What does it mean to be created in the image of God? We learn in Genesis 1:26 that God made the decision to create man “in our image, after our likeness.” So, it is important to discuss what it means, really, for us to be in the image and likeness of God. Theologians and scholars have spent years trying to discern precisely what it means to be in the image of God, and use many words and complex explanations to explain it. This explanation will hopefully be far from complex, and will be a description we can all follow and understand.
First of all, to be created in the image and likeness of God does not mean that we are formed in His physical image. God Himself does not have a physical body, as John 4:24 teaches us. There, we learn that “God is a spirit…..“, not a physical body. We also see in Luke 24:39 that “…… a spirit hath not flesh and bones….” Of course, God did become incarnate as a man in the form of Jesus Christ, but God the Father is not flesh and bones.
The idea of mankind being created in the image and likeness of God begins with the very way God created man. God, when He created all other living creatures, simply created them from nothingness. They were not there; God spoke, and they existed. Genesis 2:7 tells us something very important about the creation of man.
“And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.”
When God created man, He formed us with His hands, so to speak, from the dust of the ground. God then personally breathed life into the nostrils of the first man, Adam. Adam then became a living soul, eternal in existence. When God created animals, they were just spoken into existence; when God created man, He breathed life directly into His first human creation. David recognized this difference between humanity and the animal world when he wrote Psalm 8: 4-6.
“What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him? For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour. Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet:”
Being created in the image and likeness of God does not mean that we possess God-like attributes. We are not omniscient, omnipresent or omnipotent. We do not possess other attributes normally associated with a Divine nature. We already covered that we are not in God’s image physically, because God is spirit and not flesh. We understand that we are not gods, and do not possess Divine natures. How, then are we in the likeness of God?
Our creation in the image and likeness of God, then, refers to the immaterial, not physical, parts of our nature. In many of these immaterial attributes we have things in common with God’s nature. In a nutshell, we are in the likeness of God mentally, morally and socially. We also share God’s image in the sense that we are eternal beings. Below, we will break those ideas down some.
We bear the image of God mentally. This is critical in understanding the one of the key differences between mankind and the animal world. Although many animals appear quite intelligent, they are not in the image of God mentally. Man possesses the ability to engage in reason and highly complex thought. Man possesses the ability to come up with ideas independent of instinctive compulsions, and then the ability to put those ideas into action through creation of things, inventions and so on. Art, language and literature are all manifestations of some of the ways we were created in the image of God mentally.
Mentally, we are in the image of God in the sense that we make volitional decisions. The animal world certainly makes decisions, but they are primarily driven by biological imperatives, not true volition.
Mentally, God clearly made man to be superior to and rule over the world and all other life in it. Genesis 1:28 teaches us God created us in His image, to then have dominion over all the earth.
“And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.”
We see both this dominion and man’s superior mental nature when Adam named all the animals in Genesis 2:19.20.
“And out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof. And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for Adam there was not found an help meet for him.”
God created man in His image mentally in the sense that we have free will and the ability to go in whatever direction we choose, just like Him. We are not simply bound to go in whatever direction our biology and instincts drive us; we can choose to do whatever we choose to do, even if it is contrary to our biological natures. The best example of this is the fact that we were created without sin and in innocency. Adam then made the choice to disobey and rebel against God. Even though God created us sinless and perfect, the free will He had given us enabled us to make that choice.
We bear the image of God morally. Despite what many would claim, animals do not possess a moral compass of any sort. While they certainly appear to love us and even desire to please us, this not due to a moral nature of any sort. Animals will always simply act in accordance with what supplies their biologically driven need to live and propagate themselves. Man, on the other hand was created as a moral being; we all have within ourselves the moral nature that God both possesses and that He instilled in us when He created us.
God is Holy and perfect. God has certain standards which we call the Law of God. Not the law, in the sense of the Old Testament Law, but the Law of God. These are things that God clearly sees as wrong and sinful. God Himself always lives by His own standards, as He is perfect and holy. Additionally, God created us in the beginning in a state of holiness and perfection.
Adam chose to exercise the free will God had given him and disobey and rebel against God. As a result, all of us are sinners and no longer measure up to God’s standard. Romans 3:23 teaches us this; “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God. “However, our free choice to rebel and reject God does not mean that our basic God instilled morality has gone away. It may be deadened by sin almost to the point that it seems as if it is gone, but it still remains. In every society and culture that has ever existed, there are seemingly universal moral standards people adhere to. Murder, stealing, and other things are considered wrong no matter where one wanders in the world. People may not adhere to these standards, but they know they are there.
We all are born with a conscience and knowledge of morality. Romans 2:14-16 shows us the concept that we all know morality, even if we do not have the specifics.
“For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another;) In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel.”
Here Paul was making the point that while the Gentiles did not have the law, they still knew the law, because it is written on their consciences and hearts from birth. That passage clearly shows that we all understand moral standards. Our understanding of universal moral standards also leads to the conclusion that we each also know that there is a moral law giver, which is God. Romans 1:18-20 shows us clearly that we all know God exists, because He created us that way, to have an understanding of His existence.
“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness; Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:”
We bear the image of God socially. God Himself in His triune form, has existed since eternity past as a social being. God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit have always existed in fellowship with one another. The decision to create humanity was made as a community effort by the persons of the Trinity. We can see this in Genesis 1:26 when the Triune God said He would create man in “our image, according to our likeness.”
God created us for His joy and His glory. He also created us to love and fellowship with Him. One thing to clearly understand is that God did not create us because He was somehow lonely just sitting around in eternity past with nothing to do. God is self contained and self sufficient and has no needs whatsoever. He does, however, enjoy being loved, worshipped and fellowshipped with.
A reading of Genesis 3:8 shows that in all likelihood God had a habit of walking in the Garden and fellowshipping with Adam and Eve.
“And they heard the voice of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day: and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God amongst the trees of the garden.”
Genesis 2:18 shows us that God understood that He had created man to be a social creature as well; He created Eve for Adam because He could see it was “not good” for Adam to be alone.
We bear the image of God socially in terms of the emotions we feel towards each other. God loves, God hates, and God gets angry. The most obvious reference to how God loves is, of course, found in John 3:16 where we learn just how God loved us. God hates sin; the Biblical references to God being angry, jealous or hurt are too numerous to even mention.
We are in God’s image spiritually. God is Spirit, and in an eternal sense, so are we. Obviously we are not eternal from eternity past, only God has existed forever. On the other hand, God created us to exist eternally after our creation. This was true from the very beginning when God formed us from the dust of the earth. We became a “living soul.” Some might debate the difference between soul and spirit, but for the intent of that particular verse, the implication is that we are a soul which lives forever. Scripture clearly teaches that we will all exist somewhere for eternity.
Many words have been written about how man is in the image and likeness of God, and they are well worth more study. The above few words, however, capture the essence of how we were created in the image of God.