrase “according to our likeness.” Likeness means “resemblance” or “similitude.”3 Often used in comparisons (something is like something else), likeness usually describes appearances (something resembles something else in appearance). Ezekiel, for example, compares the likeness (appearance) of the faces of heavenly beings to the face of man (Ezekiel:1:10). The preposition in the phrase “according to His likeness” means “the like of, like, or as,” so God created man in His image as the like of His likeness. The theologian John Laidlaw opined that the image of God refers to “those features in God of which man is a copy.”4 Simply put, God’s image reflects similarities between God and man.

But how is man similar to God? Certainly, the resemblance excludes the physical body since God is a spirit (John:4:24). Moreover, it excludes creaturely limitations since God is infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in all His attributes (Psalm:90:2Malachi:3:6Jeremiah:23:24). Man resembles God in having a free, rational, personal spirit, including a conscience with God’s law written upon his heart (Romans:2:14–16); therefore, man can rule over nature in a way similar to how God reigns.5 The Targums, the official interpretation of the synagogue in the time of Christ, explain man’s rational, personal spirit in Genesis:2:7: “And it [the breath of life] became in man as a spirit that speaks.” Human beings, in contrast with the animals, can reason, converse, and fellowship with each other. But most important, because man resembles God spiritually, he can fellowship with God.

But to fellowship with God, the image of God in man must reflect God’s holy character, especially in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness—as characterized by and the products of the truth. In Colossians:3:10, Paul speaks of God’s image: “And [we] have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him.” In regeneration, God is renewing His image within us in the true knowledge of God. Such knowledge of God is eternal life.

In the parallel passage, Ephesians:4:24, Paul writes, “And that you put on the new man which was created according to [the image of]6 God, in true righteousness and holiness.” Paul reveals that God’s image includes more than a free, rational, personal spirit but that God’s image originally possessed a knowledge of God, righteousness, and holiness that was permeated by truth. This type of righteousness and holiness reflects God’s moral excellence. Again, humanity’s resemblance to God is spiritual. Sin destroyed the original knowledge, righteousness, and holiness that Adam possessed; so man is born alienated from God, “dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians:2:1), though still possessing the image of God now damaged by sin. Regeneration, however, begins the process of renewing the image of God by restoring the lost knowledge, righteousness, and holiness in the believer. This process continues to the end of the believer’s earthly life.