What Does It Mean to Be Created “in the Image of God”?
God created mankind in His image, making us special among all that He created. Yet the full meaning of being in the image of God is not widely understood. What does this phrase mean?
In his State of the Union address on Feb. 5, 2019, President Donald Trump spoke about the issue of abortion. He said, “Let us work together to build a culture that cherishes innocent life. And let us reaffirm a fundamental truth: all children—born and unborn—are made in the holy image of God.”
The phrase image of God comes from the first chapter of the first book of the Bible. Describing the creation of humankind, God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness. … 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).
For a long time, Western civilization generally understood that man was special among all the creation. But this understanding came under attack after Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. Today many believe man is just a highly evolved animal. But most—even of those who believe the Bible—don’t fully understand what it means to be made in “the image of God.”
What exactly does this phrase mean?
Man: a special creation
In Psalm 8 King David wrote about his awe that a powerful God who created everything would be concerned with tiny human beings. When he looked up and saw the heavens, he saw how small we really are and pondered these thoughts: “When I consider Your heavens [space], the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have ordained, what is man that You are mindful of him, and the son of man that You visit him?” (Psalm 8:3-4).
This passage has even greater meaning today since we have powerful telescopes that peer deeper into the vastness of the universe and see how incredibly immense it really is.
The truth behind being made in “the image of God” answers David’s question.
The Hebrew word translated “image” is tselem, and it essentially means a representation, image or outline. As children are in the “image” of their parents (Genesis 5:3), so we are in the image of God.
We have capabilities that are similar to God’s—but on an extremely limited scale. When we study God’s appearance in the Bible, we discover that He reveals He has arms (Isaiah 40:10), hands (Psalm 110:1), fingers (Exodus 31:18), feet (Exodus 24:10), back (Exodus 33:23), ears (Psalm 88:2), hair (Daniel 7:9), and a face (Exodus 33:11). So our bodies were designed after God’s general form.
Even more, we have capabilities that are similar to God’s—but on an extremely limited scale. These godlike capabilities truly distinguish man from the animal kingdom. Such capabilities include self-analysis, self-consciousness, ability to contemplate the meaning of life, humor, creativity, appreciation, the ability to design, imagination, abstract reasoning, language and consideration of the spiritual things. The list could go on and on.
Our capabilities exist because of what God has put in us, a spiritual component undetectable to science, which the Bible calls the “spirit in man” (Job 32:8). This spirit imparts the above godlike mental capabilities that set us apart from the rest of creation. Yet there is so much more to the full meaning of being made in God’s image.
Spirit of God: The missing dimension
God is immortal spirit. He wants to share the fullness of His image with humankind. His purpose from the start was for us to live forever with Him, at His level of existence.
After God created man, He said that His creation was “very good” (Genesis 1:31). Yet despite this, we were made incomplete. There was a missing component—spiritual knowledge and life.
But hope is not lost for humankind. Jesus Christ came as “the last Adam” to make that opportunity available (1 Corinthians 15:45). He said, “It is the Spirit [that] gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life” (John 6:63). Those the Father is calling can have access to God’s Spirit—which the tree of life symbolized—and can live forever.
How can we fulfill this purpose and attain the totality of being made in God’s image?
Seven keys to being made fully in God’s image
Though this list isn’t exhaustive, here are seven things we must do in order to live forever in God’s full image.
- Believe: God expects us to believe in Him and His Word (Ephesians 1:13).
- Repent: God expects us to change, from a life contrary to God to a life of obedience to Him (Matthew 3:2; 4:17).
- Obey: God expects those with His Spirit to obey His commandments (John 14:15; Acts 5:32; 1 John 5:3).
- Produce fruits: God expects us to do good works and produce fruit (John 15:8; Matthew 13:8; Galatians 5:22-23; James 2:22; Ephesians 2:10).
- Faithfulness: God expects us to be faithful and endure to the end (Matthew 24:13; Revelation 17:14).
- Sacrifice: God expects us to serve Him and others in a spirit of self-sacrifice (Romans 12:1).
- Mercy and forgiveness: God expects us to show mercy and forgiveness to others—just as He shows it to us (Matthew 5:17; 6:14-15).
The key to all of this is summed up in this statement: God is developing His spiritual character in human minds and hearts (Matthew 5:48; Ephesians 4:13). That is how we can be made more in the image of God every single day of our lives. This all leads to God’s ultimate goal for us—that we be born into His family as spirit beings, transformed completely into the full image of the God who created us (1 Corinthians 15:46-49).