I am the image of God. At first, this may sound like a terribly arrogant claim to make. God is Holy, Holy, Holy; set apart. There is no one like Him. With respect to His abundant mercy and grace, God declares
“8For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD.
9For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:8-9
Moreover, God has created all things and we are those created (i.e. the creature-creator distinction). Yet my claim to be the image and likeness of God is well grounded in the Scriptures. It is not arrogant to claim to be like God in the ways in which He has made me like Him.
In the beginning, God created the heavens, earth, light, sky, sea, land, vegetation, sun, moon, stars, sea creatures, birds. On the sixth day, He created the animals and He “saw that it was good (Gen 1:25).” Next, Moses tells us:
“26Then 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.”
27So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.” Gen 1:26-27
From this, we see that man was created after the likeness of God. From this, it follows that man is in some sense like God (i.e. has one or more of His attributes). Which of God’s attributes did he create man with? Thus far, we only know that man – not the birds, stars, or kangaroos – is the image of God. Moses’ next reference to the image of God comes after the fall in the time of Noah.
“Whoever sheds the blood of man,
by man shall his blood be shed,
for God made man in his own image.” Gen 9:6
This may imply that murder is offensive to God because man is the image of God. If so, it follows that man retained all or part of the image of God after the fall.
Thus ends the list of direct references to the image of God in the Torah and in the Old Testament. What can we glean to help us learn of what the image and likeness consists? First, since the animals do not bear this image, any attribute that man and animals share cannot be the image of God. Therefore, man’s ability to whistle the Andy Griffith song cannot be part of the image of God because this attribute may be ascribed to some parakeets and yellow napes. Second, any interpretation which identifies the image with some attribute not found in God must be incorrect. Therefore, the image cannot be man’s body since God is Spirit (John 4:24) and, therefore, has no material body (Luke 24:39). Since the image is not material, it must be spiritual.
“To be sure, Genesis says that God gave man dominion over the animals; but it is more important to know by what endowment such a dominion can be exercised. We might guess by noting that although the Baltimore oriole builds a beautiful nest, oriole architecture has not changed in centuries. One can also note that animals cannot do geometry nor even write narrative. These missing activities depend on a rationality that animals lack. We call them brute species. Man has a mind.”
Another aspect of the narrative that may easily be overlooked is that God spoke to Adam and Adam understood and could speak back to God. The animals cannot pray, nor do they understand what we say. God imposed enough of His knowledge and thought processes upon Adam that He was able to carry on a conversation.
Moreover, God’s instructions to Adam contained another element which may be of interest. God did not merely give Adam instructions as to how to subdue the earth but also some moral instructions. God warned Adam not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil or there would be a penalty. Not only that, but God endowed Adam with the ability to understand his obligation to obey Him. In summary, to quote Gordon Clark,
“the important point is that God and Adam talked to each other and Adam understood. Animals do not understand, are not subject to moral commands, cannot sin, and hold no religious services.”
The first direct and obvious reference to the image of God in the New Testament is
“For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God…”1 Cor 11:7
The image is not something man has, man is the image. The New Testament usage distinguishes man from his body such that man is his mind while his body is his vessel. Paul writes:
“1For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. 2For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling.” 2 Cor 5:1-2
Here, the context reveals that the tent refers to the body (also see 2 Cor 12:2 and Phil 1:21). Peter also refers to himself as distinct from his body.
13I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to stir you up by way of reminder, 14since I know that the putting off of my body will be soon, as our Lord Jesus Christ made clear to me. 2 Peter 1:13-14
Therefore, the image is not the body but the mind. But not all of man’s mind is like God’s. Where is the point of identity between man’s mind and God’s mind? Let us continue to look at the Scriptural data.
“9Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices 10and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.” Col 3:9-10
The image, is renewed through knowledge of God. In Ephesians, Paul adds righteousness and holiness.
“20But that is not the way you learned Christ!— 21assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, 22to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” Eph 4:20-24
What the Old Testament suggested, the New Testament confirms; that the image in which man was created consists in knowledge and righteousness.
In most basic terms, the image of God boils down to right thinking. Right thinking is the combination of knowledge of God plus righteousness. One may have knowledge of God but not apply it rightly – this is unrighteousness. Adam was created to think like God. This does not mean that Adam was omniscient. It means that Adam knew some things which the omniscient God knows and was endowed with the ability to apply his knowledge as God does. In other words, man was given Logic.
How can rationality be the image of God if man is the image of God? For this, we must ask, what is a man? What is a person? Can we really know who/what we are? Does the Bible answer such questions? Such questions are not easy to answer as
“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” Jer 17:9
However, the Scripture says that a man is as he thinks (Prov 23:7). The perfect Adam possessed the perfect thinking of God and the perfect Adam was the perfect thinking of God. At the fall, man lost his original righteousness and became dead in sin. Moreover, his rationality (i.e. his thinking or ability to use logic) was, no doubt, corrupted as well; but not completely lost. This is why the new man must be renewed in it’s ability to think like God; rationally applying the knowledge of God in righteousness.
Implication and Application
Renew your mind
Ephesians 4:20-24 and Colossians 3:9-10 quoted above speak of the renewal of the believer back into the image of God. This same process is described in 2 Peter 1:1-16. The Holy Spirit sanctifies all of us who believe by renewing our minds through knowledge and right thinking. Therefore, we should daily seek knowledge and wisdom through the Scriptures and on our knees in prayer, that our minds would be renewed in the image of God and in order that we may grow in bearing the fruits of the Spirit.
Christ the Image of God
Since the image of God is knowledge and righteousness, and since God the Son has eternally been all knowing and righteous, it follows that He is the image of God also. More than that, when the Son became incarnate – joining to Himself a human mind – this mind was created in the image of God as well. Unlike Adam who fell, the Man Christ Jesus retained the image of God. Therefore, the mind of the Man Christ Jesus is what man would have been like if he had not fallen. Furthermore, it is this image of Christ to which we are being conformed in sanctification, and to which we will be perfectly renewed in glorification in heaven.
Man Cannot Know God apart from the Holy Spirit
Two issues arise here. 1. What happened to our knowledge of God at the fall? 2. What happened to our ability to think rightly given the knowledge that remains after the fall? Clearly, man lost much of His knowledge of God at the fall, but Romans 1:21 may indicate that there is some knowledge of God left. Man’s ability to rightly apply his knowledge has also been affected by the fall as is evidenced when we jump to unwarranted conclusions or make a mistake in arithmetic. However, even if our ability to rationally apply our knowledge was fully retained, we would not be able to deduce a knowledge of God because we don’t have enough knowledge to start our reasoning with. The Scriptures teach that the Spirit has to give us a new heart which knows God in part before we can know Him in greater part. No one seeks after God on their own (Rom 3:10-11).
Don’t Disparage Logic. The Image of God is Logic.
Some say that we can’t know God through logic or rationality. This isn’t quite right. Man can’t know God because we think illogically because we are sinners and don’t know God. When God gives us a new heart, He gives us a saving knowledge of Him. Through sanctification, He gives us more knowledge of Him and helps us logically apply this knowledge (see 2 Peter 1:1-16). The image of God is logic. This does not make God subservient to logic. We do not “impose” our logic on God. Rather, God imposed Logic on man so that man could know Him and better glorify Him. I expect this raises some questions. Feel free to comment below.
 Though Gen 9:6 does not directly imply this conclusion, James 3:9 does.
 For this paper, it is also assumed that a Spirit is incorporeal.
 Clark, Gordon. The Biblical Doctrine of Man. p. 7
 Ibid. p. 8
 The usage of the word mind is not to exclude man’s spirit, heart, soul, person, or self, but to include them all or to make them identical. The word mind is used to exclude the body.
 The spirit or heart will do fine as well but it is awkward to speak of God’s heart and ambiguous to speak of God’s spirit (with a lowercase “s”). Though Biblically it would mean the same thing.