One concise statement in the fourteenth article of the Belgic Confession expresses volumes of truth concerning the image of God. “We believe that God created man out of the dust of the earth and made and formed him after his own image and likeness, good, righteous, and holy, capable in all things to will agreeably to the will of God.”
We have considered the implications of God having formed man out of the dust of the ground. We examine in this article the effects of God’s image upon man.
“And 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 fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them,” Gen. 1:26, 27.
These words demonstrate the close relationship between our previous article and the present one. By virtue of God’s having formed, man out of the dust of the ground, He made man able to bear His own image. God made man in His likeness to such an extent that man possessed a nature that enabled him to think, and to will, and thus to have the capacity to receive the image of God.
Image and likeness are not identical terms which breathe redundancy into the inspired record. Likeness is a further definition of image, an expanding upon the meaning. Conceivably, one may have an image which is not a likeness, e.g. a picture of a loved one who is living elsewhere. That picture is the image of the person, but hardly the likeness. In another sense, it is possible to become acquainted with another person who may be the image of a loved one, so that he looks like him very much, but also acts very much like him: he may laugh the same way, have the same gentle nature, etc. Such a one would be both image and likeness.
Thus, when God created man, He made man in His likeness. By this, Scripture indicates that man possessed a nature that enabled him to enter into fellowship with God. God possesses a mind; God made man with a mind. This does not mean that man is divine: God’s mind is entirely divine; man’s mind is entirely human (of the dust). In a creaturely way, man was able to reflect God. He could think, he could express his desires, he could enjoy creation, he could enter into friendship and express his thoughts in speech.
In addition to this, God also made man in His own image. This applies not only to the general character of man’s nature, but specifically to the spiritual content of that nature.
“And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul,” Gen. 2:7. The last part of the verse describes how God made man in His own image. What was true for the creation of man’s physical, earthly nature, applies also to the creation of his spiritual nature. The words describe in human language a divine wonder. God breathed into Adam’s nostrils the breath of life.
By this description, we are made to think in earthly ways of a great mystery. How else could we even thinkof it! God pictures before our eyes the act of physical resuscitation to demonstrate the infusion of His own spiritual nature in man. Certainly, God does not mean by this phrase, “breathed into his nostrils” the inflating of Adam’s lungs with oxygen. This is the earthly picture of a spiritual reality. Two things are immediately added, “the breath of life” and “and Adam became a living soul.” Both of these ideas, life and soul, are not to be taken in a limited earthly sense. The life that followed the inbreathing was far more than physical; it was life in the all comprehensive sense of fellowship with God. So also with the word soul, it means much more than Adam’s physical ability to breathe and live; the animal has this capacity as well, Lev. 17:14ff. Rather, man as a living soul refers to his ability to enter into conscious fellowship with the creation, not only, but with God the Creator. Paul makes mention of this in his letter to the Corinthians, “The first man Adam: was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit,” I Cor. 15:45. Adam was a living soul in relation to God; he enjoyed the blessedness of friendship with God within the context of the earthly creation. Christ however, is a quickening spirit; He is able to make the dead alive, and that, too, in perfect covenant fellowship with God beyond the limits of, the earthly life: He brings His people into the glorious presence of God in heaven.
We must ask, what really is implied in the image of God.
Our answer will lead us into controversy with the Pelagian. When God formed man in His image, He infused into the very nature of man certain qualities of goodness. It is on this point that we part company with the Pelagian who insists that there are no good qualities inherent in man’s nature, heart, mind, will, etc. just as there are now no bad qualities as a result of Adam’s sin. The only good or bad in anyone is seen in the deeds he performs, not inherent in his nature. Our Reformed fathers describe the Pelagian position in Canons II & III Rejection of errors, article 2, “The spiritual gifts, or the good qualities and virtues, such as goodness, holiness, righteousness, could not belong to the will of man, when he was first created, and that these, therefore, could not have been separated there from in the fall.” This view was rejected by the Reformed churches as unscriptural. When God created man in His image, He made man in such a way that his very nature spontaneously sought after God.
If we try to put some specific content into this idea, we might express it this way. Adam was God-conscious the moment He was created. God did not have to come to Adam to introduce Himself to Adam and tell Him that He was the Author of his life. Adam possessed this knowledge innately. He knew God existed, he understood his relationship to God, he was overjoyed with the blessedness that he could walk and talk with God in the cool of the day. This was his highest moment of bliss in the midst of God’s creation. Covenant joy with God, however was not restricted to certain moments when God condescended to the earth in a personal encounter, Gen. 3:8. His whole life was engrossed in learning and articulating the greatness of God, which surrounded him in the whole creation. The naming of the animals demonstrates Adam’s innate ability to understand God’s revelation and return to God all the glory of it.
We agree with Calvin, that the way to learn the specific content of this image of God is to read the New Testament and discover what is included in the image as it is restored to His people in Christ Jesus. “But our definition of the image seems not to be complete until it appears more clearly what the faculties are in which man excels, and in which he is to be regarded as a mirror of the divine glory. This, however, cannot be better known than from the remedy provided for the corruption of nature,” Institutes, Book I chapter 15 (4). This renewed image or “new man” is detailed in Eph. 4:23, 24, “And be renewed in the spirit of your mind; and that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.” Similarly in Col. 3:10, “And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him.”
The material content of the image of God is distinguished as threefold.
First, Adam possessed not only a mind by which he could think; God filled his mind with proper thoughts. As stated above, he was able to know God personally, to understand God’s revelation, to function as a true prophet in the midst of the house of God, Paradise, a type of heaven.
Secondly, not only did Adam possess a human will, but God created that will with the inclination to seek the good. Our fathers express it this way in the Belgic Confession, “in all things to will, agreeably to this will of God.” This is the beautiful description of Adam’s free will. Adam’s will was created by the righteous God who willed that man should express his will by doing what God willed Hence the freedom of Adam was not simply being able to do whatever he wanted to do, whether good or evil, Because he was created in the image of God, Adam was able to will agreeably to the will of God, to want what God wanted him to want. Indeed, Adam was able also to want the evil, but this constituted not an added measure to the freedom of his will, rather it formed a severe limitation upon it, viz. that it led him into the bondage of sin. We once again quote Calvin, “At first every part of the soul was formed to rectitude. There was soundness of mind and freedom of will to choose the good. If any one objects that it was placed, as it were, in a slippery position, because its power was weak, I answer, that the degree conferred was sufficient to take away every excuse. For surely the Deity could not be tied down to this condition—to make man such that he either could not or would not sin. Such a nature might have been more excellent; but to expostulate with God as if he had been bound to confer this nature on man, is more than unjust seeing He had the full right to determine how much or how little He would give.” Institutes, Book I chapter 15 (8). Adam’s righteousness was expressed in his ability to do what God told him to be right. As such, he was the perfect king, obedient unto God his Sovereign.
Thirdly, Adam not only possessed a heart, God filled his heart with good. The Bible speaks often of God’s holiness. All Israel could see the evidence of God’s holiness when Moses descended from the Mount: his face was white, Ex. 34:29. The Word exhorts us, “Be ye holy; for I am holy, I Peter 1:16. This holiness was communicated unto Adam through creation. His heart was filled with the love of God and therefore he gladly set apart his whole life unto the service of God. The image of God so permeated the depth of his spiritual being that he was a perfect priest in the tabernacle of God. Everything he possessed belonged unto God and was gladly used in the service of God. Such consecration reflected the perfect consecration that God has toward Himself as the only good. God eternally seeks His own good; He created man to serve Him in this lofty goal. Adam naturally desired this and rejoiced in it.
Little wonder that we can hardly understand the depth of such a beautiful creation. Man possessed the nature (the tools) whereby he was made able to serve God. Gladly he rendered this service as prophet, priest, and king. In this way God was glorified by His own creation.
What a perplexing contrast follows, “But being in honor he understood it not, neither knew his excellency, but willfully subjected himself to sin, and consequently to death, and the curse, giving ear to the words of the devil.”
How are the mighty fallen.
We believe he fell into the arms of Christ.
In Christ, we are renewed in that image of God and now have the privilege to serve God as prophet, priest, and king. A better day awaits us when we shall serve God in the tabernacle that is four-square.