Being changed into the image of Jesus
The Image of God In Man
There has long been a debate about the nature of man.
Scripture says we are made in the image of God, and yet we
sin. How does one reconcile these truths?
Over the last 2,000 years there have been many attempts to
explain this. For the average person, what does it matter?
It matters a great deal. One's view of this issue will have a
fundamental impact on how one ministers to others. If you
believe that the image of God wa obliterated or tainted at The
Fall, your goal will be to bring to death everything in the person
(and of course be resurrected in Christ). On the other hand, if
you believe as I do, the goal is to uncover and unbury that part
of the person that is made in God's image, so the individual can
become the person God originally made them to be. It isn't a
killing off, it is a releasing.
Every person I have counseled has a fractured image of
themselves. I have discovered that one of the great keys to
healing is for each person to begin to see the truth about
themselves, that he or she is made in God's image. The
blockages to this are judgments and inner vows that need to be
brought to death and resurrection, so the person can move
towards seeing themselves the way God sees them, and
experiencing and living with themselves the way God intended.
This perspective is a major theme in my book.
More About Loving Ourselves
I was recently counseling a woman who suffers from anxiety
and panic attacks. She has always driven herself mercilessly,
and is terribly self-condemning. When she saw how critical she
is of herself, she asked me if I knew anybody else like that. I
told her that every client I have ever seen has an unloving
relationship with themselves. It is only a matter of degree.
I am convinced that the central issue in inner healing is based
on our relationship with ourselves.
Matthew 22:36-40 says this same thing.
36. "Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?"
37. Jesus said to him, "You shall love the Lord your God
with all your heart,
with all your soul, and with all your mind.
38. This is the first and great commandment.
39. And the second is like it. You shall love your neighbor
40. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the
We are told to love ourselves. The Greek verb "agapao"
(Strong's #25), translated into English as "love," means to regard
with favor, goodwill, benevolence, compassion, esteem, regard
with strong affection. To not love means to neglect, disregard,
With these definitions in mind, people who struggle in life do not
love themselves. Therefore life does not go well for them.
The Greek word translated into English as "as" in "as yourself"
is "hos" (Strong's #5613), which means in "exactly the same
way," and other similar meanings. The clear implication is that
we are to love our neighbor, and we are to love ourselves in
exactly the same way.
Loving The Image of God In Us
Why would God tell us to hold in esteem something that is evil
(our neighbor and ourselves)? This is a part of the puzzle. The
answer to this is that there is a part, or an aspect, of each person
that is made in the image of God, and is not defective. Below is
a more in depth discussion of the biblical evidence for this.
When God says to not do something, He is saying, "Please don't
do that; because if you do, it will hurt you." When He says to do
something, He is saying, "Please do this so you can be
blessed." He is simply explaining how reality works.
In the above great commandments, God is saying that my
relationship with Him, with myself, and with others is the key to
life; and love is what makes them work. No wonder, then, that
people who are self-condemning struggle.
Then how can I love? I believe that I can truly love only out of
God in me. I once had a pastor say to me, "Ed, I don't believe
there is anything good in me that God didn't put there." Then
how can I, being evil, truly love?
There is a simple and profound answer. There is an aspect of
me that is made in the image of God. When I was created, that
part of me was created by God as a "chip off the old block."
That part of me is the real "me," and was not tainted by the sin
of The Fall (I will explore this issue in more depth at the end of
this Newsletter). The image of God in me is a gift, I didn't
deserve that gift, and I didn't do anything to earn it. I also can't
make it disappear, though I may try to bury it and repudiate it.
Given this assumption, then the image of God in me is love,
because God is love. It is therefore only out of this place in me
that I can love God or others. Any love that I try to crank up out
of my own will or strength is tainted. That is why loving myself
is so central and important. If I do not love myself, that part of
me made in the image of God, and then I can not possibly love
God or others. Only God in me can love purely. Trying to bury
that part of me means I have buried my ability to love. That part
of me needs to be released from my oppression and repression,
and to be embraced.
Not Loving Yourself
People who hate themselves have tried to bury themselves, and
they try to present to the world a "persona" that they think the
world will accept. In the process of trying to bury who they
really are, they are repudiating the real person God made them
to be. In my book, "I Will Give You Rest," I call that part our
"Treasure Inside." If you are curious as to how this process of
burying happens, read Chapter 9 in my book, or online on my
website, www.divinelydesigned.com. Since the Treasure Inside
operates on love, hating that part of us causes great pain. The
pain is the Treasure Inside sending up a distress signal that we
are mistreating ourselves. We are doing the opposite of what
Jesus told us to do if life is to go well. So life does not go well.
With this in mind, it becomes evident that the primary focus in
inner healing must be the restoration of a loving relationship
between the person and their Treasure Inside. Anything short of
this will have limited impact.
As I speak of loving myself, I need to be clear about what part of
"me" I am to love. I am to love the image of God part of me.
The image of God does dwell in me, but we are strange
creatures: at the same time, we also have a sin nature, and we
sin daily. So even though we have His image somewhere inside
us, we are not God. God does not have a sin nature. Jesus is
not saying to love the sinful part of me.
The Image of God Still Exists In Us
How can we have the image of God in us, and yet we sin? Since
the time of Christ, this paradox has been debated. The problem
is that Scripture is not very clear about the issue. In the past
there have been many theories presented. By now there seems
to be a consensus among theologians that the image of God
does still exist untainted in us. However, when it comes to
explaining exactly what it is, there is no definitive answer
available in Scripture; so the debate is not settled. At the end of
this article I have included an overview of this debate.
Based upon Scripture, we can surmise about some aspects of
us that are definitely "good," such as our gifts or talents. We
can also surmise about some aspects that are definitely "bad"
(or "fallen"), such as our tendency to judge. But what about the
many other traits and aspects of a human being where Scripture
is not so clear about their status? Since Scripture is our only
reliable authority on such an issue, we really don't know, and
really can't know about these traits "in between."
I am not sure that we need to know exactly what the boundaries
are of the image of God in us. We just need to know that there is
an aspect of us that is made in the image of God, and that we
need to have our relationship healed with that part of us. Then,
as Jesus alluded to, life can flow.
The best discussion I have found of this question of the image of
God in man is contained in one of my seminary text books,
Christian Theology by Millard Erickson, pages 495-517. He
spends 22 pages discussing the details of the various views that
have existed, and then summarizes what he believes is the
most reasonable conclusion. I will very briefly mention the
various views, but then quote his conclusions verbatim.
There are many different viewpoints, but for clarity Erickson has
grouped them into three major categories.
1. Substantative Views
Under this category, some have considered the image of God to
be an aspect of our physical or bodily makeup. A more common
substantive view is that it is some psychological or spiritual
quality in human nature.
Genesis 1:26-27 says, "Then God said, 'Let Us make man in Our
image, according to our likeness'" (NKJV).
In order to try to explain the paradox of the image of God and sin
both existing in man, several hundred years ago Roman
Catholic theologians split "image" and "likeness" into two
separate qualities. They postulated that the "likeness" was
fallen, but the "image" was intact, still retaining purity of the
image of God.
Martin Luther reacted to this perspective (along with many other
things the Roman Catholic Church taught at that time). He
viewed all aspects of the image of God in man as having been
corrupted - what is left is a relic or remnant of the image. Calvin
maintained that a relic of the image remained in man after the
"All of the substantive views we have mentioned, with their
widely differing conceptions of the nature of the image of
God, agree in one particular: the locus of the image. It is
located within man; it is a quality or capacity resident in his
nature. Although it is God who conferred the image upon
man, it resides in man whether or not he recognizes God's
existence or his work" (Erickson, p.102).
2. Relational Views
In these views it is postulated that the image of God is the
experiencing of a relationship. Man is said to be in the image or
to display the image when he stands in a particular relationship.
In fact, the relationship is the image.
Emil Brunner believed "It is the act of response, the relationship
with God that constitutes the material image."
Karl Barth believed that ". . . in that man is capable of
relationship, he is a 'repetition' or 'duplication' of the divine
3. Functional Views
Here it is believed that ". . . the image consists in something
man does. It is a function which man performs, the most
frequently mentioned being the exercise of dominion over the
In his evaluation of the various scriptures and views, Erickson
starts out by saying, "It is significant that the text of Scripture
itself never identifies what qualities within man might be the
Then he goes on to say:
"Having noted that there are difficulties with each of the So there you have one theologian's view.
general views, we must now attempt to form some
conclusions as to just what the image of God is. The
existence of a wide diversity of interpretations is an
indication that there are no direct statements in Scripture to
resolve the issue. Our conclusions, then, must necessarily
be reasonable inferences drawn from what little the Bible
does have to say on the subject:
1. The image of God is universal within the human race.
We will go into more detail in chapter 25, but at this point
we note that the first and universal man, Adam, not merely
a portion of the human race, was made in the image of
God. Note also that the prohibitions of murder (Gen. 9:6)
and cursing (James 3:9-10) apply to the treatment of all
humans. There is no limitation placed upon these
prohibitions which are based on the fact that man was
created in God's image.
2. The image of God has not been lost as a result of sin or
specifically the fall. The prohibitions against murder and
cursing apply to the treatment of sinful humans as well as
godly believers. The presence of the image and likeness in
the non-Christian is assumed. If this is the case, the image
of God is not something accidental or external to human
nature. It is something inseparably connected with
3. There is no indication that the image is present in one
person to a greater degree than in another. Superior natural
endowments, such as high intelligence, are not evidence of
the presence or degree of the image.
4. The image is not correlated with any variable. For
example, there is no direct statement correlating the image
with development of relationships, nor making it dependent
upon the exercise of dominion. The statements in Genesis
1 simply say that God resolved to make man in his own
image and then did so. This seems to antedate any human
activity. There are no statements limiting the image to
certain conditions or activities or situations. While this is
essentially a negative argument, it does point up a flaw in
the relational and functional views.
5. In light of the foregoing considerations, the image should
be thought of as primarily substantive or structural. This
image is something in the very nature of man, in the way in
which he was made. It refers to something man is rather
than something he has or does. By virtue of his being man,
he is in the image of God; it is not dependent upon the
presence of anything else. By contrast the focus of the
relational and functional views is actually on consequences
or applications of the image rather than the image itself.
Although very closely linked to the image of God,
experiencing relationships and exercising dominion are not
themselves that image.
6. The image refers to the elements in the makeup of man
which enable the fulfillment of his destiny. The image is
the powers of personality which make man, like God, a
being capable of interacting with other persons, of thinking
and reflecting, and of willing freely.
God's creation was for definite purposes. Man was
intended to know, love, and obey God. He was to live in
harmony with his fellow man, as the story of Cain and Abel
indicates. And he was certainly placed here upon earth to
exercise dominion over the rest of creation. But these
relationships and this function presuppose something else.
Man is most fully man when he is active in these
relationships and performs this function, for he is then
fulfilling his telos, God's purpose for him. But these are the
consequences or the application of the image. The image
itself is that set of qualities that are required for these
relationships and this function to take place. They are
those qualities of God which, reflected in man, make
worship, personal interaction, and work possible. If we
think of God as a being with qualities, we will have no
problem accepting the fact that man has such qualities as
well. The attributes of God sometimes referred to as
communicable attributes constitute the image of God; this
is not limited to any one attribute. Man has a nature that
includes the whole of what constitutes personality or
selfhood: intelligence, will, emotions. This is the image in
which man was created, enabling him to have the divinely
intended relationship to God and to fellow man, and to
Below are a few suggestions for resources for further study of
• You might want to read the rest of the chapter in
Erickson's book. Erickson spends 22 pages on this topic,
and I have quoted less than 2 pages.
• Another resource that I used is Evangelical Dictionary
of Theology by Walter A. Elwell.
• You may also find discussions in many Bible
• Wikipedia online has a brief discussion of the issue.
• You might also read chapters 9, 12, 13, and 18 (and the
Endnotes to those chapters) in my book, "I Will Give You
Rest." If you don't have a copy of the book, you can read
chapters 9 and 12 on my website, www.divinelydesigned.
com. These chapters are intended to bring the reality of
this issue to bear on inner healing.
Copyright 2008 Edward Kurath