Foundational Principles (9): Bearing the Father’s Image

Previous article in this series: February 15, 2017, p. 230.

It is commonly taught that all human beings bear the image of God. Yet that would mean that man by nature is like God, which Scripture says he is not. Man certainly was like God when the Almighty created him. But he became like the devil when he listened to him.

The ones who bear God’s image are those who are in God’s Image. Christ is the Image of God, and only those who are in Him are like Him, and thus like God. Although these imagebearers have an evil nature, God is the Father of their spirit, and in their spirit they look like their Father.

God’s Children Bear His Image

The triune God has fellowship within Himself. He did not need to create in order to have friends. Yet He chose to form a creature with whom He would have fel lowship. Before He created him, He spoke within Himself and said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” (Gen. 1:26a). The two phrases “in our image” and “after our likeness” are parallel, indicating that God’s image is also a likeness. To bear God’s image is to be like Him, and only one who is like God can rightly know Him and commune with Him.

So to bear God’s image is to be like Him. Reading on in Genesis, we see that it is God’s children who bear His image. In chapter five we find the same words image and likeness, but this time the passage is speaking about Adam begetting a son: “And Adam lived an hundred and thirty years, and begat a son in his own likeness, after his image; and called his name Seth” (Gen. 5:3). God’s son bore God’s image and Adam’s son bore Adam’s image. Seth looked like Adam, and Adam before the Fall looked like God.

This is a fundamental principle: God’s children are the ones who bear their Father’s image. We see an illustration of this principle frequently. Every time we notice that children look like their parents we are seeing an earthly illustration of this heavenly reality.

Unbelievers Bear Their Father’s Image

God told Adam that he would die on the very day that he ate of the fruit that was forbidden. He would become separated from God if he rejected what God said. Then he would cease to be like God. Instead, he would be like the devil, delighting to do what is evil: “He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning” (I John. 3:8a). Man by nature is said to be “of the devil.” He has been that way ever since Adam sinned.

It is true, of course, that some people repent and believe in Christ. But the reason why they do is that God has regenerated them. In their spirit these people have been born of God and bear God’s image. But the others are like the devil, and are said to be the devil’s children.

There are two groups of people who differ according to who their father is. God’s children do what God says, and the devil’s children do what the devil says: “In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother” (I John 3:10). This passage speaks of a contrast not only between good and evil actions, but also between good and evil people. Some are God’s children and imitate Him by doing what is righteous. The others are children of the devil and do the same evil deeds that the devil does.

Jesus spoke of this when talking to some unbelieving Jews about who their father is. These Jews were claiming that Abraham was their father. Jesus responded that they clearly were not children of Abraham seeing as they were not like Abraham at all. Abraham believed in the coming Christ, but these Jews hated Christ and wanted to kill Him. Then Jesus said “ye do the deeds of your father,” without saying explicitly who their father was. After that the conversation went like this:

Then said they to him, We be not born of fornication; we have one Father, even God. Jesus said unto them, If God were your Father, ye would love me: for I proceeded forth and came from God; neither came I of myself, but he sent me. Why do ye not understand my speech? even because ye cannot hear my word. Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it (John 8:39-44).

The devil’s children bear his image and do what he does. Only those who are born from above bear God’s image and strive to do what He does.

Bearing God’s Image in the New Man

So if we believers are God’s children and bear His image, why do we still sin? Scripture tells us that we have what is called an old man and a new man. Our old man is our sinful nature, and in that old man we are like the devil and delight to do what God has forbidden. But God has given us a new spiritual heart, and in that heart we trust in God and submit to what He tells us:

A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them (Ezek. 36:26-27).

We who have a new heart are said to have a new man, and it is in this new man that God is our Father. Of great importance it is to understand that we bear God’s image and imitate Him not in the old man but in the new.

A couple of parallel passages in the New Testament make clear that it is in the new man that we bear God’s image. The first one says that God created us in the new man: “And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness” (Eph. 4:24). We who have a new heart are said to have a new man and to have become new creatures (II Cor. 5:17). In our new man we have been created good, we are righteous and holy just as our Creator is righteous and holy.

The second passage says explicitly that it is when God formed us in the new man that He created us in His image: “And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him” (Col. 3:10). We know and love God only because God created us after His image. Before we were like the devil and hated God. But now in the new man we know Him, love Him, and desire to do what pleases Him.

So if we are like God only in the new man, it follows that God’s image is borne only by those who have a new man. To teach the opposite and to say that all human beings bear God’s image is to say that man’s sinful nature is like God. Those outside of Christ only have a sinful nature. They do not have the new man. So if they bear God’s image, that would mean that man in his sinful nature looks like God. Such is the clear implication of that position.

The comforting truth is that we see what God is like when we look not at sinful man, but at Christ. God’s only begotten Son, He is the Image of God. By God’s grace we have been joined to Christ. We look like Him and thus like God. As we consider what our Father does and think on what He has made us to be, we delight to imitate Him. May we shine forth His glory, letting others see by our confession and walk that we truly are His children.