The Image of God (Imago Dei)

By G. Lee Southard, PhD

If we are made in God’s image, what is the image of God? It is one of the most often asked questions among believers and non-believers alike. It is also one of the most important to understand. No one knows what God looks like because no one can see God’s face and live (Exodus 33:20).

God’s Physical Image
The Bible describes that God has shown his physical features on occasion. These features reflect the same ones he gave to man. These features mentioned in the Bible are: his physical presence in the garden, i.e., heard by Adam (Genesis 3:10), spoke directly to Adam and all of the patriarchs, passed by Moses on the mountain allowing Moses to look only at his back lest Moses dies from seeing God’s face (Exodus 33:21), God sits on a throne (Psalms 47:8; Revelation 4:9 and 5:13) and lastly sent Jesus as the most tangible evidence for God. In John14:9 Jesus said to Phillip, “He who has seen me has seen the Father.” Jesus is saying that he represents the tangible image of God and that he is God incarnate.

God is Spirit
In John 4:24, Jesus said that God is spirit. So how can God have a physical image and still be spiritual? Because God as the creator of all, can transcend from spirit to physical and back at will. It is a characteristic of the triune God and creator of everything. Before Jesus came, God dealt directly with man and the nation of Israel. For a brief time in the first century, God was with man in the person of Jesus. Today, God is with us through the Holy Spirit.

Man and the Image of God
Being made in God’s image was reserved for man. It applied to no other creatures that God made. Genesis 1: 26-27 and Genesis 5:1 state that the creation of man was in the image of God. One thing that stands out from Genesis 1:26-27 is the plurality in the statement. God did not say, “make man in my image.” “God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness and let them rule”. Here we have God stating that he, along with one or more beings, is creating man in the image of himself and the beings. The “us” and the “our” as in “our Image” and “our likeness” likely refers to the Triune God. The Trinity is God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. All parts of the Trinity existed before the creation and are eternal. Thus, through the image man was made, there is a connection to eternity. The image put into us at creation is our link to eternal life through Jesus. What is that link?

The Image of God is love (Αγάπη)
God’s love for us, our love for God, and our love for others resulting from our love for God is a special love above any other form of love. It is unconditional love. It is the highest form of love. In Greek, this love is Agape (Αγάπη).

Consider 1 John 4: 7-12. Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God because God is love. Sending his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him is how God demonstrated this love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God. If we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is made complete in us.

Like the more familiar John 3:16-17, it says that God loves us enough to provide a route to eternal life through Jesus. Likewise, we should love one another. Since God is eternal and God is love, love is eternal along with the Trinity. Love is the common ingredient of the Triune God that guarantees eternal life.

That God is love goes back before the creation when God predestined that man would be found holy and blameless in his sight (Ephesians 1:4-6). For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love, he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.

Before creation, God predestined our creation in his image in an act of eternal agape love. From the scriptures, we know that God’s created image in us is physical and spiritually encompasses all three images of the Trinity and the capability to reflect God’s love for us to others. Jesus was God’s image physically and spiritually, demonstrating God’s love for us and his love for others. His death and resurrection were proof that the image of God in us transcends death and will be ready when He comes again.

Think about this. Man is made in the triune image of the creator of the universe, the Almighty eternal sovereign God who holds every human’s eternal future in his hands. You have a choice to follow him through Jesus and have eternal life after your physical death or to reject him and face eternal hell.

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