In the image of God

Genesis 1:24-27
24 Then God said, “Let the earth bring forth the living creature according to its kind: cattle and creeping thing and beast of the earth, each according to its kind”; and it was so.
25 And God made the beast of the earth according to its kind, cattle according to its kind, and everything that creeps on the earth according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.
26 Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
27 So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.

What is the image of God? What is His likeness? If we were to view the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, we might believe He bore the image of some muscular, Zeus-like old man, stretching out His hand to give the spark of life to Adam. If we followed the teachings of some preachers these days, we might believe that God is some benevolent old grandfather, passing out blessings to His children like some cosmic Santa Claus. If we believe the atheists and agnostics, we might see God as a militant, angry, vengeful figure who suffers from a sort of schizophrenia as He dishes out wrath with one hand and mercy with the other – and as someone whose followers are dangerously deluded. Are any of these true? What should we believe about God? What truly is His image?

First of all, as hard as this may seem, we need to let go of any notion of God having a physical body like ours.

John 4:24
“God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”

That is why the Second Commandment is so important, because there is no physical image that can possibly represent the living God. But in that commandment, there is a hint at the true image of God.

Exodus 20:4
4 “You shall not make for yourself a carved image – any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth;
5 “you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me,
6 “but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.”

If God is Spirit and we cannot know His physical image, then we must know Him by His character, by the things He does, and here in this passage from Exodus we see an important aspect of God’s image. These are, after all, God’s commandments – i.e. His expression of dominion over His created beings. Now look again at today’s verses from Genesis. Does God say anything about what characteristics man is supposed to have? Just after God says, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness,” the very next thing He says is, “let them have dominion…” Lordship, dominion, rulership is a fundamental characteristic of the living God. In fact, we express that idea in our Bibles whenever we translate “Yahweh” (“Jehovah”) as “LORD.” We acknowledge God’s sovereignty every time we say we accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior. When the Old Testament writers wrote the name “El-shaddai” – “God Almighty” – they were expressing this idea of God’s absolute power and dominion.

When God made humans, the first thing He did was give us dominion over His Creation, and He never wanted us to give up that rulership. In that Second Commandment, when God says we should not make an image of anything that is above or in or on the earth, He goes on to say, “you shall not bow down to them nor serve them.” Right after God tells us “you shall have no other gods before Me” (Exodus 20:3) – expressing His dominion over us – He tells us not to give up our own dominion over the created things He has put in our charge.

The image of God we see here in Genesis is that of our LORD, the One who is sovereign over all Creation. By its very nature, the created thing is necessarily under the dominion of the Creator. In this story of the sixth day of Creation, we see that we humans were created in the image of this sovereign God, this Lord who is jealous for His people and who does not want us to bow down to any other created thing.

And yet we do bow down, don’t we? We bow down to the desires of our flesh, allowing ourselves to be ruled by the temptation of money and fame and worldly power. We submit to the lordship of our machines and our human institutions, to the morals and social calling of people who are not listening to God. While we should be laying down the crown of our dominion over this world at the foot of the Cross, we are instead wearing paper crowns and pretending there is no God who is Lord over all of our lives.

God created humanity in His image as Lord over Creation, as the caring Ruler of the flocks and fields. But the Lord our God is still in charge. He alone still has dominion over all Creation. In His love for us, He allows us to choose our own path in life, and yet He expects obedience and faith and love. He is a jealous God, but also a merciful God. With one hand He creates the universe, and with the other He binds the wounds of our hearts. With one hand He punishes the wicked, and with the other He defends and upholds the righteous and the oppressed. With one hand He gives, and with the other He takes away. All of that is within His sovereign sway, and whether we acknowledge it or not, we to whom He has given lordship over the earth are yet subservient to Him. Any time we submit to our flesh, to worldly desires, we give up the dominion God has given us, and we submit to the rulership of the world instead of God.

But Jesus Christ offers us an opportunity to take back our lordship over Creation and over our own lives. We who have accepted Christ as Lord and Savior, how do we then express the image of our God? When we allow God’s Spirit to blow through our lives like the wind in the trees, and we yield to His power and bend to His rulership, people will hear and see the gospel of Christ. But when we resist the Holy Spirit, we shut out any opportunity for God’s image to be manifested to others. Like Jesus, we express God’s image by submitting to the Father’s will, by serving others, by caring and being jealous for “the least of these” as if they were our own children. We display the image of God by being a reflection (however pale) of His only begotten Son. We show the image of our Lord God by sharing His Word, His gospel of peace, with all creatures. How can anyone know the true image of God? Though you and me, and through His Holy Word, expressing the truth in love to a broken and hurting world.

Today, look around you at God’s Creation, the world and the people around you. Look at His mighty works, at the loving care He has put into forming every thing and every person in our lives. Let us all look hard at what has dominion over our lives. Have we submitted to the rulership of the world, or are we strong in the Lord and ruling our own lives? Have we given creatures and things greater importance than the Lord our God, greater priority than serving Him and doing His will? Today, let us take back the dominion He has given us, and let us show the world an image of what a great and mighty and merciful and loving God rules our lives.

Father God, take my life and mold me into the image of Your Son, who for the sake of our salvation was willing to give up His dominion so that He would be crowned once again. Let me reclaim Your lordship in my life, so that I can truly say I am no longer ruled by the world, the flesh, and the devil. Mighty God, my Rock and Redeemer, guide my heart back to You and only You, and consecrate me again to Your will. Amen.


About Glenn Pettit

I am a deacon at The Well of Iowa, and a father and grandfather. Called to teach and to preach, I write fresh messages about the Bible every now and then.
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