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The image of God

Genesis 1.26-31
16 January 2011

Why study Genesis?

Presuming you have a map and compass and can map read, taking a
bearing on a known fixed point enables you to determine where along a
particular bearing you are. Taking a bearing on two known fixed points
enables you to discover your precise location.

e.g. Holme Moss

There was a time when most people had fixed points in their thinking and
so, at least in principle, were able to answer important questions such as
the following:

o Who am I?
o Does my life have any significance?
o How should I live?
o What ultimately matters?
o How should I treat other people?
o Am I accountable to anyone apart from myself?
o Should I be content with the way that I am or should I strive to be
different in some way?

It is because the majority of people no longer have any sort of certainty or

even idea in these areas, that confusion, frustration and even despair are
the order of the day in so many quarters.

The antidote, remedy to the situation is, of course, for the Christian,
provided by the Bible and the story that it tells. No part of the story gives
us more fixed points than the early chapters of Genesis.
Today, in our short series on those chapters in Genesis, we come to the
creation of human beings – I prefer that translation to that which speaks of
‘man’, not simply because it is more inclusive, but because it is more
accurate as quick look at v.27b makes clear.

The key idea in these verses and the only thing I am going to talk about
this morning is the creation of human beings in the image or likeness of
God. So the sermon should, I hope, be of great interest, because we’re
going to be thinking about ourselves 

I. Two preliminary remarks

Which set vv.26-31 within the context of the chapter.

o firstly, human beings are only made in the IMAGE of God

Human beings are not an original, nor are they anything without the original
Blocher p.82

In other words, at the end of the day, Man, is a creature.

Although, as we shall see, the creation of human beings is singled out as

special, we must remember that, according to Genesis, he stands on the
same side of the line between God and creation as everyone else! I say
this, because not all religions adopt this point of view and, furthermore,
not to observe it is to seriously misunderstand who we are.

So, human beings are created on the sixth just like all the other creatures.
We don’t have our own ‘special’ day! Similarly, the Lord provides our
food for us, as He does for the other creatures. The same truth is conveyed
in Ch.2 by the description of human beings ‘from the earth’, a truth
implicit in Ch.1 by the use of the name ‘Adam’
o secondly, human beings are ALONE made in the image of God

Having said what I have said, no animal bear comparison with the human.
In other words, when you draw a line between human beings and the
animal kingdom, we are on one side and everything else is on the other.

The supreme importance of the creation of the man and the woman is
highlighted in several ways in Genesis 1:

- it is located right at the end of the creation story – it is the final act
- the verb ‘create’ is used three times in relation to humanity as if to
emphasise its importance
So God created human beings in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them

- the unusual expression ‘let us make’ (v.26) is used only of the

creation of human beings
- human beings are not created ‘according to their kinds’, but are one
category (c.f. vv.11,21)
- after the creation of the human beings, the Lord’s work is
pronounced not just ‘good’,. but ‘very good’ and the Lord rests
II. What does it mean to be made in the ‘image of God’?

These words have produced a huge amount of speculation and have a

significance far beyond the frequency with which they are used in the
bible, so how long have you got?!

Let me quickly outline several views

o The image of God is reflected in the human form.

This view might sound bizarre, but actually has a fair deal going for it,
especially given that image is a word that describes a specific, concrete,
form. Not that people who adopt this position argue that God has a form
or body as such, rather they argue that the human form expresses
something of the Lord’s splendour and majesty.

It’s an interesting point of view and may go some way to explaining the
incarnation, but it is not an idea that is much expanded upon in scripture.

o The image of God is reflected in the way human beings are made or

This view suggests that there is something about the way we are that
corresponds to the way God is. Something is us makes us like God. Not,
of course, that we are divine – the context, already mentioned, as well as
the qualifying expression ‘likeness’ makes that clear - but we might be
said to share certain characteristics with God – rationality, language, a
sense of justice etc. This line of approach does make a certain amount of
sense, but the problem comes when you try and narrow down precisely the
characteristics that we share with God. It also runs into problems when
people behave in ways that are Godlike, as we more often than not do.
Does that mean we no longer share the ‘image of God’? More on that in a
o The image of God is reflected in our capacity for relationship with God.

This does not so much suggest that we share God’s characteristics, so

much as, that human beings are made for relationship with Him. In other
words, there is something about us that makes it possible for us to relate to
God in a way that is not possible for any other part of creation.

We see support for this line of understanding in the fact that, as I have
already observed, only in the creation of the human beings does the Lord
use the unusual expression ‘let us make’, thus implying that we can have
the privilege of entering the ‘divine conversation’, if I can put it like that.
Also, that in Genesis 1, it is only the human beings who are addressed by
the Lord (c.f. v.28)

o The image of God is reflected in our capacity for relationship with


This approach is goes hand in hand with the previous one and once again
gives full value to the ‘let us’. Human beings reflect the image of God, not
simply because they able to be in relationship with God, but also because
they are able to be in relationship with one another. Thus it is that male
and female are together said to make up the image of God (v.27c). This is
also, maybe, why the climax of the second creation account in Genesis 2
concludes with the marriage between the man and the woman, marriage
being not the only way men and women relate to one another, but the most
intimate and comprehensive way they do so.

o The image of God is reflected in the tasks entrusted to humanity.

A final approach that can be taken on its own, or alongside the others. On
this view, God’s image is seen in humanity’s representative role. Just as
God rules the Universe, so human beings are called to reflects His rule by,
in turn, ruling over the earth as described in v.28.

This view draws support not only from v.28, but also from the fact that, in
the ancient world, kings did set up images of themselves which were there
to symbolise their rule.
I don’t want to go any further on this point and hope that some sort of
coherent picture the main contours of which are clear.

One final thing I did want to say, though, before moving on, concerns what
happens to the image of God after the fall as described in Genesis 3 for,
traditionally, it has been said to have been severely defaced or even lost

However, there are various scriptures which make clear that this is not the
case, most notably Genesis 9

And for your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an
accounting from every animal. And from each human being, too, I will demand an
accounting for the life of another human being.
“Whoever sheds human blood,
by human beings shall their blood be shed;
for in the image of God
has God made humankind.

The implication of these verses are clear. Men and women continue to
bear the image of God.
III. What difference does it make to be made in the ‘image of

Back to those fixed points and the questions at the beginning…


We can only truly know who we in relationship with God.

Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee Augustine

A truth of such profound significance that it must inform all that we think
and do as Christians. It is the reason, ultimately, that we want all to come
to faith, more important even than the death of Jesus, for Jesus gave His
life in order that this very thing should become possible!

It is also the reason that becoming a Christian is the most life enhancing
thing you can do! It might not feel like that all the time, but given what
Genesis 1 says, it is true.

The glory of God is a human being full alive


How much am I worth? Some of us have problems with overinflated egos,

many other of us have problems with low self-esteem. There is probably
not an instant or easy for either, but the truth that we are all made in the
image of God certainly helps.

I’m me and I’m good because God don’t make junk Afro American Christian

Here is a fixed point to keep coming back to


Moving on. The bible is often understood as being socially conservative,

as upholding status quo, but, in reality, nothing could be further from the
truth. The bible has very many radical political implications and no verses
more than these. In the ancient world, as I mentioned, it was usually only
the king or ruler who was spoken of as being made in the ‘image of God’
thus it was his image that was set up around the place to give ordering to
ancient society. However, according to the bible, all human beings are
made in the ‘image of God’. All equally bear the divine likeness – made
and female (obviously), black and white, rich and poor, young and old,
born and unborn – and so the list might go on – Jews, gays, Gypsies,
chavs, even Chelsea supporters.

God forgive us if we have ever used demeaning language to describe

others or even thought of them in a wrong way
With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human
beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. James 3.9


There is no time to develop this, maybe Phil will say more next week, but
there is a very clear message here not only that sexuality – the relational
dynamic between men and women – is a good thing, but, further, that it is
only together that we are able to reflect God’s image. This has all sorts of
implications for both society and the church and, at the very least suggests
that, in the past, we have got this one oh so wrong.

c.f. my first visit to All Hallow’s


This point is really an extension of the last one. If human beings are made
not only to relate to God, but also to relate to one another, something that
is made explicit in Genesis 1.27 in terms of male and female, but is
implicitly there in terms of everyone else, then individualism and
sectarianism are ruled right out of court as is class or any other barrier
place between ourselves and others.

This is ultimately why I believe in the Parish system, because it includes

everybody – we might need to disagree on that – but, and here, we must
surely all agree, it is also why we must as Christians believe in and
practice church! For what is church if not the out working of Genesis
1.27. Indeed this is the direction the NT takes this particular truth.

And so Sunday worship, home groups, coffee, shared lunches,

Houseparties, Prayer Diaries, I’m almost tempted to say PCC’s, are not
some sort of optional extra for Christians, they are precisely the places
where we work out the calling that God has given to us.


If all human beings are made in God’s image, then we have a duty of care
for all. Again the implications are massive

Calvin quoted in Hoekema p.98

Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever
does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom
they have not seen. 1 John 4.20


The task that has been granted to us is one of rule, which, given the
context of God’s ultimate sovereignty, cannot mean exploitation.