As a teenager, I avoided standing next to my father when meeting new people because, inevitably, the new acquaintance would say, “You look just like your dad!” And I would groan and mumble something like, “Just what every girl loves to hear! You know he’s a man, right?” image
But, I do look like my father. We have similar features and similar mannerisms. I have his nose and his hair (and I’m eternally thankful he’s not bald). We are not identical, but I resemble him. I was made after the likeness of my human father.
To a greater extent, God has gifted all of mankind with the privilege of looking something like Him. This grace, common to every human, makes us distinct. We resemble God in ways that the rest of His creation cannot, and we see this first in Genesis 1:26-27:
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness. They will rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the livestock, the whole earth, and the creatures that crawl on the earth.”
So God created man in his own image;
he created him in the image of God;
he created them male and female.
All of mankind was created in the image of God.
The text is clear: God planned to make all mankind in His image, and then He carried out His plan by creating man and woman. We know that “man” in Genesis 1:26 refers to mankind collectively by God’s use of the plural “they”, as those who will rule over the created world. Then in Genesis 1:27, God narrows in and creates one singular man and woman. He intends to create all of mankind in the image of God, and He begins His image-bearing creation with a man and woman—both made in God’s likeness.
Mankind was created in the image of God for a purpose.
God created mankind to bear His image for a purpose: to resemble, represent, relate to, and reflect Him.
To Resemble: God created mankind to resemble Him, displaying His attributes to the world. While God possesses characteristics that are distinctive only to Him (incommunicable attributes), He has given mankind the ability to resemble Him in certain aspects of His character (communicable attributes). We resemble God by displaying—imperfectly—characteristics that God embodies in His perfection.
To Represent: We also display God’s image as we represent Him in exercising dominion over the earth. The word “image” is used in the Old Testament to refer to a statue that stood in something’s place. One scholar explained that, “Like the statue of a king, we are the ‘statue’ of a king too, the divine king, and we have been set up in the midst of God’s creation to represent him and…to serve as his authoritative representatives on this earth” (Richard Averbeck, Reading Genesis 1-2). We are not God, but in our limited capacity as His image bearers, we represent Him in the task of managing His created world.
To Relate: God also created mankind in His image for relationship. By creating man and woman with the ability to relate, we can fellowship first with God and then with one another. A.W. Tozer, in his book, The Purpose of Man, states that God created man in His image, “to live in His presence and worship Him. God then sent man out into the world to increase, multiply and fill the earth with men and women who would worship God in the beauty of holiness.” By creating us to be like Him, God prepares us to worship Him and to relate to those around us.
To Reflect: Finally, God created mankind after His likeness to reflect His glory. Tozer again explains this well:
Man’s supreme function through all eternity is to reflect God’s highest glory…that God might look into the mirror called man and see His own glory shining there. Through man, God could reflect His glory to all creation. You are a mirror of the Almighty, and this is the reason you were created in the first place.
What’s the image of God got to do with anything?
I’m often tempted to ignore the image of God in mankind, both in myself and in others. Yet, every human on the planet displays aspects of God to the world. We undermine God’s likeness in our fellow man when we disregard someone as insignificant, act or speak in racially ignorant ways, devalue life, or express contempt for those who add little to society. Our conversations concerning abortion, single parenthood, race relations, immigrants or refugees, adoption, the elderly or disabled, and the poor should begin with the notion that God’s image is evident in all.
If I consider the unborn baby to be made in God’s likeness, I should heed God’s instruction given in Genesis 9:6, that, “whoever sheds human blood, by humans his blood will be shed, for God made humans in his image.” If I consider the poor as created in God’s likeness, I will view them as valuable and worthy of my time and affection.
Unfortunately, sin has marred man’s ability to reflect God’s image. Yet, believers are uniquely called to bear the image of Christ, to become like Him in sanctification. James 3:9 tells us that sin did not eradicate God’s image in man; instead, Jesus alone is the perfect “image of the invisible God” (2 Cor. 4:4). In light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, believers are able to share in Christ’s glory, looking more and more like Him as they grow in holiness.
Christian, “put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph. 4:24). Remember your creation as an image bearer and remember your neighbor’s creation as an image bearer. When we fail to see God’s image in those around us, we miss His glory on display in His world.
Editor's Note: This originally published at Thinking & Theology