In Genesis 1:27 the Bible says: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” Thus, every person on earth is initially made in the image of God, because all are descended from Adam.
Bible scholars have long debated about this image, as to what it consists. The image is obviously not physical, since God is not physical, but spiritual in his nature. Thus, the image has more to do with the spiritual and possibly the intellectual aspects of man. The image should reflect the good graces that are included in God’s character, things like love, goodness and kindness. Redeemed man, unlike the animals has a capacity to become God-like; to seek God and commune with him. In Colossians 3:10, we see that the image of God definitely includes knowledge. Man made in God’s likeness also has the capacity to be creative, and to have dominion over the earth.
In Psalm 8:4-6 we read: “what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You made him ruler over the works of your hands; you put everything under his feet…” This passage reflects God’s original plan for mankind.
HOW IS THE IMAGE OF GOD MARRED?
In Hebrews 2:8, the author commenting on the above passage assures us that something went dreadfully wrong: “…God left nothing that is not subject to him. Yet at present we do not see everything subject to him.” This verse reflects the tragic fact that the image of God in man has been greatly marred by the fall.
How else is the image of God marred? All sin mars God’s image in us. This is illustrated in the fact that some people begin to look and act like the devil. The devil would probably love for all men to look and act like him. It is no doubt one of the devil’s prime purposes to erase and mar the image of God in mankind – to make man like an animal or worse. The devil has many tools to accomplish this.
Idolatry particularly mars the image of God in man. It is probably because of this that graven images were sternly forbidden by God. We tend to become like our images. In Psalm 115:8, we learn this concerning idols: “Those who make them will be like them, and so will all who trust in them.” In Romans 1:23-27, we see that those who change the image of God into an idol become corrupted and defiled like their idol.
Now the idols of the early twenty-first century are quite sophisticated. They are no longer just blocks of wood or stone. One clear example of idolatry today is covetousness, or greed. In Colossians 3:5 we are told: “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.” Greed, covetousness, chasing after wealth and riches, are all called idolatry and they cause us to lose the image of God. Greed makes monsters out of people.
Spiritual deception particularly mars the image of God in us, because God is spirit. In this respect, the cults greatly mar that image. Some time ago there was a mass cult suicide in the US. One astounding fact of this suicide was that the victims looked very much alike. They all had the same style haircuts, wore the same brand of new tennis shoes, and had the same make and color of travel bags, all packed and ready for their space rendezvous.
Even some churches tend to get a little cult-like. I once remember attending a church where everyone talked like the preacher, sang like the preacher, acted like the preacher. It was an alarming and unsettling experience. Conformity damages the spirit of God’s people. It is the glory of God to create vast diversity in the natural world around us. In all the multiplied billions of leaves, there are not two exactly alike. That should tell us something about our Creator.
Thus, the image of God allows for great diversity. In the early church there were people who were circumcised and people who were not; people who ate meat and people who did not; people who kept certain days of worship, and people who did not. Somehow in all this diversity there was true unity.
How else can we erase and mar God’s image? We do so when we bring discouragement to others. We do so with abuses of all types; by slander, gossip, and judgmental attitudes. We do it by evil speech, by ridicule, by oppression, by crushing God’s people and grinding the faces of the poor (Isa. 3:15). We do it by breaking covenant and wounding forever our marriage partners, as well as our offspring. We do it by outright violence and especially by murder. Murder is evil man’s final and insane attempt to deface and destroy the image of God in another individual.
Of course the devil has many other ways of trying to destroy the image of God. He has had great success through the centuries by using philosophy. The Humanistic world-view, that he has championed, has all but taken over in our educational facilities and power centers today. This view is based upon evolution and thus sees man as simply springing from lower life. We are beginning to see the results of this teaching in our business world and the society around us. People are considered as having no value and thus they can be exploited and abused to the maximum. We remember also that in the last century it was this very teaching that helped spawn Communism, Nazism, Fascism and many other doctrines that abused and destroyed hundreds of millions.
HOW CAN THE IMAGE OF GOD BE RESTORED?
The restored image of God in man is brought about only by God’s work of re-creation. We read in Colossians 1:15 and in Hebrews 1:3, that the Messiah is the true image of the invisible God. It is therefore God’s purpose to conform us to the image of his Son (Rom. 8:29). Paul says of this in 1 Corinthians 15:49: “And just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man [Adam], so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven [Jesus].” Re-creation comes only by the new birth. Indeed as John 3:7 states it, “…You must be born again.” This is a spiritual rebirth and it enables us to be fashioned after God,
who is Spirit.
Once the new birth has taken place, there are some practical things we can all do to enhance the image of God in ourselves and others. We need to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus. Paul talks to us about this: “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Cor. 3:18 NKJV). As we look at him intently, and as we continue to look, we become more like him.
We must endeavor to see the image of God in everyone. Even the most depraved and hopeless person has somewhere within him that faint glimmer of God’s image. Instead of criticizing or judging others, we need to pick out their good and God-like qualities. We can enhance the image of God in others by helping them return to God through repentance, by giving hope and encouragement. We can help them by kindness, by deeds of love and compassion; by being honest and letting them know our own faults and struggles. When we present ourselves as flawless or super-spiritual, others are often discouraged. Hypocrisy and deceit only hinder God’s work.
It should be our struggle to insure that the image of Christ is formed in other people. Paul once referred to a group of believers as: “My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you…” (Gal. 4:19). Paul labored as in birth pains until the image of Jesus could be fully formed in those he loved.
Let us pray that the image of Christ can be perfected in ourselves and in others while there is still time. The scripture assures us in Revelation 16:2 that the day is soon coming when many people will worship the image of the beast and receive his mark. This is a reference to the grossly evil world ruler of the last days. By worshipping the beast and receiving his mark, they will become like him and become partakers of his eternal judgment and damnation. They will thus forever lose the precious image of God.
– Jim Gerrish.
This updated article is presented courtesy of Bridges For Peace, Jerusalem. Original publications date, 1998.
Painting, credit to Wikimedia Commons, The Creation of Adam by Michaelangelo Di Lodovico Bounarroti Simon, circa 1511.