Previous article in this series: December 15, 2010, p. 136.
Only God’s children bear His image. All others bear the image of their father, the devil. That this is so comes out more clearly when we consider what it means to bear God’s image.
To bear God’s image is to know God personally and to be righteous and holy. Those who bear God’s image know Him and are like Him. They are righteous and holy, shining forth the glory of the God who created them in Christ.
But how do we know that this is what it means to bear God’s image? We know this from the passages of Scripture that speak of what characterizes us in the new man. It is in the new man that believers bear God’s image. In our old man we are like the devil. It is in the new man that we are like God. So, not surprisingly, it is the passages that speak of what we are like in the new man that we find a description of the image of God.
One who bears God’s image is righteous and holy
One passage that describes those who bear God’s image is Ephesians 4:24, which reads:
And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.
Here we are told that to bear God’s image is to be righteous and holy. That, of course, should not surprise us. God is righteous and holy. Therefore one who bears God’s image must also be righteous and holy.
But if that is the case, then obviously the unregenerate do not bear God’s image. An unbeliever is not righteous and holy. He is unrighteous and unholy. So how could an unrighteous and unholy person be said to bear the image of the righteous and holy God? Such a person is not like God. He is like the devil, whose image he bears.
One who bears God’s image knows God
A second passage on the new man is Colossians 3:10. In this passage we see that to bear God’s image is to know God personally:
And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him.
In the new man we are “renewed in knowledge” after God’s image. That means that in the new man we know God, love Him, and long to enjoy more intimate fellowship with Him.
This serves to bring out again that only God’s children bear His image. The unbeliever does not know and love God. He knows things about God, but He does not know God personally. It is only the regenerated believer who in the new man knows God, and longs to have fellowship with Him.
Our creedal position on the image of God
That this is the Reformed position on the image of God is brought out in question six of the Heidelberg Catechism, which says that:
God created man good, and after His own image, in true righteousness and holiness, that he might rightly know God his Creator, heartily love Him, and live with Him in eternal happiness to glorify and praise Him.
The catechism in describing the image of God bases its description on the passages that we have quoted, and says that it consists of being righteous and holy, and of rightly knowing God our Creator.
Note that this answer also states the relationship between being righteous and holy and knowing God. Only the righteous and holy will know God. A wicked person cannot possibly know and have fellowship with the holy God. When man fell into sin, he was removed from the fellowship of God. So likewise all those today who are walking in sin are unable to commune with God.
In Christ, however, we have obtained a righteousness and holiness that we can never lose. Forever we shall be righteous and holy, and forever we shall know Jehovah to be our Father, and “will live with Him in eternal happiness to glorify and praise Him.”