Q: #396. What does it mean that we are made in God's image?
A: The phrase “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” is first mentioned in (Gen 1:26), and then referred to two more times in (Gen 5:1) and (Gen 9:6). (Most scholars say “image” and “likeness” are essentially the same.) This is sometimes called the “imago dei,” taken from the Latin for “image of God.” Since the Bible is not clear on what the exact meaning of this phrase is, there are several theories. However, one theory is by far the most prominent, and the one I see as most likely, so we will focus on that one.
First, we must understand that being made in the “image of God” is NOT referring to a physical likeness to God. The Bible is clear that God is a “spirit” (Jn 4:24), and “invisible” by nature (Col 1:15)(1 Tim 6:16)(1 Tim 1:17)(Heb 11:27). Jesus said that “a spirit hath not flesh and bones” (Lk 24:39). Jesus “took on the form” of man (“became flesh”) when He came to Earth (Phil 2:7-8)(Jn 1:14)(Rom 8:3)(1 Jn 4:2-3). That was not His natural form. This being the case, the “image of God” must be referring to the non-physical aspects of man that resemble God.
Of all things that God created, man is His crowning achievement. Man was the last living being (or thing) that God created. (Gen 1:26) goes on to say that God gave man: “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” (Also see: Gen 9:2, Ps 8:4-8). No living being, except for man, is said to have been created in the image of God. As such, I find it helpful in understanding how we are made in the image of God to compare how man differs from every other animal.
The ways in which we differ are numerous. Most importantly, we have the ability to have a personal relationship with the Lord, and to pray and worship. God has chosen to make His presence known to man alone through the light and testimony of creation (Rom 1:18-20)(Ps 19:1-2) and conscience (Rom 2:14-15). He has written His laws upon on our heart (Heb 8:10)(Heb 10:16)(Jer 31:33). God has given man a sense of morality and justice, an appreciation for beauty, music, and art, we love, we laugh, we create and build, we reason, we communicate with spoken and written language, we give grace and show mercy, we are self-aware, and more. All of these things are a reflection of our Creator, an “image of god.”
When God first created man, he had other attributes of God as well such as: sinlessness, no sickness, no pain, no death. However, when Adam and Eve committed the first sin, these attributes were lost, and many of the attributes that we still share with God became distorted. (We did not lose all attributes since later verses say we still bear the image of God: Gen 9:6, 1 Cor 11:7, James 3:8-9.) This is where the importance of Jesus comes into play. The Bible says that Jesus is the EXACT image of God (2 Cor 4:4)(Col 1:15)(Heb 1:3)(Jn 14:9-11). The Bible also says that we are to become more and more like Jesus each day (2 Cor 3:18: “being transformed into the same image”)(Rom 8:29: “to be conformed to the image of His Son”)(Eph 4:13,15)(Phil 3:12-14).
We CANNOT become more and more like Jesus, until we first make Jesus our Lord and Savior (“put on the new man:” Col 3:10, Eph 4:24). When we confess that we are sinners, repent of our sins, and accept Jesus’ payment for our sins, the Holy Spirit comes to live inside of us (Eph 1:13-14)(Eph 4:30)(2 Cor 5:5)(2 Cor 1:22). This is called “justification.” After we are justified, then we become “sanctified” (“sanctification“). “Sanctification” is the process whereby we strive to become more and more like Jesus, and thereby come closer to being the “exact” image of God that Jesus represents. When we get to Heaven one day, this is called “glorification,” and it will again be like it was in the Garden of Eden.
***Note: Clarifying a little more: ALL of mankind (“in the image of God”) is able to “love,” however, once a person is in Christ, they will experience love in a whole new way. Mankind might have an understanding of “peace,” but once in Christ, a person can experience peace “which passeth all understanding” (Phil 4:7). (Receiving this peace is a part of my testimony.)
Therefore, summing this up, ALL of mankind is made “in the image of God” through non-physical attributes that resemble God. Because of sin, we lost some attributes, and others that we share were distorted. However, through a personal saving relationship with Jesus, the lost attributes will one day be restored, and the distorted attributes can be “transformed” and “conformed” to more closely resemble Jesus, who is the EXACT image of God, and the example of how to live our lives.
P.S. I thought I would throw in a quote that I like by an unknown author related to this topic: “In the beginning God made man in His own image, and since the fall, man has been seeking to return the compliment.”