What Is the Image of God?

We live in a society that degrades humankind with cursing people, promiscuously sharing our bodies with various partners, doing drugs, and other dehumanizing things. God calls us to something higher.

He calls us to the image of God that was partially lost. The whole “God project” for all of humanity is to restore his image in us through Christ.

Here is what this means in a fuller teaching from Scripture.

Old Testament

The Old Testament was written in Hebrew (and Aramaic), and here is one noun for image that is relevant to this post.

1.. The Hebrew noun ṣelem (pronounced tseh-lehm, and the -ts- is pronounced like the -ts- in bits).

Human beings are created in God’s image, including man and woman (Gen. 1:26-27). Seth, Adam and Eve’s son, was made in Adam’s image (Gen. 5:6). Now humans, male and female, can create people in their image (Gen. 1:28). But this likeness is not physical, but moral and spiritual. “In contrast to animals, human beings can develop a relationship with God and can worship him” (Mounce, p. 352).

New Testament

The New Testament was written in Greek, and here is a key noun.

1.. The noun eikōn (pronounced ay-cone, like the “a” in acorn), and it means image in the broader sense, like an image on a coin (Matt. 22:20) or images of birds and reptiles (Rom. 1:23), where pagan humanity degraded God in making him in those images.

Most importantly, it can refer to humankind made in the image of God (1 Cor. 11:7; Rom. 8:29; 2 Cor. 3:18).

Now let’s look at Scripture more closely, in sequential stages in the story of humanity.

1.. Originally, humankind was created in God image.

In Gen. 1:26-27, the inspired author of those verses repeats emphatically that God created male and female in his image, without evil or sin. Gen. 5:1 repeats the ideal condition of humankind.: God created them in his image, and it says specifically “humankind” or ’adam, which literally means “humankind,” not a male or female, but men, women, and children together, as a unit.

Even though it is a biological fact that humans have a mammal nature, where the sin nature resides, they used to be able to relate to God in their innocence. He was still knowable.

See my post: Is Our Sin Nature Embedded in Our Mammal Nature?

2.. Humankind somehow broke fellowship with God.

In his primitive state, God was humankind’s conscience and guide (Gen. 2). Humankind did not yet know the difference between good and evil, at least according to Scripture.

In Gen. 3:1-14, the serpent, which Christian Scriptures reinterpret as Satan, tempted the woman to eat of the tree knowledge of good and evil (or moral law). She did, and their eyes were open. They then had a human conscience built on knowledge of the moral law, without the same intimacy with God in a permanent, open lifeline to their Creator. Yes, God searched for them, but they were kicked out of the garden, which came to symbolize this intimacy, where God visited often.

The moral and spiritual image was broken, but not obliterated, nor did it disappear.

Once again, see my post: Is Our Sin Nature Embedded in Our Mammal Nature?

3.. The image of God was partly retained.

Paul speaks before the Aeropagus Council in Athens and quotes a pagan poet who said that in God we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:27-28). That was a true statement, which speaks of God’s immanence, or his connection to the universe and humanity, without being part of it, as if the universe owns him. No, he owns it.

After the Fall, God still proclaims that humankind should not be murdered, and murderers should be executed, because humankind is still made in God’s image (Gen. 9:6). And we should not curse humans because they are still made in the image of God (Jas. 3:9).

Despite the Fall, we still have a soul and spirit, and morality and conscience, so the image of God is still alive in us in a broken form. Think of a cracked mirror. Sometimes people live such a degrades life that they image is broken in many places, multiple fractures on the soul. But God can still save and restore them as well as he does the “good girl” or “good boy.”

4.. Mankind and womankind and the image of God.

Paul says that womankind is made in the image of mankind, so she should wear a head covering (1 Cor. 11:7). This is a matter of culture and theology mixed together. The apostle is searching for a reason that it was a custom for a woman to wear a head covering in the Jewish synagogue, and it should be that way in the earliest churches.

However, when we have a mixture of custom and theology, we need to be careful about transferring the verse to our modern world, which has different customs, much like not transferring every culture-laden verse from the Old Covenant Scriptures to the world today.

Further, this reinterpretation of the image of God is built on the Fall (Gen. 3:10-13), after which it is stated a husband shall rule over his wife (Gen. 3:16). In Christ, however, the full image of God is being restored for both mankind and womankind, so customs such as commands from the first century, like head coverings, are irrelevant.

One exception is a woman who out of her free will wears a head covering or willingly joins a religious order that requires one (think of a Catholic nun). There is liberty in Christ, even to wear a covering, if God calls someone to do so.

5.. The image is being restored in Christ and his salvation.

In Rom. 8:29 believers are predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.

2 Cor. 3:18 teaches us that when we contemplate with unveiled faces the Lord’s glory, we are being transformed into the image with ever-increasing glory.

Col. 3:10 says that when we are saved, we are called to put on the new self, the new creation, which is being renewed in the knowledge of his of the Creator. As we come to know the Creator through Scripture and prayer, we look more like him.

Eph. 4:24, which parallels Col. 3:10, says that the best way to grow in his image is to walk in holiness and righteousness. God has those attributes or characteristics, so should we, but only by the power of the Spirit.

For now, we will never experience the image of God fully restored, but we are in a process.

6.. Look to Jesus for the image of God fully restored.

The Bible teaches that he is the highest image of God.

2 Cor. 4:4 says that Satan, the god of this world, has blinded the minds of unbelievers from seeing the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

Col. 1:15 says that the Son of God is the image of the invisible God. This means that we see God in Christ (John 1:18; 12:45; 14:9)

Heb. 1:3 proclaims that the Son is the exact radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being.

When we contemplate Jesus, we become more like him and reflect God’s image more clearly.

7.. In heaven the image of God will be fully restored.

1 Cor. 15:39 teaches us that as we bear the image of humanity in Adam, so we shall bear the image of the heavenly one, Christ Jesus. The tense is in the future.

1 John 3:2 reiterates the same truth that we don’t know exactly how we will be like in heaven. The details have not been made known. The one truth is that we shall be like Christ, again the future tense.

How does this post help me grow in Jesus?

You are made in the image of God. You have dignity. You have his glory. You have free will to a significant degree. Do not waste your life by inking yourself or sleeping around or destroying your brain with drugs or alcohol, including marijuana. If you have or are doing any of those things, you can repent and receive forgiveness from God, who gives it gladly. Now you live a new life in Christ. You are born again. His Spirit comes into your mind and heart, and now you have power to overcome the power of sin. You stop doing those things (if you have tattoos, you can either leave them on or take them off—your born-again conscience and the Spirit’s leading is your guide).

After you repent, now it’s time for you to reflect the image of God with saving knowledge.

You can do this by fixing your gaze and mind on Jesus (Col. 3:1-2; Heb. 12:2).

You can do this by walking in the Spirit, who helps you walk in holiness and righteousness (Eph. 4:24).

You can do this by not cursing humans, but by blessing them (Jas. 3:9-12).

We must not worship any man-made image—or in our culture, a pop star, but in some cultures, like Hinduism, real images of gods must not be worshipped (Exod. 24:4; Acts 17:29; Rom. 1:23).

For believers, we just focus on Jesus, the exact representation of God’s being.


Works Cited


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