Image of God

Preaching and Worship Resources about Image of God

Being created "in the image of God" is a great glory of humanity — a source of great dignity and of great human rights and responsibilities. The image of God consists of at least three things: responsible dominion within creation, communal love, and true righteousness.

In Scripture

Examples "Then God said, `Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.' So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. 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 air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth'" (Gen. 1:26-28). "I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me" (John 17:20-23). "[Jesus Christ] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation" (Col. 1:15). "Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator" (Col. 3:9-10). "You were taught to put away your former way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness" (Eph. 4:22-24).

Warning "Whoever sheds the blood of a human, by a human shall that person's blood be shed; for in his own image God made humankind" (Gen. 9:6).

Points to Ponder

"Responsible dominion" within creation is no license to damage it. Just the opposite. In the kingdom of God that Jesus proclaimed, dominion is never "lording over"; it's more like "lording under" by way of respect, care, and support. Good stewardship of a good creation means things like respectful animal husbandry, forest management, and water conservation.

Beyond the Biophysical Sphere A number of theologians believe that God's creation extends beyond the biophysical sphere to include an array of cultural possibilities that God has folded into creation. When God charges human beings to "fill the earth and subdue it" the idea is that we would unfold the built-in cultural potentials within creation — to speak language, for instance, and get married and compose art. In this connection, theologians sometimes point to the cultural initiatives on display in Genesis 4, including urban development, tent-making, musicianship, and metal-working.

John 17 demonstrates that because God is triune the image of God is social as well as personal. Jesus prays that the disciples and the people they bring into the community through evangelism will be "one" as he and the Father are one. "Oneness" (closely related to the "in-ness" Jesus describes between him and the Father and the new community) in John's gospel, usually spoken of as pertaining between Son and Father, consists of mutual love, mutual glory, a shared will, word, knowledge, and work. John 17 presents the church as the image of God — a bleary image at present, but one Jesus took very seriously. When the church does in fact live in loving harmony and community, it is like the triune God.

Renewal of the Image Some of the ways to do it appear in the context of those "renewal of the image" passages that connect vast tracts of Pauline redemption teaching to the image theme. In these passages (Col. 3:10, Eph. 4:24), "knowledge," "righteous - ness," and "holiness" stand for the whole new life in Christ that Paul wants believers to "put on." Paul is talking in these passages especially about self-giving love, the ligament of the new community (Eph. 4:15-16; Col. 3:14). He is talking, most generally, about the Christ-likeness that allows believers to present his image to the world and to each other. For, as Paul can say alternately (Rom. 13:14), it is somehow Christ himself that believers put on like a garment.

Colossians 3 is explicit that the renewal of the image occurs when the old self gets killed off (mortification) and the new self arises (vivification) to clothe itself with the virtues of Christ (3:12-14).

The New Testament Image One properly concludes from these passages that the New Testament image of God in believers includes not only loving, forgiving, and being perfect — all specifically linked to God or Christ by "just as" clauses (Eph. 4:32, Col. 3:13, Matt. 5:48). It also includes the whole range of ways in which believers obey God by imitating Christ. It includes all the virtues, all the fruit of the Spirit, every generous lifting of a cup to someone's thirst, every resourceful attempt to shore up a sagging spirit, all compassionate attempts to struggle and suffer with people in trouble.

Image of God in Humanity Many Christian theologians and ethicists believe that the image of God in humanity secures a range of human rights as well as responsibilities — the responsibility to keep the earth and to live in righteousness, but also the right to respect, the right to life, and the right to certain freedoms. These are unalienable rights. No human being has granted them, and none may remove them. Personhood is not an achievement but a given. The same is true of human dignity — the natural weightiness and worthiness of creatures designed to look like God.

The doctrine of the image of God positions human beings in the universe. We are not God, but only images of God. On the other hand, we are images of God and not mere products of natural selection working off random genetic mutation. Christians therefore reject both humanist exaggerations of our status and materialist reductions of it.


Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.