In the Image of God: Bearing His Likeness

I began this series of blog posts (here) introducing the historical background to what is going on regarding the redemption of Israel from 430 years of Egyptian captivity (Ex 12.40).  God, having redeemed Israel to be covenant participants with him in his grand mission, is offering Israel an alternative story to what they have believed about the genesis (foundations) of life.  So I contend that the purpose of the Genesis creation narrative serves as an alternative account regarding the raison d’etre for life, including who we are as people created in the image of God.

One of the claims of being a people created in the image of God is that we bear the likeness of God.  “Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness…” (Gen 1.26, NRSV).  The word image in this passage is a term of royalty term.  If we think about the way in which royalty is befitting of God, then there is something about that image which defines our existence as well.  It does not mean that we, as creatures, are the same as the Creator which is why our passage qualifies our bearing the image of God as being in the “likeness” of God (Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, 135).

This claim  also comes on the sixth day of creation which is viewed by God as “very good” (Gen 1.31).  While the first five days are regarded as “good”, day six has an even greater significance with God pronunciation of day six as “very good.”  Though God loves and cares for all of creation, there is something very good about the creation of humanity.  That is because we alone are created in the image of God, bearing his likeness.

How then does this claim serve as an alternative claim to all the other potential claims we hear about ourselves?  In a world where the beauty, value, and self-worth of a person is often determined by many external factors such as physicality, race and ethnicity, sexuality and sensuality, material possessions, and even personal accomplishments or the mistakes we make, the claim of Genesis says such factors are baseless.  As people, we are good, beautiful, and of worth by the very fact that we have been created in the image of God and bear God’s likeness.

I must also say a word about the reality of sin.  I fully believe that we all are sinners and have acted in ways that betray our created intent, thus betraying the will of our Creator.  However, this does not mean that we are totally depraved by nature, having nothing of good about us, as some theological trajectories have tried to claim.  It would be easy to discount the claims of the creation narrative as being before the fall of humanity (Genesis 3) if it was merely a generic account of creation being spoken into a historical vacuum.  Far from that, however, this story of creation is a foundational claim about who we are by nature of our creation and it is a claim spoken into a historical context where sin and evil already existed.  God was not ignorant of the depraved ways in which his creation had already fallen into.  God simply is reminding Israel that such depravity is not who you are and it is not who you will be as my people.  The same is true for us who are called by the grace of God to become his new creation in Christ.

9 responses to “In the Image of God: Bearing His Likeness

  1. Glad that you are willing to examine this, Rex!

  2. Very cool perspective rex
    Blessings to ya…

  3. Looking forward to this series, Rex. But as for this post, respectfully, I fear you are operating from a caricature of total depravity. “Total” does not mean “absolute.” In other words: it’s not that people are as bad as they could be, or that there are no redeeming virtues or worth, or that God is not mindful of man (ala Psalm 8). So to help with the misunderstanding perhaps it would be better to call it, as at least one theologian does: Radical Corruption.

    Radical corruption comes from the Scriptural witness concerning the doctrine of original sin, which defines not the first sin itself (another misunderstanding), but defines the consequences to the human nature because of that first sin. It takes into account both the seriousness of sin and the holiness of God.

    Sin is not, as a humanist would propose; superficial, accidental or secondary. That kind of thinking led to the heretical doctrines of Pelagius. Instead, the doctrine of depravity declares that sin is from our very core. It doesn’t negate that we were created in God’s image. Instead, it reflects that the fall was so serious in that it affects the whole person in its nature: i.e. our spirits are dead (Eph 2:1), our flesh is corrupted (we get sick and die), our minds are darkened, our will is enslaved to evil (Eph 2:1-3), etc. This is why we need regeneration of the core (Titus 3:5); which God provides by His grace in us being born-again in Christ (Eph 2:4f). For, while in the flesh, we cannot please God (Rom 8:8). Thus Jesus made the point to Nicodemus in John 3: That which is of the flesh is flesh and that which is of the Spirit is Spirit.

    Therefore, the need to be born-again (i.e. receive a new nature) is paramount in the story not only for us as individuals, but also for all creation as it, too, awaits for the revealing of the sons of God (Rom 8:19). This stems from the reality of radical corruption (total depravity, rightly understood).

    Grace be with you –

    • Jr.,

      Your definition of total depravity is certainly nuanced from what I understand the classical definition to be (ala, that humans are comepletely corrupt in their nature by virtue of Adam’s sin which is their sin too). Nevertheless, your definition of “radical corruption” is still rooted in our created nature which, I believe, is contrary to the actual biblical witness and especially the few passages that speak about humanity being created in and bearing the image and likeness of God (e.g., Gen 1.26-27; 5.1; 9.6) which is being offered to Israel as an alternative account of who they are as God’s creation in the midst of a world already marred by sin. Therefore, while sin has certainly brought about consequences to our existence as God’s creation which can only be redeemed through Christ, we are not born completely corrupt individuals but as people who are still by nature good and capable of doing good not as autonomous people but as people who have been created by God in his image and likeness. This is why there are Gentiles who neither had the law nor Christ yet were able to do what the law requires (Rom 2.14-15).

      As for some of your proof-texting…??? Ephesians 2.1 does not state that we are dead by nature but “through the trespasses and sins”. And the context of Romans 8.8 makes clear that this is not a proposition about who people are but a conclusion regarding those in Christ who continue walking according to the flesh rather than the Spirit.

      Grace and Peace,


    • By the way….

      Your comment did spur me on to look closer at some biblical texts and do some reading again on being created in the image of God and being people who are sinners. So, while we disagree on this issue, I count it as a good thing if our dialogue sends us back into further study.

  4. Pingback: In the Image of God: Participants in Creation « Kingdom Seeking

  5. Rex: I have written a rather extensive reply, but instead of posting it all on your blog (out of respect for your space), I’ll be posting it in a few days onto my own blog. But to discuss just one point here:

    I agree with some of your first paragraph of your reply to me, as I affirmed before the worth of the image bearing and that we can do lawful things; though this also must be qualified because of motivations and sin (“that which is not from faith is sin” and “all righteous deeds are like dirty rags,” again because of sin).

    But though there is the value of being created in His image, sin tainted that image and sin taints our lawful works. We have to realize the separation from holiness to sinfulness. It is infinite. And so what I was pointing out was the seriousness of sin as something non-peripheral. Our nature is no longer good because of sin, for what the Scriptures tell us is that sin is so serious that in it we are enemies of a Holy God (“while we were enemies (εκθροι)…”; Rom 5:10). Those in the flesh “cannot please God” (Rom 8:7). We are God-haters while in sin. We despise our Creator, the One who created us in His image. Without Christ, God’s wrath abides (μενει, remains) upon us (John 3:36).

    As we cannot forget Gen 1-2, we similarly cannot forget or deny that something actually happened to our nature after Gen 3. We are not sinners because we sin; we sin because we are sinners. Being spiritually dead “through the trespasses and sins” is who we are by nature in Adam. As it is written, we are “by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Gk. τεκνα φυσει οργης ως και οι λοιποι; Eph 2:3b). The word φυσει meaning “nature, the nature of things, origin.”

    There is much more, including historical reflections and contemporary implications, but I’ll leave it to the post to come. Appreciate the dialogue in peace. Grace be with you –

    • Jr.,

      As always, thank you for your reply and willingness to deal with the issue itself including the my argumentation rather than dismissing what I am saying with an ad hoc argument. I wish this is how all dialogues on difficult issues would go.

      Any ways, we do agree that sin is a terrible thing with terrible consequences, not the least of which, have effect on us as created beings. Nevertheless, we do disagree on the depth of those consequences when it comes to how we still bear the image and likeness of God. With no disrespect to you, I suspect some of this stems from the way we approach scripture hermeneutically. But for the record, I am not denying that we (all people) are sinners (though I believe we are sinners because we sin, not we sin because we are sinners). I do believe that we are sinners and without Christ, we will die in our sin under God’s judgment (wrath).

      Having said that, even though we disagree, I appreciate your commitment to God and his word.

      Grace and Peace,


  6. Pingback: In the Image of God: People of Belonging « Kingdom Seeking

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