What Does it Mean to be Created in the Image of God?

Then God said, “Let Us make man in our own image, according to our likeness… So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” – Genesis 1:26-27

What does it mean to be created in the image of God?

This is a question I have wrestled with lately. I hear it talked about a lot, and it sounds important, but I honestly haven’t been able to nail down it’s meaning firmly in my own mind. I’ve recently set myself to study the subject further. Hopefully, this blog will serve to enlighten both of our minds on the subject.

When God created the world, He waited until the end to create man. He made the land and the sky, the birds and the fish, and all the animals. And then, as His last act of creation, he forms man from the dust of the earth. He then breathes the breath of life into his nostrils, and man becomes a living being.

But before He creates man, He speaks and says, “Let Us (a reference to the Trinity) make man in our own image, according to our likeness.”

God takes the time to differentiate this final creation from all the rest of the living creatures. This creature, and this creature alone, is created in the image of God.

This fact is very important to God. A few chapters later, God refers to this as the reason that we ought not kill one another. We are permitted to kill (and even eat) other living creatures, but not other people. Why not? Because people are made in the image of God:

Surely for your lifeblood I will demand a reckoning; from the hand of every beast I will require it, and from the hand of man… Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed; for in the image of God He made man. – Genesis 9:5-6

There is something about being made in the image of God that is very important to God. So much so that he demands the death penalty for those who murder. He even demands that animals who kill a man to be put to death.

So, what is it? What does it mean to be made in the image of God? And why is it so important to God?

There are two words God used when creating man: image and likeness. We are made in the image of God, and after His likeness.

If I were to ask a painter or a sculpture to make an image of me, what would that mean? Or if I were to show you an image of myself in a photograph, what would you see? Depending on the ability of the artist, and the quality of the photo, you would see something that very much resembles me. You would say, “Oh, that’s Hal.” You’d be wrong, of course. It wouldn’t be me. It would be an image of me.

This is precisely what God did when He created Adam. He looked at Himself in the mirror, so to speak, and crafted Adam out of the dirt.

Somebody might say, “Wait, does God even have a form? How do we know what God looks like or if God even looks like anything?”

I remember as a kid that I somehow got the idea that God was just a bunch of laser beams bouncing around, that He didn’t really have a form. A lot of people believe things like this. But, according to the Bible, God does have a form. He’s a Spirit, yes, but that doesn’t mean that spirits don’t have some kind of form. Angels are spirits. Demons are spirits. The devil is a spirit. They have forms; the Bible describes those forms in various places (John 20:12 for example).

God also has a form. His form is very much like the human body. How do we know that? Well, the bible says so.

If you remember, Moses requested that he might see the glory of God. What was God’s response?

“You cannot see My face; for no man shall see Me, and live.”  And the Lord said, “Here is a place by Me, and you shall stand on the rock. So it shall be, while My glory passes by, that I will put you in the cleft of the rock, and will cover you with My hand while I pass by. Then I will take away My hand, and you shall see My back; but My face shall not be seen.” – Exodus 33:20-23

What an amazing experience! Moses was hidden in a cave, God’s hand was placed over it while He passed by, then He removed His hand so Moses could see Him from behind. How crazy is that!?

This was an interesting experience, no doubt, but the part I want to point out is that God has a face, a hand, and a back–just like we do. This experience also implied that He walked upright on two legs, just like we do.

In another place, Ezekiel has a vision of God. He sees God seated upon His throne in great glory. The brightness of God’s glory keeps Ezekiel from seeing His face, but he makes out His waist and notices that He is seated on a throne. This sounds very similar to a human body (Ezekiel 1). Isaiah also saw the Lord sitting on a throne, and that He was wearing a robe with a long train (Isaiah 6:1).

The point of all this is that the Bible gives us the picture of God in a form similar to a human being. Of course, God is not a physical being, but a spiritual being. His spiritual form, however, looks similar to our physical form.

In that vein, it is also interesting to note that our spirits look similar to our bodies. There are various instances throughout the Bible that leads us to believe this. In the story of the rich man and Lazarus we see that after death, in their spiritual form, the rich man easily recognized Lazarus, and even Abraham (Luke 16:23). In other instances we see that Paul didn’t know whether he was in or out of the body (2 Cor 12:3), the witch of En Dor saw and recognized Samuel (1 Sam 28:12-15), and somehow Peter was able to recognize Moses and Elijah on the mount of transfiguration (probably because Jesus recognized them and referred to them by name) (Matthew 17:3-4).

Let’s summarize this: God is a Spirit. He fashioned our physical bodies to look similar to His spiritual form. Our spiritual form also looks similar. When we shed these bodies, we will still be able to recognize one another.

So, all that to say this: we look like God. But there’s more to it than that. He didn’t just make a statue that looked like Him. He breathed into man the breath of life.

In Genesis chapter 5, the Bible repeats the notion that man was created in the image of God, and then speaks in a similar fashion regarding Adam having a son:

And Adam lived one hundred and thirty years, and begot a son in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth. – Genesis 5:3

The bible here draws a strong parallel between God’s creation of Adam, and Adam’s fathering of Seth. The way that a son is like his father is the way mankind is like God.

God lets us feel a little bit of His joy in creating mankind in the procreation of our own children. The love we have for our children, who are born in our image, is a small picture of the love God has for man, who is created in His image.

As a matter of fact, there is no creature more similar to a man than his own son. That’s what’s special about having children. You have little people that are similar to you. You could get a dog or a cat, or some other kind of animal, but no animal will be as special to you as your own child.

And children will look similar to their parents, but even more than that: they act similar.

I actually don’t look too much like my dad. I have certain features similar to my dad, but I really look like my mom. However, my wife constantly reminds me of how much I act like my dad! All the personality quirks that bugged me about my dad in my childhood now bug my wife through me! How did that happen??

I’m made in his likeness.

In the same way, we may look similar to God, but we also act like God in certain ways. There is a certain aspect of God that is in us that is not in the other creatures He has made. Because of that, human beings are in a category of our own. We think, we reason, we create, we love, we communicate, we work, we care. Some animals may be able to do some of these things to a limited extent, but it’s nowhere near what mankind can do–who is created in the image of God.

However, just as children can stray and become very different than their parents, so can mankind stray from being like God. Sometimes a son follows in the ways of his father, other times he becomes rebellious, despising the rules of the house, becoming selfish, and hardhearted. In the same way, God is love, but mankind veers away from being like God in this respect. Sin mars that image of God that is in us, making mankind less and less like God.

The more we embrace sin, the less we are like God. This is why the bible says that it is God’s desire for us to be conformed to the image of His Son (Romans 8:29), who is the perfect image of God (Hebrews 1:3).  We are to look like Jesus in word and deed, to be conformed to Him, and not to the image of this world (Romans 12:2).

Every person bears the image of God to a certain extent, but those who are closest to Jesus are the ones that are most in His likeness. Adam was perfectly like God. He fell, and mankind became more and more like beasts and less and less like God. Jesus came to take those beasts and transform them back into the beautiful image-bearers that they were meant to be!

This is precisely why Jesus had to die on the cross. Sin made us less and less like God, but He came to take away our sin. Not only does He take away our sin, but the Bible says that He gives us the gift of righteousness. In other words, Jesus takes away everything wrong about us and puts in us everything right about Him. What a great deal!

Jesus died on the cross and rose from the dead, not just so we could scrape by and one day finally make it to heaven, but so that we could once again be a partaker of the Divine Nature (2 Peter 1:4). God doesn’t just want us to admire Him, He wants us to be like Him (Ephesians 5:1)! He wants us to come up and sit beside Him and rule with Him (Ephesians 2:6). He wants to be a Father to us and He wants us to be His children.  But this can only happen if we allow Him to transform us into the image of His Son. He is ready and willing to do just that. But the question is: are you?

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