For some time now I have expressed the view that in our fallen condition, the Biblical qualifier, “made in the image of God” was not rightly applicable to all men rather, that it was only true for those who were born again thus, restored spiritually. A recent theological self-audit however, has seen to a modification of that position.
My resistance was not to the clear declaration in Genesis 1:26-27 but two-fold:
1. My former position took into account the fall of humanity in Adam and our being the depraved generation following his spiritual death. Consequently but erroneously, I formulated that this disqualified those not born again as meeting the summation of the various criteria of being made in the image or likeness of God particularly in seeing that God is Spirit.
2. The misuse of our creation in the image of God by practitioners of leftist theology in attempting to employ our being “image bearers” as a justification for demanding a variety of social Marxist ideologies upon government in the guise of Evangelicalism such as our view of illegal-immigrants, governmental approaches toward criminal enterprise and social preferences of individuals and/or groups which are typical shamed by (pseudo) Evangelical social Marixists.Still, with those two above, I want to articulate a better position than I have.
Are all humans created in the image of God?
The answer to this is, yes. All humans are created in the image of God. The mistake many people make, however, is failing to further inform themselves with the rest of Scripture and the reality of our fallen nature which is as the offspring of Adam, born dead in sin.
Still and to my point, after the fall in Genesis 9:6 where homicide is codified as a capital offense, God reiterates that man continues to be seen as made in his image or likeness. As well, in James 3:9 it states in referring to the tongue, “9 With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God.”
How is it that all humans are made in God’s image yet, born spiritually dead especially when part of being made in the image of God was Adam’s being made alive, spiritually?
This is a very good question which deserves a very good answer and the truth is, there is no place in the Bible where God directly answers this question rather, we see in various places the preeminent nature and role of mankind which is distinctive and unique in comparison to all other creatures, even angels. So the “very good answer” is one which must consider the Bible more broadly.
Let us make man in our image
The best place to begin with understanding our creation is the original text and its auxiliary companion texts in other places. In Genesis 1:26-27 it states (NASB):
26 Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” 27 God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.What is most observable from the text is how it qualifies this creation of mankind in God’s image. It is done so with emphasis or elevation of mankind being the ruler of earth. He is the administrator with lesser creatures and things at his charge. Here, then, we are clued-in regarding what the Godhead has in mind in creating humans in the image of God.
This creation, we may surmise, is with respect to man’s nature or essence. Again, I cannot point to some Biblical taxonomy of man’s essence which states that “thus and thus” are the attributes which qualify man as made in God’s image but we can note, both practically and in Scripture, man’s unique and varied essence which distinguishes him from all other life and enables him to commune with God as well as do the will of God. And in the case of this brief essay I will allude to a few things.
1. Foremost is the reality that mankind is the only creature on earth and created during human history either alive spiritually (only two qualify, Adam and Eve) or with the capacity to be enlightened by God the Holy Spirit as to the promise of the gospel and believe, be saved and then be spiritually resurrected (born again) from which he is bestowed eternal life/communion with God through which he is granted numerous spiritual assets and the opportunity to earn future eternal logistical divine wealth granted at the Bema Seat of Christ.It is our dominion and rule through these attributes given to us by God which immediately follows the declaration in Genesis 1: 26-27 of our being made in his image that gives us confidence that it is these proprietary administrative virtues/attributes which God primarily has in mind in making us in his likeness.
2. Man is also considered volitional thus, accountable to God for his decisions in life. It is only mankind who faces a judgment by God at the Great White Throne Judgment. All other creatures of planet earth do not have such a judgment. It is agreed that they are not reasonable nor volitional by the purpose of God in being created to serve mankind.
3. Man possesses eternal soul-life. When we read of the Great White Throne Judgment, we do not see animals or fish, not even plants, being thrown into what is described as the lake of fire. We only see volitional creatures which are men and angels. We all will either live with God or be separated from him in eternity via the existence of our souls which are eternal.
4. Man is a moral agent. We are capable of moral decisions, of knowing right and wrong. Animals, even the most sophisticated ones, can only be trained to respond. They cannot and do not reason as humans do. There may be some degree of animalistic reasoning, we do not know precisely how an animal considers everything but whatever they are capable of it is clear they are not accountable to God as volitional creatures in their decision making and this, by the way, is why we are permitted to kill animals for food and so forth. They are under our domain but this is not to say the Bible does not direct us toward the morality of animal care. It is not exhaustive but there are principles in Scripture which bind us.
Can it be said then, that mankind is made in the image of God but that image is marred by sin?
It is important in understanding who we are that we know that we are both made in the image of God and fallen in our nature. I would simply state both and not attempt to reformulate the expression of our being made in God's image as having a marred image as I did in my former view. I do agree, however, that our being made in the image of God is not existentially the same as Adam and Eve in their sinless state, even after we are born again.
What about social justice causes? Isn’t the weight of mankind’s being made in the image of God robust enough to force arguments for social justice because of this?
Here is a good example of the kinds of very problematic questions which must first have errant assumptions corrected along with broadly ambiguous language clarified before being answered. What do I mean?
I mean that when we speak of “social justice” we have to have a definition. For some it means one thing and for another, something else. The truth is there are not many concrete demands God has placed on civil government during the church age. God prescribes to government that they protect its constituents, punish criminality and promote the general welfare of that nation.
- It does not tell us who may or may not be a member of any nation.
- It does not tell us how one nation must treat foreigners who enter illegally.
- It does not tell us what kind of government must be formed.
- It does not tell us who should or should not have the right to vote, if one happens to even live where voting is practiced.
- It does not tell us to what degree we should, as a nation, consider the weaker elements of society.
I am not surprised to find many spiritually immature Christians easily recruited into such efforts. This is the result of human arrogance combined with theological/spiritual immaturity which the Bible calls zeal without knowledge. But even ignoring immature and arrogant believers, the world, itself, tends toward self-righteous moralizing to its own injury with respect to government and regularly they like to call upon the Bible with ill-gotten texts as their weapon of choice.
So, whenever someone mentions social justice, the Bible and the role of government, you always, always and always, need a definition of terms and then, if you are lucky enough to get that far in getting them to spit out what their assigned definitions are, you will still have to vet the meanings, themselves. In other words social justice warriors rarely will define terms for you and even when they do, they have imposed poor definitions which must be confronted and countered. Usually, if you get to this part of the process, they will get angry and leave your company because their impoverished thinking is about to be exposed.
So, is a government free from a public morality and social oversight?
If one was not paying attention they might conclude that yes, government is bound by nothing other than its own ideas. Nowhere however, has the Bible granted government a license to do as it pleases. It is clear from Peter’s epistle and the letter Paul wrote to the church in Rome that God ordains government to act as his agent in punishing criminals.
Paul uses the term ministers, in referring to government agents which, by the way, is why government officials in some places are referred to as Prime Minister and so on. Such countries have, at some point in their history, understood left kingdom theology and practiced it or had it passed on to them (if only instinctively in a rudimentary form). These societies recognize government’s role as the instrument for civil establishment and means of punishing various kinds of threats to the well-being of a nation/state/tribe.
And to the theologically informed mind, we know that nations interested in acng as the client of God in matters of morality and justice are enhanced when they consider just what we are discussing, the nature of man and his creation in God’s image.
Such thoughtfulness by a government leads to an increase in the respect of man's dignity and the sanctity of life. Mercy is equally present with judgment in such societies.
The misuse of man’s creation in God's image
This leads me to the misuse of the reality that we have been created in God’s image. I believe in what Luther proposed and taught, that God has two realms of function intended for mankind which has come about with the annulment of the Theocracy of Israel and the inauguration of the church age. Those two realms or kingdoms are the spiritual kingdom or the kingdom on the right and human government/civil government or the kingdom on the left.
When social justice Marxists begin demanding that governments perform the duties of the spiritual kingdom by using the Bible for quasi-theocratic rule, we have a problem, a big one. Many of these crusaders will tell you they detest Christian theocracies until they wish to use the Bible as a means to justify their social action demands.
Yes, a government can and should benefit from understanding and acceptance of the truth that mankind was made in the image of God but that, in no way, suggests a prescribed or preferred social order apart from the very limited codes God has issued to society. This, however, is exactly what (pseudo) Evangelical social justice Marxists are seeking to do with their proprietary application of the image of God, doctrine.
They wish to demand entrance into a nation as an illegal immigrant based on this Biblical truth when the Scriptures, at no place, propose this necessary and moral application with the subsequent demand on governments to acquiesce or else they are in opposition to God’s Word. In fact, if this is so how is it said in Acts 17:26?
From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands.Conclusion
My greatest aim in writing this post was to express an adjustment to my theology and point to where my concerns still lie in its misuse.
Yes, we are all made in God’s image. Yes, we are marred, more than marred, fallen and unable in and of ourselves to reach to God and redeem ourselves and yes, while the church must be informed as to our creation, governments be should too, in developing its public policy with respect to man’s dignity and the sanctity of life.
Additionally, I reiterate, nowhere does God reformulate his revelation that we are made in his image or likeness, even after the fall rather, he simply provides more revelation for us namely, that we are fallen, born in sin and in need of spiritual resurrection through faith in the gospel.
But no, such a theological/divine reality is not carte blanche for demanding from governments all kinds of social justice/action/programs simply because you pull the “image bearers” card. That isn’t Biblical, it’s unbiblical.