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The Image of God in Man: Do We Still Bear It?

So, God created us in His image, which points to how we are like God, but as the Bible makes clear, man sinned against God in the garden (Genesis 3).  The question that logically follows is:  how did the Fall affect the image of God?  As we begin to consider this question, three positions on this subject can be maintained—either the image was completely lost, the image was unaffected, or the image was thoroughly corrupted but not lost.

Some have taught that the image of God was completely lost.  Let us follow their teaching for a moment.  First, they begin with the presupposition that the only quality that Adam possessed which was in God’s image was the spirit of God.  Adam received this in Genesis 2:7 when God breathed into man’s nostrils and made him a living being.  They reason that this breathing was actually filling the man with God’s spirit, making him in the image of God.  However, some time thereafter man sinned, and they reason that God’s spirit (image) departed, leaving man no longer in the image of God but in the image of man.

The second position is that the fall had no affect whatsoever on the image of God.  I will not spend any time on this position because very few hold this position, primarily because Scripture is so overwhelmingly opposed to it.

The third position is that the image of God was thoroughly corrupted but not lost.  This position takes seriously the effects that sin had on humanity but also takes into account Scripture passages that explicitly teach that man was still in the image of God after the Fall.  The first verse is found in Genesis 9.  It is in this chapter that God institutes capital punishment as He gives instructions to Noah after the flood.  He says:

Surely I will require your lifeblood; from every beast I will require it. And from every man, from every man’s brother I will require the life of man.  Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God He made man.

Keep in mind that this command is after the Fall in the garden, but God says that the reason a person should be put to death if they murder another human is because man bears the image of God.  Therefore, to attack another human is to attack God.  The second verse is James 3:9.  As James teaches on the tongue, he says, “With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God.”  Although James is not directly addressing the image of God in man, he makes it clear that the tongue can be used to curse those who bear God’s image.  Therefore, the image of God has not been entirely lost.

We should have no problem excepting this mediating position when we accept the full teaching on what the image of God is—what we are, what we do, and how we relate.  Although sin has corrupted every aspect, we nevertheless still bear these shared traits with God.

However, God in His love and grace is not satisfied to leave us in that position.  He has been and is working out a plan to fully restore God’s image in man.  It’s helpful to look at God’s restoration of His image in man as four stages:

  1. Pre-Fall.  At this stage, man (only Adam and Eve at this point) perfectly bore the image of God yet they were able to die if they disobeyed God.  They were perfectly able to choose not to sin.
  2. Post-Fall.  At this stage, man (Adam, Eve, and all of humanity) bears a perverted image of God due to sin, and death ensues.  Those who are in the fallen state are slaves to sin, making them unable to not sin.
  3. Redemption.  At this stage, God—by grace through faith in Jesus Christ—breaks the power of sin over all of mankind who believe and begins restoring the image of God in them, but the image is still somewhat perverted due to the fact that we continue to sin.  At this stage, we also still die.  Nevertheless, man is restored back to the status that he enjoyed in the garden, and man is again perfectly able to choose not to sin.
  4. Glorification.  At this stage, God brings man to the culmination of his existence—to be perfectly conformed to the image of Christ.  When we reach this final stage of God’s redemptive plan, we will be made unable to sin and unable to die and will perfectly bear God’s image again.

So, do we still bear the image of God?  Absolutely!  Every man, woman, boy, and girl regardless of their faith in Christ bear the image of God.  Yes, it’s thoroughly corrupted, but every person still bears the image of God.  Furthermore, by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, the perfect image of God is being restored in all who will believe on Jesus.

In our next post, I address why the fact that all man bears the image of God matters.


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