Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, after Our likeness, to rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, and over all the earth itself and every creature that crawls upon it.”
So 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 BSB)
It is a marvelous thing that we have been created by God. It is even more marvelous that as he continues to form us, he is constantly helping us in our lives (I spoke about this last week). But frankly, these are not the most important aspects of the verses above which speak of the creation of man. Rather, absolutely the most amazing aspect is the fact that when God created us, he created us in his image. We have been made in the very image of God. This is mentioned twice in the opening verses above.
Last week we talked about how impossible it is for us to envision exactly how the creation of the first man and woman took place. This impossibility for us is only accentuated when we try to think of the significance and all of the implications of what it means to be created in the image of God. Any explanation that we can give of this phrase must fall far short of an accurate portrayal of what is meant by this astounding fact.
The Image of God
Certainly we can draw some suppositions. The fact that we are actually spiritual in essence must have something to do with the fact that we have been created in the image of God, since as Jesus told the woman at the well, “God is Spirit.”
We also have an intellectual aspect about us, as does God. We are relational in our nature like God. Despite whatever difficulty or frustrations we have with other people, most of us cannot happily exist without having others in our lives.
We are also creative. The fact we have a desire to create must have something to do with being made in God’s image. It is true that we do not have the ability to call into existence something out of nothing, but we each have a creative streak within us. Whether it is in art, inventiveness, music or literary composition, or in a host of other ways, each of us like to make something with our own hands or our imagination.
Another thing about being created in the image of God is that we have a moral code that is instilled within us. All humans, no matter what society or age in which they live, have an innate sense of actions that are right and those that are wrong. Certainly these norms can be corrupted and even changed by a prevailing culture, but absolutely everyone has some sort of standard to which they appeal in order to justify their actions.
All of these aspects have to do with being created in the image of God. Nevertheless, at the original creation, God spoke of none of these. Rather, he referred to yet another aspect of the image of God.
Reading again the words of God: “Let Us make man in Our image, after Our likeness, to rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, and over all the earth itself and every creature that crawls upon it.”
We can see that when God spoke of man being in his image, he linked it directly to dominion. At least in the context of this verse quoting God at the very dawn of history, he gave man the role of presiding over all the living creatures on earth, and even over the earth itself.
The notion that humans are above nature is becoming increasingly unpopular in our day. The trend in thinking today is that the earth itself is dominant, and humans are merely one of the creatures who inhabit the planet.
No doubt part of the reason for this thinking has stemmed from the fact that we historically have done such an atrocious job in caring for our environment. We have polluted and ruined, we have taken greedily and not given back, and we have lived without regard to what damage we were doing to our natural world.
Certainly these attitudes are part of the reason for the growing belief in the supremacy of nature, but it is not the entire reason. This perspective and its reasoning goes deeper than that.
The primary reason that this belief is becoming prevalent is because of what we have allowed the image of God within us to become. We have not only done an atrocious job in caring for our environment, but we have done an even worse job in maintaining the reflection of God in our lives. The image of God within us has become corrupted.
God created us in his image, but just as we have done to our environment itself, we have contaminated God’s image within us and infected it with sin. We have abused our reflection of God and lived as if we were not responsible for our actions and as if there would be no day of reckoning.
So what has happened to God’s original plan? How is it that we have strayed so far from what God intended, and why has the image of God within us become so tarnished?
According to what the Apostle Paul teaches, it is because we as a human race have not merely ignored the teachings of God, but we have even suppressed them. I quote from Romans 1:18-20:
The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness. For what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood from His workmanship, so that men are without excuse (BSB).
A few weeks ago I quoted also the man Job who told us that among all of God’s creatures, it is we alone who do not recognize God as the creator and sustainer of life.
Job says, “But now ask the beasts, and let them teach you; and the birds of the heavens, and let them tell you. Or speak to the earth, and let it teach you; and let the fish of the sea declare to you. Who among all these does not know that the hand of the LORD has done this, in whose hand is the life of every living thing, and the breath of all mankind?” (Job 12:7-10 NAS)
It is said of no other creature other than humans that they have been endowed with the image of God. Seeing that this is so, and contrary to what we might expect, it is also said of no other creature that they have rejected the knowledge of God.
But humans, the very ones who have been given the image of God, have rejected this knowledge. Why is this so?
The rejection has primarily happened because humans have attempted to usurp the authority of God and to become their own authority. Again, the roots of this go way back to the Garden of Eden.
Originally, the environment that God gave to Adam and Eve was a perfect environment and his image within them was untarnished. In God’s love for those that he created in his image, he gave to them the responsibility to care for it. This is shown to us in the form of the naming of the animals. God did not name the animals, but instead brought each before Adam so that the man could give them a name.
The act of naming the animals is more than a cute Bible story we tell to our Sunday School class. God did this to demonstrate that the man was to be responsible for the animals. It is only the person that is responsible to care for someone or something who also has the right to give these a name. God gave names to Adam and Eve, but Adam was given the task of naming the animals. The animals of the earth were under man’s dominion.
But then Satan entered the picture. Satan introduced the first man and woman to the concept of discontent. He convinced Adam and Eve that God was holding out on them and that they could have more. Because of the doubts that Satan placed within them, for the first time Adam and Eve were dissatisfied with their lives.
Tempting Eve with the very fruit that God and warned them not to eat, Satan told her, “For God knows that in the day you eat of it, your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
Just as Satan himself had rebelled against the authority of God and had lost his own state of existence that he before had known as one of God’s own angels, he is now attempting to beguile the first humans to do the same. If he is successful, he will have the entire creation of the earth under his influence. Remember, the man and the woman held the authority of the earth and all of its creatures, and if Satan could put these first people under his spell, then it would be him who would hold the authority over all the earth.
Of course we know what happened. Satan twisted the words that God has spoken and tempted them with the thought that they could become equal to God. In other words—they would become gods themselves.
In the book of Romans, Paul explains what happened, not only to Adam and Eve, but to the human race in general:
For although they knew God, they neither glorified Him as God nor gave thanks to Him, but they became futile in their thinking and darkened in their foolish hearts. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images of mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. (Romans 1:21-23 BSB)
It was then that we as a human race began to devalue the image of God. Our worship instead began to be focused on ourselves, which eventually began to be a worship of creation itself, instead of the Creator.
Or as Paul put it: “[We] exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is forever worthy of praise! (Romans 1:25)
Thus, the image of God that he had even placed within us became corrupted by our rebellious and faulty thinking. We became confused in our priorities, ignorant of the eternal truth, and condemned to live with constant discontentedness.
What God Did
Seeing that this was the state of existence that we had brought upon ourselves, what could God do to reestablish our former condition? Of course he could continue to speak to us to attempt to convince us of his truth, which he did. But our understanding of truth had been so corrupted by the lie of Satan, most refused to recognize it.
Historically, in many ways God attempted to bring us back to him. He gave us his commandments, which although he knew that we could never obey completely, at least gave us a vision for how his righteousness functioned. He also sent prophets to speak his truth. They were either ignored, mocked, persecuted or stoned to death.
Finally, God Himself returned. He returned in the person of Jesus Christ, who was also called “the Son of God.”
The Image of God Incarnate
The writer of the New Testament book of Hebrews explained the coming of Jesus by saying, “On many past occasions and in many different ways, God spoke to our fathers through the prophets. But in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son…[Who] is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His nature” (Hebrews 1:1-3 BSB).
I also again quote Paul the apostle, since he has written much on this subject. Speaking of the person of Jesus, Paul says,
The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in Him all things were created, things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities. All things were created through Him and for Him.
He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. And He is the head of the body, the church; He is the beginning and firstborn from among the dead, so that in all things He may have preeminence. (Colossians 1:15-18 BSB)
With the arrival of Jesus to earth, also born of a human mother as we are, yet also retaining the nature of his eternal divinity, we have the perfect image of God demonstrated to us in human form. Jesus Christ is God’s most perfect message to us. The Apostle John even calls him the very “Word of God.”
“The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the one and only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14 BSB).
How Satan has Hidden the Image of God from Us
Of course, Satan did everything in his power to cause this most perfect message of God’s to fail. Since Jesus had come in the form of a man, Satan at first believed that he could use similar temptations on the Son of God that he used on other men. The Devil tempted him with riches and power, but he had no success in doing this. Unlike Adam and Eve did in the face of the temptation from Satan, Jesus sent him away (Matthew 4:1-11).
Failing that, Satan then attempted to hide the message and the image of God from the people of the world. In this, Satan has had considerable success. The message of Christ has largely been lost to most people in all the noise of trivial pursuits that the world under Satan’s control puts before us.
Paul writes that “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers so they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4).
“Their minds were closed,” he says.
Paul describes what Satan did as placing a veil over the faces of the unbelievers so that they cannot see the truth that God had spent centuries in attempting to communicate to the world. This truth of God’s was demonstrated in all of his messages, beginning with the commandments and prophets of the Old Testament. Despite the many methods that God has used to try and break through our blindness, in every instance and with a great number of people, Satan was able to hide the truth of God.
People were blinded. A veil had been placed in front of their eyes.
The Image of God Restored in Men and Women
There is only one solution for the “lifting of this veil” so that the truth can be seen: “Only in Christ can it be removed…whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away,” Paul says (2 Corinthians 3:14,16).
It is with the lifting of this veil that we ourselves are transformed. Paul continues, “And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into His image with intensifying glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18 BSB).
When Christ comes into our lives and we begin to listen to the words of God, we begin to see through the tricks and deceits of the devil. The inconsequential pastimes of the world no longer hold our attention. Our vision becomes clearer.
Did you notice that Paul speaks of an intensifying glory? Once the knowledge of the true Savior Jesus Christ has lifted the veil from in front of our eyes, his image in us is awakened. We are no longer condemned to live in a state of discontent, listening to and heeding the lies of Satan.
“Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Corinthians 3:17).
In Christ, the awakened image of God within us begins to transform us with an intensifying glory. Perhaps the change comes slowly at first, but for all who truly know Christ, God is at work within them. He is renewing and forming us into his image as he did at the beginning at the creation (Romans 8:29).
Pressing On Toward the Goal
For the one who follows the Word, Jesus Christ, all of life has a forward movement. Concerning the image of God within us, we presently may not yet be where we want to be in our lives, but we have promises and we have a goal.
This was Paul’s summary of his life. Speaking of his life in Christ, he wrote to the Philippian church,
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize of God’s heavenly calling in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:12-14 BSB)
Just as in Paul’s testimony about his life, neither have any of us already attained or arrived where we want to be in our lives. But taking a clue from Paul, we forget all those ways of past in which we have followed Satan and the world, and concentrate on looking straight ahead on the path that Jesus has laid out before us. Jesus has dealt with those past sins and our past rebellion. We need not trouble ourselves with them any longer.
Paul also wrote, “Once you were alienated from God and were hostile in your minds because of your evil deeds. But now He has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy, unblemished, and blameless in His presence—if indeed you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope of the gospel you heard” (Colossians 1:21-23 BSB).
Do not allow Satan to have dominion in your life. The goal is before you. That is where our attention should be centered.
And what is the goal? I think John summarizes it the best: “Beloved, now we are God’s children, and what we will be has not yet appeared. But we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2).