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What Does it Mean That We Are Created in the “Image of God?”


I went to church all my life, as well as Christian schools, and I swear until I was in my mid 30’s I thought we looked like God. In every picture I ever saw of him, he had two arms, two legs, and was old. He looked like us.

And the fact that Jesus was both God and a man, simply reinforces that idea, because he did look like us! It’s also true that God (or an angel of God) has taken on the form of a man, like when God visited with Abraham to discuss destroying Sodom and Gomorrah.

But God’s natural state is a spirit. “God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” John 4:14. He doesn’t look like us and we don’t look like him.

Then what does it mean when the Bible says, “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” Genesis 1:27.

The Hebrew root of the Latin phrase for image of God –imago Dei– means image, shadow or likeness of God. At the very least this means humans occupy a higher place in the created order because we, and not animals are imprinted with godlike characteristics. Let’s talk about just a few of the characteristics of God, humans possess, but unlike God, we possess them imperfectly and to a far lesser degree. We have a creative likeness “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Genesis 1:1. God is both a creator and is creative. Like God, humans can imagine things that do not exist nor have ever existed, and then create them. While artists, inventors and writers may be exceptionally creative; all humans have imagination and can create.

We have a spiritual likeness We are more than the sum of our physical parts. Our spiritual nature, though unseen, is as real as our physical nature. Not only do we have a spiritual nature like God, we also have self-awareness of our spiritual nature and of spirits outside of ourselves. (God, angels, Satan, demons, etc.) And nurturing our spirit is as important to our emotional health as eating, drinking and exercising are to our physical body.

We have a rational/logical likeness “In the beginning was the Word [logos, a Greek word meaning reason, or logic] and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” John 1:1. Rational, sequential thought flows from the orderliness of God’s mind. Though we are not all intellectuals, we each possess a mind and are capable of thinking logically, as opposed to the instinctive habits of animals. God’s offer to “come, let us reason together” was not made to animals.

We have a moral likeness Just as there are natural laws that govern the universe, God created moral laws to govern the behavior of humans. Therefore, only humans, of all God’s creatures, have the capacity to know right from wrong. All humans have a conscience and believers additionally have the Holy Spirit, to help us understand not just what is right or wrong, but the potential consequences of those decisions.

We have a justice likeness God is just. That means he is fair in all his dealings. Humans also have the ability and responsibility to act justly. “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:8 Moral awareness, which we covered earlier is knowing right from wrong.  Justice is knowing what is a fair and reasonable to a moral wrong or righteous act.

We have an authority likeness God i27s the highest authority of all. However, God has given authority to humans to care for this earth and everything in it. (Genesis 1:26, 28) God appoints rulers; kings and governments (Romans 13). God appointed leaders for Israel, and gives believers authority to appoint leaders in the church today. He’s also given parents authority over their children. This God-given authority brings order to creation and relationships.

We have a love likeness God’s love is an affection that moves him to provide for the wellbeing of his creatures and creation, whether they deserve it or not. But let’s personalize it. When young people think of love they think first and quite naturally of a pleasant emotional experience. And this is love, but it is not the whole concept. When those same young people grow up, marry and have children, they soon learn that they have to discipline those children. The couple that first cuddles a baby, soon must correct a child who reaches out to touch a hot stove. So any definition of love must be broad enough to include both the cuddling and correcting aspects of love. God gave his Son out of love and he disciplines his children out of love. God is the very definition of love (1 Jn. 3:16; Jn. 3:16; see also 1 Cor. 13).

We have a holiness likeness Only humans can be holy and therefore believers are called to be holy. “But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do.” 1 Peter 1:15. What does it mean that God, or believers are holy? It means more than the absence of evil. It includes the idea of a positive righteousness as well. Perhaps this helps; Holiness means more than not being sick. Likewise, holiness is more than the absence of sin; it is a positive, healthy state of being right (Is. 57:15; Ps. 113:4-6)

Summary Though all humans possess these godlike characteristics, each person possesses them to varying degrees. That’s why not two humans are alike. Then layer on the spiritual gifts the Holy Spirit gives to each believer and you get even closer to “looking like” God!

How following Jesus works in real life.

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