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Good Question: Reflected Glory What does Genesis mean by man being made in the image of God? By J. I. Packer
The bible indicates that my body, though not me, is integral to my humanity, which would be reduced without it. Scripture promises me resurrection. Plato thought I would be better off without a body, as many think today, but that is wrong.
I have a mind, including a conscience; also feelings and desires, along with my powers of mental and physical action. Thus endowed, I read the Bible as God's Word, teaching me what I should think and do about this puzzling, complex reality that I know myself to be.
Genesis 1:26–27 declares that God created mankind of both sexes, male and female, in his image and likeness. Image and likeness were once thought to express different things, but they mean about the same. This passage shows us, first, our unique and special dignity (God speaks of no creature other than man as his image-bearer), and, second, how we are meant to live.
Image means representative likeness—which tells us at once that we should be reflecting, at our creaturely level, what Genesis 1 shows God is and does. Therefore we should always act with resourceful rationality and wise love, making and executing praiseworthy plans just as God did in creation. He generated value by producing what was truly good; so should we. We should be showing love and goodwill toward all other persons, as God did when he blessed Adam and Eve (1:28). And in fellowship with God, we should directly honor and obey him by the way we manage and care for that bit of the created order that he gives us to look after, according to his dominion mandate (26, 28).
For us, then, as for Adam and Eve before the Fall, and for the Lord Jesus himself—the incarnate Son whom Paul hails as the Father's true image (2 Cor. 4:4; Col. 1:15)—being the image of God means actually living this way, moment by moment and day by day.
But, like Adam and Eve and everyone else save Jesus, we fail here constantly, however good our intentions as believers. And so, in spades, do all unbelievers who, being under the power of the anti-God force Paul calls sin (Rom. 3:9), lack good intentions (Eph. 2:1–3, 4:17–24). That does not mean, of course, that they are all as bad as they could be; it simply means that sin in the human system, our legacy from Adam, drives us all the time to be self-centered and self-seeking, and so robs us of the power to love God with all our heart, mind, and strength.
So a distinction has to be drawn. We still bear the image of God formally—that is, we still have in us the abilities that, if rightly harnessed, would achieve a fully righteous, Godlike life—and so the unique dignity of each human being must still be recognized and respected (Gen. 9:6; James 3:9), as a gesture of honor to our maker. But we have lost the image substantially, and it takes God's grace-gift of union with Christ to restore it fully. Through this gift we share his resurrection life in regeneration, sanctification, and glorification.
Hereby we "put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness" (Eph. 4:24), and are progressively transformed into the image of the Lord Jesus, "from one degree of glory to another" (2 Cor. 3:18). Thus the substantial image is renewed.
God's work of restoring the image starts in the heart, with inward illumination, our embrace of Christ, and motivational change at the core of our being (2 Cor. 4:4, 6, 5:17). Born-again believers want God more than they want anything else. In daily life our strongest desire is to love and worship and serve and please and honor and glorify the Father and the Son, who saved us.
Also, we find ourselves wanting to do good to others every way we can, and most of all to share with others our knowledge of new life with God in Christ.
Thus all our duty becomes all our delight at the deepest level, and from our new motivation comes that imitation of God and of Christ that is every Christian's calling (1 Cor. 4:16; Eph. 5:1; 1 Thess. 1:6)—and which is precisely expressing the image of God in daily life. True imaging of God in Christlike action starts with the Christlike motivation of the regenerate, Spirit-indwelt heart.
Two humans, living in God's image, were the crown of God's creation. Our fallen race, acting out the image of Satan, ruins his creation. A new humanity, the company of believers recreated in Christ's image, will adorn and enjoy the new heaven and earth that are promised. Praise God!
J. I. Packer is Board of Governors' Professor of Theology at Regent College and an executive editor of Christianity Today.
Nicodemus was confused. He had come to Jesus by night professing what he thought he knew. "Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him" (John 3:2). Nicodemus was a Pharisee, a member of the Jewish ruling council. He was highly regarded, most likely explaining the veil of night by which he sought to meet Jesus. Even so, it was an act of faith to seek out this controversial young man from Galilee; it was an act of humility to grapple with a message that thoroughly confused him, a message that seemed to call the very basis of his faith into question.
In reply to Nicodemus's admission that night, Jesus offered one of his own, "I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again" (3:3). The ensuing conversation is one of mystery and semantics.
"How can a man be born when he is old?" Nicodemus asked. "Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother's womb" (3:4).
Again Jesus answered, "I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, 'You must be born again.' The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit" (3:5-8).
Nicodemus replied as many of us reply on the journey to faith and belief--as one reaching for light to see the dim outline of the picture before him. "How can this be?" he asked, and the conversation that followed showed a man not asking hypothetically but actually, as one really longing to understand the logistics of rebirth. Nicodemus came to Jesus in the obscurity of darkness and found himself confronted by a conversation about flesh and spirit and light. "[W]hoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God" (3:21).
G.K. Chesterton once said that it is important for a landlady who is considering a lodger to know his income, but it is more important to know his philosophy. Likewise, for the general about to fight an enemy, it is important to know the enemy's numbers, but still more important to know the enemy's worldview. "[T]he question" writes Chesterton, "is not whether the theory of the cosmos affects matters, but whether in the long run, anything else affects them."(1) The big picture is always the most important picture. And when the picture is God, He outgrows every frame through which our eyes begin to see Him.
"Aslan," said Lucy, "You're bigger."
"I am not," said the lion. "But every year you grow; you will find me bigger."
For Nicodemus, the entire picture was turned on its head. Everything he knew was cast into shadows by the light that stood before him. "How can this be?" are the last words we hear from Nicodemus this night. The darkened exchange of Christ and the Pharisee is one that ends without clarity. True to our own lives, his confusion does not seem to disperse in the expanse of one chapter. But there are two more references to Nicodemus in John's Gospel and they suggest that that this initial meeting with Jesus was the beginning of something of a journey. In the darkness faith, Nicodemus seems to have discovered the God who is there and the light who draws us further up and further in, until standing before Him, we are reborn.
Jill Carattini is senior associate writer for Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.
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