Sermon: Man Made In God’s Image, Not God Made In Man’s: Genesis 1:26-27

Old Testament Reading: Genesis 1:26-27

“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’ So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:26–27, ESV)

New Testament Reading: Colossians 1:1–17

“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, To the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae: Grace to you and peace from God our Father. We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and increasing—as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth, just as you learned it from Epaphras our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf and has made known to us your love in the Spirit. And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy; giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” (Colossians 1:1–17, ESV)


I stumbled across a news article the other day which reminded me of how much confusion exists within our society, and even amongst those who claim to be Christians, concerning basic biblical doctrines, such as the doctrine of God and the doctrine of man. 

The title of the article was, “What Does God Look Like? Liberals and Conservatives Have Different Views, NC Study Finds” (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill). Attached to  the article was a sketch of the face of a man. This was the “composite mugshot…” “created from the… responses” of the 551 people who were asked what they thought God looked like. Now keep in mind, all 551 of those included in the study claimed to be “Christians”. Some identified as “liberal”, and others “conservative”. 

The point of the article was to say to that “liberals and conservatives see God differently…a lot differently” (I could have told them that). Also, they found that our view of God is impacted by race, gender and socioeconomic status (this too is not surprising).  

Now my concern with the results of this study was not that the composite mugshot created from the responses of those interviewed was something other than what I though it should be, but that any Christian would describe God in such a way that a “mugshot” could be drawn at all, for God is a most pure spirit. He does not have a body. He is not composed of parts. Even a most basic understanding of what the scripture say concerning God would lead one to say, “I cannot describe God’s appearance, for he is invisible. He is not made up of matter as we are, but is something like the angels, who are spirits, or the soul of man, which, though real, cannot be described so as to draw a picture of it.” Draw a picture of a soul, friend! Can you do it? Neither can a picture of God be drawn, for God is not composed of mater. He is spirit. 

To be fair, the study did not say how many Christians replied correctly to the question, what does God look like?, by saying, God is invisible, a most pure spirit, without, body, parts, or passions. It very well may be that 10,000 Christians were asked this question and 9,449 gave a good reply. But it is still troubling that 551 who name the name of Christ would describe God in such a way that a sketch could be drawn of him.

The article did also acknowledge that some verses in scripture indicate that God is a spirit, and does not, therefore, look like a man at all. John 4:24 was cited where Christ himself says, “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24, ESV). But right along side that the article insinuated that the scriptures also teach that God looks like a man. And what text do you think they appealed to? Genesis 1:27 was cited, which says, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27, ESV).

This is a common misconception, I think. When people read, “So God created man in his own image…” they mistakenly interpret it to mean that God himself has an image, and as if man were made to look like God. In fact, what the text says is that man is the image of God. It is man that is image, not God. God is spirit. He does not have a body. He does not have a visible appearance. But God, when he made man, male and female, he made them to image himself. Man was created by God in such a way that something of the invisible God might be known from looking upon man. Indeed, this is, in some respects, true of all creation. But it is particularly and supremely true of man – man, made by God as male and female, is alone called “the image of God”. 

I wish to linger here in this passage and on this subject for two or three weeks to ensure that we have a firm grasp on what the scripture mean when they say that man was made in God’s image. There is much confusion on this subject. There is confession within our culture, and also within the church. Brothers and sisters, this is a foundational doctrine. If we get this doctrine wrong, it will have a negative effect upon many other doctrines.

Today I will make some general observations concerning man being made in the image of God.

God is Spirit

First of all, let us say something, not about man, but about God. God is not a man; he is God. He is not human; he is divine. God does not have a body, but is most pure spirit. He is invisible. 

Jesus said it in a most plain way when he said, “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24, ESV). There you have it! But Jesus’ statement concerning the spiritual nature of God was not made out of the blue, but was something known from the creation of the world, a truth preserved and promoted by fathers and by the Jewish people who descended from them. 

The second of the ten commandments forbids idolatry when it says, “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth” (Deuteronomy 5:8, ESV). The foundation for the prohibition against the making of an image to represent God is that God himself does not have an image, but is invisible. Listen to Deuteronomy 4:15-19, which comes before the listing of the ten commandments. Moses spoke to Israel saying, 

“Therefore watch yourselves very carefully. Since you saw no form on the day that the Lord spoke to you at Horeb out of the midst of the fire, beware lest you act corruptly by making a carved image for yourselves, in the form of any figure, the likeness of male or female, the likeness of any animal that is on the earth, the likeness of any winged bird that flies in the air, the likeness of anything that creeps on the ground, the likeness of any fish that is in the water under the earth. And beware lest you raise your eyes to heaven, and when you see the sun and the moon and the stars, all the host of heaven, you be drawn away and bow down to them and serve them, things that the Lord your God has allotted to all the peoples under the whole heaven.” (Deuteronomy 4:15–19, ESV)

Did you hear it? The reason the Israelites were forbidden from making images to represent God was that they did not see a “form” when God spoke to them “at Horeb”. The Israelites were to understand that God, in his essence, is formless. True, God made man to image him. And true, God made the world in such a way that the created world reveals something of the God who made it. These vestiges of God in the created world are a gift from God – in them God condescends to us to reveal himself to us. But how wrong it is to forget the distinction that exists between Creator and creature and to approach these created things as if they were divine. And how wrong it is to think that these created things are somehow to be identified with God, as if God were in fact composed of these things are looked like these things essentially. God reveled himself in the fire at Horeb, but God is not fire, friends. At other times he revealed himself in wind, but God is not wind. Indeed, God reveals himself in all of creation, but let let us not confusing God with creation in assuming that the two are one. Supremely, the invisible God reveals himself in man, who was made in the image of God. But let us not think that God is man, nor that he has the appearance of a man. God is spirit. 

How then are we to understand those passages of scripture that speak of God as if he had a body? The language is anthropomorphic. Human features are applied to God, not because he actually possess those features – a face, an arm, a hand – but so that we might understand something true about God. To understand the truth we must strip away that which is human and allow to remain the principle which is rightly being attributed to God. For example, the words of the Psalmist are beautiful when he speaks of God, saying, “You have a mighty arm; strong is your hand, high your right hand” (Psalm 89:13, ESV). Indeed our God is powerful! Indeed he is to be trusted! But all should understand that he does not in fact have arms or hands. 

Do you see, brothers and sisters, how God condescend to us. He reveals himself in lowly ways so that we might lay ahold of him. He reveals himself in the media of creation so that we might perceive him. He shows forth is power in the earthquake and in the whirlwind. His holiness and justice is seen in the fire. Indeed, his fingerprints, as it we, are scattered all about in this created world. But let us not confuse the Creator with his creation. Let us not identify the one with the other. Instead, let us appreciate the vestiges of God in creation. Let us give thanks to him that, though a great distance exists between he and us – though he be transcendent, high and lifted up and beyond our comprehension – he has come down to us – he has made himself known in and through his creation and by his word. 

When the scriptures say that God made man in his image it is not to communicate that God has a form own an image, but that man was made to be the image of the invisible God.   

The Whole of Man is the Image of the Whole of God

Secondly, it must be affirmed that the whole of man is the image of the whole of God. 

When I say that the man is the image of the whole of God I mean that man images the Triune God, and not a particular person within the Godhead. Some have claimed that man was made in the image only of the second person of the Trinity. Others have claimed that man was made in the image of Christ. But neither of these views find support in scripture. Man is the image of the whole Triune God, Father, Son and Spirit. 

When I say that the whole of man is the image of God I am saying that we must fight the impulse to equate the image of God with some particular aspect of man. Some claim that the image is found in the intellect of man, others the moral capacity of man, and others the relational capabilities of man. Some have identified the soul of man as the image of God, to the exclusion of the body. But any attempt to reduce the image and to strictly identify it with one particular aspect of man will be found wanting. No, man in his entirety – man as a whole person, body and soul, is the image bearer of God.   

Whereas God is simple, without body and without parts, man is complex. Man is composed of parts. And these parts do together make constitute man made in the image of God. Let us briefly consider the various ways in which the parts of man image God. 

1. Man is a soul. There is a part of man that is non-material and invisible. Man, in this respect, can be compared to the angels who are in heaven. The angels are spirit and man has a soul or spirit. Man shares this in common with God, then. Just as God is spirit so too man is spirit or soul. The personhood of man is situate in the soul. When the body goes into the grave, the soul goes on living, and the person remains. By this we can under something of God who, although invisible, is a true and living person. 

2. Let is also consider the faculties that man possess. Man has a heart, a mind and a will. The heart in the scriptures refers to the center of man’s life. It is the center of man’s emotions and passions, desire and will. The heart of man effects the mind of man – his thinking. The heart and mind of man drive the will of man – what motivated man to do what he does. The scriptures speak often of the importance of keeping the heart holy and pure, of thinking thoughts that are true, so that we might will and do that which is right before God. Man possesses a heart, mind and will. Saint Augustine saw in this an image of the Triune God. Just as the heart, mind and will of man can be distinguished from one another and yet are inextricable bound up together in the person, so too the Father, Word and Spirit can be distinguished, and yet they are one God. The Father can be compared to the heart, who enlivens the mind (the Son), who in turn enlivens the will (the Spirit). It seems to me that there is some truth in this. 

3. Man when he was originally created was endowed with the virtues of knowledge, righteousness and holiness. Bavinck points that man was created “physically and ethically mature”. Adam and Eve were created physically mature as full grown adults. Ethically they were mature in that they possessed true knowledge, righteousness and holiness. This corresponds to what has just been said concerning the faculties of man. Man, as he and she came from the hand of God, possessed true knowledge in the mind, true righteousness in the will,  and true holiness in the heart.  They knew God and themselves truly. The they were able to will that which was right, and they hearts were upright, pure and holy. In this way the first man and woman imaged God. 

4. It would be a mistake to assume that the body of man is unrelated to the image of God. We have already established that man was not made to look like God. But he was made to image him! It is through the body that man’s faculties are exercised. It was through the body that the first man and woman were to live according to their true knowledge, righteousness and holiness. Man’s was made to dwell on earth. He was to have dominion upon the earth. He was to serve God in this world, advancing his kingdom here and promoting his worship here. This he was to do in body. Man is a whole person only when he is body and soul. The soulish existence that the saints who have departed from this world is indeed a blessed existence, but it is not ideal. Man was created by God body and soul. This is how the redeemed will live for all eternity after Christ returns – body and soul will be reunited for all eternity. The body of man is also in the image of God, therefore. It is not that God looks like man, but that man was made to represent and image God on earth through the body that which God prepared for him at creation. 

5. Consider that man’s capacity to enjoy God in paradise was greater than any other creature that God had made. Man was made to dwell on earth given his physical features. He was also made to commune with the God of heaven by his spirit or soul. No other creature enjoys a privilege like this. The angels in heaven are spiritual and heavenly beings. The animals of the earth do not have souls. But man, made in the image of God has the ability to dwell upon the earth and to relate to his God in heaven.  Not long from now we will see that God entered into a covenant with the man that he made in his image. Man has the capacity to relate to the God who made him.

Do you see that the whole of man is the image of the whole of God?

The Image of God and the Fall 

Thirdly, we should ask the question, was the image of God lost when man fell from his state of innocency and into sin?  

The answer is both yes and no.  

Image lost at the fall? (Bavink 554 substance, quality) Bavink 551 blind man sight, sick man health), lame man  

Broadly considered we must confess that man retains the image of God even after his fall into sin.

Genesis 9:6 can be held forth as a proof of this. Capital punishment is put forth as the just consequence for murder on the basis of man being the image of God. “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image” (Genesis 9:6, ESV).

James 3:9 can also be put forth. Here James, speaking of the power of the tongue, says, “With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God” (James 3:9, ESV). The words “likeness” and “image” are nearly synonymous both in Genes 1:26-27 and as they are used throughout scripture. James says that people are still the likeness of God.  

So, does the image of God remain in man after the fall? Broadly considered, the answer must be yes. Man retains the image of God substantially.  

But more narrowly considered, we must say that the image of God in man has been lost with mans fall into sin. Here we considering the image, not in terms of its substance, but in terms of the quality of it. 

Does man possess knowledge still? Yes he does! But the mind of man is now dark. He thoughts concerning God and self are not true, but he is ignorant of God and the things of God by nature. 

And what should we say of man’s righteousness? It was lost at the fall so that none is righteous, no not one. 

And what of man’s holiness? It lacking altogether. Man’s heart, far from being holy, is sick and bent towards all evil – “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9, ESV)

Substantially, man still possess the image of God, but in regard to it’s quality it is gone. A blind man may still have his eyes, but he has lost his ability to see. A lame man may still have his legs, but he has lost his ability to walk. A deaf man still has his ears, but he cannot hear. So it is with man made in the image of God. His body, his soul and his faculties remain, but they are all bent out of shape and corrupted so that they do not function as God made them to function, namely to bring glory to his most holy name. 

Christ is the Image of the Invisible God

Lastly, let us say a word about the image of God as it relates to Christ Jesus our Lord. Whereas Adam was made in the image of God, Christ is the image of God par excellence. 

Adam fell from his state of innocency, came short of the glory of God, marred and misused the image of God with which he was endowed. Christ, having been born without sin, fulfilled God’s purpose for him, lived according to true knowledge, righteousness and holiness, and entered into the glory of God. Truly Christ “is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.” (Colossians 1:15, ESV)

If you are in Adam, you bear the image of God marred by sin. It is there, but it is twisted up, distorted and bent towards evil. If you are in Christ, the image of God has been and is being renewed in you. It is one or the other! You are either in Adam or in Christ!

If you are in Christ you are “to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and… be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:21–24, ESV).

No longer are you to live in sin “seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator” (Colossians 3:9–10, ESV).

The work of Christ might be described as a rescue mission and renovation project. The eternal Son of God took on human flesh, came in the likeness of sinful man, and was, therefore, the image of the invisible God. This he did so that he might redeem fallen man. And having redeemed those given to him bu the Father, he is now renovating them after the likeness of God, after the image of our Creator.


Think of man as he is today. Can you see remnants of the image of God in him? But can you also see how he is, from birth, all bent out of shape and distorted. 

Image man (male and female) as God created him to be. Can you picture it? Men and women upright, living according to true knowledge, righteousness and holiness. What a blessed existence this would be! Men and women loving right, feeling right, thinking right, doing right in body and soul, worshipping and serving God and one another in perfection. 

Are you having trouble visualizing it? Think of Christ who is the image of the invisible God, the redeemer and restorer of the image in us.  

Do you long to be renewed? Do you long to live in a world that has been renewed? Look to Christ, the God-man, our brother, redeemer and friend. 

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