The Task of Imaging God

By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence. And because of his glory and excellence, he has given us great and precious promises. These are the promises that enable you to share his divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires. – 2 Peter 1:3-4 ESV

As we have already seen, Adam and Eve, the first man and woman, came into this world bearing 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 1:21 ESV

Their very existence reflected the glory of God. They were given capacities and responsibilities far beyond any other creature made by God. They were given reasoning skills, the ability to communicate verbally, and the capacity to love unconditionally. In so many ways they mirrored the character of their Creator, albeit in a shadow form. They were not as God, but as His creation, they shared His likeness. And one of the main attributes of their image-bearing nature was their sinlessness. Adam and Eve were created without sin. That is why, in the Genesis account of creation, it records that “God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good” (Genesis 1:31 ESV).

And it is essential that we understand this aspect of Adam’s pre-fall nature. He and his companion were sinless and enjoyed unbroken fellowship with God. All that they did brought glory to God because they were living in perfect obedience to His divine will.

God gave them a mandate, a clear job description outlining their responsibilities.

“Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” – Genesis 1:28 ESV

Their task was simple and was meant to be enjoyable, and they were more than adequately equipped to accomplish all that God had commanded them to do. At that point in their lives, everything they did was a form of image-bearing. Their every action, done in their sinless state, was a reflection of their Creator’s wisdom, power, and goodness. Everything they did brought Him glory. Until they sinned.

And at that point, everything changed. Moses records, “Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths” (Genesis 3:7 ESV). They had disobeyed God and eaten from the forbidden tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Now, they knew what evil was, and they experienced the shame and guilt that came with it. Not only did they attempt to cover up their nakedness, but they also tried to hide from God. They inherently knew that they were no longer fit for God’s presence. And mankind has been hiding and running from God ever since.

But God sent another Adam, the second Adam, a man who also bore the image of His Creator. Jesus came to earth, born of a virgin and, therefore, free from the inherited sin of Adam. Like Adam, Jesus entered the world without sin. But unlike Adam, Jesus remained that way. He bore the image of His Father perfectly, never veering from the task appointed to Him. That is why, just hours before His trials began, Jesus was able to say to His Father, “I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do” (John 17:4 ESV). His entire life had brought glory to God because He had never failed to bear the image of God. Even in the face of rejection, ridicule, temptation, and trials, Jesus had remained obedient. And as Paul writes in his letter to the Philippians, Jesus was “obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8 ESV).

In His high priestly prayer, Jesus, speaking of His followers, asked His Father to “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth” (John 17:17-19 ESV).

Three different times in this passage, the Greek word, hagiazō is used. Twice, Jesus asks the Father to sanctify His followers in the truth. And Jesus expresses His willingness to sanctify or consecrate Himself for the task at hand so that His followers might have the opportunity to be sanctified in the truth. Jesus’ willingness to complete the task given to Him by God, which included His sacrificial death on the cross, was an outward, visible expression of His bearing of His Father’s image.

Romans 5:8 tells us that “But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.” But had Jesus not been willing to do what God had sent Him to do – die for those who were enslaved to sin – then that love would never have been fulfilled. But we know that Jesus fulfilled the will of His Father. He did what He had been sent to do, and the apostle Paul uses Jesus’ display of image-bearing as an example for us.

Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children. Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God. – Ephesians 5:1-2 ESV

Notice what Paul says. He challenged the believers in Ephesus to “imitate God,” but to do so by “following the example of Christ.” Jesus was the consummate image-bearer. He displayed the love of God for man by offering His life as a sacrifice for the sins of man. He put the invisible love of the unseen God on display. When He came to earth, He became God incarnate, God in the flesh. He put the invisible attributes of God in a form that man could not only see but experience. And that is what we are called to do.

And in the passage above, Peter tells us that we have been given everything we need to pull it off. We have been given new natures, provided for us by Christ’s loving sacrifice on the cross and empowered by the indwelling Holy Spirit. That is why Paul so strongly challenges us to “put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians  4:24 ESV). He wrote a similar admonition to the believers in Colossae, telling them to “put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator” (Colossians 3:10 ESV).

Peter reminds us that God “has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4 ESV). The main point of our salvation is not that we might one day escape the punishment of hell or enjoy the rich reward of eternal life in heaven, but that we might once again bear the image of our Creator. Man was created to bring glory to God, but sin made that impossible. Now, because of Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross, now sinful men and women can be restored, not only in their relationship with God, but to His likeness. They can once again bear His image on earth, living in keeping with His holy and righteous commands. Because of Christ, we have “escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire” (2 Peter 1:4 ESV). We are free to bear the image of God; revealed to us in His Word, modeled by His Son, and made possible by the power of His indwelling Spirit. 

We have been given the task of bearing God’s image. But we have not been left to pull it off in our own strength. No, Peter would have us remember that “By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life” (2 Peter 1:3 NLT). But now, with that power residing within us, with God’s Word guiding us, and the example of Christ before us, let us bring glory to God by bearing the image of God to the world created by God.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson


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