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The Image of God

If you have been around the church or Christians in general for any amount of time, you have likely heard the phrase “the image of God.” This refers to God creating humans in his own image, as it is described in Genesis 1. Although this phrase is widely used, it is sometimes difficult to articulate exactly what is meant by it. We will take a closer look at what it means to be created in the image of God, the theological and practical applications of this doctrine, and how other worldviews without this doctrine fall short in giving humanity meaning and purpose.

What does it mean to be made in the image of God?

To start, what does “image of God” even mean? When you look at the Scriptures, it is hard to pinpoint an exact definition.[1] Therefore, we must take the verses in context and build an answer from there. In the creation narrative found in Genesis 1, it says, “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness’” (Gen. 1:26a). In Genesis 3, we read the story of the Fall, when man disobeyed God and was cast from the garden. Through sin, God’s image in humanity was marred. Romans 3:23 states, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Despite our sin, humans still bear the image of God, as we see in several places in the Bible. One example in the New Testament states, “With [the tongue] we curse people who are made in the likeness of God” (James 3:9b). Thus, even in our fallen state, humanity is still considered an image bearer of God.

So we see that God created man in his image, and humanity is still the image of God, despite our sin. Now let’s look more at what it means to be an image bearer.

Taking an example from history, in ancient times, kings set up statues or images of themselves across every corner of their land. This was a representation to the people that this was the king’s territory and that they were under the king’s rule.[2] Similarly, we are God’s representatives on earth. We are also given dominion over the earth as we see in the Genesis narrative. Genesis 1:26 states, “And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” Being created in God’s image has to do with the role and position that God has placed us in as humans. Our role is to steward creation for God’s glory.[3]

Why does being made in God’s image give humans value?

Because being created in the image of God has more to do with our identity than any other aspect of us, it gives value to each human life. John Piper states, “The imago Dei is not a quality possessed by man; it is a condition in which man lives, a condition of confrontation established and maintained by the Creator.”[4] God gives us the identity of his image bearers. Thus, every life, no matter how small, how insignificant, no matter the physical or mental challenges that are faced, is valuable and worthy of honor and respect. Nothing can take away the fact that you are made in the image of God. It is part of the identity that God gave us.

We see throughout the Bible the high value that God places on human life. Genesis 9:6 states, “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.” God places such a high value on human life that life is required for the shedding of blood. The laws in the Old Testament also show how God values life. The second half of the Ten Commandments is about preserving the life and dignity of those around us. In the New Testament, Jesus values the life of each person, especially those who would be social outcasts or not considered important, such as lepers, beggars, women, and children. Jesus himself places a high value on little ones (Mark 10).

How do other worldviews fall short in preserving human dignity?

How is the Christian view unique? Most people in the world would say that they value human life, and many would agree that human life is worth protecting. But some would also say that the same level of protection applies to animals and the environment. While God has given us stewardship over the Earth (Gen. 1:28), nowhere in the Bible does it suggest that creation is more valuable than human life. As we have already seen, the opposite is actually true. 

In a worldview with no God, or with a god who is distant, there is no reason to elevate human life. If we are all truly results of random chance, there is no purpose to life. This type of worldview, if lived out logically, can lead to apathy, depression, and emptiness. Instead, Christianity teaches that we are designed and imprinted with God’s image, giving meaning and intention to our lives. 

Conclusion

Wayne Grudem explains, “Every single human being, no matter how much the image of God is marred by sin, or illness, or weakness, or age, or any other disability, still has the status of being in God’s image and therefore must be treated with the dignity and respect that is due to God’s image-bearer. This has profound implications for our conduct toward others. It means that people of every race deserve equal dignity and rights. It means that elderly people … and children yet unborn deserve full protection and honor as human beings.”[5] Christians should be motivated to protect the least of these because of their belief that all people, no matter their status, abilities, or contributions, are image bearers of God and are worthy of dignity and respect. Seeing our identity as image bearers leads to assurance, glorifying God, and ascribing intrinsic value and worth to others.

References

  • [1] ​​Steve Ham, “What Is the Image of God?,” Answers in Genesis, February 14, 2020, https://answersingenesis.org/genesis/what-is-image-of-god/.
  • [2] Pete Enns, “What Does ‘Image of God’ Mean?,” BioLogos, September 29, 2023, https://biologos.org/articles/what-does-image-of-god-mean.
  • [3] Mark Ross, “Imago Dei,” Ligonier Ministries, 2013, https://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/imago-dei.
  • [4] “What It Means to Be ‘Made in the Image of God,’” Focus on the Family, August 25, 2023, https://www.focusonthefamily.com/family-qa/what-it-means-to-be-made-in-the-image-of-god/.[5] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, first ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), 450.

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