The Creation and Fall of Man (3): Man’s Darkened Understanding and Dead Will

Previous article in this series: January 1, 2011, p. 155.

It is a common teaching that all human beings bear the image of God. Scripture, however, says that to bear God’s image is to be righteous and holy, and to know God as your friend. It ought to be clear that such can be said only of the regenerated believer, who in the new man is God’s child and bears His image. So how do people attempt to defend the position that all human beings bear God’s image? What method do they commonly use?

The erroneous “broader-narrower” distinction

One way by which many try to defend this position is by inventing a distinction between the image of God in the broader sense and in the narrower sense. Being righteous and holy and having a true knowledge of God is said by them to refer to the image of God in the narrower sense. Then they argue that the image of God can also be referred to in a broader sense. It is, they maintain, in this broader sense that every human being bears the image of God.

When asked what this broader sense is, many will refer to the fact that all human beings have a will and the ability to understand rational speech. Yet nowhere in Scripture does it say that merely having a will and an understanding means that you bear the image of God. To bear God’s image, your will has to be alive, and your understanding must be enlightened.

Is the understanding darkened or enlightened? 

A child of God has what is called a true knowledge of God. That means he knows God personally and loves Him in his heart. In theCanons of Dordt we confess that Adam, as a child of God, had an understanding that was adorned with this true knowledge of God: “Man was originally formed after the image of God. His understanding was adorned with a true and saving knowledge of his creator and of spiritual things” (Canons 3/4, 1).

But after man fell into sin, the nature of man was different. Now the understanding of an unbeliever lacks this knowledge of God. An unbeliever’s understanding is not enlightened, but darkened: “Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart” (Eph. 4:18). An understanding not adorned with the light of a true and saving knowledge of God is a darkenedunderstanding.

Even unbelievers have a mind capable of understanding rational speech. That itself does not determine whether a person bears the image of God. The determining factor is whether a person has an understanding that is darkened or an understanding that is enlightened. The devil, for example, has a darkened understanding. So a human being with a darkened understanding is like the devil, bearing his image. Only one with an enlightened understanding bears the image of the living God.

Is the will dead or alive?

Now let us turn to consider man’s will. When God regenerates a person, the will of that person is changed: “He opens the closed and softens the hardened heart, and circumcises that which was uncircumcised, infuses new qualities into the will, which, though heretofore dead, He quickens” (Canons 3/4, 11). Before a person is regenerated, his heart is dead. And if his heart is dead, his will is dead. It is dead in sin, which means that it always chooses that which is evil.

So although every human being has a will, some have a will that is alive, and others have a will that is dead. The devil has a dead will, which always chooses that which is evil. So anyone with a dead, sin-enslaved will bears the image of the devil. Only one who has a will that is alive—a will that chooses that which is good—can be said to bear the image of God.

In other words, man really did die when he fell into sin. He died and lost the image of God that he once bore. Only those in Christ, who have a living will and an enlightened understanding, bear the image of God today.