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

So God created man in His own image, in the image of God, 
He created him. Male and female, He created them. ~ Genesis 1:27

Let me ask you an honest question. Consider a cat, an orchid, a hamster and a little girl. They all represent living things. The question is, if these four were trapped in a burning house, and you could save only one, which one would you save?
Hopefully, you would say the human being  (my sister as it happens!) Most normal people would, as she is a person. But why? What makes humans special? Is there any difference between humans and animals?

In today’s world, we are encouraged to class man as just another animal. This is backed up with the claim that we have become slightly more intelligent than other animals merely because we evolved that way. Yet the Bible teaches we are very different, simply because we were made in our Creator’s image when nothing else was.  But what does being made in the image of God actually mean?

This article seeks to show that the Bible demands that mankind is unique, distinct from all other creatures, and that we reflect the very character of God in our spiritual being because we truly were created in the image of God. In other words, humans are a special creation, separate to animals and all other living organisms. I also aim to give Biblical reasons as to why we must reject evolution as totally inconsistent with the Bibles teaching on mankind.

The latter part of chapter 1 and all of chapter 2 of Genesis is devoted to the creation of the first man, and then the first woman. It is clear when reading these first two chapters that there is something intimate and special about the way God creates mankind, especially when in the statement; “Let us make man in our own image”.

In the first half of Genesis 1, God is described as speaking things into existence, such as 1:3; “Let there be Light”. Yet in 1:26, we see God stopping, pausing, even having a discussion concerning man with the words; “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness, and let him have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

Many Theologians recognise the “Us” at the beginning of this verse to be the first reference to the trinity, God the Father [Jehovah], God the Son [Jesus], and God the Holy Spirit [Helper] – one God Head yet three divine, co-equal persons, but not 3 Gods.  Deuteronomy 6:4 states clearly: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one”.

 Chapter two of Genesis gives a more detailed description of man’s creation: “And the Lord God formed man out of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living being.” This is a very unique way of creating for God did much more than merely speak man into existence.Heput very personal time and effort into creating an image of Himself and for Himself. This new creation could now identify itself in a way that no other part of creation could: the first man was made in the image of the creator God. 

This is a completely different way of viewing the nature of mankind than that described in the evolutionary interpretation. This becomes clear when comparing the words of atheist William Provine with the writer of the Psalms. Provine stated: “Let me summarize my views on what modern evolutionary biology tells us loud and clear…. There are no gods, no purposes, and no goal-directed forces of any kind. There is no life after death. When I die, I am absolutely certain that I am going to be dead. That’s the end for me. There is no ultimate foundation for ethics, no ultimate meaning to life, and no free will for humans either.” – William Provine, Origins Research 16 (1):9, 1994.

Yet the believing Psalmist wrote: “For You formed my inward parts, You covered me in my mother’s womb. I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made, marvellous are your works, and that my soul knows very well.” – Psalm 139:14.

The stark contrast between the secular interpretation of mankind, and the Bible’s is incredible. One claims that man is no more than an animal, where the other claims we are a unique creation, made in our Creator’s image. But what does that phrase actually mean?

Is it talking about our physical image, or our spiritual nature or what?
The Apostle Paul’s discussions about the things that happen when a person becomes a Christian and is made new, give us an insight into what it means to be created in the image and likeness of God. He writes in Ephesians 4:24 “… put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.” In Colossians 3:10 Paul explains further: “… put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him.” This new Christian is made a ‘new man’ through being given a new image that bears the righteousness and likeness of God, because our old man is the one that bears the image that was ‘tainted’ when the first man Adam sinned. The new Christian gets the attributes of God’s image back again by means of this new creation. For example, God is Love, and God’s love is perfect and that love is now in the new creation. It shows in the fact that because God loved us so much he gave Himself for us on the cross at Calvary, so His love in us means we are therefore even willing to die to rescue that little girl from the fire. Yes the newly made image of God must show in our actions or we don’t possess it at all. But never forget -we are certainly remade to be like God, but we are still less than God. There are attributes that we don’t share with God and never will, such as His being self-existent, omniscient, and omnipotent.

But there are many attributes that humans do share with God, even though we have been marred by sin.  Attributes such as love, justice, grace, mercy, a morally accountable  will and the need to worship. These are a part of humanity, part of being made in the image of God.  These are features which animals don’t have.  

The acceptance of evolutionary interpretations on the nature of man have tragic effects on the way Christians view mankind. If mankind evolved the characteristic attributes that make us God’s image-bearers, then our greatest need is to keep evolving until we reach the attributes seen in Jesus Himself.

Which means the doctrines of sin and redemption are destroyed since we are evolving out of them to the point we would no longer need a saviour. The verses from Ephesians and Colossians are clear that the attributes we originally had were created by God, but Adam’s sin is a real and continuing problem such that only through Jesus’ death and resurrection are we able to be saved from sin and sins, and enabled to put on the “new man”, and have these attributes restored. Through Christ alone we can be made right before God and conform to the image of His Son that we were originally created to be.

Being made in God’s image means that we have a responsibility as Christians. As bearers of the image of the almighty God, who are on the road to being perfected in Christ, through the presence of the Holy Spirit, we are in effect, Christ’s  ambassadors (Ephesians 6:19-20), showing people everywhere who the Creator and Saviour really is. An essential part of this is showing God’s Attributes through our actions to all tribes and nations on the Earth.

It is true that as we look at humanity today, we see a great difference between the holiness of God’s character and falleness of human character. We sinners have distorted the very nature of God’s character in our humanity through our rejection of God’s holiness and rule in our lives. Romans 3:23 says “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God”. But there is a way that we can get back to the original perfect being that God created. The Bible tells us “For God so loved the World that He gave His only Son, that whosoever will believe in Him, should not perish, but have everlasting life.” If we believe that Jesus died for our sins, and put our trust in Him, he will restore us, give us the “new man”, and perfect us in our new bodies in heaven.  Isaiah 65:17 says “For I behold I will create a new heavens and a new earth, and the former shall not be remembered, or even come to mind.” 2 Corinthians 5:17 says “If anyone believes in Christ He becomes a new Creation” Praise God for such wonderful promises.

For more in the uniqueness of human beings see the questions:

ANIMAL RIGHTS: Should some animals be given the same legal rights as human beings? Answer by Diane Eager here.

APE-MAN? Man, apes and monkeys: what are the differences? Answer by Diane Eager here.



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