At Work & Public Square & Theology 101

What It Means to Be Made in God’s Image

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Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

–  Genesis 1:26-27

“All human behavior, when analyzed deeply enough, will be found to be motivated by the desire for life and flourishing, individually and corporately,” writes biblical scholar Jonathan Pennington. But is this true?

It is true because it speaks to the way each of us was made. In Genesis 1:26 God says, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness.” What does it mean that we are made in the image and likeness of God?

What the Trinity Teaches Us

It means we were made to be relational beings. The orthodox doctrine of the Trinity recognizes God is one God, co-existing in three distinct persons of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is clearly taught in the scriptures, and has been recognized by the Church since the second century. These three persons of the Trinity are forever in perfect relationship with each other. There has always been and always will be absolute love, joy, and peace within the Godhead.

Therefore, one of the things that “made in the image of God” means is that man was made to be in relationship. This has both a vertical and horizontal component. Vertically, man was made to be in relationship with God.

This is at the very heart of the Christian gospel. The universe in which we live was created by a good and gracious heavenly father who filled it with good things to enjoy and moral laws by which to structure to our lives. But the chief  aim of life is neither to enjoy the good gifts, nor obey the laws, but to know and be known by our creator. This loving relationship between man and God is the way things are supposed to be. Our purpose, fulfillment, delight, and very life itself flow from this relationship.

Finding Flourishing & Delight

John Piper, in his classic book Desiring God, explains that God has designed each of us with an innate desire to pursue happiness and flourishing. The problem is not that we seek pleasure; the problem is that we seek pleasure from idols found outside our relationship with God. God does not condemn people for seeking happiness, but for seeking it from sources other than himself (Jeremiah 2:13).

Scripture commands us to find delight in God: “Delight yourself…in the Lord” (Psalm 37:4). This is why Charles Spurgeon writes in his commentary on Psalm 108:

It is my glory to be able to speak and not to be a dumb animal, therefore my voice shall show forth thy praise; it is my glory to know God and not to be a heathen, and therefore my instructed intellect shall adore thee; it is my glory to be a saint and no more a rebel, therefore the grace I have received shall bless thee; it is my glory to be immortal and not a mere brute which perisheth, therefore my inmost life shall celebrate thy majesty.

As God’s redeemed people today, the flourishing we so deeply long for can only be found in a right relationship with God, one that is established for us through Jesus Christ. Then we can understand we were made to be stewards of the King, and through that stewardship we bring about flourishing. As Christopher Wright states in his book, The Mission of God’s People:

When God created the earth, he created human beings in his own image with the express mission of ruling over creation by caring for it – a task modeled on the kingship of God himself. The human mission has never been rescinded, and Christians have not been given some exemption on the grounds that we have other or better things to do.

As our vertical relationship is restored with God, we can fully realize the correct horizontal relationship with the rest of creation. It is in this realm that we are called to bring about flourishing for our families, ourselves and our communities. This is the work God has called us to do in order to bring glory to himself.

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