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What if it’s true . . . that God made mankind in his image

“Then God said, ‘Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness.’ . . . So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:26,27).

How remarkable is this? God had created everything with a word—“Let there be”— and there was. That is all it took. He made all the animals and trees “according to their kinds.” Everything was made with unique and distinct traits, qualities, and functions.

Made in God’s image

But for mankind, the “let there be” shifted to a divine discussion with divine implications. Adam and Eve were not a “let there be”; they were carefully crafted. God breathed the breath of life directly into them (Genesis 2:7). God gave them a soul housed by this carefully formed body. But they were given even more. Among all creation, only they were created in God’s image. Who or what else could claim such a high honor?

But what exactly is this image of God? Theologians, including confessional Lutherans, have wrestled with this concept over the centuries. Being made in God’s image means being like him in some way. Since God is spirit, this likeness is clearly not a physical one. It seems that the heart and core of the concept is that humans were created to be perfectly aligned with God in their emotion, their will, and their reason. They were holy and living as a people able not to sin. We can hardly even fathom that today!

Losing God’s image

What more could Adam and Eve have wanted? God made them in his image, and yet they wanted to be even more like God.

With Adam and Eve’s fall into sin, the heart and core of that image of God was lost. No longer could they claim a holiness like God on their own. No longer could they claim a righteous will like God on their own. No longer were they living as a people able not to sin. The tragedy of their fall crashed down on all creation as their children were born in Adam’s image and likeness (Genesis 5:3).

Image restored in Christ

Inborn holiness and righteousness were lost for all mankind until the greater Adam came to reclaim us as his own and restore to us a right relationship with God. Now through faith in Jesus Christ, we are made new in his image once again (Colossians 3:10).

Though the inborn righteousness and holiness of the image of God were lost at the fall, theologians, including some confessional Lutherans, have described a “shell” of that image that remained. What if this is true? What if that shell remains for all people, making human beings different than the animals, especially considering that only human beings have souls? Perhaps then we could think of it as a shell of that emotion, will, and reason that human beings have maintained—though now flawed and sinful. What if this flawed shell leads us to know instinctively that we matter, that we have value, that we were made for greatness? But what if this fallen shell also leads us to strive for that worth and greatness and righteousness apart from Christ? Then we find nothing but dead end after dead end.

Regardless of the actual nature of this shell, fallen mankind will always strive for that greatness and will always feel unsettled apart from the true righteousness given in Christ.

Whatever the precise nature of the image of God, we can say that even in this post-fallen world it delivers to us an inherent value as a gift from our Creator. After the flood, God said to Noah, “Whoever sheds human blood, by humans shall their blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made mankind” (Genesis 9:6). As the crown of God’s creation, humans have inherent value and worth, even if they do not recognize it. It is this value and worth we can lean on in our interactions with our neighbors. I may disagree with my neighbors as they strive for a righteousness apart from Christ, but I can respect them as people created by a perfect Creator. I can carry out the encouragements of Paul in Romans: “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15; see also Romans 12:9-21).

What if it’s true that God made mankind in his image? What if it’s true that God still values mankind for that reason, even after our fall into sin, and desires to restore all people to the fullness of that image through faith in Christ? Because these things are true, you are special, and so is your neighbor. You matter, and so does your neighbor. You need Christ, and so does your neighbor. You are loved by God, and so is your neighbor.

Let us, therefore, love one another even as we are fully loved.


This We Believe

What do we believe about God making mankind in his image? These statements of belief are from This We Believe, a public summary of the main teachings of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod.

II. Creation, Man, and Sin.

3. We believe that God created Adam and Eve in his own image (Genesis 1:26,27), that is, holy and righteous. Their thoughts, desires, and will were in full harmony with God (Colossians 3:10; Ephesians 4:24). They were furthermore given the capacity to “subdue” God’s creation (Genesis 1:28) and the responsibility to care for it (Genesis 2:15).

5. We believe that Adam and Eve lost their divine image when they yielded to the temptation of Satan and disobeyed God’s command. This brought upon them the judgment of God: “You will surely die” (Genesis 2:17). Since that time all people are conceived and born in a sinful condition (Psalm 51:5) and are inclined only to evil (Genesis 8:21). “Flesh gives birth to flesh” (John 3:6). Since all people are by nature dead in sin and separated from God (Ephesians 2:1), they are unable to reconcile themselves to God by their own efforts and deeds.

Read more at wels.net/this-we-believe.

Learn more by registering for “What if it’s true. . .”, a virtual Forward in Christ Bible study led by Pastor Lyon. More information available at forwardinchrist.net/online-study.

Author: Gregory Lyon
Volume 111, Number 1
Issue: January 2024

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This entry is part 1 of 6 in the series What if it's true . . .

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