Read Gen 1:26-28: Image of God: What it Is: What does it mean to be created in the image and likeness of God? While the concept is assumed throughout the scriptures, it is never really defined. Which has led some theologians and philosophers to speculate, seeking to define what aspects of our nature or humanity are god-like. Our creativity? Our intellect? Our moral character? Our capacity of love? And while some of this is good speculation, it is still that, speculation. And so we have to be disciplined to hold ourselves closely to the text and not go beyond.
The phrase “image of God” is not unique to the Bible. The other ancient kingdoms had texts that referred to the image of God. You may have heard of the Egyptian king Tut? Well his name, Tutankhamen, literally means, “the living image of the god Amun.” He was thought of as being God’s representative, ruling on earth. Ancient kings would often set up images of themselves in distant lands over which they ruled in order to represent their sovereign presence.
Another example of this representative image is found in Matthew 22:17-22 when Jesus asks “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” 21 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.” Caesar is represented in His likeness in the coin, therefor the coin belongs to him. It is an extension of his rule. "The image is a physical manifestation of divine (or royal) essence that bears the function of that which it represents; this gives the image-bearer the capacity to reflect the attributes of the one represented and act on his behalf.” Pastor John Piper picks up on this idea of reflection by using the illustration of a mirror set at a 45 degree angle. See the face of the glory of God and reflect God’s glory outward.
Image of God: How it is applied: We get much more seeing the image of God applied. There is some sense in which we’d find agreement and disagreement with the broader culture.
We Affirm the Dignity of All Humans Made in God’s Image Perhaps the most important thing we need to understand about our being created in the image of God is the unique dignity that it assigns to all people, great or small, by virtue of being related to God. Of no other created being great or small is it ever said of them that they are created in God’s image. We alone are to be his image-bearers. We do not decide or define or declare who get’s to be image-bearers. That is not our call. God has declared who are His image-bearers. All Humanity, regardless of ethnicity
- No Racism,
- Male and Female - No Sexism,
- Rich or Poor - No Classism
- Foreigners or native-born - No Nationalism
- Singles or Married, Parent or Childless
- The GLBTQ: Orlando Nightclub
Do I radically affirm all people as being made in the image of God - even if I disagree with their political opinions, their lifestyle, or how they express or identify themselves? Love does not affirm every action or every attitude, but it affirms every image-bearer. We affirm image-bearers, but mourn when they continue in actions, attitudes and lifestyles that further mar the image of God in themselves. A helpful distinction to keep in mind here, is that while the Bible suggests that every human is created in God’s image, we are not all God’s children. Nowhere does God speak of the entire human race as his children, “but to those who received Him (Jesus) to those who believe in his name, he gives the right to become children of God” So we go into all the world affirming the dignity of all humans made in His image, but we press them to turn from their sins and turn to Jesus so that they might be children.
We Do No Violence and Curse No One
Genesis 9:6 reveals that the image of God remains intact after the fall and forms the ethical grounds for how we seek to preserve life and do no harm to others. “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.” Now some might say, doesn’t this verse contradict itself? For it says to not shed the blood of man, yet the penalty is that we should shed the blood of man? This is no contradiction. The first act is an act of violence. The second act, an act of justice. Because God affirms His image in us, He commands society to justly punish one who performs an act of violence against another image-bearer. It is because of the image of God in us, that our hearts cry out for justice when we see children abused, or women raped or sold into pornography, or the weak slaughtered. To affirm the image of God is to affirm justice. To deny the image of God is to let the guilty go unpunished. This is where the culture around us walks in daily contradiction. This generation seeks justice, but has rejected the image of God in humanity, and has thus cut themselves off from any sort of rationale for justice. We are for human rights - but we can’t agree upon a definition of human, nevertheless a definition of rights. Pick your cause - you’re against sex-trafficking? Why? Do you believe she is created in the image of God? No? She’s merely stardust, a random collaboration of molecules and minerals, that came from dust and to dust will return, and that no one will remember or care about in 100 years? Why does this matter so much to you, you who think the same thing about yourself? Because your conscience testifies against you that both she and you yourself are worthy of dignity and protection, because you are image-bearers of the Creator God who counts every offence against His image-bearers as an offence against his own just will.
This was revealed in His law. In Exodus 21 there are various laws regarding acts of violence against slaves and women. While some of the laws are very strange to us, they would have been more strange to the people of the ancient near east, for they took very seriously - even prescribing the death penalty - for acts of violence carried out against the most vulnerable in society. It was a capital offence to kidnap another and sell them into slavery. It was a capital offence to beat a slave to death. It was a capital offence if one struck a woman and caused an abortion. The image of God was affirmed through the just protection of life and the just punishment of life for life.
This is why Christians have been consistently pro-life, consistently anti-euthanasia. In the New Testament, the ethic is stretched even further, for those of us who are believers. For Jesus taught us:
Matt. 5:21 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.
James relates this directly to the image of God: 8 but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9 With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. 10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so.
We Care for Creation and Extend His Image into the World: Genesis 1:28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
This is the immediate application in the text. That we are to bear his image as we steward and have dominion over the earth. The text forces us to face up to the fact that we have a responsibility before or Creator to rule over and care for his creation. Its repeated twice, in verse 26-28 that we were created to “rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth”. The key phrase is found in verse 28, “subdue the earth”. David Atkinson’s commentary explains what this rule is:
We need to understand the sort of dominion human beings are to exercise in light of our status as God’s representative. Chapter two of Genesis will open up for us a picture of mankind as an estate manager, cultivating and protecting the God’s Garden. So it is as God’s representatives, and in the light of God’s creativity that men and women are to have dominion. It cannot therefore possibly be a lordly and exploitative dominion, but a responsible stewardship, a facilitating servanthood, which recognizes that all things derive from God’s hands.
It is part of our role as human beings, part of being created in the image of God, that we take responsibility for our environment. Yet it is more than that, we are to fill the earth as God’s representatives and his rule. We failed and we filled the earth with violence. Yet Christ, who is the true image of God the second Adam, has sent us again into the world to fill it with the knowledge of the Gospel.
We Who are of Christ are being renewed in His image One cannot ultimately know what it means to be created in the image of God, apart from the incarnation of Christ, who is the image of God. We all were created in the image of God. Christ, one the other hand, does not simply bear the image of God, but, as Colossians 1:15 says, he actually is the image of the invisible God. Being the image of God, Christ defines for us what that man is truly supposed to be. When we see Christ, we see who we were created to be.
Therefore, Christ is also the goal of our redemption. The Christian life is the process of becoming more and more conformed into the image of God in which you were created to be. Romans 8:29 tells us that those he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of His son. You hear this mantra these days, you hear in in the media, in schools, etc. this self-esteem mantra, “Be true to yourself, Be yourself, Be yourself.”. And what that mantra usually means to the people who say it, is don’t let anybody tell you what to do, don’t let anybody tell you who to be, you are your own person, you are to embrace yourself, you are to love yourself, and generally, the thought is to embrace yourself in all of your perfections and your imperfections as well. So the thought is that the world needs to accept me for who I am. You don’t like me? Tough rocks. I like me. I’m not changing who I am for anybody. That is not what the Christian gospel tells you. Yes, the Christian gospel tells you to be conformed to Christ, who is the image of God.
Let’s go back to that mirror: When we sinned we turned away from God, turned our backs on God, and fell in love with the shadow of the mirror. But as we all no, the mirror can be an oppressive master. In salvation, then the mirror is turned around once again. God gives us eyes to see and savour Jesus Christ, who is the image of God, and the glory of God, and we behold Him. Colossians, having declared Christ the image of God, speak of our salvation in this way:
9 Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. 11 Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.
So this is the Gospel. You were created in the image of God that you might be God’s dignified representative over all of creation, displaying his majesty in your unity and diversity in relationship with your fellow man. Yet at one time, you fell into sin. You turned the image of God into an idol. You worshiped and served the creation rather than giving thanks to the Creator. Sinmarred the image of God in you, stripped you of your dignity, and destroyed your relationship with God and with other people. However, Christ came to this earth, the image of the invisible God, and lived a life in full manifestation of that image, so much so that if we look on Christ, we see the Father himself. Yet, man could not stand to see his glory show us up, and we tried to destroy the image of God in him, just as it had been marred in us. However, the more ugly and twisted we became, the more beautiful he appeared, his image drawing us to himself. In love, He calls us to repentence. To turn away from those things that destroy his image in us, and turn to him – the one who restores us. As we follow him in faith, we find ourselves conforming more and more to his image and once again we ourselves reflect the image of God. In the new community of the church, we once represent him in his work of recreation and find ourselves in a community of love.
Renew in Knowledge - that is that we keep on continually looking at Christ as He is revealed in God’s word, God’s word is called a mirror in Scripture, and we gaze into it, the Spirit renews us and changes us, and transforms us, and holds us into the image of Jesus. The point of studying the word is to get eyes of self and see Christ. The point of prayer is to turn one’s soul from self and set your hope on God.
This is the image of God. Are you ready to be who God created you to be? Then come to Christ this morning in repentance and faith.