What Does It Mean to Be Made in God’s Image?
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 bearing God’s image 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 3 did not destroy it, but defaced it. That is my premise.
Defaced, Not Destroyed
And the text for being in the image of God, and staying in the image of God, would be Genesis 1:27: “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” — man and woman equally in the image of God as we were made. And then, after the fall, Genesis 9:6 says, “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 and morally in Genesis 9 as a warrant for capital punishment even though all human beings have now become sinners. So being a sinner does not mean we have ceased to be in the image of God.
Or look at the same thing in James 3:9: “With [the tongue] we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God.” In other words, James is using being in the likeness or the image of God in our present condition as an argument for 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 defaced and needs some kind of repair or restoration is because that is the way our salvation is described by Paul in Colossians 3:10. He says “we have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.” So Paul’s mindset is, We are in the image of God, but 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 shaping us, making us again into the image of our Creator.
To Be an Image Bearer
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; our aesthetic sense — you don’t find too many monkeys creating a Mona Lisa; or our judicial sense — the whole legal system that we have created, a sense of right and wrong and justice and injustice. And I think, frankly, that all of those are true and aspects of what it means to be in God’s image.
But the simplest thing, the plainest thing, and, in fact, for me the most practical thing, and 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.
God’s Image Restored
Now what would it mean if you created 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 toward God. It doesn’t reflect anything. 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 ever 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 of the glory of God.