December 18, 2017

What Is the Image of God in Man?

Fred Moritz

And 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 fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them (Gen. 1:26, 27).

What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him? For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, And hast crowned him with glory and honour (Ps. 8:4, 5).

The Bible places great value and dignity on human life. We are told that God created human beings in His image. As part of God’s original creation, man was “very good” (Gen. 1:31). God gave glory and honor to mankind and made humans stewards of His earthly creation.

In this brief article we plan to describe the meaning of those statements in Genesis and elsewhere that teach how God’s image in man was ruined by sin and how it will eventually be fully restored in eternity.

The Image of God in Creation

“Image” in the Old Testament basically refers to a representation, a likeness. Five times it is used of man as created in the image of God.[1] “Likeness” is a synonym. It emphasizes “that man is not just an image but a likeness-image. He is not simply representative but representational. Man is the visible, corporeal representative of the invisible, bodiless God. … Man is an adequate and faithful representative of God on earth.”[2]

Scripture indicates that God created us with intellectual, spiritual, and moral qualities that reflect the One who created us (Col. 3:9, 10; Eph. 4:24; Rom. 2:14, 15). God is a spirit, and thus man bears no physical likeness to his Creator. But God designed man’s body according to His own unique design.[3]

The Genesis account reveals that God had at least two purposes for creating man. First, He created him to have dominion over the earth (Gen. 1:28; Ps. 8:4, 5). He commanded Adam and Eve to reproduce and fill the earth (Gen. 1:27). He put Adam in the garden to care for it (Gen. 2:15); gave him instructions for eating (vv. 16, 17), and created Eve for Adam’s good (vv. 21–24). Second, Scripture teaches that God created him for fellowship with Himself. God communicated with Adam and Eve, and it seems there was a regularly appointed time for fellowship between God and man (Gen. 3:8).

The Image of God and the Fall

Adam’s sin radically affected him and all of us—his descendants. Sin entered the world by Adam, and the effects of sin and the penalty of sin have thus passed on all of us (Rom. 5:12). The perfect fellowship between God and man was broken by the fall.

We are totally depraved sinners, and yet the image of God still remains.[4] Scripture applies that truth to all of humanity in at least three ways:

  • First, God instituted capital punishment for murder because the murderer takes the life of a fellow human who was made in the image of God (Gen. 9:6).
  • Second, Paul declares that man is made in the image and glory of God (1 Cor. 11:3–7). “Man, then, was God’s authoritative representative who found in woman a divinely made ally in fulfilling this role (Gen. 2:18–24). In this sense she as a wife is the glory of man, her husband.”[5] Thus, “God’s image in man continues to be the basis for functional distinctions in the home and church (1 Cor. 11:7).”[6]
  • Third, James declares that use of the tongue to curse men is egregious because we use the tongue to bless God and curse man who is made in the “similitude” of God (James 3:9). “Similitude” indicates “to make like, likeness, resemblance.” This is the only New Testament use of this word, and “man is said to bear God’s likeness. Although theologians continue to debate about the precise nature of the imago Dei in man . . . one thing is certain from this passage, namely, that even fallen man retains some semblance (however badly marred by sin) of the divine impress given him at the original creation.”[7] This ought to cause us to seriously consider how we speak of our fellow man.

God created us in His image. That likeness is badly marred by sin and yet remains. These three implications of the imago Dei still apply to all mankind even though we are depraved sinners.

The Image of God in Salvation

Even before the creation, God knew that Adam would sin. In grace unique to His own character, He purposed to provide salvation for sinful mankind. “Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began” (2 Tim. 1:9).[8] Upon Adam’s sin God began to reveal and work out His eternal plan of salvation. Scripture clearly teaches

  • That God still seeks fellowship with sinners (John 4:23).
  • That Christ is the only way to God (John 14:6).
  • That eternal life is a living relationship with God through Jesus (John 17:3).
  • That those who come to God through Christ are saved (Heb. 7:25).
  • That Christ died to restore mankind to fellowship with God (1 Pet. 3:18).
  • That God’s work of sanctification in believers is a progressive recreation of the image of God (2 Cor. 3:18; Eph. 4:24; Col. 3:10).
  • That in eternity the image of God will be completely restored in believers (Rom. 8:29; Phil. 3:20, 21).
  • And that the curse will be removed and perfect fellowship with God will be restored (Rev. 21:3–4; 22:3).

In summation, everything that was wrecked by the fall and resultant curse will be fully and completely restored in eternity!

Romans 8 and 1 Peter 3:18 are among the passages teaching that this restoration is effected by the finished work of Christ at Calvary.

After salvation, part of God’s work of sanctification in those who are saved is to restore the image of God that was ruined by the Fall. Believers have been made new creatures in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17), and their positional sanctification is to be worked out in their life (Eph. 4:24; Col. 3:10). The Holy Spirit performs a progressive work of sanctification, gradually changing the believer into the image of God’s glory (2 Cor. 3:18).

God will completely and ultimately restore His image in those who have come to Him through Christ. He has predestined believers to be conformed to the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29). With Paul we eagerly look for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform the body of our humiliation to be conformed to the body of His glory (Phil. 3:20). In that day God’s sovereign purpose will be fully accomplished, and we will be perfectly conformed to the image of His Son. We will have glorified bodies like His. With Paul, we eagerly look for the Savior.

Fred Moritz serves as associate professor of Systematic Theology at Maranatha Baptist Seminary.

(Originally published in FrontLine • July/August 2014. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.)

  1. R. L. Harris, G. L. Archer, and B. K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (electronic ed.) (Chicago: Moody Press, 1980, 1999), 767. []
  2. Ibid., 192. []
  3. See Rolland McCune, A Systematic Theology of Biblical Christianity (Allen Park, MI: Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary, 2009), 2:26–29. []
  4. Ibid., 29–30. []
  5. David K. Lowery, “1 Corinthians,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, Vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 529. []
  6. McCune, 2:30. []
  7. S. Zodhiates, The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament (electronic ed.) (Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 2000, c1992, c1993) G3669. []
  8. The Holy Bible: King James Version, Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version. (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009), 2 Ti 1:9. []

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