The Heart of It All: Humanity

August 7, 2012

by Peter Amsterdam

Made in the Image and Likeness of God (Part 2)

Audio length: 13:53

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(For an introduction and explanation regarding this series overall, please see The Heart of It All: Introduction.)

The previous article described the change that came about when sin entered humanity, the degradation of the image and likeness of God in humanity. Nevertheless, humans are still in God’s image, though no longer as fully.

So, knowing that we as individuals, and all human beings, are made in God’s image, what does that mean in our everyday lives? Is it significant? Should it affect our thinking and actions? The simple answer is yes, it should.

Being the only created thing that God said is made in His image and likeness shows that human beings are special in God’s eyes. The Bible states that humankind is at the pinnacle of physical creation and that God put man in place to rule and take care of the earth.

What is man that You are mindful of him, and the son of man that You care for him? Yet You have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You have given him dominion over the works of Your hands; You have put all things under his feet, all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas.[1]

So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”[2]

God has made humans to be different from all other physical creatures. He has placed them above the other creatures and has made them distinct. Let’s take a look at what being in the image of God tells us about ourselves.

Human Value

The primary thing is that we, as people, have value to God. While He created us along with all other things, He made us different from all other created things by making us in His image. He created us as unique beings and intimately breathed life into us.

The Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.[3]

German theologian and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer states:

The Bible expresses the essential difference between this work and all God’s previous creative activity by the way in which it introduces this work. The Hebrew plural here indicates the significance and sublimity of the Creator’s action. It is also to be noted, however, that God does not simply call humankind forth out of nonbeing, as God called forth everything else; instead we are taken up into God’s own planning, as it were, and thereby become aware that something new, something that has not yet been, something altogether original, is about to happen. And God said: “Let us make humankind in our image, after our likeness.” Humankind is to go forth from God as the last work, as the new work, as the image of God in God’s work. There is no transition from somewhere else here; here there is new creation. [4]

He made us personal beings, able to enter a relationship with Him and other humans. He made us a combined physical and spiritual being by giving us body and spirit. And even though all humans have sinned against Him, He loves us so much that He made a way for humanity to become reconciled with Him through the life, death, and resurrection of His Son, Jesus. God loves His image-bearing creatures, and He values us.

Because God values human beings, each has intrinsic, essential value. This should cause us to value each human being. All humans, no matter what their gender, race, skin tone, or creed, are created equal. Each person bears God’s image and should be respected and treated as such. Neither one’s place nor one’s value in society diminishes a person’s intrinsic value.

Authors Lewis and Demarest put it this way:

Each person is of inestimable temporal and eternal value and significance. Persons have this inward worth inalienably as creatures of God made in the image of God. Their value goes far beyond that of their amazing bodies or that of being the highest animal on earth. Their value is not diminished when for some reason and for some time they are not useful to society in the form of their family, church or nation. Every living human being is of intrinsic worth—poor or rich, female or male, educated or not, lighter or darker—because he or she is an endlessly existing active spiritual person like God.[5]

Newborns, children, the elderly, the infirm, the disabled, the mentally retarded, the unborn, the hungry, widows, and prisoners, those you disagree with, even enemiesevery human being, no matter what their condition, circumstance, or religious beliefhas the dignity of being God’s image bearer, and deserves—and should be granted—equal honor and respect by all other human beings.

Seeing others as God’s image bearers should rid us of racial, religious, and all other prejudices. It should cause us, as individuals, to view and treat others with respect, regardless of our differences.

It should also cause us to look at ourselves with respect and dignity. To realize that God loves and values us should help us to value ourselves mentally, physically, and spiritually. It should cause us to view ourselves positively, to take care of ourselves physically, to nurture our spirits with positive and godly input. It should remind us of the sanctity of our own lives, thus keeping us from harming ourselves in any way.

We should recognize that despite any personal weaknesses or failures, how we may perceive our own worth, how we view our physical appearance or our education or mental abilities, we are valued by God and thus should value ourselves.

Realizing that God values human beings, that He loves and cares for us, should cause us to value humanity, to recognize the worth of every person, ourselves included, and to do what we can to live in harmony and peace with others. In short, we should love and care for our neighbor, because God does.

Besides loving and caring about others and caring for ourselves, we should understand that as those given dominion over the earth, we are responsible to care for and use its resources wisely. When God created the earth and all that is in it, He said it was good. He then told man to be in charge of it, to take care of it. It is up to us, as those given dominion over this good earth, to be good stewards of the environment, to wisely and judiciously and equitably use its resources for the benefit of humankind. We are to value the earth as part of God’s creation, and not to greedily exploit it or otherwise damage, endanger, or destroy it.

Salvation and the Image of God

Does belief in Jesus and salvation make any change in the believer in regard to being in the image and likeness of God? We’ve seen that sin brought separation from God and that it has brought a serious deterioration in His image and likeness within humankind. Sin has negatively affected our conscience, our ability to do God’s will, our desire to align our will with God’s, our thought processes, our decision making, our motives, etc. God’s Word says that because sin entered humanity, we are slaves to it. (See more on the topic of sin in subsequent articles.) Clearly we are a long way off from the pre-fall Adam and Eve, when they were morally upright with elements of righteousness, knowledge, holiness, and the ability to not sin.

Through salvation, we are spiritually born again. It makes us new creatures in Christ, and this greatly affects our lives. To begin with, it brings us into God’s family, it brings forgiveness of sin, it takes away the guilt of our sin, it means we will live with God for eternity, in spirit when we die and in body and spirit after Jesus returns.

Salvation breaks the bondage of sin; and the infilling of the Holy Spirit, God living in us, makes it possible for us to grow into greater likeness of Christ. Jesus was the image of God on earth, and as we become more like Him, we grow in the image and likeness of God.

He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.[6]

The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.[7]

The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.[8]

Growing in Christ’s image is a progressive growth which comes over time, in degrees, through the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

We all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.[9]

Even though as Christians we still sin, salvation sets us free from the dominion that sin has over us. We become dead to sin, in that we have the power to overcome acts or patterns of sinful behavior.[10]

So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. … For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. … But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. … But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.[11]

Salvation doesn’t make us sinless, but as we grow in our Christian life and walk with the Lord—a process called sanctification* in theology—we are better able to not sin. In this lifetime no one can reach a state of sinless perfection, as sin will not be entirely eradicated. Sanctification, or growth in our walk with the Lord, is a process in which regenerate persons, depending on God’s help, work toward spiritual growth, obedience to and application of God’s Word in their lives.[12] As we spiritually grow, we can progressively transform more into the likeness of God. As we grow and mature in our faith, we exhibit more of the fruit of God’s Spirit in our lives.

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.[13]

Maturing in our spiritual lives and walk with the Lord is something Scripture says is a goal of Christians.

He gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into Him who is the head, into Christ.[14]

As Christians who grow in our faith, we can be more like Jesus, and thus exhibit more of the image and likeness of God in which we are made. As His image bearers, we should strive to become more like Him. As His witnesses we should reflect Him, so that others will see Him in us and thus want to come to know Him.

Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.[15]

(*Further information about sanctification is covered in the series on Salvation.)

[1] Psalm 8:4–8.

[2] Genesis 1:27–28.

[3] Genesis 2:7.

[4] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, Volume 3, Creation and Fall (Fortress Press, 1997), p. 61–62.

[5] Gordon R. Lewis and Bruce A. Demarest. Integrative Theology, Vol. 2 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), p. 172.

[6] Colossians 1:13–15.

[7] 1 Corinthians 15:47–49.

[8] 2 Corinthians 4:4.

[9] 2 Corinthians 3:18.

[10] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: InterVarsity Press, 2000), p. 747.

[11] Romans 6:11, 14, 17, 18, 22.

[12] J. I. Packer, Concise Theology (Tyndale House Publishers, 1993) p. 170.

[13] Galatians 5:22–23.

[14] Ephesians 4:11–15.

[15] Matthew 5:16.