By David R. Pharr
Each step in the shaping of the universe anticipates this climatic event–the creation of man in the image of God. All else is subservient to this purpose. The narrative to this point had cited only the simple formula, “Let there be …”; “Let the waters …”; et al. These words were sufficient, “For He spoke, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast” (Psa. 33:9). Thus the world was prepared for human habitation (Isa. 45:18). Only then does the story move to a new emphasis, as we are told that the moment was determined by Divine deliberation for the making of man, a creation which should be made in the image and likeness of his Maker.
Even as God is Lord over all, so man was created to “have dominion over” God’s handiwork (cf. Psa. 8:5-8). The emphasis on his dominion suggests one aspect of what it means to be in the image and likeness of God. Though with obvious limitations, man’s superiority is possible because of such abilities as reason, volition, passion, communication, and his God-likeness in being able to perceive his own personhood.
These attributes make possible his rule over other creatures, but they also endow him with the potential for fellowship with God, which seems paramount in the Creator’s purpose. Thus, as “God is a Spirit,” so we are made spiritual beings. We share with the lower orders various aspects of biological life, but only man is spiritual and only man is endued with immortality. Animals are living beings (souls, nepesh, Gen. 1:20), but only man is distinguished as having life by the inbreathing of God (Gen. 2:7; cf. Zech. 12:1; Eccl. 12:7; Heb. 12:9). Only man can glorify and worship God in both body and spirit (2 Cor. 6:20; Phil. 3:3).
Participation in this fellowship also implies the necessity of moral responsibility. Even mutual obligations within the human community have their basis in being made in the image of God (Gen. 9:6; Jas. 3:9). But God-likeness cannot be fully realized unless there is godliness. “Can two walk together, except they be agreed?” (Amos 3:3). “Be ye holy; for I am holy” (1 Pet. 1:16). The original estate was without sin and having been given the ability to make choices, they could–and should–have so chosen that this fellowship would never be broken. The sad reality is that “God hath made man upright; but they have sought out many inventions” (Eccl. 7:29). “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned” (Rom. 5:12).
It is, therefore, in the holiness that God intended that we find in Jesus the perfect demonstration of what it means to be in the image and likeness of God. That he is described as “the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15) expresses not only His absolute deity, but also His absolute holiness (Cf. 2 Cor. 4:4; Heb. 1:3). What is God like? Look at Jesus (Jn. 14:9). What does it mean to be in the image and likeness of God? Look at Jesus. As the second “Adam” (1 Cor. 15:45), He is what God intended for the “first man Adam” and all his progeny. failure of every generation to exhibit “the image of God” can be remedied only by the regeneration offered in Christ. By the Savior, every human has the possibility of becoming a “new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him” (Col 3:10). That is to be “created” (recreated) “in the likeness of God” (Eph. 4:24, NAS).