What does it mean that man is made in the image of God?

Question: "What does it mean that man is made in the image of God?"

On the last day of creation, God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” (Genesis 1:26). Thus, He finished His work with a “personal touch.” God formed man from the dust and gave him life by sharing His own breath (Genesis 2:7). Accordingly, man is unique among all God’s creations, having both a material (body) and an immaterial (soul / spirit) part.

Having the “image” or “likeness” of God means, in the simplest terms, that we were made to resemble God. Adam did not resemble God in the sense of God’s having flesh and blood. Scripture says that “God is a spirit” (John 4:24) and therefore exists without a body. However, Adam’s body did mirror the life of God, insofar as it was created in perfect health and was not subject to death.

The image of God refers to the immaterial part of man. It sets man apart from the animal world, fits him for the “dominion” God intended (Genesis 1:28), and enables him to commune with his Maker. It is a likeness mentally, morally, and socially.

Mentally, man was created as a rational, volitional agent—in other words, man can reason and man can choose. This is a reflection of God’s intellect and freedom. Any time someone invents a machine, writes a book, paints a landscape, enjoys a symphony, calculates a sum, or names a pet, he or she is proclaiming the fact that we are made in God’s image.

Morally, man was created in righteousness and perfect innocence, a reflection of God’s holiness. God saw all that He had made (mankind included) and called it “very good” (Genesis 1:31). Our conscience or “moral compass” is a vestige of that original state. Whenever someone writes a law, recoils from evil, praises good behavior, or feels guilty, he is confirming the fact that we are made in God’s own image.

Socially, man was created for fellowship. This reflects God's triune nature and His love. In Eden, man’s primary relationship was with God (Genesis 3:8 implies fellowship with God), and God made the first woman because “it is not good that the man should be alone” (Genesis 2:18). Every time someone marries a wife, makes a friend, hugs a child, or attends a church, he is demonstrating the fact that we are made in the likeness of God.

Part of being made in God’s image means that Adam had the capacity to make free choices. Although he was given a righteous nature, Adam made an evil choice to rebel against his Maker. In so doing, Adam marred the image of God within himself, and he passed that damaged likeness on to all his children, including us (Romans 5:12). Today, we still bear the image of God (James 3:9), but we also bear the scars of sin. Mentally, morally, socially, and physically, we show the effects.

The good news is that, when God redeems an individual, He begins to restore the original image of God, creating “the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness” (Ephesians 4:24; see also Colossians 3:10).

Recommended Resource: In His Image by Brand & Yancey.

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What does it mean that man is made in the image of God?