I think we have been asking the wrong questions in these debates about humanity and the image of God. We have been wrangling over issues about what makes us in the image of God and speculating about some mental level or what have you, which of course leads to issues like those raised in the heartbreaking stories (and I have them in my own family) from the “Disability and the Image of God” thread. Then comes the speculation about Neanderthals and other hominids and if they were “in the image of God”.
Now I have mentioned what I write next before around here, and people have just seemed to not see it and go on as if it didn’t matter. That’s fine if you want to endlessly dialogue without making any progress, but I want to make progress. And to do that we must first define our terms. What is the Image of God? What does that even mean? Who has it and how is it obtained?
It would be an enormous post if I laid it all out here, but I am going to lay enough of it out to make my point. That way when issues related to the same topic come up again I can just refer back to this thread.
According to the scriptures, Christ is the image of God. We may have our own private interpretations of what it means to be “in the image of God”, but for a Protestant Christian like me the meaning laid out in the scriptures is the authoritative one. I will show here that according to the scriptures Christ is the image of God. Thus a person cannot be “in the image of God” unless one is in Christ. If you are “in Him” then you are in the Image of God. Adam was only “in the image of God” because he was in fellowship unmarred by sin with the LORD God in the Garden. It was not something intrinsic to him that people outside the Garden didn’t have. Afterward, even he did not claim that he was “in the image of God”, just the likeness (Gen. 5:1-2).
Colossians 1:15 says that Christ is the image of God, and further that as far as we are concerned God has no other image than Christ. It says of Him, “Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.” (The phrase “firstborn of all creation” is interesting too, but one point at a time). That Christ is God’s image is confirmed in 2nd Corinthians 4:4 which says of Christ “Who is the image of God.” Hebrews 1:3 says that Christ is the “exact representation” of God’s being or nature- in other words, an image.
Christ is the image of God, and God has no other image that is accessible to anyone but Himself. That is why when Thomas asked to see the Father, Jesus said “if you have seen Me, you have seen the Father.” That is why 1st Timothy 6:16 describes Christ in the full glory of God with these words: “Who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see". It is why the first chapter of the Gospel of John says “18 No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.” Some translations say “He has explained Him” for that last phrase. Further, in chapter six that gospel declares “46 Not that any man hath seen the Father, save he which is of God, he hath seen the Father.” We can’t see God, but we can see His image. That’s not us- its Christ.
When God says “let us make Man in our own image” He is saying that the goal is to make man to be in Christ. The ultimate goal of God is not to have a bunch of independent little figures of God-like beings running around creation separate and unconnected to Him. Man can do that, it is what we are born into, but that is the path of disobedience. It is the choice that the Devil wants for Man. It is a choice which promises freedom but ends in the slavery of delusion. God wants His children to choose Him as He has chosen them. He made us as little god figures, in the likeness of God. But what sort of god-figures shall we be? His plan was for us to become the Christ kind. Christ is His image.
God created the first Man in His image, and He made Adam in His image. It was always God’s intent to both create Man in His own image in the eternal realm and to make man in His own image through a process in the temporal realm. The fall of Adam interrupted that process, but the death and resurrection of Christ re-established in the temporal realm what God declared done in the eternal realm.
One must take the scripture (Genesis 9:6) which says that “God made man in His own image” in light of this larger picture. He did, but that does not mean that men currently born into the world are in the image of God. It is what is in heaven where His will is done and what can happen on earth when God’s intent is fulfilled in our lives.
When we are born in this world, we are not born in the “image” of God. All men are born in the likeness of God, but not the image. We have an earthly image. This is why it is written (John 3:7) “you must be born again.” If you were born in the image of God the first time, you would not need to be born again a second time. When we are born again, we have a heavenly image, and through faith and the renewal of our minds by the Holy Spirit we become conformed to that new image which we have. Here are some scriptures which support this declaration, starting in …
Romans chapter eight:
29 For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren.
And further in Colossians the third chapter…
9 Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds;
10 And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him:
And then from 1st Corinthians the fifteenth chapter:
47 The first man is of the earth, earthy: the second man is the Lord from heaven. 48 As is the earthy, such as they also that are earthy: and as is the heavenly, such as they also that are heavenly 49 And as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly.
And also in 2nd Corinthians the third chapter:
“18 But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.”
From these four passages, and from others besides, it should be clear that man is not automatically born “in the image of God”. All men are made “according to the likeness” of God, but this is not the same thing as being created “in the image” of God. Only those in relationship with Him are in His image. Hitler was not created “in His image”, nor was Jack the Ripper, or any other number of notorious monsters in human form. They were according to the likeness of God in the sense that they had the potential for connectedness and moral awareness. They used that god-like capacity to ungodly ends.
We are not made in His image when we are born. An image is an exact representation. We are according to His likeness, but our natural image is more similar to that of Adam after the fall. We who believe are being conformed to God’s image by the renewal of the Holy Spirit. This is what the scripture teaches.
To that you may say “Aha but Adam was made in the image of God.” Well, he started that way. Then the fall happened. By the end of things not even Adam considered himself to be in the image of God, only the likeness. See Genesis 5:1 which is the towledah for “the generations” or account of Adam. He says that God made man “after the likeness” of God, but never mentions “image”. We will explore that passage in more detail later.
When we are born again, and Christ said we must be born again, we are re-born in His image. As we walk with Him in faith we are conformed to that new image which He has given us. This is a view consistent with Romans 8:29 and the rest of these verses.