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The Image of God

One of the most significant bible verses regarding the intended nature of humanity calls mysteriously from the early pages of Genesis. Genesis 1:27 tells us that we are made in the image of God. It is easy to think of this verse in purely physical ways. We imagine that this means God has two arms, two legs, ears, eyes, a mouth, hands and fingers, a flowing crop of wisely mane-like white hair cascading over his shoulders, and a matching grandfatherly, yet kingly, white beard. We tend to think this verse means that we look like him in terms of our basic form. But this is likely true only in the sense that Jesus, being God, was also fully a man. If Genesis 1:27 is about physical form, or even mostly about physical form, then it loses almost all of its power and significance. Instead, the verse means that we represent God in his physical creation as the natural order’s pinnacle of power, authority, and goodness. It doesn’t really have much to do with how we look.

Paul develops this idea in a number of places. But one of the most telling places is in Colossians 3:10 where he commands the church at Colossae to put on a “new self” in which they will be restored in the knowledge and image of the creator. The new self will be marked by a proper knowledge of God. And the new self’s image will be characterized by a kind of nature, rather than a kind of appearance. In the verses before and after Colossians 3:10, Paul is referencing the necessity to give up earthly desires, and the nature that underlies them. No longer should we cling to malice, slander, greed, sexual immorality, impurity, or lies. Instead, the new image will be one characterized by a nature of compassion, kindness, meekness, patience, humility, and bearing one another’s burdens. All of those attributes will be knit together with a thread of divine love. That love will be a commitment to God, and to the well-being of those around us. Being conformed to the image of Christ is being conformed to that nature, and not to physical appearance.

In fact, this is the whole Christian journey. Consider Paul’s teaching about what happens when a person truly recognizes the divinity of Christ, and begins to follow him. He argues that such a person is transformed into the image of God from one degree of glory to another (2 Corinthians 3:18). But the prophet Isaiah tells us that the glory of Christ is not in his appearance (Isaiah 53:2). He looked ordinary. He was not majestic. His beauty was not in his physical form.

Are you willingly transforming toward the pinnacle of power, authority and goodness of God in the creation where you have been given reign? Do you bear the image of God appropriately? How so?

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