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.
• 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.