The later Homer Hoeksema was professor of Dogmatics and Old Testament in the Protestant Reformed Seminary.

God’s Creation of Man (3): Created in God’s Image

Adam, if we may phrase it in this way, must have had the surprise of his life on the sixth day of creation-week when he first opened his eyes upon the wonders of God’s handiwork.

What we are trying to emphasize is that Adam’s experience, as he came from the hand of his Creator, was unique. There is nothing that lies within the scope of our earthly experience to which it may be compared. Perhaps we may think of that first moment of Adam’s life in terms of another moment of which the Scriptures speak, when, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump, the dead shall be raised and the then living believers shall be changed from mortality to immortality, from corruption into incorruption, in order consciously to inherit the kingdom of God in its full perfection. But also that last moment lies beyond our present experience. It shall undoubtedly be even more full of wonderment than the first moment for Adam.

Imagine, in as far as that is possible, that Adam came suddenly into being, formed by God’s almighty power. Imagine that in a flash the Lord turned on the light of Adam’s consciousness, so that he might behold all the wonders of creation. Imagine, too, that when he first opened his eyes upon his surroundings, he did so with such a clear perception and penetrating understanding that he was able to see the lights of God’s countenance. Imagine, moreover, that the first man was surrounded by God’s handiwork in its pristine beauty, as it was unspoiled by sin and the curse. Imagine that all creation spoke to him, whether with silent or with audible voice, of the knowledge and wisdom and glory of the Creator. Then you can also imagine, in as far as that is possible, that the very first act of our first father must have been an act of worship and that, prostrating himself in the dust whence he was taken, he must have cried out, “My God, how great and good Thou art!”

What we have just now stated stands in unbreakable connection with the truth that God made man in His image and after His likeness. It is precisely at this point, once again, that the truth of creation and the lie of evolution come to the parting, of the ways. Evolution, whether it be atheistic or allegedly theistic, cannot arrive at man, the creature made in God’s image, no matter how many stages of development from animal to Adam you allow it and no matter how many millions of years you permit it to extend the process of development. From a biological point of view, indeed, but even more emphatically from the point of view of the image of God in man, there is a chasm which evolution cannot bridge. This chasm can only be explained from creation. According to that creation-faith, man’s earliest state was not that of a naked and uncivilized savage, from which he struggled upward step by step to the present level of civilization. Nor must we conceive of man’s first condition as being like that of an infant, whose mind is still a blank, whose moral consciousness is undeveloped, and whose conscious contact with his surroundings is a matter of growth and development. But Adam as he came from the hand of his Creator was the perfect man, endowed with the perfections of the image of God, standing instantaneously in the bright light of the full consciousness of his relation to the world about him and to God above him.

Directly, this truth concerning man’s creation is taught us in Genesis 1:26, 27: “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.” By the terms “image” and “likeness” Scripture here refers fundamentally to the same truth. These two terms do not refer to two different parts of man, such as his visible form and his spiritual nature, but the term “likeness” is a further definition of the term “image.” God created man in His image in such a way that the image was also a likeness, so that man resembles God in a creaturely way. Just what is implied in this we shall discuss later.

Let us now note also that the truth concerning man being made in God’s image is not based merely on this one text from Genesis 1. In the first place, this is one of those underlying truths which is presupposed in all that the Bible teaches us concerning man. Always in the Scriptures man is presented as a creature capable of being addressed by God, as a creature who can hear and understand God’s Word, as a creature adapted to have fellowship with God, to live in God’s house, to know and to do the will of God, to be God’s friend-servant, and to love the Lord his God with all his heart and mind and soul and strength. God deals with man as such a creature in Paradise. All this implies that close affinity between God and man which presupposes the image of God as its basis in man. For fellowship can exist only on the basis of likeness. Even in his fallen state, in which man no longer possesses the image of God, he remains a creature who in his creaturely nature is adapted to be the bearer of that image, and reveals such vestiges of that original image which he once possessed that plainly testify that he ought to know God rightly, love Him, and serve Him with all his heart and mind and soul and strength.

Moreover, the Scriptures plainly present man’s redemption and salvation as consisting in the restoration of the image of God, and the elevation of that image to its highest possible level. This is the implication of Romans 8:29: “For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren.” The words of Ephesians 4:24 plainly speak of this restoration of the image of God in believers: “And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.” In Colossians 3:9, 10 the image of God is literally mentioned as follows: “Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds; and have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him.” In I John 3:2, we read of the same restored and glorified likeness: “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it does not yet appear what we shall be; but we know that, when it shall appear, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” In a similar vein the apostle Peter speaks of our being made “partakers of the divine nature.” (II Pet. 1:4). Moreover, as often as the Scriptures speak not only of our adoption as children of God but also of our being born of God, is suggests this same idea of the image of God: when we are born of God, this implies that we are made to look like our heavenly Father. Hence, there can be no doubt but that the Scriptures throughout teach this truth of man’s creation after the image of God.

It is in the light of these same passages of Holy Write that we must answer this question: what is the meaning of the image of God? What is the content of it? In what sense may it be said that man was created to resemble God?In the first place, we must remember that this cannot mean that man was essentially like God. There is only one of whom it can be said that He is the image of the invisible God, and that is the Son of God Himself. He indeed partakes of the divine essence. But to suggest that man was originally, or may become, like God essentially is to repeat the lie of the devil in Paradise. There remains forever an infinite chasm between the Being of God and that of man. God is God; man is never God. God is the Creator; man is a creature. God is infinite; man is finite. God is eternal; man is a creature of time. God is the unchangeable and sovereign I AM; man is changeable and dependent in all his existence. It is exactly a key element in the marvel of God’s covenant that the infinite and eternal and sovereign I AM would take up a little creature of His hand into the life of His friendship.

In the second place, we must not try to answer the question concerning the content of the image of God by way of philosophical reasoning. Along this line, it has been taught that the image of God in man consists in certain natural characteristics of man, such as his intelligence, his rationality and morality, his power of rational speech, along with his alleged immortality. This reasoning runs somewhat as follows. God is a Spirit; man’s soul is also spiritual. God has intelligence; man also has a rational mind. God has a moral will; man also has a moral will. God is immortal; man also, they say, has immortality. These natural attributes of man constitute the image of God in him. Others claim that these natural gifts of intelligence and reason and a moral nature constitute what they call “the image of God in the broader sense,” while man’s righteousness and holiness and knowledge of God are what they call “the image of God in the narrower sense.”

The trouble with this line of reasoning is, in the first place, that it finds no support in the Scriptures. The Scriptures plainly teach that the image of God in which man was originally created, and which is now lost, and which is restored in the believers, consists in spiritual perfection and integrity: true knowledge of God, righteousness, and holiness. Secondly, there is a danger lurking here. Usually, in connection with this explanation, it is stated that man lost the image of God in the narrower sense, but he kept the image of God in the broader sense. Right there lies the danger. For from this presentation it is but a small jump to the idea that man, having not lost the image of God altogether, has kept part of his original righteousness. In other words, he is not totally depraved.

It is more accurate, therefore, to distinguish between the image of God and the creature adapted to bear that image, between the image and the image-bearer. That man is a rational and moral being constitutes him as the bearer of God’s image. It requires a being with intelligence and will to reflect the virtues of the knowledge of God, of righteousness, and holiness. Man’s rational, moral nature belongs, therefore, to his being the image-bearer. This, man never loses. Whether in the state of righteousness in Paradise, or in the fallen state, or in the redeemed state in Christ Jesus, man always remains a rational, moral being, a creature with intelligence and will, a creature who, as far as his nature as such is concerned, is image-bearer, that is, adapted to bear the image of God, and a creature who ought to reflect the virtues of God. Of this, man cannot possibly rid himself. For this reason also he can never shed his responsibility, or accountability. He can and does lose the image of God, even to such an extent that the natural man reflects not the image of God but the image of his father, the devil. For as the Lord says to the unbelieving Jews in John 8:44, “Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do.”

But while the image of God is wholly corrupted in him, perverted into its very opposite, so that he loves the lie, unrighteousness, and corruption, and is become the enemy of God, he always remains a responsible and responding creature, with intelligence and will. But the image of God itself consists in the true knowledge of God, righteousness, and holiness. It is man’s original integrity. Man could rightly know God with the spiritual knowledge of love. That knowledge consisted of his constant and clear apprehension of the revelation of God in the things that are made, in the hearing of the Word of God, and of his tasting of the lovingkindness of God which is better than life. His righteousness was not an imputed righteousness, as is the righteousness by faith in Christ; nor was it an acquired righteousness, established by works of the law; but it was that concreated integrity of his will and his whole nature according to which from the instant of his creation it was his meat to do the will of God. Man’s holiness was not the result of a constant battle of sanctification, but it was that increated virtue of his whole nature according to which he longed and thirsted for the living God and consecrated himself to his maker. To know the living God in love, to thirst for Him as the hart panteth after water-brooks, to taste that He is good, to know His will and to be in full agreement with it in his inmost heart and in all his thinking and willing and longing, to be consecrated to the living God with all that he is and possesses in perfect devotion—these spiritual perfections constitute the image of God in man. Thus, Adam was made. From his very first breath he stood in conscious relation to God and to all things, and he tasted the goodness of God’s house and was filled with the pleasures there are in God’s right hand.

This, moreover, was life for man. Life in the true sense of the word, for man who is made after the image of God, is not simply to eat and to drink and to be merry, like the beasts that perish. But it is to live in intimate fellowship with the Fountain of all good, to walk with Him and to talk with Him, to taste His blessed favor, to delight in the doing of His will, to serve and to love Him with all our heart and mind and soul and strength. Death is the very opposite of this. Life is not in mere bread, in mere things, but in the favor of God; death is in the wrath of God.

Finally, we must remember that Adam possessed the image of God in such a way that he could and did lose that image and in such a way that he could pervert that image of God into its very opposite. Herein, from the point of view of his constitution, lies the possibility of the fall. Moreover, we must remember that this was not accidental. Man was created in this way with a view to the revelation of the wonder of grace in Christ. For, presently, Adam must fall in order to give way to Christ and in order to make room for the entire history of sin and grace. For it was God’s purpose to raise that image of God in man to the higher and heavenly level according to which as sons of God we shall be conformed perfectly to the image of His Son, that He may be the Firstborn among many brethren.