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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    Thank you Mr, Whelchel for this post.

    To expand on this…


    Created in His image, we are a spirit, with a soul, and a body. Without understanding this, one will never appreciate not only God’s creation, but one’s complete self, nor to “know no man after the flesh” (2 Corinthians 5:17) and entering the Kingdom of God.

    For what man knows the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knows no man, but the Spirit of God. (1 Corinthians 2:11)

    “The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).

    And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Thessalonians 5:18-23)

    God does not appeal to your reason. He appeals to your spirit.

    But there is a spirit in man: and the inspiration of the Almighty gives them understanding. Great men are not always wise: neither do the aged understand judgment. Therefore I said, Hearken to me; I also will show mine opinion. Job 32:8-10

    The spirit of man is the candle of the LORD, searching all the inward parts of the belly. Proverbs 20:27

    Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it. Ecclesiastes 12:7

    Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said to you, You must be born again. The wind blows where it lists, and you hear the sound thereof, but can not tell where it comes from, and where it goes: so is every one that is born of the Spirit. Nicodemus answered and said unto him, How can these things be? John 3:5-9

    God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth. John 4:24

    It is the spirit that quickens; the flesh profits nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life. John 6:63

  • gary

    If God created us in His Image.
    After the fall of Adam and Eve’s sin,did we lose Gods image in our soul?

    • Hugh Whelchel

      Good question. The bible teaches that we were made in God’s image (Gen. 1:28). Even after the Fall, we still bear the image of God, yet that image is severely broken. We no longer reflect the righteousness of God because of the complete corruption of sin. This is pointed out after the Fall, in Genesis 9:6, that man is made in God’s image, which is why it is a sin for a man to take another man’s life. A good book on this subject is Designed for Dignity by Richard Pratt. The link below is to a number of lectures Richard did on the book. You might find them helpful.

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