Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness. They will rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the livestock, the whole earth, and the creatures that crawl on the earth.” 27 So God created man in his own image; he created him in the image of God; he created them male and female.
Genesis 1:26–27 (CSB)
In the beginning, we were created in God’s image and according to his likeness. That is God’s goal for our lives.
Having the “image” or “likeness” of God means, in the simplest terms, that we were made to resemble God. Adam did not resemble God in the sense of God’s having flesh and blood. Scripture says that “God is spirit” (John 4:24) and therefore exists without a body. However, Adam’s body did mirror the life of God insofar as it was created in perfect health and was not subject to death.
The image of God (Latin: imago dei) refers to the immaterial part of humanity. It sets human beings apart from the animal world, fits them for the dominion God intended them to have over the earth (Genesis 1:28), and enables them to commune with their Maker. It is a likeness mentally, morally, and socially.
Mentally, humanity was created as a rational, volitional agent. In other words, human beings can reason and choose. This is a reflection of God’s intellect and freedom. Anytime someone invents a machine, writes a book, paints a landscape, enjoys a symphony, calculates a sum, or names a pet, he or she is proclaiming the fact that we are made in God’s image.
Morally, humanity was created in righteousness and perfect innocence, a reflection of God’s holiness. God saw all He had made (humanity included) and called it “very good” (Genesis 1:31). Our conscience or “moral compass” is a vestige of that original state. Whenever someone writes a law, recoils from evil, praises good behavior, or feels guilty, he or she is confirming the fact that we are made in God’s own image.
- Genesis 1:26–27 (CSB) — 26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness. They will rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the livestock, the whole earth, and the creatures that crawl on the earth.” 27 So God created man in his own image; he created him in the image of God; he created them male and female.
- Genesis 5:1 (CSB) — 1 This is the document containing the family records of Adam. On the day that God created man, he made him in the likeness of God;
- Ezekiel 28:12–15 (CSB) — 12 “Son of man, lament for the king of Tyre and say to him, ‘This is what the Lord God says: You were the seal of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. 13 You were in Eden, the garden of God. Every kind of precious stone covered you: carnelian, topaz, and diamond, beryl, onyx, and jasper, lapis lazuli, turquoise and emerald. Your mountings and settings were crafted in gold; they were prepared on the day you were created. 14 You were an anointed guardian cherub, for I had appointed you. You were on the holy mountain of God; you walked among the fiery stones. 15 From the day you were created you were blameless in your ways until wickedness was found in you.
- James 3:9 (CSB) — 9 With the tongue we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in God’s likeness.
Part of being made in God’s image is that Adam had the capacity to make free choices. Although they were given a righteous nature, Adam and Eve made an evil choice to rebel against their Creator. In so doing, they marred the image of God within themselves, and passed that damaged likeness on to all of their descendants. Today, we still bear the image of God, but we also bear the scars of sin. Mentally, morally, socially, and physically, we show the effects of sin.
The good news is that when God redeems an individual, He begins to restore the original image of God, creating a “new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:24). That redemption is only available by God’s grace through faith in Jesus the Messiah as our Savior from the sin that separates us from God. Through Jesus, we are made new creations in the likeness of God.