What Does It Mean That We Were "Made in the Image of God"?

What Does It Mean That We Were "Made in the Image of God"?

How do we know what God is like? Thankfully, the opportunities abound. We can read the Bible to hear stories about him. We see what his character is like through his behavior and the prized moments of direct speech. This is known as special revelation.

Getting to know God through the natural world is considered a general revelation. Take a walk in the woods and breathe the air, listen to the sounds, and follow the lines of tree branches. Hike a trail that ascends for a long time and makes you sweat, finds a clearing in the trees, and let your eyes try to measure the distance. Drink in the colors that don’t occur when you look at things up close.

Often, people prefer to learn about God directly. Listen to a sermon, read a list of Scriptures related to a topic of interest, ask a pastor a pointed question. These things have their place, and they are more quickly accessible than understanding God through general revelation. But we will miss a lot if we aren’t learning about God from the things he’s made.

In the category of general revelation is another, very significant, and the very risky way God shows himself to us. He made man and woman in his image. 

“So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27).

What Does it Mean to Be Made in the Image of God?

Before we delve further into what it means to be made in his image, let’s think a little more about general revelation. It’s said that the glory of God is like a rainbow in its brilliance (Ezekiel 1:28). No single banner or flag could fly the true colors of our King. It’s taken a universe of refracted light to show his beauty.

To see all of his colors, we roam the world and marvel. It will do little good to read a book about how exactly the throne of God is surrounded by rainbows. We must go experience his beauty in the world he has made.

Of course, some of what God has made in the natural world has not been preserved with beauty. Long stretches of the skylines are hazed over with manufacturing exhaust. Distractions abound in LED displays and trashed byways. But we can understand the intent of what God has made; we can seek to restore and preserve it; we can rejoice in the good that is there.  

God Is the Creator, We Are the Creation

This is what it means to be made in the image of God – the Author of Life wanted to write about himself, so he created humankind in his image.

God created motivations, passions, pleasures, and thinking power in us that mirror his own. Think of a painter who sees something lovely and wants to bring out the joy it gives him. The substance of the thing isn’t the same, nor is it meant to be a clone. There can only be one original. But every time the subject is painted, new qualities are displayed.

God is both the painter and the subject, and we are the painting.

How Does Being 'Made in the Image of God' Apply to Us Today?

Let’s take a case study. James writes, “Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you” (James 1:27).

When we take care of someone else, especially someone who is not in a situation to repay our kindness, we are acting like God would act. This is pure religion because it is untainted by ulterior motives.

Jesus said that when we invite people over for a meal, we should be sure to invite the poor, because they have no way to return the favor (Luke 14:12-14). This is generosity that shows what God is like: giving without any expectation of return.

Here’s another case study: newborn babies. When parents birth a child, God-given instincts to care for their offspring overpower other urges like sleeping, following a routine, and talking to someone who can reply. The innate understanding is that this tiny human is a person—pure and genuine—and cannot care for herself. Her very smallness and incapacity make the caring for her all the sweeter, all the more important, and all the more of an honor to do it.

We see the image of God in the purity of the newborn child. We see the image of God in the powerful drives of her parents to care for her.

Photo credit: Unsplash/Kelly Sikkema

Humankind has Strayed from God's Image

Sometimes we find ourselves distracted by aberrations. Our eyes are drawn to the mess when trash is spilled out in the middle of an otherwise lovely path. Similarly, we are distracted from the true image of God when broken humanity spills out impurity and selfishness.

A parent who neglects a child is derided because “that’s just wrong.” What’s wrong about it? It’s not the way God would act.

A group of people who take advantage of the elderly is denounced. Why? Because God honors the elderly and gives to them without expecting return.

Even those who do not acknowledge God himself have a sense of what human behavior should be like. We know what belongs in the natural world and we know what belongs in human character. We know these things because the pure versions of these revelations have taught us what God is like.

Walking a Mile in His Shoes

They say you can’t understand a man unless you’ve walked a mile in his shoes. By sharing with us his own motivations, his ability to think and reason, his ability to choose for himself, and his ability to be hurt, God has allowed us to walk in his shoes. What a wild, amazing thing. Why should God care if we understand him? Why should he go to such lengths to create a species which can feel as he feels and think as he thinks? In this too, we see the image of God.

God loves to be known. He wants to be understood. He knows that the only way to be in a meaningful relationship with someone is to see beyond the words, to experience more than what’s on paper, to share the chemistry of similarity and difference, of homogeny and uniqueness. We are made in God’s image because God wants to be in a relationship with us. And the usual ways of making something known are too small to show what he’s like. He has spent centuries and millennia to create millions and billions and trillions of humans to show his true colors.

The great risk has been giving us the ability to choose (“free will”). This has meant that we have defiled some of his image. We have vandalized the paintings. We cannot see clearly what God is like because we have manufactured hazy smog over the vista.

Seeing the Genuine Image of God

God was so determined that we should know him and so committed to expressing himself through the human race that he planned a new way to reveal his character. He became human himself. He started out as a pure and genuine newborn and stayed pure and genuine for his entire life. Jesus is the exact representation of who God is (Hebrews 1:3).

Yes, we lament the defilement of the human race. But while there is a place for railing against such pollution, let us not forget to marvel at the beauty.

Next time you see a mother struggling to manage her kids at the supermarket, look past her grumpy face and see the image of God, caring for stubborn humanity. Next time you see a homeless person taking and taking and taking, remember that God became a newborn baby and took and took and took. Next time you see a pastor fallen into immorality, remember that God became a man who walked with complete integrity on this very earth.

Bible Verses about the Image of God

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” 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

“Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image” (Genesis 9:6).

“And have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.” (Colossians 3:10).

“In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” (2 Corinthians 4:4).

“For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man” (1 Corinthians 11:7).

“He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.” (Hebrews 1:3).

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation” (Colossians 1:15).

“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.” (2 Corinthians 3:18).

“For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” (Romans 8:29).

Bible Meaning of "Made in the Image of God"

The following is commentary from John Gill's Exposition of the Bible on Genesis 1:27:

So God created man in his own image

Which consisted both in the form of his body, and the erect stature of it, different from all other creatures; in agreement with the idea of that body, prepared in covenant for the Son of God, and which it was therein agreed he should assume in the fulness of time; and in the immortality of his soul, and in his intellectual powers, and in that purity, holiness, and righteousness in which he was created; as well as in his dominion, power, and authority over the creatures, in which he was as God's viceregent, and resembled him. The Jerusalem Targum is,

``the Word of the Lord created man in his likeness;''

even that Word that was in the beginning with God, and was God, and in time became incarnate, by whom all things were made, (John 1:1-3, John 1:14)

in the image of God created he him;

which is repeated for the certainty of it, and that it might be taken notice of, as showing man's superior glory and dignity to the rest of the creatures, (1 Corinthians 11:7)

Photo credit: ©Getty Images/Professor25

Allie Boman is a wife, mom, follower of Jesus and freelance editor in the Chicago area. She served for 15 years with Chi Alpha Christian Fellowship and studied classical piano in college. She loves adventurous cooking and exploring the natural world. She can be found online at BomanEditing.com