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Reflecting the Image of God (Gen. 1:26-2:1)

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We just started a series in Genesis last week. We saw that as early as the first chapter of the book, God calls us to join with all creation with a song that glorifies Him. And all of creation got that blessing from God (And God saw it was good), because they are doing what God made them to do. Once man fell, we lost that blessing and that benediction, leaving us searching everywhere for it, especially in the created things instead of the creator. But we saw last week in Christ, because He took our curse and was “de-created”, we again receive God’s blessing again as we are recreated in Him. God now sees us as “very good” again! We can join in the song!

Today we are going to take a deeper look at the original creation of man. Again, not really the how (which is Genesis 2 anyway), but the why question is what we will look at. Why are we created and put on this planet? Sometimes we may feel like the man who said, “I’ve got a clock that tells me when to get up--but some days I need one to tell me why.” Often we hear people say, “I want to find myself.” Thus, you have something like Eat Pray Love, a memoir written by Elizabeth Gilbert in 2006, later turned into a movie. The sub-heading says: “One woman’s search for everything across Italy, India and Indonesia.” So in her journey to find the meaning of life, Gilbert finds that only one thing ultimately matters: yourself. Like we said last week, people tend to deny creation or worship it. If you believe that the material world is all there is to life, you give yourself over to it. In the end, all you have is yourself. Author G.K. Chesterton says, “When [you] abandon belief in the Creator, people do not begin to believe in nothing.  They begin to believe in anything.”[1]

But the Bible says, there is more to life than just us. In fact, we are the product of a very creative and loving God. The title of the message is called, “Reflecting the image of God.” I want to talk about what it means to be image bearers of the God of the Universe. We hear that we are made in God’s image a lot, but what does it mean and what implications are there as a result? Actually I think that if we truly believe that God created us in the image of God, this would truly change us, and our church in a lot of ways.

What does it mean to be created in the image of God? Lots of interesting debate has gone on about this over the years. Take a look at these images. What do you think of when you think of the image of God? When we say “the image of God” we mean:

I.    We are reflectors of the image of God (vv.26a, 27)

Notice the narrative slows down here in Gen. 1:26. So far in the text, everything was moving so quickly with the phrase, “And God said.” Now it’s like it’s goes into slow motion. Why? Commentator K.A. Mathews says, “The crown of God’s handiwork is human life…the creation account shows an ascending order of significance with human life as the final, thus pinnacle, creative act.”[2] Francis Schaeffer adds, “It is as though God put exclamation points here to indicate that there is something special about the creation of man.”[3] We said last week that this was God “nesting.” He was preparing a home, a world, for man to live in. Now on day six, it is as if God takes a deep breath (ironically, in Gen. 2 He breathes life into Adam), as He comes to His crowing achievement, the apex of creation: mankind. This is such a special moment in history!

The words “image” and “likeness” and very similar in its meaning in the Hebrew and used interchangeably.[4] The term “image” (ṣelem) is used in the Old Testament for actual forms and shapes of idols (1 Sam. 6:5, 11) and reliefs (Ezek. 23:14).[5] So it could be used, for instance, to describe a carved likeness of an animal. The carved likeness is not the animal, but it represents the animal. An image expresses something, but never depicts it. So to put it together, being created in God’s image means reflecting what God is like. Let’s go deeper. This teaches us that:

a) Like God, we are deeply relational beings

Notice the impersonal “let there be” (or its equivalents) of the seven preceding creative acts is replaced by the personal “let us.” Notice also God’s intent of this event is announced beforehand. Before God simply commanded and it was done. Here it is as if He has to tell everyone the good news. He says, “Let US.” Some say He is talking to the angels or the rest of creation here, but neither angels nor the rest of creation are made in His image. So to whom is He referring to in using the plural us? I think here we see the early glimmers of God revealing to us that He is a relational being, which we learn later that He is three in One, the Trinity. The Spirit is there in Gen. 1:2 and we know from John 1:1 and Col. 1:15-17 that Christ is there too. God has a fellowship circle within Himself and though He has all of creation that sings of His glory, He decides to make the circle bigger and create man. We are relational because God is relational and has created us in His image. So I think is proper when we think that we are only truly human when we are in relationship with God and others.

Whereas all the other creatures are created “according to their kinds” (Gen. 1:21, 24, 25), humanity alone is made “in the image of God.” We are made for intimacy. This also means we have personality. We have a mind, which thinks (some of us do anyway), hearts that feel and a will to make choices/decisions. We also have a capacity for creativity. We are made to be known by God and to know God that is so different than anything else in creation. We can actually communicate with the God of the Universe and God can communicate with us. This is why God is always after our heart and all of it. This is why God cares more about who you are and what you are becoming than what you do.

This is why the early church Father Augustine wrote, “You have made us for yourself, O God, and our hearts are restless until it finds rest in you.” Sin has marred the image of God, which we will get to in a second, so instead of relating to God and others, we relate to our possessions and creation. Indeed we love things and use people instead of loving people and using things. Really we are just the sum total of all our relationships. Do you know that I pray restlessness for all of us all the time? That sounds mean, but we were made for God and to make much of Him and reflect Him. We all have a tendency to find meaning in everything created instead of our Creator. We become what we love. We will reflect what we love and serve. And so God is constantly make us restless, so we can reflect Him to the world because of our relationship with Him. This also means:

b) We possess incredible value, dignity and worth

Pastor and author Kent Hughes writes, “Consider this: Though you could travel a hundred times the speed of light, past countless yellow-orange stars, to the edge of the galaxy and swoop down to the fiery glow located a few hundred light-years below the plane of the Milky Way, though you could slow to examine the host of hot young stars luminous among the gas and dust…though you could witness a star’s birth, in all your stellar journeys you would never see anything equal to the birth and wonder of a human being.”[6] So that even when the stars of the universe fade away, we will live forever. C.S. Lewis is right. There are no mere mortals. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations — these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is “immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit.” So every person we meet is headed for either “immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.”[7] He goes on to say next to God, people are the most holiest beings on the planet, simply because they are created in the image of God.

This is incredible! Because God has made us in His image, we can have a correct self-image. Our self-image comes from the understanding that we are made in His image. And if He thought I should be created and if He thought I should be His image-bearer and reflector, then I must possess value. I must possess dignity. To be clear, when I say self-image, I don’t mean self-esteem. Self-esteem is having confidence and satisfaction in yourself. A biblical self-image is one’s conception of oneself in light of what God says.

And because we are made in God’s image, there is sacredness to us. Remember we are not even talking as Christians here. All human beings possess value. No matter what we have done with this self-image with sin, no matter where we are from or how low we have gone, God sees us having dignity, worth and value.  Notice also God emphasizing the gender in relation to His image: “male and female He created them.” The text does not say that God created man in His image and then created the woman in the man’s image. Both equally created to reflect God’s image, though different, possess value.

Science does not give us this sense of self. Science may say we are complex creatures, but in the end, we are merely creatures. I like what G.K. Chesterton says in relation to this. He says the secular politician goes to one meeting and cries out against war or genocide that we should not treat people like beasts. Then he picks up his hat and umbrella and goes to the science convention and shakes the hand of the scientist who claims, “We are merely beasts.”[8] Very contradictory! But God tells us here, as Roman Catholic theologian George Weigel affirms: “We are not congealed stardust, an accidental byproduct of cosmic chemistry. We are not just something, we are someone.”[9]

But sin has deformed the image of God in us so that now we either sinfully think too highly of ourselves or too lowly of ourselves, which is also sin. The power is always in the balance. We are both depraved and possess dignity at the same time. So we can elevate our dignity in sinful pride or elevate our depravity also in sinful pride. So on the one hand if you think highly of yourself and value yourself above others in pride, you do not love your neighbor as you should, since you don’t think they are worth loving. On the other hand, if you have a low self-image, you also will not love your neighbor, since you feel like you have nothing to give. Both are in the end forms of pride and sin deforming the image of God in us.

Both are destructive. Let’s talk about self-hatred for a second. In his book All Over but the Shoutin,' Rick Bragg shares a brief story about a bird to show just how devastating self-hatred can be. He writes: ‘”Once when I was little, I watched one of the birds attack its own reflection in the side mirror of a truck. It hurled its body again and again against that unyielding image, until it pecked a crack in the glass, until the whole mirror was smeared with blood. It was as if the bird hated what it saw there, and discovered too late that all it was seeing was itself.’”[10] We often tell others, “Hey, don’t beat yourself up.” Some of us have beaten ourselves up, not realizing that in hating ourselves, we are trying to destroy the image of God in ourselves because we don’t like what we see.

What about body image? Author Diana Spechler recently launched a website where women can anonymously share how they feel about their bodies. Here are some of them:

·        I hate everything about my body.

·        I constantly compare myself to other women.

·        I eat when I'm depressed, and then I get more depressed.

·        Sometimes when I see a woman fatter than me, I'm glad she's making me look better.

·        I want to lock myself up until I'm thin again.

·        I constantly compare myself to other women. Weight, skin, hair, clothes. More often than not, I

find myself lacking in most areas.

·        I continually base my worth on what other people look like ….I don't know how to feel

comfortable in my own skin.

·        I love food for how it makes me feel. I hate food for how it makes me feel.

·        I am incredibly jealous of all those people who eat whatever they want and never gain a pound.

·        I just want to look in the mirror and feel happy.[11]

What do you see when you look in the mirror? All of this is because of the image of God is broken in us. But what happens in the gospel? The gospel allows us to be humble and confident at the same time. On the one hand, the gospel tells us we are sinful and the sins we know about ourselves are just the tip of the iceberg. This humbles us. At the same time, the gospel says, we are loved and the love we know of Christ is just tip of the iceberg. Not only did God create us, but He paid the price to redeem us when we decided to live for ourselves instead of Him, for whom we were created for. We are loved and His love is what makes us beautiful again. This gives us hope and confidence in Christ. When that collision happens is when we can grow in practicing the image of God again and brought back into the center of truth. A new beginning happens!

Being created in God’s image means to reflect God’s image. How do you accurately reflect something? Think of a mirror. How can I get a mirror to reflect the sun? This sounds obvious, but you face the mirror toward the sun. Actually did you know that if you have a concave mirror and face the mirror towards the sun and focus the reflection on some flammable material like wood or paper (tinder), the condensed light will catch it and you can start a fire? I hope I did not just encourage the pyromaniac in some of you!

So how do you reflect God? You turn to Him like a mirror facing the sun. The Bible says God will make His face shine upon us (Ps. 67:1). Why? So we can reflect Him! Look at 2 Cor. 3:16-18. We cannot elaborate on this amazing passage fully here, but Paul says before we know Christ, it is like there is veil over our hearts. When the veil is lifted, it is like a blind person receiving sight! We receive freedom as we finally see that Christianity is not about rules, but a relationship. However, Paul contrasts this New Covenant with the Old Covenant. When Moses went up on the mountain to commune with God, he would come back and his face would shine (Ex. 34:29-35). This is because being with God makes you look like God! There was physical transformation which I’m sure also changed his heart as well. It was an outside-in transformation. Anyway, later, like a flashlight running out of battery, the shininess would fade and what leader wants to lose their glow in front of his people? So Moses decides to put a veil so no one would see the glory leaving (and partly because the people were afraid to look at him when he did glow).  

Paul says now that we are in Christ, we don’t have to worry about not being able to shine God’s glory, because the veil is lifted. We can turn to Him again and look at Him because of Christ who had God turn His face away from Him. And as we look at Him, He progressively changes us, i.e. transforming our deformed image of God in us, so that our willing exposure to the sunlight of God’s presence will burn his image ever deeper into our character and will. [12] And so much so, that we are not merely reflecting God’s image, WE ARE RADIATING IT! And the reverse of what happened to Moses will happen to us. It is an inside-out transformation! God transforms us more and more into His image, the image of Christ and one day we will physically be like Him! (1 John 3:2). That is our hope. As one church father said, “His becoming what we are enables us to become what He is.”[13] Maybe we should not be called human beings, one commentator says, but human becomings.[14]

So the question is, are you facing God today or is your back toward God? Or are you facing Him? Has sin veiled you from looking at Him again? How is your self-image? Are you accurately seeing yourself in Christ? If you want to reflect His image in Christ, it means turning to Him again.

Secondly and lastly, being created in God’s image means:

II. We are fillers of the world with the glory of God (vv.26b, 28-31)

Let’s not forget this. We are not simply radiating God’s glory so we can glow and look shiny. The moon has no light of its own, but when we see it light up the night sky, the sun gets the glory, the source of its light. When we accurately reflect God’s image and likeness it is so we can fill the earth with Him and make His world flourish with His glory. We are reflecting His image to put His glory on display. Remember His glory means that God is ultimately what is real, important and what matters. God blesses us to be a blessing. We are channels not reservoirs. As we turn to Him, get to know Him and He changes us into the image of Christ, it is so that we will make Him known and fill the earth with other image-bearers. God wants us to partner with Him in spreading His glory! What a privilege!  Angels don’t even get to do that!

Notice the language here of “having dominion,” “being fruitful and multiplying,” “fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion.” We see this desire in us to subdue and rule. In fact, the word “’subdue’ (Hb. kabash) elsewhere means to bring a people or a land into subjection so that it will yield service to the one subduing it (Num. 32:22, 29).”[15] Why do we like playing games (whether it be card games, sports games, computer games and the like)? What is it that drives people to work to utter and complete exhaustion in order to win a professional sports game, for instance? The reason why people like games is because it fits in with the purpose for which we were created. Adam was created and given a dominion mission to subdue the earth and rule over it.

People participate in games because they put them on a dominion mission, with a preset goal to accomplish, and man enjoys the challenges and rewards along the way. We were created to enjoy this. It is a very natural thing for us to enjoy it. Of course these things can be perverted like all of God’s gifts, but in and of itself it is not a bad thing. We also take pictures of creation and put it on the wall.  Some catch an animal and mount it. We use words like we “captured” something on video or that we “took” a picture. We love challenges. We love stories and challenges people had to face. We want to fix something that's broken. We want to build something from scratch. We want to improve on what has already been built. Some can make a farm out of a forest. Why? We were created to subdue and have dominion over anything that presents a challenge to us. It’s part of our DNA as God’s image bearers to subdue and have dominion.[16]

But what is it for? So we can enjoy it? That’s party true as we said last week, because when we enjoy God’s gifts, we glorify the Giver as every good and perfect gift comes from God (James 1:17). But there is another reason. Dominion implies responsibility. We are to steward creation, whether it is our bodies, our children, money, possessions, or creation in general. One commentator says, “mankind is here commissioned to rule nature as a benevolent king, acting as God’s representative over them and therefore treating them in the same way as God who created them.”[17]Though I wouldn’t call myself a huge advocate of “going green,” I don’t think those who do are actually biblically off track. We are to steward God’s creation, though its fallen, as responsible stewards. So we don’t litter or pollute, but we do recycle and take care of animals. The image of God and responsibility of it also is the basis for why there are civil rights and why we speak up for those who do not have a voice, and why we care for orphans and widows. It is a very crucial doctrine!

But what is God’s ultimate purpose in us enjoying and stewarding God’s creation? It is to fill the world with God and to put God’s glory on display. Look at also the command to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.” But what is it for? It is not to make much of us. It is not just to have something to do. It is not so we can have kids to love. It is not because everybody else has kids.  It is not so our parents have grandchildren. The primary reason for procreation is to fill the world with God’s image bearers. What a privilege! God says, “I’m going to give you the privilege of producing others in the image of God.” Now in Christ, we not only have physical children to produce the image of God, we can also have spiritual children to be His image-bearers as well!

The Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20) is not a New Testament concept. Jesus is just restating what God originally said in Genesis 1: fill the earth with my glory! What a joy to help people formed in the image of God, deformed by sin, point to the true image of God in Christ and have Him transform them and fill the earth with God’s glory! How do we do that? We are called to put God’s character on display. Put His love on display. Put His power on display. Put His creativity on display. Put His justice on display. Put His holiness on display. Put His wisdom on display! And when man is reflecting God’s image and filling the earth with God’s character, he is finally alive. Author Ben Patterson says, “The church father Irenaeus put it this way: ‘The glory of God is man fully alive, and the life of man is the vision of God.’ It’s true, God is never more glorified than when a human being comes fully alive. It’s not in sunsets and oceans. It’s not in mountain grandeur and stellar blaze. It’s in people.”[18] Life is what makes you come alive. Thus, Paul says Christ is our life! (Col. 3:4). Does Jesus make us come alive?

We are called to reflect His image by representing Him in the world He has given us. God is the owner of it all, the giving Father (notice, “I give you” in Gen. 1:29) we see in Gen. 1. We are the stewards of it all, called to subdue and fill the world with who God is. Male and females are “image-bearers who both are responsible for governing the world.”[19] But why don’t we do that? We don’t do it because the image of God is broken in us. It is a shattered image. So you know what happens instead?

But look over at Gen. 3:16. After the Fall, one commentator says, “Far from being a reign of co-equals over the remainder of God’s creation, the relationship now becomes a fierce dispute, with each party trying to rule the other. The two who once reigned as one attempt to rule each other.”[20] Instead of running around the world to rule it for God and fill the earth with His glory, we are too busy trying to rule each other. 

Really, when we do that, we are trampling on the image of God. Look at James 3:9. James says that with our tongue, i.e. “from the same mouth,” blessing and cursing comes out toward others, “who are made in the likeness of God.” James says the biting words that come out of us toward others is actually trampling on something what God has called sacred. We trample on the image of God when people verbally, physically and sexually abuse people, whether it be the slow driver on the road, your children, your spouse, your sibling, relative, stranger or your friend. We trample on the image of God in children and old people. We hate. We tear down people. We are appalled at the homeless person and lock our car doors if they are walking by. We walk away from the mentally and/or physically challenged. We trample on people when we lust after them. So we have child prostitution. We have genocide and war. We have gang violence. We have rape, terrorism, slavery, segregation and apartheid. We have domestic violence. We have crusades. But even when we gossip, slander and backbite each other, we are really doing is trampling on the image of God. Some of us have been trampled on by others and some of us have trampled others. So the image of God is broken. It is a shattered image.

Let me bring this home. I was about to park my car at a strip mall the other day when I noticed that someone was leaving. Actually, it was two older gentlemen, probably our grandparents’ age. And it took a while for them. And immediately I thought, “Man, c’mon grandpa. These old people take forever!” What am I doing? Trampling on the image of God. If I truly believed and practiced what it means to have the image of God, would I have such an attitude? But when we treat people with a sacredness and concern it is worship to God, because it puts God on display. So how can we ever have a “get lost” attitude around people?

I see it in me and I want to repent of this. Guess what? Look at how some of us may treat unbelievers? I realize in my own heart, so often, I dismiss them immediately thinking, “You don’t have anything really worth to share. You are dead in your sins and blind to the gospel. I am going to listen to you, but just so I can preach the gospel to you.” There is no sense of sacredness that despite the fact that they don’t know Christ, they are still created in the image of God so they have some wisdom, courage, creativity, knowledge and skill. They are depraved, but they also possess dignity right? So can I learn from them? Absolutely! I should treat them and everyone with sacredness. How much more believers, bought by the blood and now called the beloved bride of Christ? Would our church change if we truly believed all are created in the image of God? Would your family life change? Would our marriages change? Would our work change? Would our relationship with spouses, children, co-workers, fellow students, clients, patients, neighbors, etc. change?


Well, let’s bring this always back to the gospel. Paul writes of Christ, “the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15). When we, along with Adam, deformed the image of God, Christ came as the exact reflection and representation of God. He truly made the invisible God visible. He is the image of God par excellence. Where Adam and Eve failed, Christ succeeded. And Christ got that blessing, the benediction of God (Matt. 3:17). But what did we do when He came to reflect God’s image perfectly for us and fill the earth with Himself? We crushed the perfect image of God, like a rose trampled on the ground, as the song says.

We trampled on Him and killed Him. When He took our sin, He was deformed. But three days later, like a kernel of wheat which dies, yet lives and bears much fruit (John 12:24), Christ rose again! And now we can look at Him again. We, like mirrors, though we have shattered the image of God in us, trampled on Christ and others, us, even us, can face God again and He can shine on us and reform and transform us in Christ! Paul says we can “put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph. 4:24) and again in Col. 3:10: “put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge, after the image of its creator.” And one day, we will rule with Him again! One day, everything will be put under His dominion (Heb. 2:5-8) and we will reign with Him, perfectly reflecting His image and filling the earth and eventually the new heavens and the new earth with His glory! As Glenn Stanton says, “We serve a God who created our humanity, weeps at the fall of our humanity, became our humanity, and is redeeming our humanity.”[21]

As we close, let’s think of some questions for application. What is the Lord saying to you? Maybe you are restless, confused and lacking fulfillment. Have you been turning your face to other things? Created things? Have you been reflecting God’s image? You can try to do it on your own, but you have no light on your own. You need to simply face the source. Turn to Him. Let Him shine on you. Yes even as deformed as we are. Even as tramplers of God’s image as we are. As you see Christ trampled for you, you can be bold and humble at the same time. How is your self-image in light of what we talked about? Maybe we have been trampling others with our words or thoughts? Let’s repent of these things as we turn our face to Him again this morning.


[1]As quoted in accessed 26 August 2011. 

[2]Mathews, K. A. (2001). Vol. 1A: Genesis 1-11:26 (electronic ed.). Logos Library System; The New American Commentary (160). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

[3]Schaeffer, F. A. (1996). The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer: A Christian Worldview. Westchester, Ill.: Crossway Books.

[4]Biblical Studies Press. (2006; 2006). The NET Bible First Edition; Bible. English. NET Bible.; The NET Bible. Biblical Studies Press.

[5]Ross, A. P. (1998). Creation and Blessing: A Guide to the Study and Exposition of Genesis (112). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

[6]Hughes, R. K. (2004). Genesis: Beginning and Blessing. Preaching the Word (36–37). Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books.

[7]Lewis, C.S. (1975, 1980). The Weight of Glory (39). New York, NY: Touchtone.

[8]As quoted in accessed 26 August 2011.

[9]As quoted by Jon Meachem, “From Jesus to Christ,” accessed 27 August 2011. 

[10]As quoted by Lee Eclov in accessed 26 August 2011. 

[11]Taken from “Most Popular Confessions,” accessed 27 August 2011.

[12]Hughes, R. K. (2006). 2 Corinthians : Power in Weakness. Preaching the Word (80). Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books.

[13]As quoted by Feinberg, C. “The Image of God.” Vol. 129: Bibliotheca Sacra Volume 129. 1972 (515) (243). Dallas, TX: Dallas Theological Seminary.

[14]Atkinson, David (1990). The Message of Genesis 1-11 (39). Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press. 

[15]Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (52). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[16]Adapted from accessed 26 August 2011.

[17]Wenham, G. J. (2002). Vol. 1: Word Biblical Commentary: Genesis 1-15. Word Biblical Commentary (33). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.

[18]Patterson, B., & Goetz, D. L. (1999). Vol. 7: Deepening your Conversation with God. The Pastor's Soul Series; Library of Leadership Development (87). Minneapolis, Minn.: Bethany House Publishers.

[19]Mathews, K. A. (173).

[20]Hamilton, V. P. (1990). The Book of Genesis. Chapters 1-17. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (202). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[21]Stanton, Glenn. “The Conservative Humanist,” posted in Christianity Today, April 2006 ed. /accessed 26 August 2011.

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