My senior pastor at Rocky Hill Community Church likes to say, “According to atheists you are nothing but a blob of accidental chance. There’s nothing special about you cause it was all an accident.” Contrast that to Christians which can say, “God loves you and made you in his image. You are special because God made you in accordance with his own nature.”
Perhaps one of the doctrines of Christianity that gets overlooked the most is how humans are created in God’s image. Let’s take a look at what it means for Christians to be “created in the image of God.”
Photo Credit: “The Creation of Adam” by Michelangelo
Created in the Image of God
I. ADAM AND EVE
A. Created in the Image of God
Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us. They will reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals on the earth, and the small animals that scurry along the ground.” So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. (Gen 1:26-27, NLT, emphasis added)
Here are a few important observations we need to make on these two profound verses. First, God said “let us make human beings in our image” (v. 26). This was the image of the Trinitarian God which is one essence consisting of the three persons of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We are made in the image of the full Trinitarian God, not just the Father or the Son or the Holy Spirit. Our image and character stem from God. Second, God chose us to rule saying, “They [humans] will reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals on the earth, and the small animals that scurry along the ground” (v. 26). God chose us to rule over his other creations from the previous five days. Were we supposed to rule physically? To some extent, yes. But mostly we are to rule “intellectually” over the other creatures just as God rules over us.
B. Like God and Represented God
Psalm 8 is a beautiful song that reminds Christians that we are like god and supposed to represent God.
When I look at the night sky and see the work of your fingers— the moon and the stars you set in place— what are mere mortals that you should think about them, human beings that you should care for them? Yet you made them only a little lower than God and crowned them with glory and honor. You gave them charge of everything you made, putting all things under their authority— the flocks and the herds and all the wild animals, the birds in the sky, the fish in the sea, and everything that swims the ocean currents. (Pss 8:3-8)
The heavens and earth declare God’s handiwork (v. 3) yet God chose us to be a little lower in rank than God and his angels (v. 5). With that honor, God has put us in charge of everything that God made on the earth (v. 6). Also see Hebrews 2:5-10.
II. EVIDENCE OF GOD’S IMAGE IN HUMANS 2
A. Mind, Will, and Personality
Psychology is clear that humans have a mind, have will, and personality. To be human is to know we are human, to have desires, and to have a unique personality. That is what it means to be human and is what separates us from animals.
B. Capacity to Rule
In addition to the passages I have shared above about how God made us in his image and gave us the privilege of ruling over his creation (Gen 1:26, 28; Pss 8:3-8; Heb 2:5-10), he also showed our capacity to rule in another way.
After all the animals had been created God “brought them to Adam to see what he [Adam] would call them, and Adam chose a name for each one” (Gen 2:19).
Not only did God say (Gen 1:26-27) that humans were supposed to rule over creation, God did something that showed humans were positioned in authority over God’s creation by bringing the animals to Adam so he could name them (Gen 2:19).
I was reading St. Basil the Great while away on vacation recently and he gave a good illustration of this, “Do you know how creatures appear beside you in a tidal pool, how your shadow scares all of them away? What master of a house thus produces calm when in clamor of household crowds arises, and makes all things share in good order through the presence of the ruler?” (St. Basil the Great, On the Human Condition, p. 37). St. Basil says that animals seem to know we are supposed rule over them.
C. Spiritual and Moral Qualities
Spiritual and moral qualities are seen in the second chapter of Genesis where God warned Adam, “You may freely eat the fruit of every tree in the garden—except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If you eat its fruit, you are sure to die” (Gen 2:16-17). Adam was told that he was in a relationship with God, but in order to maintain that relationship he could not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. From the very beginning of the human race there has been spiritual and moral qualities that humans have had to navigate.
After Adam and Eve ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen 3:6-7) God said, “Look, the human beings have become like us, knowing both good and evil” (Gen 3:22). Now, humans always knew “good” from the beginning, but eating from the fruit led them to know what evil was. 3
Also see Lev 11:45-46; Matt 5:48.
D. Capacity for Relationships
The God of Christianity is a Truine God: one essence with three persons consisting of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. There is a specific relationship among the Trinity and humans likewise have capacity for relationships as well.
The best example of human’s capacity for relationships is when Adam was naming the animals and God gave Adam Eve.
He [Adam] gave names to all the livestock, all the birds of the sky, and all the wild animals. But still there was no helper just right for him. So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep. While the man slept, the Lord God took out one of the man’s ribs and closed up the opening. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib, and he brought her to the man. “At last!” the man exclaimed. ‘This one is bone from my bone, and flesh from my flesh! She will be called ‘woman,’ because she was taken from ‘man'” (Gen 2:20-23, NLT).
Adam needed Eve and desired a relationship with her. This is the best example of how humans not just have a capacity for relationships like the Trinity, but humans need those relationships.
Also see Gen 1:26; 3:8.
E. Personal Social Distinction
As humans we are able to make person social distinctions of ourselves. In other words, “I know I am me and you know you are you.” There is a high level of self-awareness that I have of myself and I specifically know that you are someone different than me. With that said, I am also aware of you and your feelings.
F. An Image that Will Be Improved and Made Perfect
While humans suffer from the Fall (Gen 3), the Christian is growing to become more an more like Christ. Paul told the believers in Colossae, “Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him” (Col 3:10). Christians are working to become more like Christ and that future perfection will be in heaven when we are joined with him, “Just as we are not like the earthly man, we will someday be like the heavenly man” (1 Cor 15:49, NLT).
My favorite verse that talks about how Christians are growing spiritually is in John’s first letter, “Dear friends, we are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is” (1 John 3:2, NLT).
Also see Eph 2:14.
IV. CONCLUSION AND APPLICATION
A. I am made in God’s image and I am becoming more like him.
What a comforting fact to know that we are made in God’s image. Unlike the atheist that essentially says, “You are an accident. Nothing is great about you because are a blob that happened to be formed into something else.” The Christian says, “God specifically made me like him special and unique.” What a comforting fact to know God has made us and that we are made in his image.
B. All humans are made in God’s image, therefore have dignity.
It’s easy in our world to look down on other people. It’s easy for us to think that people who are Mexican or Jews or African-American or white are “less than” us because of their race. It’s easy for us to think that people who don’t own a home, don’t have a great job, and don’t have nice things are “less than” us. Yet, when we remember that we are made in God’s image, it’s clear that everyone has dignity. Everyone has dignity because everyone is made in God’s image, even though that might look different for some people in different places.
- “Creation reaches its climax when on the sixth day He filled the land with animal life and then created the first man who, with his wife, would have dominion over the earth and its creatures” (Wiersbe, Be Basic, p. 33). ↩
- This part of my blog post relies on some notes I adapted from Dr. J Scott Horrell while I was a student at Dallas Theological Seminary. Please consider purchasing Dr. Horrell’s book, From the Ground Up, as a way to express your gratitude to him. ↩
- God placed two special trees in the middle of the garden: the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (Gen. 2:9, 17; 3:3, 22, 24). Eating from the Tree of Life would confer immortality (v. 22). Eating from the Tree of Life would confer immortality (v. 22). Eating from the second tree would confer experiential knowledge of good and evil, but it would also bring death (2:17). Since they had never experienced evil, Adam and Eve were innocent like children (Deut 1:39; Isa 7:15-16). When they disobeyed God, they became like Him in being able to discriminate between good and evil, but they became unlike Him in that they lost their sinlessness and eventually died” (Wiersbe, Be Basic, p. 46). ↩