The Image and Likeness of God

Posted: November 29, 2009 in Christian


Genesis 1:26-27, “Then God said, "Let Us make man in Our image (Heb. selem), according to Our likeness (Heb. demuth); and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth. God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.”

The image and likeness of God relate to one thing, the resemblance of God. It is most widely understood that the image and likeness do not resemble God in bodily form. The image and likeness of God can only reside in spiritual qualities, in man’s mental and moral attributes as a self-conscious, rational, personal agent, capable of self-determination and obedience to moral law. The divine likeness resembles God in the ability to think rationally, to form relationships with other human beings and with God, or with the exercise of dominion over creation. The image of God, defaced, but not entirely lost through sin, is restored in yet more perfect form in the redemption of Christ. Therefore, the image of God in which man was created, was in his spiritual, intellectual, and moral nature, in righteousness and true holiness.

In the New Testament, the teaching of Jesus indicates the value of human beings implicit in their being God’s image-bearers (Matt 6:26; 12:12). More important, Jesus himself perfectly images God in his life and ministry as he relates sinlessly to God, people, and nature. As the first Adam failed the satanic test, the second Adam passed with flying colors (Matt 4:1-11). Jesus did not forsake God as did Adam, but as the sin-bearer Jesus was forsaken by God (Matt 27:46) so that he might restore his people to harmonious relationships to God, neighbor, and nature.

It is primarily Paul who develops the New Testament teaching on the image of God. Paul sees Jesus as the one who preexisted in God’s form (morphe Php 2:6) and whose incarnation supremely imaged God (2 Cor 4:4; Col 1:15; cf. John 1:1, 14, 18; 14:9; Heb 1:3). Jesus’ work of redemption is both compared and contrasted to Adam’s work of rebellion (Rom 5:12-21; 1 Cor 15:22). Those who believe in Jesus are renewed in the image (eikon) of God and are expected to live as renewed people (2 Cor 3:18; Eph 4:22-24; Col 3:9-10). Their destiny is ultimately to be made like Jesus, to image him perfectly as he perfectly images God (1 Cor 15:49; Eph 4:13; Php 3:21). In this respect, Christians are like children who look up to their big brother and want to be like him (Rom 8:29). For the Christian, then, godliness is Christ-likeness.

For Paul salvation from start to finish, encompassing regeneration, justification, sanctification, and glorification, is nothing less than new creation (Rom 8:18-30; 2 Cor 4:6; 5:17; Gal 2:20; 6:15; Eph 2:10; cf. John 3:5; 5:24). This new creation is not merely individual but corporate and cosmic as well. The salvation of individual believers places them into community with other believers whose destiny resembles that of the physical universes’ restoration (Rom 8:19-21; 1 Cor 15:24-28; Col 1:16; cf. Matt 19:28; Heb 2:5-8).

The community of believers in Jesus has already experienced image renewal and with perseverance, they hope for the consummation of that renewal. In the meantime the ethical obedience of the Body of Christ is not merely to be like God but to be like Christ, who has imaged not only an incarnate model for godliness but also a dynamic for attaining godliness through the Spirit (John 13:14; 1 Cor 11:1; Eph 4:32-5:2; Php 2:5; Col 3:13; 1 Thess 1:6; 1 John 3:3).

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