(For part 1 of this essay, go to the blog below this one. I have a couple of odds and ends to add to the subject--perhaps this next week.)
3. When do human beings bear the image of God?
Our two previous questions naturally focused on the origin of our individual souls and our personhood. I think it is helpful to view the image of God from a Christ-centered perspective because Christ is the original image of God (2 Corinthians 4:4; Colossians 1:15). Human beings are images of God only in a secondary sense (1 Corinthians 11:7). More frequently, human beings are said to be in the image of God or according to the image of God. So, perhaps it is best to call us God’s image bearers rather than God’s images. At any rate, we bear the image of God as we are “conformed to the image of His Son” (Romans 8:29). We are images of the Image. When is that true of us?
A. God’s children will bear God’s image fully and finally at the resurrection.
In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul wraps up his lengthy discussion of Christ’s resurrection and ours by saying,
The first man is from the earth, earthy; the second man is from heaven. 48 As is the earthy, so also are those who are earthy; and as is the heavenly, so also are those who are heavenly. 49 And just as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly (vv. 47-49).
Similarly, the apostle John says,
Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is (1 John 3:2).
This full and final imaging is what God was aiming at when He created Adam and Eve.
B. Adam and Eve bore God’s image partially, yet truly at creation.
Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” 27 God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them (Genesis 1:26-27).
When God made our first parents, He pronounced them, along with the rest of creation very good (v. 31). They were very good, but not finished because they did not bear the image of God as completely as redeemed men and women will.
C. Human beings now bear God’s image brokenly and progressively.
After the flood, God said to Noah, “Whoever sheds man's blood, by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God He made man” (Genesis 9:6). This would make no sense if the image of God had been completely lost at the fall.
The likeness to God, which was damaged at the fall, is being progressively renewed in those who have become God’s children through faith in Jesus Christ.
Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, 10 and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him (Colossians 3:9-10).
But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:18).
So all human beings bear God’s image in some measure; the image is being renewed (perhaps think of polishing a silver or brass metal mirror) by the work of the Holy Spirit in God’s born-again children.
4. What aspects of our humanity does the image of God encompass?
If we had confined our meditation on the image of God to creation and to our progressive renewal by the Spirit, we might have concluded that our likeness to God only included the spiritual aspect of our humanity. After all, the invisible God does not have a body. Starting with Christ and the resurrection, however, leads us to a different conclusion. Not only our souls, but also our bodies will conformed to the image of Christ.
For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; 21 who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself (Philippians 3:20-21).
On the one hand, Scripture teaches that the Son of God took on flesh and blood so that He could die for people who have bodies (Hebrews 2:14-16). On the other hand, it is equally true that God made human beings with the kind of bodies we have because the Son of God was going to take on that kind of body. The bodies God gave us are the right sort of thing to be transformed and glorified. These bodies, not some other kind, are fit to reflect the image of God, who is Jesus Christ.
You may still ask, “Well, what is the image of God?” The answer is…. I don’t know. But being image bearers enables us to know and love God, to know and love people, to create new things, to rule over the animal kingdom and ultimately to reflect the glory of God.
Being in the image of God does not mean that we do all of those things all the time or even that we do them very well. It means that we have the capacity to develop those characteristics, but their development is always imperfect and defective in this life. I have written that we have the capacity to develop these characteristics, but it would be truer to say that God is developing them. We are His workmanship.
From the womb to the tomb, God is at work fashioning His people into unique image bearers. The infant who dies before it breathes will gleam in glory with a different hue than the aged martyr or the forty-five year old retarded believer who stumbles and falls beneath the wheels of a truck. Yet all will shine. Since His children are God’s work, it is God’s prerogative to say when the earthly part of His fashioning is complete.
From this perspective, an elect Down’s syndrome infant and a believing, end-stage Alzheimer’s patient are moving toward conformity to Christ; a strong, attractive, intelligent hater of God is not.
5. When does human life have value to God?
God values the lives of His children, from conception to the grave and beyond into glory because He is looking forward to completing glorious images of His eternal Image. If we ask when the individual human being has a soul, and only grant value when that is the case, we are left without adequate moral guidance. At the beginning and at the end of life there are situations when we are not sure. If instead we look at God’s goal for human life and recognize that God is working toward that end, then every stage of life has value to God.
God also values the lives of those who reject Him because by their creation in His image they still reflect something of His power, wisdom and love. Therefore, they also must be objects of our compassion and care, just as they are for God (Matthew 5:43-48).
When the lost are raised for the final judgment, their bodies will, no doubt reflect what their souls have become. The God whom they have rejected will strip away all remaining vestiges of His image from their bodies and souls. Only then, will they be utterly cast off and thrown into the garbage pit of the universe, “where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched” (Luke 9:48).