All one has to do is open his Bible to the very first page. There he finds God’s distinctions between male and female from the beginning of God’s message to man. But these two distinct sexes are the same in many ways as well. Together male and female are distinct from the rest of God’s creation because unlike animals and plants, mankind is created in God’s image.
I ended the last article by referring to the Latin term imago dei, which literally means “the image of God”. Being created in the image of God provides mankind with a God-created dignity. I’d like to explain what that means in this article. First, let’s refresh our memory regarding Genesis 1:26 which says, “Then God said, ‘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’.”
After five days of literally creating the entire universe as we know it, we read at the beginning of Genesis 1:26, “Then God said, ‘Let Us make man.” After everything else was completed, this verse makes it clear that creation itself would not be complete until man was made. The earth was only complete when man came upon it. It could be said that the creation of mankind was the climax of God’s grand creation. This even comes out in the text. Over and over again in chapter one we see the statement, “Let there be…” God spoke the rest of creation into existence including birds, fish, the sun, the moon, the stars, animals, and plants. “Let there be” is quite amazing indeed. God made something out of nothing (ex nihilo) simply by speaking it into existence. But the “Let there be”, “Let there be”, “Let there be” is followed by, “Then God said”. I’ve italicized the English word “then” to make a point that I think is being brought out in Genesis 1. God created the entire universe, “then” something quite amazing took place. What was it? God consulted with Himself in the sovereign court of heaven just as an earthly king does before making an important decision–“Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image.”
This adds a personal element to the creation of man. God consulted with Himself in a covenantal conversation among the three persons of the Godhead. In this heavenly Trinitarian counsel of the Godhead, God was saying something like, “Mankind will be like nothing I’ve made up to this point. Man and woman will have a heart to love Me, and mind to know me, and a will to obey Me. Mankind will be given the capacity to interact covenantally with me and one another just as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have done since forever.”
God made man to be like Him, possessing a covenantal capacity. “Let Us make man in Our image.” God stamped His imprint on human beings. Later in Genesis 2 we see He formed man from the dust of the ground (Genesis 2:7). God’s fingerprints, as it were, were all over man. There is a sense in which God’s fingerprints are all over creation. The Psalmist declares, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (Psalm 19:1). But the intimacy by which God forms man and then breaths life into him so that he bears God’s image is different than the way He created the rest of His creation.
You may love your kittens and puppies, admire the fierce lion, stand in awe of a grizzly bear, or enjoy the peaceful sour of an eagle, but none of those creatures–though God Himself made them for His glory, and they declare His glory–were made in His image. But mankind was made in God’s image!
Right after college I attended Seminary to work on my Master of Divinity degree. It was in my first or second year that Dr. Russell Moore assigned me a book to read written by Anthony Hoekema entitled Created in God’s Image. Though I had received a B.A. in Bible, I had never heard the term imago dei. This may have been because I wasn’t paying attention. But Hoekema got my attention and introduced this Latin term used throughout church history. His book changed the way I began viewing not only myself, but others. Why is it wrong to murder, for instance? To simply say, “Because God said so” is a Sunday school answer. But to say (as Hoekema taught me) that murder is wrong because it is an indirect attack on God since murdering a human being is murdering someone upon whom God stamped His image–now that’s a seminary answer, not a Sunday school answer.
We need to pay attention to this term imago dei because its meaning is fundamental to understanding God, the world, and mankind. It’s been several years since I read Hoekema, but some basic principles about what it means to be created in the image of God have stayed with me through the years. Throughout church history many theologians have attempted to define imago dei–men such as Augustine, Luther, Calvin, and Karl Barth just to name a few. Though there is a degree of mystery to understanding the depth of this concept, allow me to break it down in four simple words. Being created in the image of God means we are: rational creatures, responsible creatures, originally righteous creatures, and relational creatures.
First, being created in God’s image means we are rational creatures. We have the ability to reason and understand. We have the capacity to be spiritual and worshipful. TheWestminster Shorter Catechism asks, “What is the chief end of man?” It answers, “The chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.” To God be the glory! To such an end man was created. Animals can glorify God, but usually unconsciously and accidentally. But mankind can purposely glorify God. He has the ability to reason and know His Creator and worship His Creator (cf. Romans 1).
Second, being created in Gods image means we are responsible creatures. This comes out in the rest of Genesis 1:26 which says, “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’.” This dominion duty of mankind (i.e. cultural mandate) as God’s creation in His image is repeated again in Genesis 1:28, revealing its significance. Dominion means rulership. And with rulership comes stewardship, or responsibility.
Third, being created in God’s image means we were originally righteous creatures. Man was originally created perfect–without sin. Question 10 of the Westminster asks, “How did God create man?” It answers, “God created man, male and female, after His own image, in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness, with dominion over the creatures.” But this original righteousness and holiness turned into original sin the moment Cain was conceived. The doctrine of original sin (written at at length by many theologians, Jonathan Edwards work perhaps standing out prominently) teaches that we sin because we are sinners, not that we are sinners because we sin. That is, we’ve inherited a sin nature from our father Adam. The end goal of the gospel is to reverse the curse of sin and restore the righteous and holy image (through Jesus Christ) that man was originally created to possess. Cain, the son of Eve, was marked by original sin. But there came another son from Eve–a promised Son (Genesis 3:15)– who was holy, spotless, and undefiled. Jesus Christ was born of the virgin Mary under the law (Galatians 4:4) with no original sin. Luke 3:38 interestingly refers to Jesus Christ as, “the Son of Adam, the Son of God.” Jesus was a son of Adam, that is, He became man by taking upon Himself human flesh. But He was also the Son of God, and therefore was perfect and without sin. He is the Last Adam, both God and man. He is he Mediator between God and man. He’s the God-Man representing man to God, and God to man (I Timothy 2:5).
Finally, being created in God’s image means we are relational creatures. In other words, we have a covenantal capacity to relate to God and one another in deep and meaningful ways. It is true that animals are relational in some ways, but not anywhere near the same degree as humans. I recently saw a nature show that was explaining the mating patterns of elk. As I watched the elk relate and interact, it was clear that it wasn’t in the same manner mankind relates. It wasn’t, “So what’s your name? Do you come here often? Will you marry me?” It was brute animal instinct that said by action instead of words, “Hey you. Yes, you ugly male elk over there. Stay away. I found her first. Go away, or I’ll shove my antler directly into your rib cage.”
Mankind was created with the same covenantal capacity that resides within the Godhead. God refers to Himself in the plural in Genesis 1:26: Us and Our. God is three in one. Question 6 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism asks, “How many persons are there in the Godhead?” It answers, “There are three persons of the Godhead; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; and these three are one God, the same in essence (substance), equal in power and glory.” Just as Father relates to Son and Spirit, the Son to Father and Spirit, and the Spirit to Son and Father, so too human beings covenantally relate to God and one another because they were created in His image. The covenant of redemption was the determination among the Godhead before the foundation of the world (cf. Ephesians 1:3ff) to secure salvation for a chosen people. In the same manner, the Triune God–through covenantal consultation–basically said that mankind would be created in God’s image, thereby possessing a similar capacity to have community and communicate on an intimate level. The God of three persons created us like Him, with a natural proclivity to be relational. The God of relationships did not create mankind because He was lonely. The Trinitarian community flourished in eternity past with perfect unity, holy harmony, and relational beauty. But God did create man in His image with a relational capacity so mankind would not be lonely. This comes out in Genesis 2:18 which reads,“Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him’.”
It's critical to acknowledge that the Fall did not remove God’s image from mankind. God’s image was defaced, but not erased. It wasn’t destroyed, but it was severely damaged. Because of this, the relational capacity stamped upon mankind by God has been marred. This is what causes sin to damage not just individuals, but relationships among indivuduals. The moral breakdown of society is the breakdown of relationships; the breakup of marriages (and confusion regarding what marriage actually is), and the perversion of how we relate to one another physically, sexually, and sociallly. Such is all the result of the Fall. The breakdown of relationships began with the breakup of the family; the basic building block of society. In many ways, the first sin man committed in Genesis 3 by eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil resulted in the temporary breakdown of a marriage. Adam and Eve could not even look at each other the same after sin entered the Garden. They sewed fig leaves together to hide their vulnerability and shame. Trust in their covenantal relationship was broken. Their sin also damaged their covenant with God. They hid from Him when they heard His voice in the Garden.
In short, to bear God’s image as mankind means man is God’s living, visible image on earth. God is invisible and doesn’t have a body like man (I Timothy 1:17). So, mankind is meant to reflect, as the catechism says “knowledge, righteousness, and holiness”. But since man now inherits a sin nature since Adam’s Fall, he needs a Second Adam to obey where the first Adam didn’t. The Last Adam is Jesus Christ. He was true righteousness and holiness. “For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners” (Hebrews 7:26). Christ Jesus was truly God and truly man. He was the first and only High Priest who offered Himself as a sacrifice on behalf of God’s people to atone for sin. We must be born from above (John 3:3) in order to have God’s image restored in us through the person of Christ. Faith brings us in union with Christ. The Christian life, therefore, is a conforming of believers in Christ to the very image of Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. This “new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator” (Colossians 3:10) reveals the power of the gospel to reverse the effects of sin’s curse.
Christians reflect God’s image by looking like Christ, the Second Adam. And we can’t reflect the glory of Christ apart from obeying the Word of Christ. Obeying God’s law regarding gender distinction and biblical marriage is non-negotiable for those united to Christ. For far too long the church has either compromised the biblical distinctions in roles between male and female in the name of egalitarianism, or they have been silent so as not to press the issue in an intensely feministic society. The result is that now many in the visible church are giving a pass–and even celebrating–same sex attraction and all that the “queer” community (that’s their terminology, not mine) brings with it. But the slide began from a failure to celebrate distinctions between male and female in every category.
Cruciform conformity means we willingly follow the pattern of Christ and bear a cross. It means we willingly, resolutely, and perseveringly die to our old self. Whatever temptations a Christian faces, he must learn to resist by God’s grace and the power of the Holy Spirit. Sin must be mortified, put to death. Either the Christian kills sin, or sin kills the Christian. Christians don’t make excuses for their sin. They don't build bridges from their temptations to their sin. Christians slaughter sin; giving it no quarter. Christians yield themselves to the Holy Spirit’s power allowing Him to shape them to look like Christ. Colossians 3:1-5 brings out the tension that the Christian must learn to live with in his sanctification:
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. 5 Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.
In one sense, the old self is dead and the Christian has been raised up with Christ. Sin’s penalty has no sway over the true believer because the sinner died with Christ on the cross and is in vital union with Him. But in another sense, the Christian must daily “put to death sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry”. Though sin’s penalty has no sway over the believer, sin’s power can still gain the upper hand. The idolatry of worshiping the human body through sex pervades our culture. Christians must not play around with such impurities because it is covetousness. Same-sex attraction is covetousness. It is not just a passion, but an evil desire that God forbids. It should not, therefore, be celebrated. We all carry around the unredeemed flesh waiting for the resurrection of our bodies. Until then, we are to kill sinful desires, not feed them–whatever they may be.
Scripture is clear that the Spirit of God conforms us to the image of Christ through (not apart from) God’s law. The Spirit should not be separated from the Word, or the law. Moses’ face shone with the glory of God when he walked down from Mt. Sinai after receiving God’s law for God’s people. 2 Corinthians 3:18 says, “we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.” God’s law has been written on the hearts of God’s people in the new covenant (Jeremiah 31). There is simply no excuse for a true Christian in a culture that celebrates homosexuality to remain silent. Christians also do not have the right to give feminism a pass. The church has a responsibility to speak out against any and all forms of gender confusion. 2 Corinthians 3:7-8 says, “Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses' face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end, will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory?”
The church must reflect God to the world. We must glow with Christ and the gospel to the world. Affirming everything God’s law says about homosexuality being a sin must be reaffirmed by the church. Everything God’s word says about the beauty of the God ordained differences between male and female should be celebrated by the church. The church should not give one inch. God’s glory is at stake. Indeed, the very dignity of mankind created in the image of God is at stake.