“Imago Dei” is Latin for the “image of God.” To be created imago Dei means being endowed with an immortal spirit, a capacity to know and be known by God, a measure of autonomy and free will in the areas of thought and action, each of which separate us from the rest of creation.
According to Scripture the essence of man consists in this, that he is the image of God. As such he is distinguished from all other creatures and stands supreme as the head and crown of the entire creation.
Adam and Eve were created in God’s image, after His likeness (Gen. 1:26). But in Adam’s sin, the human race was given over to corruption (Rom. 5:12-21). We are still image-bearers (Gen. 9:6; James 3:9), but the image has been distorted (Gen. 6:5; Eccles. 7:29). The goal of sanctification is the renewal of this image. The holy person is being renewed in knowledge after the image of the Creator (Col. 3:10), which means growing in righteousness and holiness (Eph. 4:24). This does not happen all at once, but rather, we are transformed into the image of God one degree of glory to another (2 Cor. 3:18). God is holy, so most basically being holy means being like God. This is why it’s so critical that Christians know the character and work of the one they worship. If you want to know what holiness looks like, look at God.
How can all things be worked together by God for good? The answer is at hand. It is because God’s ultimate purpose is to make us like Christ. His goal is the complete restoration of the image of God in His child! So great a work demands all the resources which God finds throughout the universe, and He ransacks the possibilities of joys and sorrows in order to reproduce in us the character of Jesus.
Theologians have an interesting question. Does Scripture teach that man is no longer in the image of God? Or does it suggest that the image remains but has been grossly defaced? In many ways (the latter) is an even more tragic prospect. We might well be justified in thinking that there could be no greater disaster than that the likeness of God should be exterminated. But in fact there is. What if the image of God, in which His greatness and glory are reflected, becomes a distortion of His character? What if, instead of reflecting His glory, man begins to reflect the very antithesis of God? What if God’s image becomes an anti-god? This, essentially, is the affront which fallen man is to God. He takes all that God has lavished upon him to enable him to live in free and joyful obedience, and he transforms it into a weapon by which he can oppose His Maker. The very breath, which God gives him thousands of times each day, he abuses by his sin. The magnitude of his sin is also the measure of his need of salvation.
God made everything else but man “after its kind”’ – that is, according to the purpose and destiny he envisaged for it. But he made man in His own image. Man is patterned on God! He was made to represent God – in created, human form.
God commands these people, made in His image, to multiply so that they, and thus God’s image, will fill the earth.
The soul of man bears the image of God; so nothing can satisfy it but He whose image it bears. Our soul, says Augustine, was created as by God, so for God, and is therefore never quiet till it rest in God.
Part of the image of God in man (i.e., His "natural image") is obscured, but not destroyed by sin; and part of God’s "moral image" is lost to man as the result of sin but restored in Christ.
The truth that humanity was made in the likeness of God is the starting point for a biblical understanding of the nature of man. It explains our spiritual urges. It helps us make sense of the human conscience. It establishes our moral accountability. It reveals the very essence of the meaning and purpose of human life. It is full of practical and doctrinal significance.
No human being…is ever conceived outside God’s will or ever conceived apart from God’s image. Life is a gift from God created in His own image.
The opening chapters of the Bible show us what man’s nature is, by teaching us that he is created in the image of God, which is to say that he is neither a god, as the myths made him out to be, nor a product of nature, as the evolutionists saw him, but that he transcends nature and at the same time is transcended by God (Jean Danielou).
A woman’s heart bears God’s image differently than a man’s does, but no less accurately. Indeed, with only the masculine qualities that men exhibit, God’s image is not completely displayed in this world. Men must realize that those feminine qualities that seem so baffling (and to a certain extent always will) are things of beauty and honor that manifest aspects of the image of God. Far from wishing that a woman’s perspective could just be ignored or somehow fixed, Christian men should look upon women with wonder and joy – indeed, with the very delight once expressed by Adam in the Garden! (Richard and Sharon Phillips).
The proper understanding of everything in life begins with God. No one will ever understand the necessity of conversion who does not know why God created us. He created us “in His image” so that we would image forth his glory in the world. We were made to be prisms refracting the light of God’s glory into all of life. Why God should want to give us a share in shining with His glory is a great mystery. Call it grace or mercy or love – it is an unspeakable wonder. Once we were not. Then we existed – for the glory of God!
Our parents (Adam and Eve) fell for it, and in them we have all fallen for it. It is now part of our nature. We take the mirror of God’s image which was intended to reflect His glory in the world, turn our backs to the light, and fall in love with the contours of our own dark shadow, trying desperately to convince ourselves (with technological advances, or management skills or athletic prowess or academic achievements or sexual exploits or counter cultural hair styles) that the dark shadow of the image on the ground in front of us is really glorious and satisfying. In our proud love affair with ourselves we pour contempt, whether we know it or not, on the worth of God’s glory.
When God created the world, Genesis 1:27 tells us that He “created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” We have been created with gender distinction, but not race distinction. We are all in the human race. And unlike the rest of creation, all humans have been made in God’s image. To elevate animals above humans or to elevate one skin tone above another, reveals a failure to understand and appreciate the intrinsic God-given value of all human beings.
We go back to creation and we see that man is made in the image and in the likeness of God (Genesis 1:26, 27), not in the sense that God has a body, but in terms of our nature. You are called to be living images that reflect and communicate the character of God Himself.
That which distinguishes man from the animal kingdom is the imago Dei, the image of God. The image of God has traditionally been identified with such things as rationality, self-consciousness, the exercise of dominion, and moral conscience. However, we must be careful in defining the image of God in wholly functional terms. The image of God is as much a state as it is a capacity. The image is not to be conceived as an end in a process whereby an unborn entity progresses into personhood. The image is a given, not a goal to which the fetus moves in its physiological development. No one denies that the fetus develops. But this development is not from non-person to part-person to full-person, but rather from full-person to the consummate expression and experience of all that personhood entails.
Traditional Interpretations of the Image of God:
1. Capacity for reason and choice.
2. Moral and spiritual accountability to God.
3. Man’s reason.
4. The soul (i.e., the mind and heart).
5. Mental capacities of memory, understanding, and will.
6. Dominion over creation.
7. Capacity for relationship and social interaction both with God and other humans.
8. Man’s original righteousness.
Special significance of the creation of male and female in the image of God:
1. It is only after God has created man that He says of all He has made: it is “very good” (1:31). This is not simply because God’s creative task is finished but because mankind is the pinnacle of all He has made.
2. The creation of man is introduced differently than other products of creative work, with the personal and deliberative expression, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness.”
3. The one God who creates man as male and female deliberately uses plural references of himself (e.g., “Let Us,” “Our image,” “Our likeness”) as the creator of singular “man” who is plural “male and female.”
4. The “image of God” is stated three times in 1:26-27 in relation to man as male and female but never in relation to any other part of creation (are angels created in the image of God?).
5. The special term for God’s unique creative action, bara, is used three times in 1:27 for the creation of man in His image as male and female.
6. Man is given a place of dominion over all other created beings on the earth, thus indicating the higher authority and priority of man in God’s created design.
7. Only the creation of man as male and female is expanded and portrayed in detail as recorded in Gen. 2.
Let no one imagine that he will lose anything of human dignity by this voluntary sell-out of his all to his God. He does not by this degrade himself as a man; rather he finds his right place of high honor as one made in the image of his Creator. His deep disgrace lay in his moral derangement, his unnatural usurpation of the place of God. His honor will be proved by restoring again that stolen throne. In exalting God over all, he finds his own highest honor upheld.
The image of God in man…means that God made human beings, both male and female, to be created and finite representations (images of God) of God’s own nature, that in relationship with Him and each other, they might be His representatives (imaging God) in carrying out the responsibilities He has given to them. In this sense, we are images of God in order to image God and His purposes in the ordering of our lives and carrying out of our God-given responsibilities.
After the fall into sin, people remained image-bearers, but Adam’s disobedience brought fundamental changes to our ability to reflect God’s image. The direction of the human heart became oriented not toward God but toward self. In the garden, man began repeating a mantra that will persist until Jesus returns. Adam said, “I want.” “I want glory for myself rather than giving all glory to God.” “I love my own desire rather than loving God.” This came to be known as covetousness, lust, or idolatry.
God’s image in people has been terribly marred through sin. But God has planted a sense of personal moral responsibility in every person. He has instilled in each one a general sense of right and wrong. He has created people to be reasonable, rational beings. God’s image in us is seen in the way we value justice, mercy, and love, even though we often distort them. It is why we are creative, artistic, and musical. These things simply cannot be said about even the most intelligent of the animals.