Interview with

Founder & Teacher, desiringGod.org

Donny from New Mexico writes to ask: “Pastor John, what does it mean to be made in the image of God? And what are the differences between it before the Fall of man, after the Fall, and after being born-again?”

We are created in the image of God and the fall of human beings into sin in Genesis three did not de-stroy it, but defaced it. That is my premise. And the text for being in the image of God, and staying in the image of God, would be Genesis one. “God created man in his own image. In the image of God he created him. Male and female he created them.” So man and woman equally in the image of God as we were made. And then, Genesis nine, after the fall: “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.” In other words, here you have the image of God functioning ethically, morally, in Genesis nine as a warrant for capital punishment even though all hu-man beings have now become sinners. So being a sinner does not mean we have ceased to be in the im-age of God.

Or the same thing in James chapter three. With the tongue we bless our Lord and Father and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. So, in other words, James is using being in the like-ness or the image of God in our present condition as an argument why we shouldn’t curse each other. So, yes, we are created in God’s image and, yes, we stay in God’s image. And the reason I say it is de-faced and needs some kind of repair or restoration is because that is the way our salvation is described by Paul in Colossians three. He says “we have put on the new person, the new self which is being re-newed in the knowledge after the image of its creator.” So Paul’s mindset is: We are in the image of God, but, oh, how corrupt and fallen and sinful and defaced this image is and now with our redemption in Christ we have put on the new man. We have put on Christ and this now becomes a process of shap-ing us, making us again into the image of our creator.

So the last thing is, well, what is it? That was what the question was. What are you talking about? In what sense are we in the image of God? And historically people have said things like our morality, our sense of right and wrong or our rationality, our ability to reason or our spirituality, our ability to relate to God or our aesthetic sense. You don’t find too many monkeys creating Mona Lisas. Or our judicial sense, the whole legal system that we are created, a sense of right and wrong and justice and injustice. And I think, frankly, all of those are true and aspects of what it means to be in God’s image.

But the simplest thing, the plainest thing, in fact, for me the most practical thing, the way it has an actual effect on my life is to say images are created to image. If you create an image, if you make a sculpture of someone you do it to display something about that someone. You put it in the square in the middle of town and you want people to look at it, notice it, think about that person, think something about them, that they were noble or strong or wise or courageous or something. Now what would it mean if you cre-ated seven billion statues of yourself and put them all over the world? It would mean you would want people to notice you. God created us in his image so that we would display or reflect or communicate who he is, how great he is and what he is like. Here’s the picture in my mind. I was created like a mirror. And a mirror that was supposed to be 45 degrees with the clear reflective side pointing upward so that as God shone on it at the 45 degree angle, it would bounce off and it would make a 90 degree turn and be reflected out into the world. And at the fall Satan persuaded me that my image is more beautiful than God’s image and so I flip the mirror over. Now the black back side is towards God. It doesn't reflect an-ything. Instead, the mirror casts a shadow in the shape of itself on the ground and I fell in love with the shadow. That is what happened. And we have been loving ourselves every since.

And in salvation two things happen. The mirror gets turned around and we see the glory of God again and the defilement that had gone over the face of it gets wiped off gradually and we begin to reflect God. So I think being created in the image of God means that we image God. We reflect God. We live in a way, we think in a way, we feel in a way, we speak in a way that calls attention to the brightness so the glory of God.

Thank you Pastor John. On this topic of the image of God, Pastor John has two old articles in the DG library. One is titled “Reflections on the Concept of Self-Worth,” published in 1976, and the other is an academic article simply titled “The Image of God,” which was published in 1971. Both can be found online for free in the resource library at desiringgod DOT org. … I’m your host, To-ny Reinke. Thanks for listening.