How is Man Created in the Image of God?


I'm having a hard time understanding how humans are both born in sin and created in God's image. Are we physically created in God's image or are our spirits patterned after His?

If created physically after His image then what about those born with physical defects?  If spiritually then what about those who happen to have very deranged minds, who are just ruthless and evil?

Whenever someone is being difficult, I'm able to brush it off by saying, "Well, God created them, too" but there are some whom it would be an insult to Him to say such a thing.  I understand that we're all born in sin as a result of Adam and Eve, but how do theologians explain when God's impression on man begins and ends in the womb or even before conception?


Hi Bruce,

Thank you for writing in and submitting your question. It is interesting that we frequently hear that man was created in God's image, but we never really stop and think about what that means. I'd like to explore that here.

I think that you have put yourself in a false dilemma by only allowing two limited interpretations of man being created in the image of God. Actually, this is much more complex but, because as human beings we are so close to the answer, we tend to overlook some of the other aspects of our unique creation.

We know we are created in God's image because the Bible tells us so in Genesis 1:27 where we read, "And God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them." Now, this event happened before the fall of man, but we know that we are still in some sense created in the image of God because 1 Corinthians 11:7 reaffirms this fact. Also Genesis 9:6 imposes the death penalty because of the fact that man is made in the image of God. This would argue that the idea of being created in God's image still applies to us today.

The words "image" and "likeness" used in Genesis 1:26-27 express the idea of the whole man being created in this way. In some sense, both a man's material and immaterial aspects are included in this assessment. Now, we know that strictly speaking man's physical body is not patterned after the physical appearance of God. We are taught in John 4 that God is Spirit and does not reside in a physical body. However, this does not preclude the physical body being some part of the image of God. We exist currently as body and soul together. It is meaningless to talk of us a just a soul or just a body when we are alive on earth. Both are intricately intertwined to make you the person you are.

The body reflects God's image by first of all being one in substance. God as a trinity is one being, acting with as much unity as our soul acts with our body. Our bodies are living, and Paul emphasizes that we serve a living God, not one of gold or silver or stone (Act17:29). In fact he says that those idols cannot be God because it would take a living being to create us as living beings. This is a highly rational argument, and difficult to find objectionable.

Paul's ability to appeal to reason demonstrates another way that man is made in the image of God. God by His nature is a rational being. He operates by the laws of logic. He is not constrained by them because they are some kind of "higher force", but they are the natural outflow of His will; they are His nature. He is as much a rational being as He is a loving being. Because only man has the true capacity for rational thinking, he is in this way also made in God's image. Also, man is intelligent; aware of his surroundings and capable of changing them. He does not act on instinct, but should be able to control his natural drives for higher purposes.

God has given man free will, which likewise reflects God's image. Every man has the ability to choose for himself his actions. He is morally aware. Man understands that certain things are good and certain things are evil. Before the fall, Adam and Eve had no experiential knowledge of good and evil, but they most certainly understood that they should obey God's commands. If this were not so, God warning them about punishment if they disobeyed Him would have no meaning to them, and the fall could be viewed as entrapment on God's part. Adam most certainly did understand that disobeying the will of God was wrong, and there could be dire consequences to his actions. Although we now must struggle against our evil nature to obey God, we still have moral understanding and comprehension of good and evil.

Lastly, one of the ways the image of God manifests itself in man is that only man can be aware of God and is capable of fellowshipping with Him. This part of man was exercised freely in the Garden before the fall. All men still are able to comprehend God's existence, but none are able to fellowship with Him unless they have been born again in Christ. Obviously, the universality of religion shows that awareness of God and some need for a relationship with Him is common to man.

Your question has the implication that those people who have mental or physical deficiencies are somehow not created in the image of God. I find that this is not true. Because some of the aspects we associate with God's image may not be operating properly, it doesn't mean the person is devoid of God's image. Rather, it shows that the image is somehow skewed or distorted. I liken this to an analogy of a car being made in a certain likeness (such as the body style of a corvette). When it is wrecked, the damage does not nullify the idea of being formed in that likeness, but shows the image as defective and in need of repair. Every person who is aware, no matter how slight his mental faculties, lives by some ethic, some moral code, and some decision-making processes. This re-emphasizes importance of our Redeemer's work in the lives of men, for only He can create a heart in man that is not distorted and seeks His will.

Thank you again for an intriguing question. I hope that you will study these things further and ponder them with prayer. May God bless you as you seek to uphold Him in the public square.

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