Tuesday, July 18, 2023

The Image of God

“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’ 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 is the image of God? The creation of man is different than anything that preceded it. Man is created with divine deliberation and in the image of God. 

Mankind is the image of God.

God created man in his image, after his likeness. The inclusion of “male and female” means that mankind is made up of male and female and that therefore both male and female humans are made in the image of God.

Notice that God did not make some part of man in his image, but he made man in his image. Contrary to what some say, the image of God is not the soul or the mind or any other part of man, but man. It does not say the soul was created in God’s image, but that man was. Man is made in God’s image and is therefore God’s image.

Mankind is the image of God. This means two things: man represents God and resembles God in the earth.

Genesis 5:1-3 connects the ideas of image and son. The son resembles his father and represents his father. Especially in an ancient household, the son would represent his father and would bear his authority under him. Likewise, Adam was created as a son of God (Luke 3:38), to resemble God and to rule God’s earthly household on his behalf. As Paul said to the Athenians, “as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are indeed his offspring.’” (Acts 17:28).

The doctrine of the image of God shows us what you are and what you are called to do. If you learn that a rock is a statue, you know what it is and what it is supposed to do. It is a statue that represents someone and it is suppose to resemble that person.

Mankind represents God.

Man is God’s representative on earth, his vice-regent. This status gives man special dignity and value. By making man with this status, God has crowned him with glory and honor (Ps. 8:5).

Besides sonship, two other analogies probably would have come to mind to the first readers of Genesis. First, in the ancient world, many kings regarded themselves as the image of God, as those who represented and ruled for him. Second, kings made images of themselves to symbolize their authority throughout their kingdom.

As one commentator as put it, “Just as powerful earthly kings, to indicate their claim to dominion, erect an image of themselves in the provinces of their empire where they do not personally appear, so man is placed upon earth in God’s image as God’s sovereign emblem” (Gerhard von Rad). Just as a king might set up statues and flags and images on coins to assert his reign, so God has set up man as a symbol of his royal authority on earth.

And just as a king would take an attack on his images personally, so to mistreat man is to attack God. “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image” (Gen. 9:6, see also Prov. 14:31 and James 3:9-10).

Since man is God’s representative, he ought to be respected and his life ought to be protected. Humans are owed a basic respect due to being made in the image of God, a respect which includes all lawful endeavors to preserve human life.

In Genesis 9, God explains that murder is wrong because it unjustly takes the life of one who bears God’s image. Biblical ethics provides a reason to value all humans, grounding their right to life not on their level of intelligence, physical abilities, racial identity, or usefulness to society, but as beings made in the image of God.

Contrary to this teaching is the practice of racism, that is, animosity, contempt, or injustice on the basis of race, for all people groups are descended from Adam, made in the image of God. This teaching also forbids abortion and contempt for the life of the unborn, because a person’s right to life depends not on independence or mental capacity, but on his or her identity as a human, made in the image of God. This is not imputed to them at some point in their life. To be human is to be in the image of God. Mankind, like the rest of creation, produces according to its kind. From conception, the child is made in the image of God (Gen. 5:1-3).

So avoid murderous thoughts, murderous and reviling words, murderous acts, and situations that needlessly endanger yourself or others. Use kind and courteous speech to your fellow man and promote peace. Defend and support human life by responsible provision, charity, care for health, self-defense, and supporting the state’s administration of public justice as it seeks to vindicate the dignity of God’s image.

Since you represent God, you ought to resemble him. You ought not misrepresent him, but rather reflect his nature in the earth, doing all to his glory.

Mankind resembles God.

Mankind was created with a resemblance to God. Man resembled God to display his glory on earth. In particular, as God’s representatives, we are made to resemble/reflect him in knowledge, righteousness, holiness, and dominion.

Mankind was created both with the ability to resemble God and an actual resemblance to God. He was made as a rational being with true knowledge. He was made as a moral being with true righteousness. He was made as a religious being with true holiness. He was made as a productive being with true and good dominion.

Dominion is an obvious resemblance in Genesis itself. God has been exercising his power and dominion, working on each day, forming and filling the earth. Now he creates a being who will have dominion over his creation and work the earth. We are sub-creators who image God in our work, resembling him and representing him, working on his behalf.
“The emphasis that is placed upon this dominion and its close relationship with the creation according to the image of God indicate conclusively that the image comes to expression in the dominion and by means of it must more and more explain and unfold itself.” (Herman Bavinck)
Man was made as a rational being with true knowledge. This aspect is pointed out in Paul’s discussion of the image’s renewal. Colossians 3:10, “and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.” Think also of how knowledge and wisdom is discussed in Proverbs, as active in God’s work of creation and as something which man is to take hold of and exercise.

With this knowledge, man can communicate with one another, and reason about and investigate this world. We learn about creation, about ourselves, about God. With this knowledge man can exercise dominion in wisdom in a way similar to God. While man’s knowledge is limited, it is sufficiently like God’s to communicate with God.

Man was made as a moral being with true righteousness and a religious being with true holiness. We find these two traits in Ephesians 4:24, “and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”

True righteousness is conformity to the moral perfection of God. His nature is righteous. And his moral law is not an arbitrary expression of his whims, but a definition of what it looks like for man to reflect his righteous character. Unlike the pagan gods who expressed human vices on a supernatural scale, the true God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. He is faithful and just. His children ought to be as well.

True holiness is total consecration to God and separation from the defilement of sin. You shall be holy, for the Lord your God is holy (Lev. 19, 1 Peter 1). God is set apart, undefiled, and pure - completely good. He is “inclined to all moral purity and recoils from all impurity of sin.” Mankind reflects God’s holiness by being totally consecrated to God, conforming its will to love and reject what he loves and rejects, demonstrating its devotion to him in worship and service.

Does man’s body resemble God?

While man resembles God in certain ways, he does not physically resemble God, since God is invisible and has no divine body. (Jesus has a body now, but only because he became man in history - the divine nature is spiritual and infinite, without a physical body: 1 Tim. 1:17, John 4).

Nevertheless, our bodies do express these resemblances as instruments. We use our bodies to communicate and apply knowledge, to exercise righteousness and holiness, to take dominion. As Paul said in Romans, our bodies parts ought to be instruments of righteousness. Our bodies do not physically resemble God, but our resemblance to God does express itself through the body. The whole man is the image of God. The whole man ought to obey him and confirm itself to his example. And it is because of the body that we can be visible images of the invisible God.
“The Bible makes man a unity … This living creature, then, and not some distillation from him, is an expression or transcription of the eternal, incorporeal creator in terms of temporal, bodily, creaturely existence - as one might attempt a transcription of, say, an epic into a sculpture, or a symphony into a sonnet.” (Derek Kinder)
That man is made in the image of God does not mean that anything true about us is true about God. You cannot argue that since we have bodies, God has a body; since are male and female, God is male and female; since we are creatures, God is a creature - no! We are made in his image, he is not made in our image. Unlike God, we are physical, visible, and finite. Unlike us, God is invisible, a pure spirit, infinite and eternal in all his attributes. And yet, despite these differences, man is a visible likeness of the invisible God, manifesting his character and glory with our whole being.

The differences between us and God make the resemblances all the more remarkable. Who are we to be called children of God? Who are we to talk to God? Who are we to imitate his work and dominion and represent him in his earth? And yet God has created man in his image, after his likeness, crowing him with glory and honor, setting him above the works of his hands.

Sin distorts the image of God, so that it needs restoration.

Humanity still has some dignity as God’s image, and should be respected as such (Gen. 9:6). Yet man has marred the image and acts contrary to it. In one sense, man no longer resembles God.

The doctrine of the image of God shows us what we are and what we are called to do. If you learn that a rock is a statue, you know what it is and what it is supposed to do. If it gets defaced, it is still a statue, but it does not fulfill its purpose well, and it is in need of restoration.

Man remains a rational, moral, religious, and productive being, but his thinking is blind to God and futile, his righteousness is filthy rags, his religion is idolatrous, and his dominion is ultimately vain and often cruel. Man has false knowledge, false righteousness, false holiness. Fallen man is a glorious ruin, a defaced image.

Humans are still to be respected and their life is still to be protected, but their worth only make their disgraceful depravity all the worse and all the more tragic. Man is still God’s image, but he is an image of God that has been defiled and the devil’s likeness imprinted upon it.

Thanks be to God that he sent Jesus Christ to save his people that they might “put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator” (Colossians 3:10).
“For as when a figure painted on wood has been soiled by dirt from outside, it is necessary for him whose figure it is to come again, so that the image can be renewed on the same material - because of his portrait even the material on which it is painted is not cast aside, but the portrait is reinscribed on it.” (Athanasius, On the Incarnation)
In Colossians 3 and Ephesians 4, Paul speaks of how Jesus restores the image of God in his people by the work of the Spirit, having crucified the old man on the cross and risen again that his people might be raised to new life. Those who follow him are being renewed in the image of God in every respect. The image of God is being re-engraved on the hearts of believers by the Spirit of God. “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.” (2 Cor. 3:18)

Jesus is the only hope of restoration. Apart from him, there is only the descent into disgrace and depravity and damnation. You and I must embrace him and his grace.

These truths gives us reason to do evangelism. Out of love and respect for the lost, we bring them the saving gospel, that they might be restored to their ancient glory.

And as those being renewed after the image of your Creator, put off your old manner of life and be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Put on the ways of the new self, being imitators of God. Seek after true knowledge, true righteousness, true holiness, exercising true dominion under God.

“And Jesus said to them, ‘Whose likeness and inscription is this?’ They said, ‘Caesar’s.’ Then he said to them, ‘Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’” (Matthew 22:20–21)
Caesar had a claim on the money for the temporal benefits he had provided to his empire, having stamped the symbol of his authority on the coins. But God made man himself in his image, and therefore has a total claim on man himself. Give to God what is his! Give yourself, body and soul, to God, for you a symbol of his dominion. Live as representatives of God, endowed with dignity under him, called to resemble him in everything you do. Hold fast to Jesus Christ, the head of the new humanity, for it is by his grace that you may be restored. He is restoring the ancient glory of man, recalling him to his purpose under God, saving him from his doom, that the glory of God may cover the earth as the waters cover the sea.

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