Have you ever felt confused and frustrated by the behavior of another person? Or been confused by your own behavior? “Why did I say that?” “Why did I do that?” Understanding people—both ourselves and others—is important to our own personal growth and to our ability to impact the lives of others.

This series of Pocket Principles is designed to help us begin the process of understanding people.

We begin with several benefits that understanding people can bring us.

First, understanding people helps us to understand what motivates their behavior. When God created man, He created him incomplete, and this incompleteness drives a person to try to get his needs met. For example, one of the greatest needs all of us have is for value and worth. We see this need revealed in the ways people seek acceptance, recognition, and approval. From the child’s attention seeking to an adult’s basic insecurity, this need is evident. Driven by this need, a child will often act out to get negative attention, which is preferable to being ignored. An adult will make all kinds of sacrifices to win some positive feedback and may even demand it from others. Even if we deny our needs, we still are driven by them, and our words and actions betray us.

Second, we need to understand people so we can be sensitive to them. The more we understand people, their struggles and needs, the more we can come along side them in helpful, significant ways, communicate their “specialness” and show them their need for God and spiritual growth.

A third reason to understand people is to correct inadequate views of man. There are many wrong views of man both outside of Christianity and within. Our understanding of people must be derived from the Bible. What does God say about man? Since God created us, He knows even more about us than we do about ourselves. In the Pocket Principles that follow we will explore how God has created us, the effect of the Fall of man and the restorative ministry of Christ.

In this Pocket Principle we will begin to define and understand what it means to be made in the image of God.

Biblical Teaching about the Image of God in Man

Scripture makes many clear statements about the image of God in man. The first one is found in Genesis 1:27. “So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him, male and female He created them.”

Although it seems so, this passage is not redundant. The repetition is a Hebrew expression designed to communicate emphasis and builds to a climax. In fact, everything in the creation account builds to a climax: God creates something, steps back from it, admires it and pronounces it “good”. He does this over and over until He comes to the creation of man.

God saved the best for last. It was as if He said, “Okay, what We have done so far is pretty good, but now We need to do something that is even more spectacular. Let’s create man. We need to make him greater than everything else in all of the universe. Let’s do that by creating him in Our image. Let’s make him like Us.”
Mankind was God’s masterpiece, His high point, the climax of creation. Indeed, everything else was made for man, not God. The rest of creation was to be the place where man would dwell and live and move. Man was to rule over, maintain and develop God’s creation. Though all other parts of creation bear God’s mark and design, only man bears His image.

Often Christians don’t appreciate the unique place that God has given them. Psalm 8:3-7 puts it this way: When I consider Your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have set in place, what is man that You are mindful of him, the son of man that You care for him? You made him a little lower than “elohim” and crowned him with glory and honor. You made him ruler over the works of Your hands; You put everything under his feet: all flocks and herds, and the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, all that swim the paths of the seas. 

Christians may become too focused on the problem of sin and lose sight of the dignity of man. While it is true that all men, including those who are believers, have an ongoing serious problem with sin, it is also true that all men, including nonbelievers, have been created in God’s image. Psalm 8 tells us that man was made just a little lower than “elohim”. The Hebrew word “elohim” is the name of God used to reveal His might and sovereignty. It is probably best to understand this passage to be saying that God created man just a little lower than Himself. Out of all of creation, man is the only one who reflects God’s image. There is none other like him.

The Meaning of the Image of God in Man

Being made in God’s image means that we are like God in many ways, but not in all ways. We are like Him in that we have a personality, an intellect, a will and emotions. We are also creative, as He is. Look around and see what man has done in architecture, art, medicine, science, and technology. We are advancing in our understanding and in our ability to control the world we live in because God has given us the ability to learn, invent and create, to plan and carry out those plans. We communicate with complex, abstract language. No other animal is able to do this, only man. Man alone bears God’s image.

God’s image is shown in still other ways. Because God is the standard of right and wrong, all men have an inner sense of right and wrong, a moral compass of sorts, a conscience (Romans 2:14-15). Man has a spiritual dimension so he is able to have a relationship with God. He has an innate desire to worship God, although at times it may be misdirected toward false gods (Romans 1:21-23). He has deep longings for a better world, deeper relationships and a more meaningful life. He is capable of having significant relationships and joining with others to do incredible feats (like putting a man on the moon) and creating almost unimaginable objects (such as a space station). Man reflects God more than any other created being.

The Restoration of the Image of God in Man

The fall of man damaged the image of God in man. Although God’s image was marred, it was not destroyed (James 3:9). Mankind is like a classic car that has deteriorated; that seems like a piece of junk. It is rusted, dented and broken. It is easy to discount it as something that needs to be discarded. But it is not a piece of junk. It is a classic car desperately in need of restoration. This is how man is. God’s image in him is marred, but he is an image-bearer who is desperately in need of restoration.

God sent Christ into the world not just to win our salvation, but to restore what has been lost. The goal of the Christian life is to become like Christ. Jesus is the visible image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15; Hebrews 1:3). So to become like Christ is to restore the image of God in fallen man. This is God’s goal, His commitment to us.

Although God is renewing us on the inside (our spiritual selves), the outside (our physical selves) is increasingly wasting away (II Corinthians 4:16). This wasting away of the outside will eventually cause us to die physically. In eternity God will instantly finish the work on the inside, and when Jesus returns to earth, He will also restore the outside. We will have a new body fashioned after Christ’s resurrection body that will be suited for the new world that God will create.
In light of what it means to be created in the image of God, we should celebrate the majesty of man. Man is God’s supreme creation. All men, whether believers or nonbelievers, are created with great worth because they are created in the image of God. It is that image that makes the weak, the downtrodden, the defenseless, the old and the disabled significant. We cannot reject them as the world often does because as image-bearers they reflect Him and represent Him in this world.

While God’s image in man gives him value, it does not give him salvation. Although all men were created for eternal life, no man is guaranteed eternal life. It is only as a person comes to a saving faith in Jesus Christ that he receives eternal life and Christ begins to restore God’s image in him. As God’s image is restored, the person begins to be changed from the inside out. He begins the process of becoming more like Christ and is enabled by God’s power and guidance to use His abilities to glorify God and advance His Kingdom. Man was created for great things but his true and full purpose cannot be realized without God. The great tragedy of hell is that some who were created in God’s image and therefore were destined for great things will spend eternity separated from Him.

There are many significant implications of being created in God’s image.

• It should bring forth praise to God for the unique place and abilities that God has given mankind.

• All people have worth and deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.

• It removes all basis for racism or feelings of superiority or inferiority.

• It is the basis for saying that only God has the right to take a life or prescribe when a life should be taken.

• It is the only true basis for having a high view of man.

• It provides a basis for the argument that man should play an important role in living the Christian life (Colossians 1:28,29; Philippians 2:12,13) as opposed to God doing it all.

Application Suggestions:

• Meditate on Psalm 8.

• Meditate on and worship God for the high place He has given man in the created order.

• Celebrate the majesty of man as you see God’s image reflected through music, art, architecture, technology, etc.


Get this Pocket Principle in Understanding People, part of Cornerstone  from the WDA Store

For more information visit the WDA Store.

universe“What is man that you are mindful of him (Psalm 8:4)?” This is the question that King David, the Psalmist, asks of God. Who is man in light of the magnitude of everything else in the universe? Man is only a speck. It is incredible that God pays attention to him at all. And yet God says of man, and man alone, that he is created in His image (Genesis 1:26,27). God has crowned him with glory and honor (Psalm 8:5) as His highest and greatest creation. As the centerpiece of creation man has been given dominion and authority over all creation (Psalm 8:6-8). How amazing!

Christianity holds a high view of man. In fact, it holds a much higher view of man than any of the other religious and philosophical perspectives that are prevalent today. Because healthy living proceeds from right thinking, it is important that we maintain a truthful view of ourselves in order to be able to live healthy Christian lives. God has placed man in a high position, and we must resist views that diminish man’s significance.

If we hold a view of man that is less than what God has said is true, problems will arise. For example, if we believe that man, in his essence, is a sinner and nothing else, it can lead to low self-esteem. How can a sinner do anything good? Rather, we should believe that though all men have a sin nature, they also have innate dignity flowing from being created in God’s image. This leads to a more correct, balanced view of man. Man is both good and bad. Man is in need of a savior because of his sin and capable of doing incredible good because he is created in God’s image.

In this Pocket Principle we will be able to see the importance of holding to a high view of man as we contrast the Biblical view of man with some of the other views popular in our society today: the humanistic, supremacist and New Age views.


The Humanistic Views

Humanistic or secular views of man vary considerably but have some common themes. Their goal is to explain man’s existence and significance apart from any concept of God or creation. They do not see man as created but as having evolved from lower forms of life. Therefore, they do not see man as related to God in any way and certainly not as reflecting His image.

A humanist’s view of man is that he is basically good. This view does not say that man is incapable of doing bad things, but it sees man’s badness as caused by ignorance, not by a sin nature. They downplay man’s problem with sin and exalt his rational ability. This leads to the belief that if we can educate people sufficiently, we can remove all the badness and evil from our culture, and explains the high value that our culture and our government place on gaining and improving education. This view is in error and fails to see man as he really is. Man has a problem with sin that is out of control and is in need of internal transformation, not just education. Education, although useful, will not solve the problem man has with sin.

Christianity has some important messages for those who hold the humanistic view of man. This view of man is both too low in some respects and too high in others. It is too low in that it does not recognize that man is created in God’s image. To be created in the image of God, to be an image-bearer of God, is to be much more than a highly evolved animal. It is to be uniquely different from and superior to all animals. Thus, Christianity holds a much higher view of man than humanism does.

On the other hand, Christianity in one sense has a lower view of man than the humanist does. Christianity sees man as having a serious problem with sin and not as simply being ignorant. Change for the better can only come through the power of the Holy Spirit changing us on the inside. The necessary transformation will not take place through education, evolution, politics or any other human means.


The Supremacist View

The supremacist view considers a particular group of people as either superior to or inferior to all others. There are many people who think this way about others. The whole concept of racial profiling is based on the concept that certain types of people are more likely to be guilty of something or have something wrong with them than another group or the rest of mankind.

There have been many examples of the supremacist view through the centuries. The Aryan race was believed to be superior to all others under Hitler. As a result, the Nazis felt they had the right to eliminate whole groups of people that they considered inferior. We have a name for the horror that surrounded their ascent to power and the implementation of their philosophy. It is called “the Holocaust.”

Here in America we have been guilty of incredible cruelty in the name of slavery. At times, even the church tried to justify owning slaves. Black people from Africa, bought and sold as slaves, were not considered to be equal to white people from Europe. They were thought of as less than real people in some way and were treated as property. They were at their owner’s disposal or pleasure.

The whole issue of prejudice is tied to this view. Every culture tends to have problems with prejudice in one way or another. It is often racially based, but it can also be religiously, economically, socially or politically-based. India has its caste system. Islam’ s view of the West and all other religions falls into this category. The attitude of some who are rich and famous may reflect this dangerous form of pride.

Around the world women have suffered. Often they have been treated as second-class citizens and have been denied the right to get an education or to pursue a career. The laws of some countries give men many more rights than women. Christianity has done much to correct these views and to improve the lot of women throughout the world, but at times, it has also been guilty of denying women an equal status with men. In a similar way, those who are single or divorced have sometimes been viewed as having some kind of curse.

Abortion and euthanasia are tremendous problems, particularly in western civilization. Millions of babies are killed every year under the banner of “women’s rights.” What about the rights of the unborn child? Unwanted babies that do make it into this world alive are commonly allowed to die by being denied food and water. Another problem is that of the elderly, the disabled and the poor, all of whom can become a drain on our time and resources. Should we just eliminate them from our society? The very fact that we even consider these options shows the low value placed on human life.

The Christian also has important messages for supremacists. Because God has created all people in His image, everyone, from the moment of conception, has value and worth independent of anything else. God is the One who places value on every life, and everyone’s value is equal in His eyes. He has leveled the playing field and given everyone equal status on it.

Since all people are created in God’s image, and are capable to some degree of contributing in positive ways to this world, all deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. Because of the inherent worth and value God has placed on each life, He alone has the right to take a person’s life. (The only other person who has the authority to take a person’s life is a person God has placed in authority in government. The government is God’s agent of wrath (Romans 13:1-4).)


The New Age View

The New Age Movement is not a cohesive movement. It spreads a wide umbrella that many different groups can fit under: eastern mysticism, western occultism and the human potential movement. Each of these groups adheres to parts of New Age philosophy. Though the movement as a whole is not well coordinated, there are some general statements about their view of man that can be made.

The New Age view that everything that exists is God is called Pantheism. In this view, since man is part of all that exists, he is also God. There are other unusual beliefs associated with the New Age movement but for our purposes we will limit our discussion to how they see man in relation to God.

Scripture says that man is created “like “ God (bears God’s image), but is not God. Take the example of a child born of human parents. He is like his parents in many ways. He may have similar physical features to his parents. He certainly carries similar DNA, enough so that it is possible to know who his parents are. He may even act like them and believe things similar to them, but he is not his parent. The mother, the father and the child are not the same. They are unique and separate individuals.

Likewise, though we bear God’s image, we are not God. And neither is anything else that is created. The New Age movement suggests that what Christians believe is an illusion based on ignorance. Christians would answer that their beliefs are supported by the reality that we see and experience around us.

The Biblical view of man positively impacts how we think about and treat others and ourselves. We should treat everyone with dignity and respect because we all bear God’s image, and yet, we also need to see that all men are lost because of their sin and rebellion and desperately need the salvation that God offers through Jesus Christ.


Application Suggestions:

• Meditate on Psalm 139:13-16

• Think about the ways that a high view of man affect the way you think about and relate to nonbelievers.

Get this Pocket Principle in Understanding People, part of Cornerstone  from the WDA Store

For more information visit the WDA Store.