The Image of God and Fallen Man
Is it correct to say in any way that fallen man still bears the image of God?
It is in God’s creation account in Genesis 1 that we find this expression of man being created “in the image of God.” There we read,
Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over the all the creatures that move along the ground.’”
We also read how “the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.”
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.
Prior to God’s creating man, male and female, in his image, the Triune God took counsel and said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness.” Man was made in a special way by God’s divine hands; man received in a special way God’s divine breath of life! God made man his representative on earth, his vice-roi, whom he appointed to rule over the earth as his ambassador, his Governor-General.
This clearly shows how special and unique man was and is. He was special in the way God created him, and he was unique in the gifts God bestowed on him: his form, his thinking, his abilities, and his spiritual life. Hence man received a unique position in which to show himself the image of God, his representative and steward on earth, who received from the spirit of God for this unique and high function. Therefore, when we see a man, we see God’s image and likeness. God created him with special care and competence. Of course, he’s still only a man and not God himself; yet, in his existence, his being, his body, his beauty, and his abilities of heart and mind we see some of the glory and majesty of God our Creator. We see this in both man and woman, for both were created in God’s image: in man and his being, in man’s work and strength, we see some of the majesty and kingship of God; in woman and her care, her ability to bear children, we see some of God’s creative energies and of God’s cherishing loving arms! That’s how man is God’s image, showing each in their own gifts and potential some of the greatness and wisdom and powers of creation of the Triune God!
Then we read of this image of God not just in Genesis 1 but also in Genesis 9:6, after the flood. Indeed, even after the flood of God’s judgment over mankind, the LORD God still speaks about man as made by God in his image! True, man fell into sin and therefore quite often resembles more the image of the devil than of our heavenly Father; yet God still considers man as made in his image. Yes, we could add that when you observe man you can still recognize in him that he was created a little lower than God. That’s why the image is used sometimes of man as an empty temple. Man was created a temple of God, beautiful and impressive in its architecture, yet after the fall the Spirit of God disappears from this temple. He’s an empty temple that’s become filled with evil spirits quite often. Yet, from the form of his building and from the potential of this building, you can still recognize the temple that he was.
Man still is image bearer, which means that we can still see impressed on man’s being the imprint of God himself! It’s this divine imprint that makes us into living people. Now if you make scratches on that imprint or if you wipe out this imprint completely, then God takes that as an act against himself.
As we read in Proverbs 17:5,
He who mocks the poor shows contempt for their Maker
cf. Proverbs 14:31; Leviticus 19:14.
With acts that hurt or damage our neighbour we touch the LORD. In his epistle, James also shows that when we curse someone with the tongue we curse a man who was made in God’s likeness. Even though man has fallen into sin, this image hasn’t disappeared completely; as we confess (CoD), there still are clear traces that remind us of this beautiful man whom God created. Yes, especially when we live in unity with the Lord Jesus in his New Testament church, his Spirit restores and renews us in his image more and more!