Genesis 1:26 contains the powerful statement made by God, “let us make man in our image”. But what does “in his image” mean?
Let’s explore what it means to be made in the image of God.
Made in His Image
Genesis 1 and 2 are filled with promise. It is the account of creation and shows the power and might of God. Here was a being who could speak things into beings. We’ve only experienced a world filled with sin yet we are awed with the vastness and wonder of nature. Can you imagine how much more fantastic the world was during that first week?
After speaking a whole host of animals into existence, God decided to make mankind in His own image. I’m sure God could have followed the same process, let there be…and both make and female would have appeared out of nothing.
This page may contain affiliate links. Read the full affiliate disclosure.
Yet, He didn’t do that. He chose to get down in the dust and mold the physical body. He chose to put His hands on us. And when He had formed everything to His liking, He got even closer and breathed the breath of life into the man’s nostrils (Genesis 2:7).
Explore verses on what the Bible says about the image of God.
What Does It Mean to Be in God’s Image?
The question of what it means to be created in the image of God has been debated through the centuries.
If we are made in His image, does God have a physical body? Was mankind meant to be like God at creation?
These and other questions swirl around and murk up the issue of what it means to be created in His image and quite frankly, I don’t think we’re going to get an answer this side of heaven.
Instead, I want us to focus on the events leading up to the creation of man which I believe will give us critical information on what it means to be created in the image of God.
And the earth brought forth grass, the herb that yields seed according to its kind, and the tree that yields fruit, whose seed is in itself according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. – Genesis 1:12 KJV
So God created great sea creatures and every living thing that moves, with which the waters abounded, according to their kind, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. Genesis 1:21 KJV
And God made the beast of the earth according to its kind, cattle according to its kind, and everything that creeps on the earth according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. – Genesis 1:25 KJV
In each of the verses above, the word “kind” appears and the context is always that the created thing was made in the likeness (or image) of its kind.
The word translated as “kind” is the Hebrew mîyn, (pronounced meen); which means a sort, i.e. species, kind. So in essence, plants and animals were made in the likeness of themselves. Their form was conceived by God and each type or species reflects the image of other plant or tree that belongs to that species.
For example, a zebra is clearly recognizable as a zebra because it looks like other zebras. An almond tree looks like an almond tree and not a mint bush, and so on.
Created in the Image of God
But when it was time to make mankind, God did something new.
Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” 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 NKJV
There are two distinguishing factors in the creation of man:
- They were to be made in the image of God according to His likeness.
- They were to have dominion over the other created things.
This is significant because I don’t believe the second could have happened without the first.
The word translated as “image” is the Hebrew tselem, (pronounced tseh’-lem) and comes from an unused root meaning to shade. It could also mean a phantom, i.e. (figuratively) illusion, resemblance; hence, a representative figure, especially an idol, or image.
Mankind was made in the image of God in the same way a shadow represents its originator. While you can identify the general species by the shadow cast, the details cannot be determined.
Another way to think about being made in the image of God is to consider that we are His representatives. We share traits with our Creator but we are not a carbon copy of Him.
After making mankind in His image, God gave them dominion over all the things He had made. The word dominion means sovereignty or control. In other words, God made man in His image, and then He put him in charge of creation.
Why Did God Create Man in His Own Image?
This is a question I’ve wondered about often. If God knows everything, and I believe He does, why would He create being He knew would disappoint and hurt Him?
One of the best answers I’ve heard for this question is that God had so much love to give that He needed someone to lavish it on. A great way to visualize this is to think about someone who chooses to have a child. They know the child will disobey them and do things that upset and hurt them, but they do it anyway.
The reason we’re made in His image isn’t nearly as important as what we choose to do with that knowledge.
How Do We Reflect the Image of God?
As people made in the image and likeness of God, we have a great responsibility to bring glory to His name. So how should we reflect God’s image?
Colossians 3 offers some guidelines on how we can reflect the image of God. I encourage you to read the entire book (it’s pretty short so it won’t take long), but for now let’s focus on what we can do to reflect God’s image.
1. Put off the old man.
Before we accepted Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, we did things that did not reflect well on the image of God. If we are to reflect His image, we must stop doing those things.
So put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you. Have nothing to do with sexual immorality, impurity, lust, and evil desires. Don’t be greedy, for a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world. – Colossians 3:5 NLT
Paul gave the church at Colossae, and by extension us, a list of things we can do to put off the old man:
- Have nothing to do with sexual immorality, impurity, lust, and evil desires (Colossians 3:5).
- Don’t be greedy, for a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world (Colossians 3:5).
- Get rid of anger, rage, malicious behavior, slander, and dirty language (Colossians 3:8).
- Don’t lie to each other, for you have stripped off your old sinful nature and all its wicked deeds (Colossians 3:9).
2. Put on the new man.
When we died to sin we were born to something else: our new life in Christ. As such, we are expected to behave in a manner more in line with what God wants and less like the world demands.
Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him. – Colossians 3:10 NLT
Again, Paul offers some advice on how this may be done.
- Remember that God chose you to be the holy people He loves. With this comes great responsibility to be be holy as He is (Colossians 3:12).
- Clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience (Colossians 3:12).
- Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others (Colossians 3:13).
3. Clothe ourselves with love.
Love allows us to accomplish great things. When we love each other as Christ loved us, we show the world a new way of living. We bring glory to God by showing others how He loves.
Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. – Colossians 3:14 NLT
I love that the three steps above bring to mind an image of getting dressed. It suggests some level of effort on our part. It also shows is that we have a choice. It should be a deliberate action on our part to remind the world, and ourselves, that we’re made in His image.
In His Image Book Review
Sometimes we ask What is God’s will for my life? when we should really be asking Who should I be? The Bible has an answer: Be like the very image of God.
By exploring ten characteristics of who God is—holy, loving, just, good, merciful, gracious, faithful, patient, truthful, and wise—this book helps us understand who God intends for us to be. Through Christ, the perfect reflection of the image of God, we will discover how God’s own attributes impact how we live, leading to freedom and purpose as we follow his will and are conformed to his image.
Have you ever wanted to know what was God’s will for your life? Of course you have. Jen Wilkin suggests that a better question to ask would be: “Who Should I Be?” This question is answered within the very first chapter of the Bible – we should be the image of God.
In His Image is an exploration of ten of God’s attributes. The aim is to get us, His children, thinking about what it means to be made in God’s image. When we know that, we learn to be more like Him.
The ten characteristics of God that are explored in this book also seek to give us a more complete picture of who God is. For example, we know that God is love. But we can’t truly understand His love without knowing that He is just.
We know that God is merciful and gracious but we typically try to separate the two, instead of as Ms. Wilkin puts it, seeing them as sisters. We separate God’s mercy and grace from His justice when in fact all three are connected.
Know God: In His Image is an invitation to learn more about the character of God. As children of God, we should hunger for a connection with Him. That connection will deepen as we spend time getting to know who He is.
Know yourself: As we learn more about who God is, a stark contrast emerges. God is so much greater than us. Who we are is tied up in who He is. At then end of each section Jen gives some verses for reflection and questions to ponder.
These questions ask you to think about the impact of God’s attributes on your life. They also encourage you to examine yourself in relation to God’s attributes – what do you need to change to better reflect the image of God.
Run your race: Each chapter ends with a prayer, or rather the guidelines to write a prayer. This is your chance to apply the lessons of the book. My prayer will be different from yours because my experiences are different. My interpretation of how the concepts expressed in the book apply to me will vary from another person’s.
Favorite Quotes from In His Image
The knowledge of God and the knowledge of self always go hand in hand.
This is a lesson that became very clear to me as I tried to redesign the website to be more inline with the tagline: Know God. Know yourself. Run your race. I realized that more times than not my “know yourself” posts were almost irretrievably tangled up in my “know God” posts. As we uncover more about God’s character, we learn more about ourselves.
Of all his attributes, the love of God is perhaps the hardest to conceive apart from the lesser, human versions of love that shape our understanding. Human love, even in its finest moments, can only whisper of the pure and holy love of God.
This is so true. It’s almost impossible for us to understand the love that God has for us. We try, but the human mind cannot compute the height or breadth, or depth of His love for us.
Agape is the word Jesus uses to instruct his disciples regarding those who hate them: “But agape your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.” (Luke 6:35)
This concept gave me a moment of pause. If I am to love my enemies in an agape kind of way, then I am to love them in a way that doesn’t make sense. It’s a love that loves at all costs and has no boundaries. At the same time, that’s the love that someone who considers me their enemy ought to have for me.
But let us marvel that even in our rebellious state, God’s goodness endures toward us in a thousand circumstances. He gives us daily bread, and often more than just that, though we are given to the habit of complaining for what we lack rather than contentment with what we possess. He gives us the joy of family and friends, though we are more prone to rage against him for the hard relationships than to thank him for the sweet ones. He grants us, on the whole, more days of joy than of sorrow, though our darkened hearts are more apt to curse him for the hard times than to bless him for the happy ones.
These words put the concept of God’s goodness, mercy, and grace into sharp focus. We have much to be grateful for though we may not agree.
Though in human terms, justice is portrayed as blind, the justice of God is wide-eyed and clear-sighted. God knows all actions and thoughts and motives so he wields the scepter of justice with clear vision.
Judge not lest ye be judged. Too often we point fingers at our brothers and sisters thinking that we know them and their circumstances when the truth is we only have limited knowledge. When we remember that only God knows everything, we remember that only He understands the heart and the motives behind every action. He is therefore the only person capable of being a Judge.
I received a copy of In His Image from the Crossway Blogger Review Program, a positive review was not required.
About the Author
Jen Wilkin is a speaker, writer, and Bible teacher. She has a background in women’s ministry and has organized and led studies for women in home, church, and parachurch contexts. Jen and her family are members of the Village Church in Flower Mound, Texas.
Jen’s passion is to see believers become articulate and committed followers of Christ, with a clear understanding of why they believe what they believe, grounded in the Word of God. You can find her at jenwilkin.net.
You may also like: