Genesis 1:26-31 – Image bearers, Part 2
Last week we ended with a question: What does it really mean that we are made in the “image of God?” Before we talk about that, let us take into consideration that WHATEVER it means, it’s something high and lofty!! It is what defines our unique identity! It’s the whole reason God took such a personal interest in the creation of us. It explains why the Bible places so much stress on the fact of God’s hand’s-on creation of Adam. He fashioned Adam in a special way - to bear the stamp of His Own Likeness! That sets us apart from every other creature in the universe!
What is the image of God? The Hebrew word for “image” is “tselem,” and it comes from a root word that speaks of carvings. It’s the same word used to speak of graven images. It almost seems to convey the idea that man was carved into the shape of God. It suggests that God was, in essence, the pattern for the personhood of man. Because the image of God is unique to humanity, it must describe some aspect of human nature that is not shared by animals. Because of that, it cannot speak of our appearance or biological makeup.
The fact that man is in the image of God means that man is like God and represents God. We might wonder whether we could be “like God” after Adam’s sin. But yet we see this question is answered quite early in Genesis where God gave Noah the authority to establish the death penalty for murder among human being just after the flood: Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for God made man in His own image.” (Gen. 9:6). Even though we are still sinful, there is still enough likeness to God remaining in us that to murder another person is to attack the part of creation that most resembles God, and it betrays an attempt or desire (if one were able), to attack God Himself.
Man is still in God’s image. The N.T. gives confirmation to this when James 3:9 says that we generally, not just believers, “are made in the likeness of God.” However, since we sinned we are certainly not as fully like God as we were when He voiced the words “very good.” Our moral purity has been lost and our sinful character certainly does not reflect God’s holiness. Though we are still the image of God, in every aspect of life SOME parts of that image have been distorted or lost. We are less fully like God than before the fall.
But, it is encouraging to turn to the N.T. and see that our redemption in Christ means that we can, even in this life, progressively grow into more and more likeness to God. Paul tells us that we have a new nature that is “being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator” (Col. 3:10). That we “are being changed into His likeness from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor. 3:18).
Throughout this life, we grow in likeness to Christ in our lives and in our character. In fact, the goal for which God has redeemed us is that we might be “conformed to the image of His Son” (Rom. 8:29) and thus be exactly like Christ in our moral character.
And at Christ’s return the amazing promise of the N.T. is that just as we have been like Adam (subject to death and sin), we shall also be like Christ (morally pure, never subject to death again): Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the Man of heaven (1 Cor. 15:49).
It would be well for us to reflect on our likeness to God more often. It will amaze us to realize that when the Creator of the universe wanted to create something “in His image,” something more like Himself than all the rest of creation, He made us. This should give us a profound sense of dignity and significance. We are the culmination of God’s infinitely wise and skillful work of creation. Even though sin has greatly marred that likeness, we nonetheless now reflect much of it and shall even more as we grow in likeness to Christ.
And the realization that ALL men and women are created in the image of God should give us the realization and motivation to treat them with the dignity and respect that is due to God’s image bearer. This should have profound implications for our conduct towards other people. It means that people of every race deserve equal dignity and rights. It means that elderly people, those who have serious illnesses, the mentally retarded, and children yet unborn, deserve full protection and honor as human beings.
And this is a major reason the world around us is crumbling, and we take human life and human rights so casually. Because people deny this unique status in creation as God’s image bearers, and therefore we depreciate the value of human life, as well as our sense of meaning in life. Let us live each day understanding that every human being is created in the image of God.
Editor's Note: Every Sunday, DrydenWire.com publishes a submitted article in a weekly series from Pastor Brian Cole. If you would have a question for Brian or would like to learn more about him, visit his website or his official Facebook page.