A Primer on the Image of God

The amazing truth about being made in the image of God is that man is the pinnacle of God’s creative activity. Think about it for a moment: you look like God. In Genesis 1:26 the Triune God says, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” The next verse says God’s image-bearers were complete in that they were made “male and female.” Imago Dei (Latin for “image of God”) is the doctrine that humanity, both men and women, is in some respect designed to resemble divine likeness. Millard Erickson writes that the image of God “is the powers of personality that make humans, like God, beings capable of interacting with other persons, of thinking and reflecting, and of willing freely.” Wayne Grudem says being made in the image of God means that we are, simply, like God.

The beauty of God’s creation of man is that it was not complete with the creation of male. If men are honest, we know we are incomplete in ourselves (and for those of us who are married, we’re reminded of that daily). God, in his wisdom, provided a helper for us. Adam was found by God to be alone and this was “not good” (Gen. 2:18, the only time this phrase appears in the first two chapters of Genesis). God therefore decided to make Adam a “helper fit for him” (v. 18). In making Adam a helper, God took a rib from Adam’s side, creating woman, and God brought her to Adam (v. 22). Here we see the first wedding with God, as the Father, walking Eve down the garden aisle to her husband Adam who bursts out into song as he rejoices over his wife (v. 23).

Eve’s creation draws out many implications. Here’s two: 1) Because Eve was made a “helper fit” for Adam, she was meant to compliment and correspond to Adam as one who would assist and challenge him in the cultural mandate that God gave to mankind (see Gen. 1:28). Therefore, wives are to help and support their husbands as they assist them in their God-appointed calling. 2) Eve was taken from Adam’s rib, illustrating the fact that she is to stand beside Adam as equal. She was not taken from behind to be inferior nor from the front to be superior. Therefore, wives are equal to their husbands in worth, value, and dignity. Yet, they are not the same in role and function. Wives stand beside their husbands and operate in the relationship with their unique abilities and skills.

There’s been debate throughout the centuries as to what “image” and “likeness” means. Are they different? Identical? Sparing the details, it’s probably safe to say they mean the same thing. Martin Luther asserted this view, while saying that the uncorrupted divine image is God’s intention for mankind, but only a corrupted image is what is present after the fall. John Calvin adopted a similar view. This seems to be the preferable view in light of several Scriptures (e.g. Gen. 9:6; Acts 17:27-28; 1 Cor. 11:7; James 3:9). The fall distorted God’s image in mankind so that now we do not perfectly represent God’s image and likeness. But there’s no evidence from Scripture that men and women have completely lost God’s because of sin. Therefore even non-Christians are to be loved and cared for because of their inherent value as image-bearers of God.

Though we do not perfectly reflect God’s image, we still have hope! Jesus Christ has bested God’s image as the only obedient man. He is the complete revelation of the image of God. One of the reasons God prohibited the worship of images in the Law (Ex. 20:4) is due to the fact that he already had an image of himself, waiting to be sent, whom we would worship: Jesus Christ. Hebrews 1:3 perhaps puts it best: “[Jesus] is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature.” We have failed to represent God as he intended, but praise be to God, Jesus is all that we were supposed to be.

Through his redemptive work in the gospel, Jesus now creates a new humanity (Rom. 5:12-21; 1 Cor. 15:20-28). In light of the gospel, we are now being restored back into imago Dei (Rom. 8:29; 2 Cor. 3:18; 4:16). On the last day, when Christ returns in great glory, the image of God in believers will be fully restored. The apostle John tells us about this great hope: “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2).

Check out these helpful resources to dig deeper into the image of God:

One Comment Add yours

  1. jonthewatson says:

    You might be interested in the 7-volume Millard J. Erickson collection that Logos Bible Software just made available for pre-order.



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