The Christian doctrine “Imago Dei” (Latin for “image of God”) means that man was created in the image of God. It bestows dignity and worth on men and women and separates us from any other life-form. It is the one single attribute we all share in common and the only thing that makes us equal.
Government, law, ethics, and medicine (to name only a few examples) have echoed this belief and demonstrated its tenants throughout history.
The American Declaration of Independence affirms this doctrine in its famous line: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights…”.
While this doctrine has undoubtedly helped humanity in countless ways, when looked upon with a critical eye, some might point out an apparent inconsistency between the doctrine and reality.
Simply put, we act in ways that are inconsistent with what we know about God. God is love and there is no evil within Him at all. (I Jn. 4:8 and 1:5 KJV) Yet His creation of man and woman exhibit traits that are the opposite of who He is. War, oppression, suffering, hate, violence, anger, and so on are sadly common traits of mankind.
In light of this inconsistency, people often draw one of two incorrect conclusions:
- If mankind is in God’s image but acts wrong then God must not be love and is instead bad like we are.
- We are not made in His image at all and Imago Dei is just made up. There can be no reconciliation between man’s wickedness and God’s holiness through Imago Dei.
Both of these, however, are false conclusions because, in each instance, we lie to ourselves. Thankfully there is a third option which is the topic of today’s lesson. We have to understand the context of the doctrine of Imago Dei. When we examine it closer we will discover that there is a solution to the dilemma of being made in God’s image and yet acting, unlike God.
A true doctrine
26a) And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness:Genesis 1:26a (KJV)The doctrine of Imago Dei is both theologically and Biblically correct. In fact, the Hebrew word for image here is the word tselem (Strong’s 6745), which means we are representative of God. The Hebrew word for likeness is demuwth (Strong’s 1823), which in a similar vein means resemblance.
God created us in His image. The Bible clearly teaches this. God said Himself that it was His desire to make man in His own image and after His own likeness. His creation was a deliberate act of love. It was an intentional act. “God said Himself that it was His desire to make man in His own image and after His own likeness.”
Yet, everywhere we look something is amiss. When we look around at our contemporary world we see violence, despair, and sadness. If we look into the rear-view mirror of history we see pain and suffering. Even when we look into the future we can only see utopia through an imaginary lens of ungrounded optimism.
Humanism touts that mankind is progressing to an ever more civilized state but that is contrary to scripture. Deep down we all have our doubts regarding man’s progression. Can we honestly believe things are getting better? I say we cannot.
So then how do we reconcile the two seemingly contradictory realities of being made in God’s image and yet acting in ways inconsistent with the God we were created to be like?
I remember my first visit to the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. I was surprised that throughout the galleries amateur artists were copying original works of art to hone their artistic skills. They would sit near works by Monet and da Vinci and painstakingly copy them, their attention fixed back and forth between the original and their canvases.
While they were certainly artists of an above-average caliber their works did not compare to the originals. If you asked any of them which was better, I am sure they too would agree that the originals were better. The originals are how the art was meant to be.
Their works then were imperfect representations. This is exactly what we are, we are imperfect replicas of the original creation of Adam and Eve. This is why man acts the way does while yet being created in God’s image.
Earlier I mentioned that God created us in His image. This is in the past tense. God created us in His image and while we are still in His image we are not what he originally intended us to be like. Originally, we were perfect representations of Him but then something happened. “…we are imperfect replicas of the original creation of Adam and Eve.”
This is where context matters. Creation took place before the fall and before sin entered mankind through Adam and Eve’s disobedience in the Garden of Eden. God initially made us in His image. Adam and Eve enjoyed and shared that fact as perfect image-bearers or representatives of their Creator. They were in true fellowship with Him.
However, after they ate the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, their status as perfect representations of God was marred. They no longer reflected God’s image as they were meant to for God is pure and holy and they were now sinful.
Sin ruined God’s “very good” creation. God cannot look upon sin for in Him is no darkness at all. (Hab. 1:13 KJV) Thus He banished Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden. (Gen. 3:24 KJV)
This was all because man disobeyed God by succumbing willfully to the deception of the serpent. Mankind decided they knew what was best and tried to usurp their Creator.
One of the saddest things about the fall is that the serpent was correct when he told Adam and Eve that if they ate of the fruit they would be “as gods” or “like God.” What is more, they did know good and evil now for sin is evil.
5) For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.Genesis 3:5 (KJV)
After they questioned God and disobeyed Him they became (as the serpent said they would) “like God”. However, being like God stands in pale comparison and a sharp contrast to being in God’s image. Ever since the fall man has been born with indwelling sin. Theologically this is known as original sin. (Rom. 5:12 KJV) Thus the natural inclination of every man and woman post-fall is towards sin. We are no longer born in fellowship with God but as His enemies.
We must remember that this was not God’s intention. Also, fallen man acts sinfully because disobedience changed him. Sin also keeps man in state of perpetual change. For example one day a man is honest and another day he lies. However God Himself is unchanging.
Nevertheless original sin is the lot we have been dealt. It is not something we can shy away from otherwise we are only deceiving ourselves. (I Jn. 1:8 KJV)
This provides the groundwork for reconciling sinful man with Imago Dei. Man, post-fall, is not truly representative of God’s image any longer. Though vestiges remain of our uniqueness and worth, we are imperfect and sinful.
If the story ended here we would be hopeless. While that is exactly our state when we are born into this world, there is hope. Your story does not have to end in hopelessness!
The devil uses sin to keep us away from restoration in Christ. Sin is his most repulsive instrument and effective means by which he separates us from God.
This is evident in how people wrongly react to the doctrine of Imago Dei. Some become cynical and give up all hope. Others conjure images of utopia and believe that man is progressing to an ever-higher state of existence. Even more look at Christians, specifically taking stock of the sins they too commit and use that to justify their belief that Imago Dei is a lie.
The fact is that Christians, though spiritually born again and not under the dominion of sin, still fall prey to it and battle it continually. (Gal. 5:17 KJV) Also, Christians are not yet glorified in heaven and they still live in the flesh.
The primary thrust of the Christian life is to strive to be more like God through the Holy Spirit’s enabling. Acting as God would act does not come naturally. Even after being born again as a Christian it only happens through the Christian’s following of the Holy Spirit’s guiding. Christians have been made perfect in God’s sight yet they are still being sanctified or made holy by following Jesus. Thus, Christians can still (and do) say the wrong things, harm others, and do bad things. (Heb. 10:14 KJV)
Nevertheless, the “Christians are hypocrites” excuse only goes so far. Everyone is a hypocrite and we all think far more highly of ourselves than we ought to. The real problem is that if someone points at Christian hypocrisy as a reason to look away from the gospel and doctrine of Imago Dei they are missing the point and are being turned away by the devil.“God loved you and His creation so much that He worked out a perfect way for you to come back to Him. That is truly glorious!”
In questioning the validity of Imago Dei they look away from the context of scripture (specifically the fall) and look to man-made solutions for what is a spiritual problem of eternal proportions. It is a problem that man ultimately cannot solve himself.
If we ever want to get better or be better, we have to look back at our Creator and ask how we can be restored to being in His image. This involves realizing and accepting that we are born fallen into sin and unable to get out of it on our own. It requires acknowledging that we need restoration and that only God has the answer to our great dilemma.
The dilemma requires a solution and that solution, the only solution, is Jesus. God had His redemptive plan for mankind fully mapped outright from the moment of the fall.
15) And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.Genesis 3:15 (KJV)
God was talking about Jesus here. Salvation, or the restoration of mankind through belief and repentance in Jesus’ death for man’s sins, was planned for all of mankind at the moment of the fall. God loved you and His creation so much that He worked out a perfect way for you to come back to Him. That is truly glorious!
Conclusion – Re-creation
8) But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.Romans 5:8 (KJV)
Creation was an act of God’s love and so was God’s plan of salvation. While we have since gone astray from God, He has not changed at all.
Eternal life (Jn. 3:16 KJV), freedom from the guilt and shame of sin (Rom. 8:1, Is. 1:18 KJV), spiritual re-birth to who we were originally intended to be (2 Cor. 5:17 KJV), restored fellowship with God, and eventually, a new physical body (I Cor. 15:52 KJV) are all benefits of salvation through belief in Jesus’ death for your sins.
Where mankind’s answers ultimately fail, Jesus stepped in and still steps into the lives of all those who believe…
21) For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.2 Corinthians 5:21 (KJV)
Christians, while still in a battle with the flesh have, through Jesus, won the war of sin and are spiritually born again. When God looks at them He sees Jesus Himself because Jesus’ righteousness was imputed to them upon belief and repentance in Jesus’ death on the cross for their salvation. (Rom. 4:5 KJV)
Jesus, our substitute, did this so we could be re-created and “be made the righteousness of God in him”.
Jesus’ death on the cross is the solution to the dilemma of being made in God’s image and yet acting, unlike God. It is the grand and glorious solution to the great dilemma of man’s sinfulness. It is the only way by which man can be saved. (Acts 4:12 KJV)
Have you been born again? Has God spiritually re-created and restored you?