The Bible tells us that we were created in God’s image. This makes mankind special among God’s creation. But what exactly does it mean to be made in “the image of God”?
The phrase “image of God” appears in 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).
Thousands of years later, the apostle James wrote about this same concept, but in slightly different words: “With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God” (James 3:9).
According to Thayer’s Greek Lexicon, the word translated “similitude” means “a making like” or a “likeness.” So the consistent teaching of the Old and New Testaments is that human beings are made in the likeness of (or resembling) God.
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 mean?
How did God make us in His image?
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 [outer 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.
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.
To learn more about how we were created like God in limited ways, read our article “Why Were You Born?”
Why do we need the Holy Spirit?
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.
Adam and Eve were offered this through the tree of life, which pictured choosing spiritual guidance and life from God (Genesis 2:9, 16-17). But they both ultimately rejected spiritual life by choosing the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:17; 3:6, 17). This led to their banishment from the garden, no longer having access to the tree of life (Genesis 3:23-24). They rejected the opportunity to obey God fully, receive His Spirit and live forever (Genesis 3:22; Galatians 6:8).
To learn more about the significance of what happened in the Garden of Eden, read “Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.”
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 Holy Spirit—which the tree of life symbolized—and can live forever.
The Holy Spirit of God helps us to transform our character to become more like God’s. It is God’s power that helps us know “the things of God” (1 Corinthians 2:11).
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).
- Be faithful: 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).
- Show 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).
The Bible is clear that God’s purpose for us is to live life at His level of existence. Right now, we are made in God’s general form and have His mental abilities at a very limited level (Isaiah 55:8). But the scriptures show that when God’s people are resurrected at Christ’s return, we will be given new bodies of Spirit, as God is of Spirit (1 Corinthians 15:44; John 4:24).
Bible verses about our purpose
Here are some Bible verses that explain the amazing truth that we will be transformed to the full image of God:
- “As for me, I will see Your face in righteousness; I shall be satisfied when I awake in Your likeness” (Psalm 17:15).
- “For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren” (Romans 8:29).
- “Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2).
- “As was the man of dust, so also are those who are made of dust; and as is the heavenly Man, so also are those who are heavenly. And as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly Man” (1 Corinthians 15:48-49).
Since this is such a big and important topic, we’ve prepared an entire booklet explaining it in greater detail. To learn more about what it means to be made in God’s image and about the future God wants to give you, download our free booklet God’s Purpose for You: Discovering Why You Were Born.