Week Nine: What does it mean to be created in God’s image?
Genesis 1:27 tells us: “So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”
God created many things—the earth, the sea, the sky. He made insects and fish and mammals that live in the sea and dwell on land. He made worms and he made the great apes—many of which sometimes look and act like people.
But only humans were created in the image of God. What does it mean to be a creature in God’s image? Jesus said, “God is Spirit,” (John 4:24), so how can we be in the image of God if he doesn’t even have a body?
Let’s look at what God the Father said to Jesus and to the Holy Spirit in Genesis 1:26: “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us. They will reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals on the earth, and the small animals that scurry along the ground.”
The other day I heard a radio host say that man was created “in God’s image” because we were like him because we have a mind, will, and emotions. I don’t agree, because animals have those same qualities, and so do angels, yet they are not said to be “created in the image of God.”
I believe the phrase is best translated with the understanding that we are to be God’s standard bearers; we are to be his representatives. You’ve probably seen movies about the Roman Army and seen them marching and carrying flags with the emperor’s image or symbol on them. They went forth to rule and conquer in the emperor’s name. That’s how we are “in God’s image.” We are his standard bearers, we are and were to rule the earth in God’s name, as his stewards.
God is not saying that he will make man to be identical to himself, but that man will represent God. He will be God’s representative on earth, the “man in charge” of all creation and the animals. Men and women were to rule the creation, including plants and animals. They, in turn, would serve him and live with him in peace.
For another example of this same language, we can look at Genesis 5:3: “When Adam was 130 years old, he became the father of a son who was just like him—in his very image. He named his son Seth.”
Do you look like your mother or father? Maybe one of your relatives has said you’re the “spitting image” of your mom or dad. Seth must have resembled his father, but were they identical? No. They were very different, but they still had qualities in common. Maybe Seth had his dad’s eye color, or maybe he had hair like Adam’s.
In the same way, we have some qualities that are like God—we can love, we can show mercy, we can choose to do good. Those are godly qualities, and when we exercise them, we are being like God. But we don’t always act like God. When Adam and Eve chose to disobey God, they were no longer perfect as God is perfect. They were no longer sinless. They were no longer holy. But they were still the people God had chosen to be his representatives.
In Genesis 9:2-3, after the Flood in which God destroyed all mankind except for Noah and his family, God gave Noah a stern warning. First, God said mankind would no longer live in peace with the animals, for “all the animals of the earth, all the birds of the sky, all the small animals that scurry along the ground, and all the fish in the sea will look on you with fear and terror. I have placed them in your power. I have given them to you for food, just as I have given you grain and vegetables.”
Mankind was still God’s representative over the animals, but now they would fear him. God told Noah something else: “If anyone takes a human life,” he said, “that person’s life will also be taken by human hands. For God made human beings in his own image” (Gen. 9:6).
Mankind has been stained by sin and we are no longer holy by nature. But we are still created in God’s image. We are still the highest beings on the planet. We still have dominion, or power, over plants and animals.
Can we ever hope to get mankind’s original goodness back? Yes, we can. Once a person accepts Christ, we begin to become more and more like Jesus, who is God. In Colossians 3:10, Paul wrote: “Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him.”
As we get to know Jesus, we will put away our anger, lying, stealing, dirty language, gossip, and bad habits. We will turn our backs on the things that displease God and we will try to do the things that please him. Paul said, “Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you” (Colossians 3:12-13).
The best news is that when Jesus returns to earth, we will be like Jesus in that we will become immune to death and sin. Paul wrote, “Just as we are not like the earthly man [Adam, who sinned], we will someday be like the heavenly man [Jesus, who never sinned].” (1 Corinthians 15:49).
When Jesus returns, whether we are dead or alive, our physical bodies will be transformed into supernatural bodies that will be like Jesus’! We will no longer get sick and we will not die. We will no longer be tempted to sin, so we will be able to live holy lives.
If God is Spirit, how can we live in his image? We can live in the image of his Son. We can smile like Jesus, act like Jesus, think like Jesus, love like Jesus. The Bible tells us that Jesus is “the exact likeness of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4). So when we live like him, we are truly living in the image of God.
Memory verse: “Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him” (Col. 3:10).
1. Read the following Scriptures. What do they tell us about what it means to be created in the image of God?
· Colossians 1:15: “Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation.”
· Romans 8:29-30: “For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son, so that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And having chosen them, he called them to come to him. And having called them, he gave them right standing with himself. And having given them right standing, he gave them his glory.”
· 1 John 3:2: “Dear friends, we are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really us.”
2. Are all people, or only Christians created in the image of God? If all people—of all races–are created in the image of God, how should we treat other people?
3. Because God is a spirit and does not have a body, the Israelites were forbidden to make idols of any kind (see Exodus 20:4). But God gave us bodies that reflect his character—for instance, God sees, and we have eyes to see. God speaks, and we have mouths to speak. We can taste and touch and smell, and we can enjoy the same beautiful creation that God himself enjoys. When we are mature, our bodies are able to bear children, just as God is able to create human beings who are like himself.
In what other ways do our bodies reflect aspects of God’s nature? What else can we do that God does?
4. What are some things you can do this week to reflect God’s image? How can you demonstrate his kindness, gentleness, mercy, love, and forgiveness?
Next week we’ll talk about something that’s really hard to explain.