It is a great dignity that God bestowed on man the image of His eternity and the likeness of His character. A grand distinction for man is the likeness of God, if it be preserved; but again, it is a great damnation to defile the image of God.
- Columbanus, Sermon XI, Irish, 7th century
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
Being made in the image of God is that which, above all else, distinguishes people from animals. People are made in the image and likeness of God; animals are not.
People and animals share many physical traits, and a good many similarities in the gene pool. But we might expect as much, since we all are the handiwork of the same Creator.
The image of God sets humans apart from animals in a variety of ways. It means people have a moral aspect to their being. They engage in work, and create things beautiful and good. Humans make and use culture. They are social beings, intended to love and serve one another.
Animals do a lot of these same kinds of things and, again, that shouldn’t surprise us.
But the image of God does not consist primarily in any of these things. Rather, to be made in the image of God means to be capable of knowing God and of loving and serving Him. It means we have the potential to partake of God, and to become like Him. This aspect of our being makes all those other traits differ from how they are expressed in animals. Having made us in His image and likeness, God intends that what comes out in our lives in the areas of work, creativity, relationships, culture, morality, and so forth should reflect His character and priorities.
God has made us in His image so that we might know Him, and, knowing Him, enjoy, love, and obey Him. This is, in the first instance, what it means to be blessed. As long as we remain fallen in sin, we are ignorant of our true calling, blind to the blessings of God, and completely absorbed in our selfish interests. We are becoming nothing more than an image of ourselves, locked in the fetters of sin.
But once a person comes to faith in Jesus Christ, the process launches whereby God begins to rebuild His image in us, so that we overcome the blight and corruption of sin, and are remade increasingly into the likeness of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 3.12-18).
The responsibility of all who believe in Jesus is to work for the renewal and restoration of that image in our lives. We won’t realize this fully until eternity, of course, when we finally see Jesus face to face, and are at last like Him (1 Jn. 3.1-3). However, in the present, when Jesus is ruling the world unto uprightness and working to restore God’s good order (Eccl. 7.29; Ps. 45.6), our duty is to struggle to realize our full potential as image-bearers of God, and not to engage in tasks or activities that hinder or distract us from this development.
The image of God in each of us was defiled by sin. Defilement in sin is the natural human condition. Now we are overcoming that defilement to be conformed increasingly to the image of our Lord Jesus Christ. So we work continuously at our salvation (Phil. 2.12), lest we fall back into sinful ways, and the beautiful image of God in us lapses back into, well, just the image of selfish, sinful you or me.
To defile God’s image we don’t have to do much. In fact, if we don’t do much – in the way of seeking His Kingdom and righteousness, growing in the grace of our Lord Jesus, pursuing holiness in the fear of God – that will be about all it takes to resume the defilement of God’s image in us. We are at all times engaged in one or the other of these efforts. Either we are working for the renewal and restoration of God’s image in us, or we are contributing to its defilement. Either we’re making progress toward Christlikeness, or we’re lapsing into brute beasts.
It would be in the best interest of each of us to make sure that our lives are set for the former, rather than the latter. Let’s press on together toward the greater dignity of being made like Jesus. Then He will fill the spaces of our lives with Himself.
1. What do you find to be your greatest struggle in growing in the image and likeness of Jesus?
2. How can you encourage your fellow believers in this holy calling?
Psalm 40.1-8 (Dix: For the Beauty of the Earth)
I waited patiently for God; He inclined and heard my cry,
lifted me up above the sod, set me on a Rock on high!
New songs in my mouth He gave; may He through me many save.
Blessed are all who trust in You, turning both from lies and pride.
Countless wonders, Lord, You do, and Your thoughts with us abide.
Lord, Your worth who can declare? None with You can e’er compare.
Off’rings You do not require – open now my ears, O Lord!
What from me do You desire? Firm delight to do Your Word.
Take my life in ev’ry part; write Your Law upon my heart.
Renew me, Lord, and restore me in Your image and likeness, that I may become more like Jesus. Today, enable me to…
The key to becoming more like Jesus is to keep increasing in the knowledge of Jesus. But what does that mean? How do we do it? Our book, To Know Him, can help. Order your free copy by clicking here.
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T. M. Moore, Principal
All Psalms for singing from The Ailbe Psalter. Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.