The French philosopher Voltaire said, “If God created us in His image we have certainly returned the compliment.” As a Deist, his observations of God were off, but as a philosopher, his observations of human nature were insightful.
God did indeed create mankind in His image. Man has, sadly, marred that image, and tries to make God more like himself. What is this “image of God,” and why are we not content with it?
Theologians have struggled a bit with defining the image of God, but most conclude that it includes spiritual qualities such as rationality, morality, and freedom of choice. These are some of the attributes that distinguish us from animals, and qualify us to have dominion over the earth (Genesis 1:26). Men and women equally share these attributes, and are equally responsible for their use.
When sin entered the world through Adam and Eve’s disobedience, the resulting corruption affected not only the material creation (Genesis 3), but the spiritual nature of man as well. “[P]ut off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires” (Ephesians 4:22). Without the restraint of the pure image of God, men act like animals with no moral guidance: “[M]en speak abusively against whatever they do not understand; and what things they do understand by instinct, like unreasoning animals—these are the very things that destroy them” (Jude 1:10). Because the natural man has lost contact with God, he fills the headlines and gossip columns with godless deeds.
Listen to how the prophet Isaiah describes fallen man:
For since the beginning of the world Men have not heard nor perceived by the ear, Nor has the eye seen any God besides You, Who acts for the one who waits for Him. You meet him who rejoices and does righteousness, Who remembers You in Your ways. You are indeed angry, for we have sinned—In these ways we continue; And we need to be saved. But we are all like an unclean thing, And all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags; We all fade as a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, Have taken us away. And there is no one who calls on Your name, Who stirs himself up to take hold of You; For You have hidden Your face from us, And have consumed us because of our iniquities (Isaiah 64:4–7).
God loves to make Himself known to, and work on behalf of, those who love Him and love righteousness. However, our sins have kept us from knowing Him and loving Him for Who He is. Ever since Adam and Eve hid from Him in the garden, man has been hiding from God.
It is impossible to really hide ourselves from Him: “‘Can anyone hide in secret places so that I cannot see him?’ declares the Lord. ‘Do not I fill heaven and earth?’ declares the Lord” (Jeremiah 23:24). So, the next best thing is to try to change God so we don’t have to hide from Him. If we can put a comical Mickey Mouse mask on the One Who scares us, then we won’t feel threatened. Or, better yet, if we reduce God to a reflection of ourselves as in a mirror, we can be perfectly comfortable with Him.
If we try to remake God in our image, then He will be just like us, agreeing with what we think and do—or, better yet, maybe He will leave us alone, just as we leave Him alone. But God won’t conform to our image. Jesus said to those who said they knew God but acted contrary to His will, “Though you do not know him, I know him. If I said I did not, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and keep his word” (John 8:55). God is not changeable: “He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a man, that he should change his mind” (1 Samuel 15:29).
God is not the One Who changed; we changed and corrupted the image of God that He rejoices in and honors. We “changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things” (Romans 1:23, NKJV). And only one party is going to change to restore the image and God’s favor: us.
It is possible to regain that image, and God provided that option through Christ. It is through his sacrifice alone that our sins can be forgiven (Acts 10:43), but it doesn’t stop there. We must be renewed in His image, “to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:23, 24).
Instead of making God in our image, we need to look at Christ, “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation” (Colossians 1:15). “[God] has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation—if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel” (Colossians 1:22, 23).
Let’s let God renew His image in us, and not return the favor!
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