Brilliant theological minds have differed on the precise definition of the image, but I think it’s best to contend for a holistic view. The image of God is structural, relational, and functional. To put it concisely, the image of God is the essential and unique quality of human beings whereby we reflect and represent God in the context of meaningful relationship with him, one another, and the rest of creation. But why does it matter?
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. … Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness. … So God created man in his own image; he created him in the image of God; he created them male and female.
Christians believe human beings were created in the image of God. Yet most of us, I would venture to say, have little idea of what that means and why it matters.
We hear about the imago Dei in occasional sermons about abortion or end-of-life ethics, reminding us of the dignity of every human being. This is good.
But we could stand to hear much more about what it means that humans, unique among all of God’s creation, are said to be made in His image.
What Does it Mean?
Theologians have given three broad categories throughout history for what it means that we are made in God’s image.
The most common category is what we’ll call the structural category. This view asserts that something in our very makeup reflects God.
Instead of saying “we bear God’s image,” you might say “we are God’s image.” It’s in our being, our essence. The image of God is something we are.
A second category used to define this doctrine is the relational category. This view, made popular in the early 20th century, says that the image is found in our capacity for meaningful relationship—with God, with one another, with the created world.
Some theologians have emphasized the covenantal nature of our being. That God made us and invites us into covenant with him, and in him with one another, is a unique privilege. The image of God is something we have.
The third category, rising in prominence in recent years, is the functional category. Proponents of this view argue that to image God is primarily a verb. What was God doing in the context in of the creation story when we were made in His image? Creating.
And what did He command us to do? “Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it.” These actions are the function of imaging God, according to this view. The image of God is something we do.
Brilliant theological minds have differed on the precise definition of the image, but I think it’s best to contend for a holistic view. The image of God is structural, relational, and functional.
To put it concisely, the image of God is the essential and unique quality of human beings whereby we reflect and represent God in the context of meaningful relationship with him, one another, and the rest of creation.
But why does it matter?
1. Preaching on the Image of God Will Prepare Your Life in the 21st Century.
I am convinced that in 2020, no doctrine is more under attack in our world than this.
Christians in the West are bombarded with false anthropologies—unbiblical theologies of what it means to be a human being. The consequences have been disastrous.
The sexual revolution has redefined gender again and again. Our culture is in a years-long struggle related to racial reconciliation.
And as technology continues to advance, transhumanists seek to redefine humanity, helping us “evolve” above and beyond our current state.
I’ve already mentioned abortion and end-of-life ethical questions as well. All of these are matters related to the image of God.