In Genesis 1:26–27, we find that humanity—unlike anything else in all of creation—is made in the image of God. Christians have long held that the image of God gives each and every person an inherent and immeasurable value. And for just as long they have tried to pinpoint exactly where that lies.
Some try to pin it down to intelligence. Others to emotions, language, creativity, relationships, the soul, or some combination of all the above.
But getting the image of God right isn’t just a matter of figuring out what makes us uniquely human. It doesn’t simply tell us what makes us valuable as individuals. Pinpointing the image of God shows us how we should live. The image of God is our function as much as it is our form.
To be made in the image of God is to be made as a representative of him. Ancient kings often claimed to bear their god’s image, ruling on behalf of and in the power of their god. But this identity was only ever given to kings. The Bible, however, gives this designation to all of humanity. All of humanity has been made to represent God, to act and rule on his behalf.
The things that we often consider to constitute the image of God, then, might be better understood as the tools that he has given to us to fulfill our duties. Our intelligence, emotions, creativity, relationships, and soul all help us reflect God into the world, but they are not, in and of themselves, God’s image.
In fact, each one of them can be used to reflect a terribly distorted version of God back into the world. We reflect a God who is distant, uncaring, and unjust when our intelligence is cold, emotions are manipulative, creativity is empty, relationships are self-serving, and our soul is stressed-out.
Rather than getting hung up on the parts that come together to form us into the image of God, we should examine ourselves and see how well we are using those same parts to fulfill the image of God.
- Are we using our relationships to love and forgive as Christ loves and forgives?
- Are we using our emotions to care and nurture as Christ cares and nurtures?
- Are we using our creativity to serve and encourage as Christ serves and encourage?
- Are we using our intelligence to teach and listen as Christ teaches and listens?
The point of fulfilling the image of God is not legalism. Fulfilling the image of God is not a matter of earning your righteousness. Apart from Christ, we are dead in our sins. Walking by the flesh, we love what God hates (Romans 8:6–8). This side of Eden, any hope of fulfilling the image of God must first look to Jesus Christ, who was himself the perfect image of God (Colossians 1:15; Hebrews 1:3). It is when we look to Christ in faith that we are given life and the Spirit (Romans 8:10–11). And by the power of his Spirit we are conformed into the image of Jesus (Romans 8:29). Fulfilling the image of God is living out what we have been made for.
Whether we’re intelligent or not, creative or not, emotional or not—we are all made in the image of God. And God, in his grace and mercy, is equipping us by his own strength to bear his image well.