Have you ever written a creative story or created a piece of artwork that is born out of a memory or a feeling? If so, you know what it feels like to create something you are proud of and that reflects who you are. Just as a sculptor creates an award-winning sculpture that reflects who he or she is as an artist, we were created as the crowning glory of God’s creation, and we reflect him as an artist and a worker.
The climax of the creation account told in Genesis 1 is the creation of humankind—male and female—who are made in the “image and likeness of God.” Here is where we learn why and how God created humans.
These key words, “image and likeness of God,” reveal the nature of who we are. They are only found in a relatively small number of biblical texts, so we cannot define them exhaustively (Gen. 5:1–3, Gen. 9:6, Col. 3:9–10, Eph. 4:24–26, James 3:9, and some other related texts). Regardless, understanding these words is important for our identity as humans and our work.
Here are five key ideas you should know about being made in the image of God:
1. The image of God underlies the dignity, worth, and value of human beings.
To assault a human being physically (Gen. 9:6) or verbally (James 3:9) is a very serious offense because in attacking the image-bearer, you are also attacking the maker of the image. This means that offending someone offends God, because he is our creator. The James passage points out the inconsistency between one minute worshipping and praising God, and the next minute cursing his image-bearers.
As his image-bearers, humans have intrinsic dignity and value because of the image they reflect. Just think of something you have made and that you are proud of, like a painting. If someone were to criticize the painting, you would likely be offended because you worked hard on it, and you are proud of it. When we curse someone or call him or her a hurtful name, we are also attacking God by attacking his creation and his image.
2. The image of God is not totally lost because of sin.
Although most theologians agree that something is lost, the image of God is preserved despite the damage. As image-bearers, humans reflect God’s glory like a mirror, although imperfectly and unclearly due to sin and limitations. We are finite creatures incapable of fully reflecting the image of an infinite creator.
Because of sin, we have lost part of our original good image. Colossians 3:9–10 says that as a believer you have “taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.” If knowledge is being renewed, then it must have existed before and been previously lost or damaged.
Similarly, in Ephesians 4:22–24, since we are “made new in the attitude of our minds,” we are to put on the “new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” This process of renewal restores what we are created to be: righteous, holy, and no longer subject to corruption (Rom. 8).
So, knowledge, righteousness, and holiness seem to have been part of the original image of God.
3. Our relational nature is an aspect of the image of God.
God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—is in an eternal relationship of love. He has created us for relationship with himself, with others, and with the creation. The Fall alienated us and distorted all of our relationships.
The redemption we have in Christ restores our ability to respond to others and be in relationships, though we still struggle with the effects of sin. The more we grow in Christ, the more responsive we will be to him, to others, and to his creation.
4. The image of God is more than just one aspect of our identity; it is the whole nature of our being.
For instance, a number of characteristics make humans unique from animals (i.e., language, rational and abstract thinking, imagination, creativity, personality, moral judgment), but the image of God cannot be reduced to any one of these characteristics.
5. When we are fully restored in the life to come, we will become like Christ (Rom. 8:29).
1 John 3:2 says, “We know that when he appears, we shall be like him because we shall see him just as he is.”
These are big theological points, but they are vital to understanding your intrinsic value as a son or daughter of God.
- The more you reflect on and absorb these truths, the more they will help you build a sense of your own dignity, worth, and value.
- The more you believe that you have inherent value and something important to contribute to the world, the more confidently you can move into your calling.
Most of us struggle to completely grasp our inherent dignity. Failing to believe these truths is often a result of a deeply rooted sense of inadequacy. To fight against the lies of inadequacy, we need to remind ourselves regularly of these truths of worthiness.
On the one hand, we are sinners who fall desperately short of God’s standard. On the other hand, we are people of dignity that have been saved by grace. We need to acknowledge both: we are image-bearers of God corrupted by sin, but saved by God’s grace. May you remember and be transformed by these rich truths today in your work.
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