Solid Snippet Article #036

Image and Substance

The Image of God renewed in the Image of Christ
June 2012


Images are one of the best ways to educate someone. Images provide a point of reference for whatever we are trying to communicate. Pastors use them to draw the mind to specific ideas or even memories that reinforce whatever principle they are presenting. Poets use them as their bread and butter to illicit emotions in the heart. Visual stimulation reinforces mental functions and understanding. Even idioms and common phrases, like "bread and butter" are useful to help the mind make connections. Bread and butter refers to necessities, staples, essentials. Images are all around us, and God's Word also does this. Our Creator knows these things because he designed them and He is their origin.

When God made humans, Genesis records that God made humans in His own image. Scholars and theologians since have endeavored to understand what it means to be made in God's image. Some have suggested that God's image is related to physical appearance, suggesting that the way that humans look is like the way that God looks. The image of God is first seen in Genesis 1:26-27. God's image is mentioned three times in these two verses.

The word in the original language for image is used five times in Genesis and throughout the Old Testament in the history and prophetic sections especially. In Genesis, the word for image is used almost exclusively for the image of God (Gen 1:26, 27, 9:6). The only other time image is used is Genesis 5:3 where Seth is in Adam's image. The rest of the Old Testament uses the word for image exclusively concerning idols. This suggests that the word image has a special meaning for the writer of Genesis.

The conclusion that the image of God is a physical image makes sense in light of two elements, both the definition and use of the word ďimage.Ē By nature of its definition, an image is a concrete or visible and physical object. As shown in the usage of the rest of the Old Testament, image is related to idols made by human hands which are physical objects made of metal or wood or some other materials.

But if Genesis is using the word for image in a unique way, then image may not mean a physical object. There is also the theological issue of thinking of the image of God in this way. To think that we look like God physically could lead us to understand that we are little gods. It could make us wonder what really separates us from being God instead of being like God. One of the most enigmatic references to being ďlittle godsĒ is found in Psalm 82:6-7. The psalmist highlights with dialogue the understanding that God proclaimed these creatures to be gods. The emphasis is on Godís sovereign choice to call them gods, not their own ability or authority to be gods.

The psalm is very intriguing, and raises some interesting issues in theology. There is not much data on the subject of a divine counsel (Psa 82:1) or whether these creatures are the gods of nations or demons masquerading as idols, or if they are human beings, perhaps kings or princes of some kind. The interpretations are varied, but when we get to verses 6-7, we find that there is a quote from Godís own lips. God calls these individuals gods.

Some interpret this to be referring to human beings, and they make an entire theology about being little gods. They especially enjoy talking about how Godís Spirit dwells in Christians, making them gods. These things can get weird. The context of this Psalm has little to do with that idea, even though they may quote from it. This is God judging either human beings who are wicked or the idols of wickedness. So Christians who want to consider themselves gods are pointing to a passage about idols. Any idolatry is not of God, even if itís Christians trying to be gods.

The truth of Scripture is that humans and God are different in so many ways. The image of God shows us some of our similarities, some traits we do get from God, but it does not make us gods. There are certain attributes that will always separate God from human beings in substance. The substance that makes God who He is will never be a human substance, or attribute. Sure, we will all be eternally with God forever, but there is a resurrection of the body, which God does not have. Human composition will not change in eternity. It will be new, but not in configuration in the regard of the image of God.

Beyond this, God is clearly not a physical being other than Jesus the son of God. John 4:24 states that God is spirit. Another passage, Numbers 23:19, states that God is not a man that he should lie. God and humanity are different. There are certain attributes of God that are clearly not demonstrated in humans and never will be demonstrated by humans. Humans are clearly not gods by any stretch. For these reasons, I believe that the word image is not based on the idea of the physical as much as it is related to corresponding characteristics between God and humanity.

The only possibility I see for Godís image being a physical correlation for human beings is within the marriage covenant. Looking at Genesis 1:27, it is only when man and woman complement one another that they are complete, made in Godís image. God made males and females differently, but correspondingly as part of His image. They are designed to be together as one. In a very real sense, the marriage of a man and a woman together imitates the triune God in that there are three persons, but one substance. So also in marriage, there are two persons, but one being.

So then, what does the image of God relate to? What characteristics of humanity mimic Godís image? It is clear from the Genesis narrative that humanity is different from the animals. There is no mention of Godís image upon them, and yet thrice the Word declares that Godís image is on humans. So the image of God most likely has something to do with a difference between mankind and animals. I would suggest that it has to do with our faculties which make us different from all of creation, and which are a direct result of bearing Godís image.

Some of these faculties at least include our ability to reason with logic, our ability to have volition and free will, our ability to be creative, our ability to rule over the rest of creation (Gen 1:28), our ability to have emotions, our ability to speak and communicate on a high level, and our ability to imitate God more completely than other parts of creation. These are a few that I would notice right off the top.

These faculties and facets of humanity are either unmatched in other creatures, or are much higher than the abilities of other animals. For instance, science tells us that certain animals, such as dolphins, have a high capacity for communication, but they do not communicate with the variety that humans do. We use everything from sounds to written language to communicate, even to body language. While animals have an instinct that gives them perhaps a bit of intelligence or wisdom or even volition, they in no way have these capacities in the amount that humans do. We are creative like God is creative. We learn creativity from the Divine Creator! In these ways, we mimic God, we look like Him. And this I believe is His image in humanity.

However, the image of God unfortunately has been marred by the Fall of Humankind in Genesis 3. We come to learn very quickly that some of those same attributes are greatly affected when Adam and Eve sinned against God. First of all, their openness to one another and to God is affected. They hid from God and tried to cover up their nakedness. Something changed in them that caused sin, which is not part of Godís image, to greatly distort and taint the perfect image of God placed within each human being. From now on, these same characteristics of God could now be used for evil purposes. Our intelligence could be used to find more efficient ways to sin. Our emotions could affect our volition without our reasoning, and even the ways we think could become insanely wicked.

So we come to the crux of the matter of Godís image in humanity. The Bible never tells us that Godís image is lost in humanity. That is where the hope lies, that somehow Godí s image might be restored, like a painting that has gathered dust. In some way though sin has marred and tainted Godís beautiful image in humanity, someone may be able to restore it! And that is exactly what has happened. Even though Godís image has been marred, it is still part of the value of every human being.

God cares so greatly about others that He even sets up laws like the Ten Commandments that teach us that our relationship with God is directly affected by our relationship with other human beings. The way we treat others, believers or not, is felt by God. Our relationships both with Him and with others must be holy for God to be worshipped in His greatness and for us to be called believers. The way we treat others can hurt Godís heart just as much as the way we treat Him! One example of many is Joseph when he asks Potipherís wife, ďHow can I sin against God in this way?Ē (Gen 39:9). Although his master is not spoken of, he is clear in the verse that his master will also be sinned against. The first four commandments deal with our vertical relationship with God while the majority, the last six, deal with our horizontal relationships with humans. Godís image still bears much value, marred though it is.

The reason I bring up the value of humanity which bears Godís image is because of teachings on what is called ďWorm theology.Ē It comes from Psalm 22:6 and from other passages that hint at this relationship. I believe it is a misinterpretation on our part. In referring to themselves as worms, the people in these verses are not necessarily saying that humans are of no value or worth as much as they are saying that human perspective is not as great as Godís perspective. However, even if this is referring to a lesser worth of humanity, the vast majority of Scripture speaks of humans in terms of high value. Why would Godís laws hold as much value in human relationships as in His relationship with us if humans were not valuable to Him? Indeed, why would God send His ultimately valuable Son, Jesus Christ, to die for humanity if there was no value in us apart from knowing Christ?

When we travel into the New Testament, we discover that the image of God is greatly enhanced, at the very least, by the image of Christ. But before we get to that, let me show you something neat in the Gospels. There is a passage in which Jesus deals with the issue in Palestine of paying taxes to the Roman Caesar (Matt 22:15-22). The people ask if they should pay taxes to Caesar, a trick question, as they were so fond of putting Jesus in these lose-lose situations. If Jesus affirms that they should pay taxes, all the crowds will be angry because they hate Rome and Roman rule in Palestine. If Jesus says no, the religious leaders have grounds to have Him imprisoned and crucified as an insurrectionist. Rome cared very little about religious arguments, but they did not like revolutionaries or people who challenged the delicate balance of power in the empire. Jesus did both.

But here, we see Jesus giving an incredibly wise answer to the question that is meant to trap Him either way. Jesus asks for a coin and when he looks on it, He asks, ďWhose image is on this coin?Ē The people respond that Caesarís image is on it, much like presidents are on our coins and money today. Then Jesus responds this way and says, ďThen give to Caesar what is Caesarís and give to God what is Godís.Ē What bears Godís image?

Just like the coin bears Caesarís image, and therefore belongs to Caesar, so also the human being bears Godís image, and as His creation, belongs to Him! So Jesus was saying both pay your taxes, and serve God with all your heart and mind and body (Deut 6:4-9; Matt 22:37)! In the Old Testament, God demanded a tenth of our resources, but in the New Testament, God wants 100% of us! This doesnít mean that we must give all our money to the church. But it means that we can serve God with more than money, and He wants us to serve Him fully with our everything. We have such great value to God as we serve Him!

So we come now to the image of Christ in the New Testament, and the great reversal of the marring of Godís image for those who follow after Christ. The image of Christ is referenced mainly by Paul, especially by name. In Romans 8:28-30, Paul talks about the process of becoming like Jesus. Many people go to this passage to talk about the predestination of believers into salvation, but Paul does not use predestination in that way.

In Romans 8:28-30, Paul explains that those who are already saved are then predestined for service. In verse 28, those who are already called according to His purpose, which is sanctification for the believer, are then predestined not for salvation but to be conformed to Christís image. So predestination in this passage has to do with being conformed to Christís image, not to salvation. Those who are part of Godís purpose, His people, are determined to be like Christ. There is an automatic process of making Jesusí disciples more like Him. Paul elsewhere says to follow him as he follows Christ (1 Cor 11:1).

In the last two verses, verses 29-30, the predestination follows through to make us conformed to Jesusí image in two ways. God calls us, and then He justifies us until we are glorified. So when we come to Christ and believe in Him, we are predestined, automatically inducted, into a process of becoming more like Jesus, of looking and acting and speaking and thinking more like Him. We donít look like Jesus physically, but spiritually and in our character, the unseen things. It is much like the image of God in that it is not primarily physical but about the invisible attributes of believers.

So the image of Christ is like the image of God in that it works in the same areas as the image of God. It works in our thoughts and in our heart and in our lives. The image of Christ has the same goal as the image of God, in fact, is the road to get to the destination of the restored image of God. In following Christ and becoming like Him, we are on our way to the image of God being restored from the destruction of sin to it. Jesusí image restores humanity to Godís image only when we trust in Him and His work on the cross.

In Colossians 3:10, the image of the Creator is the image of God. And it is the idea of the new self that is salvation. Even after salvation, needing renewal for the new self is about sanctification, the process of becoming more like Jesus and His example and image. The new self is the saved self, so renewal is about a continuing process of being more like Jesus, though we are already declared to be righteous like Him. This is confirmed when already saved people must also renew their minds and not follow the mold of the wicked world (Rom 12:1-2). That destination is what Paul earlier referred to as glorification, the moment when we are holy in practice as we are called holy by God at salvation.

There are other places where image is mentioned in the New Testament. The writer of Hebrews talks about Jesus being the image of the invisible God in Hebrews 1:3. There the word is not ďimageĒ but ďimprint, but the idea is there. Jesus is the visible God, God as much as the Father is. The same substance that makes the Father God makes the Son God. So the image of Christ could also be seen as at least very close to the image of God, if not the same thing. In 2 Corinthians 4:4, Paul equates Jesus with the image of God, so we could say they are indeed the same thing. To go along with all of this is the passage of Colossians 1:15 which makes the same connection.

Paul also talks about humans giving up the image of God and the glory of living with and for God for idols and images that they made themselves (Rom 1:23), which lines up with the usage of the word image for idols and idol worship in the rest of the Old Testament. So image is used in three ways: the image of God and of Christ, and then there are images and idols that are against Godís image. In the larger context of the Bible, we have two choices. We all have the image of God, and yet, it is not until we follow Christ that this image can be restored. The Fall of humanity from Godís grace has marred the image of God in each of us, but we can be restored to His image through Christ alone! So let us follow Christ in His footsteps and seek to be conformed to His image, for it is through Christ that the damage done by sin can be restored in us as we seek Him!