A Primer on the Image of God

The amazing truth about being made in the image of God is that man is the pinnacle of God’s creative activity. Think about it for a moment: you look like God. In Genesis 1:26 the Triune God says, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” The next verse says God’s image-bearers were complete in that they were made “male and female.” Imago Dei (Latin for “image of God”) is the doctrine that humanity, both men and women, is in some respect designed to resemble divine likeness. Millard Erickson writes that the image of God “is the powers of personality that make humans, like God, beings capable of interacting with other persons, of thinking and reflecting, and of willing freely.” Wayne Grudem says being made in the image of God means that we are, simply, like God.

The beauty of God’s creation of man is that it was not complete with the creation of male. If men are honest, we know we are incomplete in ourselves (and for those of us who are married, we’re reminded of that daily). God, in his wisdom, provided a helper for us. Adam was found by God to be alone and this was “not good” (Gen. 2:18, the only time this phrase appears in the first two chapters of Genesis). God therefore decided to make Adam a “helper fit for him” (v. 18). In making Adam a helper, God took a rib from Adam’s side, creating woman, and God brought her to Adam (v. 22). Here we see the first wedding with God, as the Father, walking Eve down the garden aisle to her husband Adam who bursts out into song as he rejoices over his wife (v. 23).

Eve’s creation draws out many implications. Here’s two: 1) Because Eve was made a “helper fit” for Adam, she was meant to compliment and correspond to Adam as one who would assist and challenge him in the cultural mandate that God gave to mankind (see Gen. 1:28). Therefore, wives are to help and support their husbands as they assist them in their God-appointed calling. 2) Eve was taken from Adam’s rib, illustrating the fact that she is to stand beside Adam as equal. She was not taken from behind to be inferior nor from the front to be superior. Therefore, wives are equal to their husbands in worth, value, and dignity. Yet, they are not the same in role and function. Wives stand beside their husbands and operate in the relationship with their unique abilities and skills.

There’s been debate throughout the centuries as to what “image” and “likeness” means. Are they different? Identical? Sparing the details, it’s probably safe to say they mean the same thing. Martin Luther asserted this view, while saying that the uncorrupted divine image is God’s intention for mankind, but only a corrupted image is what is present after the fall. John Calvin adopted a similar view. This seems to be the preferable view in light of several Scriptures (e.g. Gen. 9:6; Acts 17:27-28; 1 Cor. 11:7; James 3:9). The fall distorted God’s image in mankind so that now we do not perfectly represent God’s image and likeness. But there’s no evidence from Scripture that men and women have completely lost God’s because of sin. Therefore even non-Christians are to be loved and cared for because of their inherent value as image-bearers of God.

Though we do not perfectly reflect God’s image, we still have hope! Jesus Christ has bested God’s image as the only obedient man. He is the complete revelation of the image of God. One of the reasons God prohibited the worship of images in the Law (Ex. 20:4) is due to the fact that he already had an image of himself, waiting to be sent, whom we would worship: Jesus Christ. Hebrews 1:3 perhaps puts it best: “[Jesus] is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature.” We have failed to represent God as he intended, but praise be to God, Jesus is all that we were supposed to be.

Through his redemptive work in the gospel, Jesus now creates a new humanity (Rom. 5:12-21; 1 Cor. 15:20-28). In light of the gospel, we are now being restored back into imago Dei (Rom. 8:29; 2 Cor. 3:18; 4:16). On the last day, when Christ returns in great glory, the image of God in believers will be fully restored. The apostle John tells us about this great hope: “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2).


Does James Contradict Paul?

Part 8 in an 8 part series. View series intro and index.

Over the centuries, some have argued that the apostle James in his letter contradicts Paul’s doctrine of justification.  The proof text for this, they say, is James 2:14-24.  James says, “You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone” (v. 24).   The argument people make, however, is that we need faith in Jesus plus works, not simply faith.  This is unconvincing for (at least) two reasons:

  1. James’ context is to convince people that intellectual faith is not enough to save them.  He says, “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works?  Can that faith save him?” (2:14).  In other words, there is no fruit of the Spirit in this person’s life (Gal. 5:22-23).  Are they even saved in the first place?  Probably not, James would say.  James wants his readers to not have dead faith or demon faith (vv. 19, 26).  He says that faith without works is dead—meaning that it is not alive and therefore doesn’t exist.  It’s not really there at all.  So in Paul’s mind, justification is a legal act of God in which he declares a person not guilty.  In James’ mind, justification is a person’s righteous actions that happen because of God’s legal act.  If the first kind of justification never happens, the second will never happen.  James wants people to test their faith.  Is it simply intellectual? traditional? cultural?  Make sure, James says, that you aren’t dead or demonic.
  2. Paul continually quoted and referred to Abraham being justified at a much earlier time than James refers to.  James refers to Abraham being justified in his actions much later in his life.  The Greek word dikaioo can also mean, “To show, exhibit, and evidence one to be righteous, such as he is and wishes himself to be considered.”  James is concerned with practical, daily living (the book is referred to as “The Proverbs of the New Testament”).  When James writes that Abraham was “justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar,” he is referring to an action later than what Paul refers to.  Paul quotes over and over again Genesis 15:6 in Romans 4.  Abraham doesn’t offer up Isaac until Genesis 22:10.  Perhaps there were 15 or 20 years in between these events (Abraham had to wait for Isaac’s birth, and Isaac would have been old enough to walk up the mountain with Abraham).  That is why James writes, “The Scripture was fulfilled that says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness’” (v. 23).  Abraham simply proved he had faith with his works.

This is a clear teaching in Scripture and one that separates Christianity from essentially ever other religious system in the world.  Christianity teaches that we come to God by faith because of his grace.  Other religions teach that we come to God by mustering up good deeds, hoping that we will have accomplished enough.  This takes all the pressure off of us to perform for God or “keep our slate clean” before him.  It shows that God is a loving,  gracious, merciful, compassionate, and forgiving God.  Wayne Grudem said, “This fact should give us a great sense of joy and confidence before God that we are accepted by him and that we stand before him as ‘not guilty’ and ‘righteous’ forever.”

That deserves a great “Amen!”