Theology 101

You Are Made in the Image of God. Here’s What That Means for Your Life and Work.

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Being made in God’s image bears great implications for your own dignity. Since the Fall, what aspects of God’s image have you lost, what aspects have you retained, and what does all this mean for your life and work?

What Is Lost

Two New Testament passages indicate what aspects of the image of God have been lost in humanity 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.

The fact here that “true knowledge” is being renewed means that it must have been lost in the Fall.

Similarly, Ephesians 4:22-24 says that conversion involves laying “aside the old self,” being “renewed,” and “putting on the new self,” meaning being restored in the “likeness of God…in righteousness and holiness of the truth.”

Drawing from both passages, the attributes that have been lost and are now being renewed in the image and likeness of God are:

  • True knowledge
  • Righteousness
  • Holiness

This could serve as a summary of all the virtues or attributes that were a part of the image and likeness of God in the original creation. In creation, image bearers were directed towards God.

Now, as a result of the Fall, the direction has been reversed; rather than saying “Thy will be done,” people say, “My will be done.”

We have lost our direction and gone against the way we were created by God. After the Fall we pursue ignorance, unrighteousness, and unholiness. Yet redemption leads to a renewing of that which has been lost.

What Has Been Retained

If we have rebelled against God and lost our direction, how can mankind still be said to remain in the image of God?

The image of God consists not just in what people do or don’t do, but also in who people are. Who we are as human beings evidences the image of God in three ways:

  • Reason: The early church fathers such as Iranaeus thought that the image of God consisted in reason. This view was also held by Thomas Aquinas and John Calvin.
  • Relationship: Other Christian thinkers such as Karl Barth have emphasized the relational aspect of God – noting that God says in Genesis that he has made humans in his image.
  • Rule: Genesis 1:26-28 tells us that God made humans in his image and then commanded them to exercise rule, or dominion, over his creation. God is a ruler and creator, and we have been given creative gifts and the cultural mandate, that we, like him, might be co- or sub-creators in developing creation.

In his excellent book Created in God’s ImageAnthony Hoekema proposes other related qualities of the image of God that mankind has retained after the Fall, such as,

  • Mankind’s moral sensitivity
  • Our capacity for worship
  • Volitional powers
  • Aesthetic sense
  • The gift of speech

Another important way of seeing the image of God in humanity is mankind’s “response-ability.”

God is a relational being, one God in three persons in an eternal relationship of love. Personality, relationship, and love are at the core of the cosmos. We were made to respond appropriately to God, others, and the creation.

As Genesis 3:1-19 portrays, the Fall alienates people from God, from each other, and leads to the ground being cursed and work made difficult. Redemption works to restore “response-ability” in all three of these dimensions.

Implications for Life and Work

These aspects of the image of God have three major implications for how we live our lives and pursue our vocations.

Because humanity has lost true knowledge, holiness, and righteousness, our gifts cannot reach their full potential without the Spirit’s help. In Exodus 31:1-5, two artists were were chosen because of their skill to make the Tabernacle and all its utensils. Note that the Spirit gives them further skill. Our gifts, and our ability to rightly use them, are withered, deformed, and misdirected because of the Fall. These gifts can be developed, redirected, and used to their fullest potential through the Spirit’s help.

Reorienting ourselves requires the help of God and others. The Fall has taken the good structure of God’s creation and twisted it, and our gifts. Because we lack true knowledge and holiness apart from the Spirit, we need God’s help and the help of others in the Church to reorient ourselves.

Three-dimensional response is the proper response. Responding to God, others, and creation are aspects of our humanity because we still bear God’s relational attributes. God made us for intimate relationship with himself and with others. Unless you know your gifts and have an appropriate outlet for them, you will not experience the energy and creativity that God has given you.

Pursue intimacy with God and others in the body of Christ. Seek wise counsel on how you can better use your gifts. If you do, you will sense an integration and wholeness in your life.

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  • John Walton of Wheaton wrote in “Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament: Introducing the Conceptual World of the Hebrew Bible” that the phrase “image of God” has to do with authority and not similarity. Pharaohs were made in the image of their god, meaning they reigned in place of the god. Pharaohs and kings sent out representatives “in their image” which meant they had the authority to act in place of the king. That was the predominant use of “in the image of…” in Moses’ day. If that is what Moses meant, then the phrase means each human has the authority to act in God’s place on earth. It’s similar to a priesthood of the believer.

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