In the Image of God
In this study we examine the idea of man being made in God's image. This is both a stand-alone article as well as a part of the series of articles on marriage.
In the first chapter of Genesis we read,
"Then God said,'Let us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness...' And God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them." Genesis 1:26-27
Man the Image of God
The "image of God"? What does it mean? Controversy over this has raged for centuries. Irenaeus, Luther, Calvin, Barth, the Christian fathers are all had their say. And a lot more. Many people believe it means that we, like God, have a triune nature -- body, soul, and spirit. While this is true, I don't think it is what the passage is saying. It could also refer to the uniquely God-like human abilities of reason, communication, and creation. Well, these things are true, but probably also not in view in this passage. Closer to home might be the fact that man, unique among all of creation except angels has volition -- the gift of choosing between right and wrong, as does of course God, Who of course always chooses right because He cannot sin. A great truth, but is this it? No, this passage I think doesn't say any of these things. Well then, what does it say? The original language may give us a clue. The Hebrew word translated "image" is tselem. Tselem simply means "a shadow". It is used thus in Psalm 39, and in Psalm 23. Throughout Scripture, the word is used to convey a sort of negative image, as of a film negative, of a picture of a living being. In Daniel chapters 2 and 3, as well as in our text in Genesis 1, the idea is of a person's silhouette, and in the Daniel passage, Nebuchadnezzer's silhouette is in view. In our passage about man in Genesis, the idea is obviously God's silhouette. God's outline, if you will. However, we don't look like God (Scripture tells us we look like angels). So how are we His silhouette? Let us turn again to Scripture for the answer. Our Lord Jesus, the perfect man, the Second Adam (I Cor 15:45), gives us the all-important clue. Scripture says of Jesus...
"And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving, that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God." II Cor 4:3-4
So Jesus, Scripture says, is the image of God. And man, Scripture says, was made in the image of God. Are you getting the feel for it? What does it all mean? Continuing in the above passage we read...
"For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bondservants for Jesus' sake. For God, who said, 'Light shall shine out of darkness,' is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing greatness of the power may be of God and not from ourselves." II Cor 4:5-7
In other words, Christ is in the image of God, offering us a view of God. We were designed in that same image, for that same purpose. Just like Jesus, we are containers of God. Of course, we have never done as good a job of being containers as has Jesus. For this reason, to keep anyone from confusing the container for the contents, God in our case chose fragile, worthless clay pots, Scripture says. But we are still His containers. Our being made in the image of God means we were made to contain God's Spirit. As Pascal said, "Unregenerate man has a God-shaped vacuum inside him." That is, since he was originally made to contain God's Spirit, therefore fallen man has a void that needs desperately to be filled (Prov 27:7). Scripture elsewhere confirms this idea of our being containers for God.
"Therefore, if a man cleanses himself from these things, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work." II Tim 2:21
Man is the Primary Agent of God's Glory
So we're vessels. The idea of our being containers for God's Spirit is communicated in other ways in the Bible as well. In fact, although all creation gives God glory, man was meant to be the primary agent through which God makes Himself known to the world.
"I will say to the north, 'Give them up!' And to the south, Do not hold them back.' Bring My sons from afar, and My daughters from the ends of the earth, every one who is called by My name, and whom I have created for My glory, whom I have formed, even whom I have made. The people whom I formed for Myself, will declare My praise." Is 43:6-7, 21
Remember what Jesus said about man giving Him glory? That if man didn't, the rest of creation would have to take up the slack?
"And some of the Pharisees in the multitude said to Him, 'Teacher, rebuke your disciples.' And He answered and said, 'I tell you, if these become silent, the stones will cry out!'" Lk 19:40
"The heavens are telling of the glory of God; and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands. Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard. Their line has gone out through all the earth, and their utterances to the ends of the world..." Ps 19:1-4
Make a note of this. When Paul quotes the above passage in Romans, the context is the literal communication of the gospel. The passage we just read comes directly after "So faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ." Rom 10:17-18.
Scripture tells us that Jesus was the most successful at being a container for God's Spirit. So perfect that He is said to be "...the image of the invisible God..." Col 1:15, and "...the exact representation of [God's] nature..." Heb 1:3. We Christians are called to be vessels for God also, and as we mature in faith, Scripture says, we get closer and closer to the kind of vessel or container that Jesus was.
"But we all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit." II Cor 3:18
"Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him." Col 3:9-10
"Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we shall be. We know that, when He appears, we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him just as He is." I Jn 3:2
"Therefore, say to the house of Israel, 'Thus says the Lord God, 'It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for My holy name...I will vindicate the holiness of My great name which has been profaned among the nations...Then the nations will know that I am the Lord,' declares the Lord God, 'when I prove Myself holy among you in their sight. For I will take you from the nations, gather you from all the lands, and bring you into your own land. Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances. And you will live in the land that I gave to your forefathers; so you will be my people, and I will be your God." Ezek 36:22-28
"Of this church I was made a minister according to the stewardship from God bestowed on me for your benefit, that I might fully carry out the preaching of the word of God, that is, the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations; but has now been manifested to His saints, to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory." Col 1:25-27
Man is God's Companion
Why there is so much anthropomorphism in the Bible? God is described as having hands, arms, a heart, a soul, a bosom, a backside, even blood. He has a mind, and has thoughts. While this is clearly anthropomorphism that God uses to make Himself understood by the human mind, the astonishing thing is that he uses these terms in the first place. Why does He use them? Why does He lower Himself to the height of a mere man, one of His created beings?
God is Relationship-Driven
The fact is that God is a relational God. He is relationship-driven. Read the Old Testament with the eyes of your heart open and you will find Him constantly begging the Jews to return to their loving Provider. Jesus later confirmed this desire on the part of Almighty God when He spoke of the prodigal son.
God Does all the Giving in His Relationships With Man
Even more amazing than that however is how God continues to put Himself in the position where He does all the work, and always gets the short end of the stick, as it were. His heart (again, anthropomorphism) is breaking, Scripture says.
"Why then has this people, Jerusalem, turned away in continual apostasy? They hold fast to deceit, they refuse to return. I have listened and heard, they have spoken what is not right; no man repented of his wickedness, saying, 'What have I done?' Every one is turned to his course, like a horse charging into battle…From Dan is heard the snorting of his horses; at the sound of the neighing of his stallions the whole land quakes; for they come and devour the land and its fullness, the city and its inhabitants. For behold, I am sending serpents against you; adders, for which there is no charm, and they will bite you, declares the Lord. My sorrow is beyond healing, my heart is faint within me! Behold, listen! The cry of the daughter of my people from a distant land: 'Is the Lord not in Zion? Is her King not within her? Why have they provoked me with their graven images, with foreign idols?" Jer 8:5-6, 16-19
"...how I have been hurt by their adulterous hearts which turned away from Me..." Ezek 6:9
God's heart is broken, both by His people's sin, as well as by the painful consequences of that sin that His people suffer (Jn 11:35). Even as His people are suffering the consequences of their disobedience, God loves them. He reveals Himself to people in terms they are familiar with. He says of Himself that He has a face, hands, heart, blood, and eyes and ears. He walked with Adam; bargained with Abraham for Lot; brags on Noah, Daniel, Job, Moses, and Samuel; knew Moses face to face; and called David a man after His own heart! God made man to be His ultimate companion; He longs for that, and man has stubbornly spurned God all along.
To sum up, we are made in God's image, which means we are made to contain, carry, showcase, if you will, all that God is. But, our being containers of God, as wonderful as it is, is just the beginning. God wants man to be His companion, to walk in the cool of the day with Him. To relate to Him. To be simpatico with Him (after His own heart). All of this serves to demonstrate God's character and nature.