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 went on to ask 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 was 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, sinful men and women can now be restored, not 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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In the Image of God

26 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.”

27 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 ESV

Before we begin unpacking the topic of justification, let’s start with the beginning – the book of Genesis that is. This very first book in the canon of Scripture opens with the words, “In the beginning, God…” (Genesis 1:1 ESV). Then it provides a detailed account of the creation story, when God made the universe and all that is in it, including the first man and woman. 

The reason we are begining at the literal beginning is because creation and sanctification have much in common. One has to do with the setting apart of man as unique and distinct in all of creation. Adam and Eve were the only beings created by God that were made in His image. While the rest of creation was deemed “good” by God, only the man and the woman received His blessing (Genesis 1:28) and were given a divine mandate from God.

“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

And after having created the first two humans, God deemed all that He had made, “very good” (Genesis 1:34 ESV).

The Genesis account is extremely important to understand if we are going to grasp the significance of all that sanctification is intended to mean. For far too many of us, sanctification has become little more than a self-energized duty to “do better” at living the Christian life. We have relegated it to a series of rules to keep or duties to perform in order to stay on good terms with God. And in approaching sanctification from this limited and distorted mindset, we not only turn it into an unnecessary burden to bear, but we miss out on the remarkable nature of what God is intending to do through it.

In the Genesis account, we are given a glimpse into God’s original intentions for mankind. He intended for Adam and Eve to bear His image. The Hebrew word is tselem and it means “likeness” or “representation.” They were not an exact represenation or replica of God, but as the Hebrew word conveys, they were a “shadow” or “phantom” of His divine nature. Like the shadow cast by an object, man was meant to simulate, not duplicate the nature of God. Adam and Eve were not intended to be “little” gods, sharing all the same attributes as their Creator. But as His “shadows” they were to reveal or prove His existence. As a shadow bears the likeness of an individual, but in a distorted manner, so was man meant to bear the image of God, His imago dei. This Latin phrase came to be a popular means of expressing mankind’s responsibility to image or resemble God.

But sadly, the Genesis account also tells us how the first man and woman rejected and permanently damaged their role as God’s image bearers. They sinned against Him, willingly disobeying His command to refrain from eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. It was the one and only tree in the entire garden which God had made off-limits.

“You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” – Genesis 2:16-17 ESV

But they failed to heed God’s warning and they ate of the fruit of the forbidden tree. And the rest, as they say, is history. As a result of their sin, Adam and Eve were cast from the garden and lost their access to God’s presence. Their sin had left them banished from their former position of intimacy with their Maker. The shadow was separated from its source. Banned from the garden, Adam and Eve lost their access into God’s presence and, ever since, men have been attempting to fill the God-sized hole in their very being.

And yet, the Bible goes on to tell us that God sent another image-bearer to earth, a second Adam, whose job it was to restore the broken relationship between Himself and fallen men. The apostle Paul tells us about this very unique individual.

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. – Colossians 1:15-17 ESV

Paul is speaking of Jesus, the Son of God who was sent to seek and to save the lost. He is the image (eikōn) of God and, as such, He is part of the Godhead, and an actual participant in the creation of the world. He not only created man, He became one. Again, the apostle Paul tells us that Jesus “emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:7-8 ESV).  Jesus, the Son of God, became a man and, unlike the first Adam, Jesus bore the image of God obediently and perfectly, without sin.

No one has ever seen God. But the unique One, who is himself God, is near to the Father’s heart. He has revealed God to us. – John 1:18 NLT

Jesus became the model of what it means to bear God’s image. He wasn’t a shadow or phantom of God, but very God Himself. He was God in human flesh. And this perfect blend of humanity and divinity allowed Jesus to image God as no other human being had ever done. He became the perfect imago dei.

Yet, Paul tells us that Satan has blinded the eyes of men, so that they cannot see the image of God found in the life of Jesus.

…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 ESV

But Jesus came into the world not only to reveal God the Father, but to redeem fallen mankind. He entered the world in order to restore sinful men to a right relationship with God and to reestablish the intimate communion with Him that was broken by the fall.

When Philip had asked Jesus to show he and his fellow disciples the Father, Jesus had responded, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9 ESV). Jesus was enough. To see Him was to see God. To hear Him was to hear from God. In fact, when Peter, James, and John had witnessed the transfiguration of Jesus, God had spoken to them out of a cloud, saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!” (Luke 9:35 ESV).

Later on, Jesus told His disciples, “I tell you the truth, those who listen to my message and believe in God who sent me have eternal life. They will never be condemned for their sins, but they have already passed from death into life” (John 5:24 NLT). Jesus not only revealed God, He spoke on behalf of God. He offered a message of salvation based on the grace and mercy of God, and His sinless life, modeling the character of God, would be the key.

Which brings us back to the topic of sanctification. Man was made in God’s image, but that image was marred by the fall. The image of God became perverted and twisted. So, God sent His Son to become a man, in order that He might once again image the Father accurately and effectively. And it is Jesus who is to be our model. He is to be the one we emulate and after whom we strive to model our lives. Paul reminds us, “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son” (Romans 8:29 ESV). That is God’s will for us. Jesus was sent Jesus not only to save us, but to model for us what it means to reflect God’s character. He is the ultimate imago dei.  And sanctification is God’s intended means by which we take on the character of Christ.

It is not about sinful men trying to be more godly. It is not about good men trying to become better. It is about chosen sons and daughters of God allowing themselves to be transformed into the image of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. And in the days ahead, we will be looking more closely at how God intends for that transformation to take place. But suffice it to say, the process of sanctification is, in a sense, the restoration of sinful man to his original pre-fall condition.

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 ESV

And Jesus not only shows us what that image in living color, He makes it possible for us to become just like Him.

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