What is the Image of God?
Before we can begin to understand the truth of sin we must know what God originally intended for Man. We cannot know how history would have been had Adam not fallen. No one knows and God is not going to tell. He does give us a good description of Adam and Eve before sin corrupted their nature. We have a brief description of creation and a revealed description of God. God created Adam and Eve, the first humans, in His image.
God never gives theology in a clean, complete, systematic way. He does make absolute statements then shows through His actions, His work and the words He uses from the mouths of His prophets support for specific theological teaching. Theology is the study of the person of God and His stamp of ownership on what He has created. I call the study of theology friendship with God, for it is the intimacy of friendship which drives the desires to know Him in more than a cursory, shallow way. God reveals Himself, and having created Man in His image, gave Man, all people, the tools needed to have a friendship and intimate relationship with Him. His image is not Him. Man is not God but like God in ways which allow for closeness and intimacy. We grow to know God as we grow to know ourselves. Not our corrupted selves but self as God originally intended and self recreated and given the likeness of Christ for those who truly follow His Son.
What then is the image of God?
Though Adam was created a physical being God is not physical. He is Spiritual and He created Man a physical being with a spiritual nature. Like Adam our spiritual nature is the means through which we have a relationship with God, our Creator. As such, God’s Spirit is indefinable and certainly unexplainable, knowable only to Himself. But, it is true. When God created Adam He took stuff He previously created and made a man. “Then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.” [Genesis 2:7 ESV] “Breath” suggests either soul or spirit. After Jesus’ resurrection He gave the Holy Spirit to His disciples when He breathed on them. “And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.'” [John 20:22 ESV] When God breaths on something He gives it life. Not physical life but spiritual life guaranteeing existence for eternity. Though we face physical death we will exist for eternity.
Before the fall God “walked” in the garden and spoke to Man. They also walked in the garden and spoke to the only Creator. Each had an intimate and free relationship with the other and with God. We know this because God states Adam and Eve hid from Him when they heard Him walking in the Garden. “And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden.” [Genesis 3:8 ESV] This was not the first time God walked in the garden. He creates for His enjoyment. So, the garden and all in it was created and enjoyed by Him. This includes Adam and Eve. He enjoyed them and they enjoyed Him. Yet, when they rebelled against Him they ceased enjoying Him and became afraid and “hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God.” They knew God. Why would they think they could hide themselves from Him? God walking with them, and their hiding from Him, is pertinent evidence for their intimacy with Him and the breaking of intimacy with Him because of their rebellion. Walking with God is having intimacy with Him.
God created man with the ability to think, feel and act. These are three more elements of the Image of God. These elements are not the only characteristics of God’s image in people but they are the, in my opinion, most predominate elements. Since God created people perfect, whole and complete, He meant for everyone to think, feel and act as He thinks, feels and acts. However, even Angels have a relationship with God and think, feel and act. So what is it about Man that is unique, which sets Man apart from Angels? There is one characteristic Man has, which God has shared with Man, which Angels do not have.
God gave Man “dominion” which means to “rule” and “subjugate” or to “cause to dominate” as in, God giving Man the rights of domination over physical creation. Man controlled the planet. God created the planet and gave it to Man to care for.
Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and 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. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth. [Genesis 1:26-28 ESV]
When Man rebelled against God, he was separated from his Creator and no longer had an intimate relationship with Him. God warned Man to not rebel and explicitly stated the consequences of doing so. When Man sinned he caused all men to sin. This does not mean all lost the image of God. That image was corrupted, no longer working perfectly or completely the way God originally intended. We will discuss what God originally intended in a future post.
Dominion, while not lost, was compromised. Instead of living in a garden, in peace and tranquility, caring for the world, Man was shoved into a harsh, unforgiving, uncontrollable environment. Instead of Man ruling over the beasts, the birds and the creatures of the deep, these became afraid of Man and in some instances Man became afraid of them. Work changed from pleasurable to a curse, from easy and natural to hard and tedious. What Man retained was the desire to control while losing all control. Man continues to try to exercise dominion, control, over everything, including God.
Man’s desire to control, also known as covetousness, is a characteristic of the essence of Man’s rebellion.
There is one more element of the image of God given people. It is a characteristic describing Christ’s deepest essence. Jesus is characterized as have the morphe of God and the morphe of a Servant yet being in the shape or physical of a man. Adam was not created to rebel against God but to server Him by caring for and having dominion over the garden and the earth.
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form (morphe) of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form (morphe) of a servant (doulos), being born in the likeness (homoioma) of men. And being found in human form (schema), he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. [Philippians 2:5-8 ESV]
Paul uses a word from Greek philosophy to describe who Jesus is in His deepest, unchangeable nature. “Form” means that which make something what it is. This may be hard to grasp but everything created by God has an essential characteristic which defines its nature. This characteristic may be indefinable but is none the less true and real. In biology we could say the DNA we carry no only defines us as human but also makes us unique from every other human. Though Paul did not know what DNA was he did understand each person is unique but still a person made in the image of God. Yet, Jesus was not created. He is the Creator. He has the “DNA” of God. He also has the “DNA” or “form” of a servant. Adam was given, not the “DNA” of God but the “DNA” of a servant as part of the image of God.
Paul uses two more words, “likeness” and “fashion” to describe Jesus. His “likeness” means to resemble while “fashion” tells us the mode or circumstance of His life was exactly that of every other human. He is a man having moved through all the physical stages required of people from conception and birth, through growth to death. He didn’t just look like a man. He is a man. However, Jesus did not carry as part of His being the sinful nature of corrupted man. He was fully God and fully a servant resembling a man with all of the physical characteristics which define a human from beginning to end. Jesus is human the way God originally intended for Adam and Eve and for all humanity.
Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son. [1 John 5:10 ESV]
Each citizen of the kingdom of heaven lives on the firmly built foundation of the Person of Jesus Christ. Not only created by God in His image but recreated by God in the likeness of Christ, the citizen lives the truth of eternity. All of the evidence for truth is found in the physical universe and the revealed Word of God, in the truth of the life of Jesus Christ and the direction of the indwelling Spirit. Perhaps the most critical aspect of being poor in spirit is the devotion to truth and the hatred of any lie. You will see the evidence of a person’s life by how they handle the evidence of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Anyone who says or acts like they do not need God are as far away from being poor in spirit as possible. They are self-righteous in spirit and are not being honest with themselves or the world.
One of the characteristics of someone who is poor in spirit is the brutal, intellectual honesty they have toward themselves and those around. This honesty begins with the intellectual knowledge of the reality of sin and the discovery of God’s place in creation. Ultimately, God will not allow any to ignore Him. He will allow those rebelling against Him to continue in their rebellion. He will confront them with their need of Him throughout their life. But, when a person begins to lie to themselves and refuses to recognize the lie, their minds become set and impenetrable. God can do anything but will not do everything. He will not reach into a person’s mind and change it for them. Man, made in the image of God and, even with a corrupted image, has the ability to think reasonably through his experiences and know the God who is tugging at him.
Poverty of spirit is a combination of recognizing sin, recognizing God, and recognizing the truth of rebellion against God. All are intellectual activities.
Look for a moment at how the corrupted intelligence works. Everything touched by sin will turn the truth around, on its head, backward, reversed, in-side-out. Those who do not want to say there is a God, or sin, will not believe in God even if someone is raised from the dead. Others, who want to believe, change the truth to fit their own imaginations bringing peace with God where there is no peace. There peace is a manufactured security easily shaken, stolen and destroyed. Their trust is in what they built and not the Object who created everything. “For from the least to the greatest of them, everyone is greedy for unjust gain; and from prophet to priest, everyone deals falsely. They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace.” [Jeremiah 6:13 ESV; see also 8:11] Jeremiah spoke to an obstinate people who were being told they were not sinning, the invaders were not coming as a judgment from God because of their idolatry, that they need not worry or show concern for their place, things and future.
Therefore thus says the Lord GOD: “Because you have uttered falsehood and seen lying visions, therefore behold, I am against you, declares the Lord GOD. My hand will be against the prophets who see false visions and who give lying divinations. They shall not be in the council of my people, nor be enrolled in the register of the house of Israel, nor shall they enter the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord GOD. Precisely because they have misled my people, saying, ‘Peace,’ when there is no peace.'” [Ezekiel 13:8-10 ESV]
Still others want to believe but are tugged and pulled away, finding reasoned excuses to change their thinking, because there thinking is more immediately attractive than the alternative. All want to control through imagination, all want to believe the lie because it is easier to control than the truth. Even the lie has a kernel of truth, just as mythology has a kernel of true history. You will begin to understand Jesus’ parable of the soils in Matthew 13 when you see how those around you, even yourself, falsely think of the truth. If someone thinks they know the truth, but do not, then it is impossible to show them the truth without first the destruction of their imagined reality.
Jesus’ main point at this stage is to not dwell upon the consequences of sin but its reality. It is not to beat one’s self up over sin but to just admit it exists. Addicts (and I have a problem with this word “addict”) cannot be “cured” until they first honestly recognizes the problem triggering their addiction. This problem is not that something controls them but that they control it to the point of being unwilling to give up the substance. They want to use the substance and have lied to themselves about the substance controlling them. Few are forced to abuse substances or habits. They decide to smoke, drink, abuse drugs and people and things until the habit is so ingrained they have to want to stop more than they wanted to start.
We are bent by sin and judged for sins. When Adam fell, rebelling against God, he corrupted the nature given by God for all who would follow. We have a sin nature, a bent away from God toward self. Yet, we also sin and are held responsible for sin by God. Both the sin nature and the actual sins of the thinking of our hearts make intimacy with God impossible. He acts to reconnect intimately with everyone through the sacrifice of His Son. Those who are poor in spirit recognize the sin nature in themselves and the fact they sin and are responsible for the thinking of their hearts which inspire their sin. Recognizing sin and the absolute inability to change is the first step to being recreated by God and fit for eternity. We must believe God is true and speaks the truth always and in all circumstances and experiences.