What Does the Image of God Mean?
Note: Creation Moments exists to provide Biblically sound materials to the Church in the area of Bible and science relationships. This Bible study may be reproduced for group use.
Whenever one begins to consider the creation/evolution controversy, of primary concern is the question of the nature of man. Psalm 8 asks, "What is man?" Evolution answers that man is a meaningless, purposeless, biological accident. The Christian answers that man is created in the image of God. But very few understand just what the phrase "the image of God" means. The purpose of this study is to try to assemble from Scripture a picture of what the image of God is, or what it means to man today.
The term "image of God" comes from Genesis 1:26-27. Read these verses. Note that the verses don't define the term, they just use it. There are actually two terms - image and likeness. Most reliable scholars tell us that the two are interchangeable. For our purposes here it doesn't matter, because we are concerned with what the combination of the two terms may mean. Since God had no physical nature (prior to the incarnation of Jesus Christ), the word likeness must have meant the ways in which man, as the image of God, was like God.
Genesis 2:16-17 gives us our first point of similarity. What does this say about man? You can see several things. What is like God among the details revealed here? Is God a consciously moral being? Does He have the need and/or the ability to decide what is good and what is not (we call this a free will)? Man was innocent of evil. Is God? Has God done evil?
Genesis 3:8 speaks of something that applies to this question. What does this verse tell us about the image of God? Note that this verse doesn't say it directly, in fact, it assumes this as part of the account. For a more direct reference, we have Genesis 2:19, and Genesis 3:2-3.
Man was apparently equipped for intimate communion with God. God must have regularly walked in the Garden to talk with Adam. You notice that Adam wasn't surprised - he even recognized the sounds that God made moving through the Garden. God brought animals to Adam. Is there any reason in the text to assume that this is meant in some mystical sense? Notice that even Eve could report conversations with God. Is there anything in the Scripture here to cause us to say that God didn't speak to Eve as well as Adam? Moreover, Adam could face God, at least originally, without fear or pain. Why? What made the difference? That is part of the image of God.
Sadly, man lost the image of God in sin. Notice how some of the effects of the image were changed. Like God, man was immortal. When man sinned, man lost that hold on life. Man held complete dominion over the animals, just as God has complete dominion over all. In sin, man has only the power of his cunning over animals, they no longer obey him as lord. Man has lost the ability not to sin, and with it the ease and comfort of communion with God has gone. Instead there is fear, and with good reason! Read Hebrews 10:31. If you begin with verse 26, you will find that this section is written to Christians. How very terrifying must it be, if God's children must be so sternly warned?
One day, however, we look forward to the restoration of the image of God within us. In order to more clearly see what the image of God is, we look at what we will be when restored. Scripture says much more about that. How do we know that the image will be restored? Read 1 John 3:2. What does this tell us? It says that we will become like Christ, which means that we are not now. If we become like Christ, we become His image. Note Romans 8:29. But is that God's image - that is, is it the same as the image of God from Genesis (after all, Jesus is God)? Look up 2 Corinthians 4:4. Also check Colossians 1:15.
Man was the image of God, Jesus Christ is the image of God, and (Colossians 3:10) believers will be again.
Notice what one element of the image is, according to Colossians 3:10. We are being renewed to what? Compare this renewed image description to the description of the lost image in Romans 1:18-32. Focus particularly on verses 21 and 22. Note how this same thought is echoed in Proverbs 1:7 (and other places in Job, Psalms and Proverbs).
Turn now to Ephesians 4:24. What other elements of the renewed image do we see? Having received the divine verdict of Christ's righteousness, being counted holy with Jesus' holiness, how much more could we be in the "image and likeness" of God?
Read Romans 5:12, 19, & 21. Do you see any signs of the restoration of the image of God in this? We noted above how the loss of the image cost man in terms of the effects of the image (or qualities native to ones with that image) lost when the image was lost in sin. Here, and in Romans 6:23, we can see the effect of the image restored as the image is restored. In fact, much more is being restored than was lost. Read Romans 8:17-18. This passage says we share with Christ in all that He has. Now, remember the authority to command the animals, lost in greater measure in the Fall? Now read Matthew 28:18, but keep Romans 8:17 in mind. What did we lose? What did we lose? What can we gain?
Man today is not the image of God, but the image of Adam. Through Jesus Christ, however, we can and will be restored to the image of God - beginning right now, when we believe, and being completed when we are summoned to His presence in glory. What a marvelous distinction for us to mark when we discuss who man is and what he can become.
Close this study with Psalm 119:9-16. Pray for the Holy Spirit to guide you to daily walk more in the image of Christ. Sing a favorite hymn, such as "Drawn to the Cross, Which Thou Hast Blest".
Enlightening resources on this topic:
The Genesis Record, by Henry M. Morris
A verse-by-verse scientific and devotional commentary on the Book of Genesis. Provides excellent advice on dealing with such topics as the date of creation, the gap theory, the day-age theory, Noah's ark, and much more. Interest level: High School-Adult
6004-4 $29.95, Hardcover, 716 Pages
Copyright Â© 1986 Bible Science Newsletter, Pastor Robin D. Fish.
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