October 2009 Issue
Man ~ Made
in the Image of God
by Don Dunavant
The Palmist asks, What is man
that You remember him, the son of man that You look after him?
(Psalm 8:4). Today's culture does not take a high view of man,
and answers to the question "What is man?" would vary,
depending on whom you ask. But the biblical answer to this question
is that men and women are created in the image of God (Genesis
1:26-27). Thus, to truly comprehend what it means to be human,
we must understand imago Dei, the image of God in man.
The study of the doctrine of imago Dei must address
four questions. First, what does it mean that man and woman have
been created in the image of God? Second, how was the image of
God in man marred or affected by the Fall? Third, how is the image
of God in man restored in salvation? Fourth, how is this truth
significant to us today? This article will focus on the first
three questions by looking at the theological aspects of the image
of God. Then it will take up the fourth question by exploring
the practical applications of imago Dei.
Theological Aspects of the
Image of God
That we are created in the image of God says something awesome
about God in His creative purposes. It also says something wonderful
about the uniqueness of humans in God's grand design. But what
does it mean? The theological challenge in imago Dei is
the fact that the Bible does not define explicitly what it means
that humanity is made in the image of God.
Three authors provide helpful theological direction for us.
Wayne Grudem pointed out that the words used in Genesis 1:26-27,
"image" (tselem) and "likeness" (demut)
in the Hebrew "refer to something that is similar
but not identical to the thing that it represents or is the 'image'
of."1 Therefore, Genesis 1:26, "would
have meant to the original readers, 'Let us make man to be like
us and to represent us.'"2
Bruce Ware noted that "the image of God in man involves God's
creation of divine representations (images of God) who, in relationship
with God and each other, function to represent God (imaging God)
in carrying out God's designated responsibilities."3 Anthony Hoekema wrote that the image of God
"describes not just something that man has, but something
man is."4 Building on these
observations, a theological construct for imago Dei begins
The Meaning of the Image of God
Several characteristics in the uniqueness of humanity help
us understand the meaning of the image of God in man. While this
is not an exhaustive list, the following seven characteristics
reflect imago Dei.
We are spiritual
beings. We are created to represent and worship our God who
is Spirit. Human beings are not merely material beings. When God
created the first man, He breathed into his nostrils the breath
of life (Genesis 2:7), making man a living soul and giving
to him spiritual life. Only humans are able to relate to God in
worship and communication. A vital component of this spiritual
nature is immortality human beings that will never cease
to exist but will live forever.5
We are personal
beings. We are created by a personal God, and our personhood
reflects that aspect of God. He created humans with personality,
as unique individuals with self-consciousness and purpose. While
every man and woman share common characteristics, no two people
are alike. Since each individual is stamped with the image of
God, each human life has significance before God.
We are moral
beings. God is holy. He created humanity with a moral compass,
a conscience that gives each of us an inner sense of the difference
between right and wrong. The conscience may be deadened or seared
by sin, but it remains hardwired in man. The hardest question
for both atheists and evolutionists is how to explain the moral
nature in the human race, in every culture, in every people group,
and even in every religion. Moreover, man's moral capacity makes
him accountable to God for his actions.
We are relational
beings. God reveals the relational nature of the Trinity in
this phrase: Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our
likeness (Genesis 1:26). God created us with the capacity
to relate both to God and to others. Humans were not made to live
in isolated individualism. Thus, the image of God is involved
in how we relate in marriage and in the fellowship of the church,
and how we relate to others in the Great Commandment and the Great
Commission (see Genesis 2:18-25; Matthew 19: 1-12; Galatians 3:26-29).
We are rational
beings. God is a God of knowledge. While our knowledge is
limited, God created us with the capacity to think, to know, and
to learn. Christianity is not a mindless faith. Just the opposite.
The intellectual aspect of imago Dei means that our minds
are a vital part of how we are to love God (Matthew 22:37), that
we are to cultivate our minds (Ephesians 4:23), and that we are
to renew our minds for transformation (Romans 12:2).
We are emotional
beings. We are made in the likeness of God who Himself is
love. It is the emotive facet of our makeup that allows us to
experience intimacy with those close to us, to feel compassion
for others, and to know the deep awe of God that causes us to
delight and find soul satisfaction in Him.
We are creative
beings. God is the Creator. His glory is displayed in His
creation. We have an insatiable desire to create, whether producing
a piece of art, starting a business, writing a book, or landscaping
the yard. While our creativity is different from God's, who made
everything from nothing, the linkage of the image of God in man
in creation to the cultural mandate in Genesis 1:26-27 speaks
to our creative responsibility. Nancy Pearcey observes that the
first phrase, be fruitful and multiply, may mean: "to develop
the social world: build families, churches, schools, cities, government,
laws." She suggests the second phrase, subdue the earth,
means: "to harness the natural world: plant crops, build
bridges, design computers, compose music. This passage
tells us that our original purpose was to create culture and build
civilizations nothing less."6
The Image of God and the Fall
The characteristics listed above are how we have historically
understood the image of God in original creation. The question
now is how did the Fall affect the image of God in men and women
since? The first response is that the entrance of sin did not
eradicate or destroy imago Dei. The clearest demonstrations
of this are God's communication with Noah after the flood establishing
the death penalty for murder because "God made man in His
image" (Genesis 9:6) and James 3:9 which indicates we have
retained the likeness of God.
However, the image of God in humans was deeply marred or distorted
by the Fall. Men and women died spiritually. Humanity's relationship
with God was ruptured, as well as interpersonal relationships.
Moral purity was lost, replaced by a sinful nature. Personality
was corrupted, producing an array of psychological problems. Knowledge
was degraded by false philosophies and vain imaginations. Emotions
were turned to selfish desires. Creativity was despoiled by evil
purposes and pursuits (Romans 1:18-32; Ephesians 2:1-3; 4:24-32).
The uncorrupted image of God was replaced by the fallen image
of the fallen Adam (Genesis 5:1-3).
The Image of God and Salvation
However, the Good News of Scripture the central message
of God's revelation is that in redemption we are made a
new creation and the firstfruits of the new creation (Colossians
3:12). Through sanctification, the believer in Jesus Christ progressively
grows in godliness, conforming more and more to the likeness of
God (2 Corinthians 3:18). This on-going process of spiritual growth
involves both a response on our part to God's purpose in our salvation
and the deep work of God in our lives. Our response is seen in
such passages as Colossians 3:10 where we are exhorted to put
on (an act of conscious commitment) the new man, who is being
renewed in knowledge according to the image of his Creator.
The work of God is His providence operating in all our life situations
to conform us to the image of His Son (Roman 8:28-29).
That which started at salvation will be completed when Christ
returns. Imago Dei will be restored because, when He appears
we will be like Him (1 John 3:2).
The Practical Applications
of the Image of God
There are profound implications and applications of imago
Dei for the Christian and the church. John Piper highlights
the significance it gives to us as human beings offering this
definition: "The imago Dei is that in man which constitutes
him as he-whom-God-loves."7 Regardless
of how the image of God may be distorted by sin, the fact that
men and women are still bearers of the image of God shapes our
view and action toward others. Six critical areas of application
Evangelism and Missions.
The image of God in every man and woman everywhere gives emphasis
to the priority of evangelism and missions. Since humans were
created in the image of God and yet are fallen sinners, they miss
out on their ultimate purpose in life to glorify God by
reflecting Him, loving Him, and worshipping Him. Evangelism and
missions is God's appointed means to restore us to our original
purpose. Moreover, the immortal aspect of imago Dei underscores
the urgency of reaching out to those who do not know the Lord
Jesus. Their eternal destiny is at stake.
Sanctity of life.
No issue since slavery has so divided our nation as abortion.
The reasoned voices for life must be heard. Nothing emphasizes
and promotes the sacredness and preciousness of life more than
imago Dei. It goes to the core of the meaning of life.
It means that human life is to be reverenced and respected. Our
stand against abortion is grounded in the fact that abortion is
a sin against God as the creator of life and against the human
life of the unborn (whether embryonic, fetal, or viable) as those
who bear His image.
in imago Dei is the dignity or worth of each individual.
This has a profound impact on how we see, relate to and treat
others. C. S. Lewis stated it well, "There are no ordinary
people. You have never talked to a mere mortal."8
Clearly, the image of God in man condemns any type of bias toward,
discrimination against, or exploitation of anyone on the basis
of skin color (racism), gender (sexism), economic status (classism),
ethnic origin (ethnocentrism), or age (ageism) as sin. James 3:9
highlights the dignity accorded to man by pointing out the contradiction
of using our mouths to bless God on one hand and on the other
to curse people who are made in God's likeness.
Sexuality. The high
Christian view of sex is based on the fact that God created man
and woman in His image as sexual beings with a commitment to marriage
(Genesis 1:26-28; 2:21-25). The sexual union of a man and wife
is created for intimacy, fidelity, and faith. The intimacy of
marriage also represents the Trinitarian relationship of God and
man's intimacy with God. Marital fidelity one man and one
woman as one flesh for one lifetime is used throughout
the Scripture to represent the people of God and their fidelity
to Him. By faith, we trust that God's provision for our wellbeing
and our best restricts sexual intimacy to the bonds
of marriage. The implications go to the heart of biblical sexual
morality in a world plagued by pornography, premarital sex, extramarital
sex, and homosexuality. One, it distinguishes man from the animal
kingdom, for whom sex is merely a biological function devoid of
any spiritual meaning, committed attachment, or moral parameters.
Two, it warns us of how we dishonor God when we fail to reflect
His image by taking sex outside the wonderful and ennobling relationship
of marriage. Three, it is a positive guide to flourishing in marriage
to the glory of God.
Compassion toward others
in need. When we look at other people through the lens of
being bearers of the image of God, it is impossible to close our
hearts to those who are suffering, poor, or marginalized. In His
earthly ministry, Jesus healed the sick, fed the hungry, and delivered
those held captive by the demonic. While He was moved with compassion
by the temporal needs, He saw that meeting those needs was a bridge
to meet the greater need and bring people to salvation. And so
it is for us Gospel-driven ministries of mercy are viable
visual representations of the mercy of God and grace of the Lord
The Church. Jesus
Christ is the image of God (Colossians 1:15); there is a sense
in which the church, as the Bride of Christ, is the image of God
in Christ (Ephesians 1:22-23). The church, as God's new humanity,
represents the image of God by living with one another in shalom
(peace), by loving our neighbors as ourselves, and by passionately
sharing the Gospel with a lost world.
A robust view of imago Dei is an essential component
of a biblical worldview. It informs our understanding of both
the purposes of God for us and what it truly means to be human.
In a culture that increasingly diminishes the value of man, concluding
that the human is merely one more animal produced in a random
evolutionary process, it is critical that Christians embrace the
biblical account and treat others accordingly, both inside and
outside the community of faith.
1 Wayne Grudem,
Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine
(Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 442.
2 Ibid., 444.
3 Bruce Ware, "Male and Female Complementarity and the Image
of God" (The Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood Journal,
4 Anthony A. Hoekema, Created in God's Image (Grand Rapids:
Eerdmans, 1986), 95.
5 Grudem, Systematic Theology, 446.
6 Nancy Pearcey, Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its
Cultural Captivity (Wheaton: Crossway, 2004), 47.
7 John Piper, "The Image of God: An Approach from Biblical
and Systematic Theology" (Studia Biblica et Tehologica,
March 1971, www.desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/Articles/ByDate/1971/22271).
8 C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory and Other Essays (San
Francisco: Harper, 1976), 46.
Don Dunavant is a member of Fellowship in
the Pass Church in Beaumont, California, and Professor of Christian
Studies at California Baptist University in Riverside, California.
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