The Biblical concept of man as the image of God is often misquoted and misapplied in the political sphere. It’s often used to justify all sorts of sinful behaviors and legitimize radical identity politics. A healthy and informed understanding of the Image of God is crucial to effective Biblical Citizenship. So what does the Bible say about the Image of God?
The concept of the Image of God is introduced from the very beginning of Scripture in Genesis 1.
26 Then God said, “Let Us make mankind in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the livestock and over all the earth, and over every crawling thing that crawls on the earth.” 27 So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. 28 God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” 29 Then God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the surface of all the earth, and every tree which has fruit yielding seed; it shall be food for you; 30 and to every animal of the earth and to every bird of the sky and to everything that moves on the earth which has life, I have given every green plant for food”; and it was so. 31 And God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.
This entire chapter highlights two particular truths: God in his infinite power created everything, and man is unique among God’s creation. We are the final creative act of Genesis 1, the pinnacle of all creation that’s given authority over everything else that God has made. The all powerful creator of the universe made us differently than the rest. We are the only thing created in the Image of God.
So what exactly is the Image of God? Paul actually answers that question in Colossians 1 when he says that Jesus is the Image of the invisible God. He is the person of God that has a bodily form, He is fully man, He walked among us, and He is the person of the Trinity that we can physically see face to face. When Scripture says we are made in the Image of God, the text is telling us that we are made as a picture of Jesus.
While man as a picture of Christ is corrupted by sin in Genesis 3 (we’ll discuss that more in a future post), in Genesis 1 man is an amazingly clear picture of Christ. At this point man is sinless, just like Christ. He is in perfect fellowship with the Father. He can walk with God and talk to Him face to face in the garden. Man even has dominion over all creation, something we see in Christ when He walks on water or when He calms the storms.
There’s another aspect here that is often overlooked: God created mankind as male and female. While there are many things about mankind that are a product of sin, the reality of gender is part of God’s perfect pre-fall creation. He looked at mankind–as man was created in Genesis 1–and saw that His creation was good.
Every human being has dignity and value as one created in the Image of God, but we are sinful and imperfect pictures of Christ. But that’s not the end of the story. Through Christ’s redemptive work on the cross we can be restored to be like Him. Our struggles and shortcomings do not have to define us, and they do not have to be permanent if we profess Christ as the Lord of our life.
We should treat everyone with dignity and respect and have a sincere desire to see them restored as righteous image bearers of God. As Christians we should be loving and charitable as we share God’s love with others, but we should also understand that celebrating and embracing sin is, in fact, antithetical to embracing each other as image bearers of God.