Made in the Image and Likeness of God

I’m not an artist, but I do occasionally enjoy walking around galleries and museums to look at art. Artists will draw or paint whatever it is that has inspired them (unless, of course, they have been commissioned to produce something specific for someone). The artist is free to portray on paper what is in their imagination or what they’ve seen with their eyes – all for the benefit of the person who will gaze upon its beauty. When I walk around a gallery, every now and again a painting will cause me to stop and stare at it longer than I have glanced at the others because of its particular brilliance.

The Greatest Artist and his Masterpiece

God is an artist. He has made the universe so that we may enjoy it and respond in worship to him as the wonderful Creator. I can stare into the majestic colours of a sunset as one who appreciates the Creator’s wonderful brilliance. Now and again, I will stop the car on the side of the road as I drive home from the office just to look at the sunset or to take a photograph. The sunset demands my full attention because it is so incredibly beautiful. God has put into reality what the three persons (Father, Son and Spirit) had in his eternal and omniscient mind. The trinitarian council designed the beauty of the universe to reflect the beauty of the Godhead.

When God was creating the universe, at the end of each day he declared that which he had made “was good”. But after creating humans, he said “it is very good” – it’s only humans that have been “created in his own image and likeness”. We hold special characteristics and qualities as part of God’s creation. As wonderful as everything around us is, human beings hold a special place in creation as having uniquely been made in the “image and likeness of God” (Genesis 1:27).

Simply Sophisticated

The Italian artist Leornado da Vinci apparently once said: “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication”. Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple co. used this mantra to describe his company. It’s an interesting caption—an insight from an incredibly talented artist. When I first heard this, it made me ponder whether anything really is simple at all. Take the human body for example; it’s very simple but also very sophisticated. We have two eyes to see, two ears to hear, a mouth to speak, legs to walk and so on—everything in our bodies are there to do something. It’s very simple. Even a child understands that hands are used for colouring and teeth are meant to chew food. But as simple as the body is at first glance, the sophistication of the design is incredible. The complexity of the human eye, for example, is phenomenal. The way our circulatory system functions is astounding. We have thousands of miles-long worth of tubes in our bodies.

Similarly, a painting is simple at first glance. We might notice a vase of flowers, a portrait of someone, a ship caught in a storm or whatever the painting may portray. It’s simple in the sense that we can identify what it is. But by stepping closer to it, we notice the sophistication of the artist’s skill and talent – the shadowing, glazing, sgraffito and all the little details which add a tremendous amount to the painting’s overall beauty. The job of an artist is done when he/she makes something that is incredibly sophisticated and complex to seem so simply awesome.

God simply spoke the universe into being. How very simple: God said “let there be light”, and the light came to be. But when we discover what light is, how fast it travels and why we need it, it becomes fantastically complex, and we begin to realise how great and mighty God is. When the Bible says that God made the stars, it says it almost in passing: “…God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars” (Gen. 1:16). There are billions upon billions of stars and galaxies in the universe. Creation declares the Lord’s glory. He is perplexingly wonderful to have made all of this which exists around us.

Image and Likeness

It says in Genesis 1:27 that we are “made in his image and likeness” of God, but this doesn’t mean that we have been made to look like God physically. God does not have a body like us. He hasn’t given us ears because he has ears and hands because he has hands. Bible verses which refer to the “arm of God” (Deut. 33:27), the “hand of God” (Is. 59:1) or the “face of God” (Ps. 31:16; Ezek. 39:29) shouldn’t be taken literally. They are figures of speech. When the Bible attributes human characteristics to God, they are called ‘anthropomorphisms’. Anthropomorphisms are linguistic and morphological techniques to personify an action or description of God so that we can better understand and relate to his providential immanence in the world. God is not physical – he is Spirit. So, we are made in God’s image but not because God has a physical body. Although, Christ now has a physical body because he added to his divinity a human nature at his incarnation.

Then what does it mean to be made in his “image and likeness”? Well, it means that we are made to reflect something of what God is. We are not little gods, but there are some things about us that are God-like. We are made as moral beings who possess unique intelligence just as God is impeccably moral and infinitely intelligent. Humanity was made to reflect God’s holiness. People have the ability to communicate through language be it by spoken or written words. We have been made to be in community with each other just as God is in communion with his triune self. We share some of his communicable attributes—i.e., we can love and have pity on others, we can be merciful and have a desire for justice, we hate evil and we can be merciful, generous, patient, and so forth. To have been made in God’s image and likeness means that we are unique among creation. It is to be like him.

Some animals can have human-like qualities, but they are not humans. I’ve never known a dog to contemplate the philosophy of epistemology, to be curious about mathematics, to ponder the laws of physics or to think over ethical issues. All a dog wants to know is when its next meal is coming and how long it’s going to be until it’s given some attention. We are uniquely made among creation as God’s image bearers. Humans were commanded to govern, to rule and to have dominion over God’s creation. God says in Genesis 1:26: “let them [humans] 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.” Humans are in-charge and have received the Lord’s favour. We have been given a soul and our lives continue beyond death.

After having made Adam, God said (Genesis 1:28-30):

“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.”  And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food. And it was so.”

The status of humanity is far above anything else God has made. We are responsible for culture, building cities, cultivating the earth, developing a variety of languages and establishing national laws and governance.

Broken Mirrors

There is a problem though: we are not the way we were created to be. We no longer mirror the image and likeness of God as we were made to do. We are broken mirrors. The image of God in us has been damaged. As a result of sin, we now live in a world that is very different from the world Adam and Eve were first brought into. We live in a fallen world and are therefore in a fallen state. The seas are wonderful, but they show no compassion during a tsunami. The earth brings forth life through plants but shows no mercy during earthquakes. Our bodies are decaying to the point where we all must die. Even our morality has been affected. We have sinful natures – we are totally depraved and desire sin and rebellion. We murder, lie, steal, cheat, blaspheme and willingly rebel against our God.

However, even though we are damaged as God’s image bearers, we are still human. We still carry the imprint of our Creator. We are still made in his image and likeness, but that image and likeness is now marred. We are imperfect. We cannot truly please God in our fallen state. We do not desire him. We fornicate by worshipping idols. Idols need not be golden statues – idols are the things we replace God with. We value our finances more than we value faith. We love our families more than we love the Lord. We desire to watch television more than we desire to be at Church or prayer meetings. We are far more enthusiastic at a sports event than we are at worship. It’s not necessarily wrong to value these things, but to make them idols, to believe that they are worth more than God is foolishness. We are not what we should be. We are not what God desires us to be. We do not live how God wants us to live. Humanity is lost in sin.

The Saviour

There is one man, however, who has pleased God. He made no idols. He committed no sin. He told no lie. He lived a perfect life and rejected Satan’s temptations. This man is the God-man; Jesus Christ. Jesus claimed to be God (Mark 14:61-64; John 6:36; 8:59; 10:30-33; 14:9-10), others said he was God (John 20:28) and people worshipped him (Matt. 28:9). He was in the beginning and created the universe with the Father and the Holy Spirit (John 1:1-4, 9-10; Col. 1:15-17; Rev. 22:13). God the Son left the Heavens to come into the world. He humbled himself by taking upon himself the flesh of man. He was also divine—fully God. He achieved what no one else could achieve; redemption for sinners by becoming our substitutionary atonement in his sacrificial death and resurrection. Jesus accomplished what we cannot do—he bears the image of God perfectly. Hebrews 1:3a says, “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature.” In him, we have the hope of one day bearing the image and likeness of God the way God intended. To know what it means to bear the image of God perfectly, we look to Christ because “in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” (Col. 1:19).

We now, as God’s chosen people, have the promise of glorification – that one day we will receive a resurrected body to dwell with the Lord forever in the new heavens and the new earth. We await the complete restoration of all things. God will make all things new and we shall perfectly bear his image and likeness in glory having been perfected with the righteousness of Christ.

Written by: Pastor Gwydion Emlyn


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