Theology 101

Seven Timely Reminders About the Image of God

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Martin Luther once said that if he could understand “Our Father,” the first two words of the Lord’s Prayer, as Christ did, the rest of his life in Christ would fall into place. Luther’s observation shows that it is easy to use God’s words but much more difficult to grasp the reality that they signify.

This applies to the concept that each person was made in the “image of God.” Here are seven timely reminders to help believers grasp the profound significance of the term’s meaning.

1. We Are All Made In The Image Of God

That mankind was made in the image and likeness of God is announced at the beginning of Genesis: 

Then God said ‘Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth.’ And God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. (Gen 1:26-28, NASB)

Note that mankind is made in the image and likeness of God, meaning that human worth is connected to the Creator. If God is of great and inestimable worth, then human beings made in his image must be of great value. Note also that man and woman have equal dignity before God as his image-bearers.

It is contradictory for Christians to walk into church proclaiming the worthiness of God while cursing someone who God created in his likeness. How believers treat people is an indication of how they value God.

2. The Fall Didn’t End Our Image-Bearing

The Fall has not taken away the humans’ inherent dignity as image-bearers of God, but it has caused them to lose something in their relationship to God, each other, and creation. There are a couple New Testament passages that indicate what aspects of the image of God have been lost as a result of the Fall.

Colossians 3:9-10 says,

Do not lie to one another since you laid aside the old self with its practices, and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him. (NASB)

That “true knowledge” is being renewed in this passage means that it must have been lost in the Fall. Similarly in Ephesians 4:22-24 (NASB), it says that conversion involves laying “aside the old self,” being “renewed,” putting on the “new self” which means being restored in “likeness of God…in righteousness and holiness of the truth.” Righteousness and holiness are being restored here. 

3. There Are No Ordinary People

One of my favorite quotes from C.S. Lewis says “there are no ordinary people. You have never met a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations, they are to our life as the life of a gnat.”

The people one sees every day—even the ones to whom one gives little regard—are ones that are going to live forever either under salvation or judgment. Even the most obscure person is not ordinary in God’s eyes.

On one occasion, C.S. Lewis and Walter Hooper were talking about a man who was unbelievably dull. Hooper remarked that the man amazed him by the very intensity of his boredom. Lewis responded, “Yes, but our Lord may well have said as ye have done it unto the least of these, you have done it unto me.”

4. We Should Not Focus on Our Sin for Long without also Noting God’s Grace and Our Own Dignity

Today, some focus on our dignity and self-worth without much mention of our sinfulness. Others have overemphasized man’s utter unworthiness and sinfulness without any note of his dignity, or of God’s grace.

The apostle Paul is an example for balanced contemplation on this issue. He never mentions the depth of his past sin without also mentioning God’s grace. For instance, in 1 Corinthians 15:9-11 (NASB), Paul writes “For I am the least of the apostles, who is not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.” While he seems to hold a very low view of his own merit, he goes on to say, “But by the grace of God I am what I am and His grace toward me did not prove vain.”

Every believer can say the same. No matter what anyone has done, God’s grace works in him or her. To deny or fail to acknowledge this is to say that God’s grace equals nothing. To focus on one’s own sin without acknowledging what God has done in one’s life is to insinuate that Christ has died “in vain.”

5. The Restored Image of God Looks Like Christ

While the image of God remains after the Fall, it is certainly marred and defaced. As Christians are redeemed, what will they look like when the process is completed? On the one hand their individuality as created by God will shine even more brightly, and their gifts will reach their full potential. On the other hand, they will look like Christ.

According to Romans 8:29 (NASB), Christians are being “conformed to the image of His Son.” 1 John 3:2 (NASB) says, “we know that when He appears, we shall be like Him because we shall see Him just as He is.” Jesus is the perfect representative of the image of God, and his followers are being made like him.

6. As Christians Experience Redemption and Restoration, They Will Reach Their Potential

One’s gifts cannot reach their full potential without the Holy Spirit’s help. In Exodus 31:1-5 we see two artists who were already gifted and chosen because of their skills to make the tabernacle and all the utensils in it. But it says that the Spirit put further skill into the hearts of those who were skillful. Our gifts are withered, deformed, and misdirected because of the Fall. They can be developed, unfolded, redirected, and brought to their potential through the Spirit’s help.

7. God Will Free His Followers From Distortion

Charles Williams used to say about everything in the creation “this is Thou,” meaning the divinely intended use for this thing, and “this is not thou,” meaning the divinely-prohibited abuse of this good created thing. For instance, food and financial resources are all good things but can easily be abused. One of the demons in C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters says:

He [God] is a hedonist at heart. …He makes no secret of it – at His right hand are “pleasures forevermore” …He’s vulgar, Wormwood. He has a bourgeois mind. He has filled His world full of pleasures. There are things for humans to do all day long…sleeping, washing, eating, drinking, making love, playing, praying. Everything has to be twisted before it’s of any use to us.

The Fall takes the good structure of God’s creation and twists one’s gifts so that they are “this is not thou” rather than “this is thou.” We need God’s help and the help of others in the body of Christ to untwist ourselves so that we can be what we are created to be.

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