Image/Identity: What does it mean that we are God’s image?
The Bible is clear that men and women, unlike the rest of creation, are made in the image of God (1). Furthermore, the Bible repeats this truth after sin enters the world, which means that even though sin has stained and marred us, we remain God’s image bearers (2).
The word image is often translated “idol.” An idol is something that makes the invisible God visible. Admittedly, the Bible renounces idolatry emphatically, repeatedly, and forcefully. Therefore, we want to be clear that we are not endorsing idolatry. Nonetheless, to image the real Trinitarian God of the Bible is to make him visible to the world as the Holy Spirit reflects the character of God off the children of God as their witness to the world. 2 Corinthians 3:17-18 says it this way, “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And 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.”
To image God is to “mirror” his invisible attributes to the world, somewhat like Moses, who radiated the glory of God after being in God’s presence. Therefore, we are not to reflect sinful Adam, the culture, or even ourselves to the world. All persons are God’s image in a basic sense, but Christians image him more than non-Christians and mature Christians do so even more (3).
Furthermore, image is both personal and relational. By personal, we mean that we as individual worshipers must continually ask whether we are good reflections of our God. By relational, we mean that churches, families, and Christian communities must continually ask whether they are good reflections of God to one another and the world.
This understanding of our created purpose (and subsequently one source of our joy) is radically different from the world’s understanding of being true to oneself, or simply reflecting one’s sin nature to the world. In fact, this understanding of imago Dei is even radically different from many Christian teachings about why we exist.
We are not empty cups needing to be filled by God as is commonly said. Rather, we are broken mirrors that need to be put back together by God, beginning with our regeneration and continuing every day in our sanctification, so that we can better and better reflect God.
Imaging God practically means mirroring both his moral and non-moral likeness. Mirroring God’s moral likeness means exercising decision-making power, having dominion over lower creation, living in social relationships with others, feeling our emotions, loving, serving, and communicating. Mirroring God’s non-moral likeness means using our intellect and reason to think and that we can be creative with the materials God has created; it also includes our immortality as will live spiritually even after dying physically.
In an effort to explain God according to Scripture, theologians have distinguished between his unshared attributes that belong to him alone (incommunicable attributes), and God’s shared attributes, which He bestows upon us to a lesser degree than He possesses them (communicable attributes).
Before examining God’s attributes as revealed in Scripture, two points are important. First, God’s attributes are not merely attributed to him, but they are qualities inseparable from his very being. In every way that God exists, He exists without limit, that is, in perfection. Second, we know God by our experiences through relationship with him: when we recognize his presence all around us, when we recognize his provision in our lives, when we confess our sins and accept his grace to live by faith. In his loving friendship we come to a fuller realization of who He truly is as revealed in Scripture.
- Omnipresence: God is everywhere at all times (4)
- Omniscience: God has complete and perfect knowledge of all things, including the past, present, future, and everything actual or potential (5)
- Omnipotence: God is all-powerful and able to do all that He wills (6)
- Immutability: God does not change in his essence, character, purpose, or knowledge but does respond to people and their prayers. (7)
- Eternality: God has no beginning or end and is not bound by time, though he is conscious of time and does work in time. (8)
- Sovereignty: God is supreme in rule and authority over all things, (9) though He does allow human freedom (10)
- Holiness: God is absolutely separate from any evil. (11) We mirror God when we hate sin and love holiness by repenting of our sin and fighting against sin in the world.
- Love: God alone is perfectly good and loving, and He alone is the source for all goodness and love (12). We mirror God when we love God and others, starting with our families, friends, fellow believers, and extending love and dignity to strangers for hospitality and even enemies.
- Truth: God is the source of all truth. He is the embodiment of truth (13). We mirror God when we believe truth over lies and speak truthfully as an act of worship.
- Righteousness: God does not conform to a standard of right and wrong, but right and wrong flow from his character (14). We mirror God as we fight oppression, injustice, and evil and pursue justice – particularly for those without power, such as the unborn, sick, poor, marginalized, defenseless, and abused.
- Mercy: God does not give some people what they deserve, because He is loving and gracious. (15). We mirror his mercy when we forgive those who sin against us and do good to those who do evil in an effort to bring them to God for help.
- Beauty: God is beautiful, and his creation reflects his beauty. God made men and women in his image and likeness to also create works of beauty. (16). We mirror God when we create and enjoy beauty in a holy way, such as by stewarding God’s beautiful creation (including our own bodies and health), enjoying the arts, and even painting the walls of our home in thanks to God who gives us both color and eyes to see it.
(1) Gen. 1:26–27