What it Means to Be Made in God’s Image
By David Ettinger
A Misunderstood Verse
Genesis 1:27 is one of the most misunderstood verses in the Bible. It states: “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them.” To understand this profound truth, let’s determine what this verse does not mean.
What Genesis 1:27 does not mean is that human beings were created in the physical image of God. John 4:24 tells us that God is “spirit”; He does not possess a physical form. God can manifest one if He chooses, but innately, God is spirit and has no physical form.
What God does possess is “substance,” something all beings must have to exist. God’s substance is spirit; man’s is physical. God’s substance is invisible; man’s is visible. Therefore, man is not made in God’s physical image.
Let’s take a brief look at what God is – what He has revealed about Himself in the Bible. Among many things, God is a spirit possessing intellect, emotion, and will, meaning He can think, feel, and act.
Romans 11:33 says of God’s wisdom: “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!” Regarding God’s emotion, John 3:16 suffices: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” And pertaining to God’s will – His ability to “act” – we have Matthew 6:10: “… your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
The main thing to remember is that God is not some impersonal “force” with no emotional ties to the world He created. He is intimately connected to the work of His hands and cares deeply for them. This is why “deism” is so wrong. This errant belief holds that God created the universe, but remains apart from it and permits His creation to administer itself through natural laws. This view emanates from flawed observation, not the Holy Scriptures.
Man in God’s Image
When Genesis 1:27 tells us “God created mankind in his own image,” it refers to God’s personality. This is what He has given to humans and to no other living beings (Genesis 2:7).
To say that man is made in God’s image is to say that all people have the capacity to think, feel, and act in a Godward manner. (However, because of sin, human beings are flawed, finite, and highly imperfect, rendering the above “capacities” deficient in one way or another.) In general, however, God created men and women with the ability to interact with Him intellectually, emotionally, and willfully.
These three attributes – intellect, emotion, and will – are what make up “personality,” and it is personality that allows us to know God intimately. We see this in Romans 1:18-19: “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them” (italic added).
Animals, on the other hand, are not made in God’s image. They have personality, emotions, and feelings, but cannot interact with God. This is the key difference spiritually between animals and people. That man possesses God-designed intellect, emotion, and will means human beings have the capacity to understand, love, and obey God; animals cannot.
What it means to You
Because you are made in God’s image, you can be assured that God fully understands your thoughts, feelings, and everything that makes up who you are. He understands this because He modeled your basic personality – intellect, emotion, and will – after His own. (Yours, of course, is imperfect and finite; His is perfect and infinite.)
I used the word “understands” in the previous paragraph, but God’s understanding of you goes far beyond this. Because you are made in God’s image, He empathizes with you. With great compassion He sympathizes with your hurts and weaknesses. He intimately feels the intensity and pain of your failures and longings. He fully grasps your struggles, anguish, and strivings. He rejoices with you when you succeed, and grieves with you when you fall.
Furthermore, God’s image is personified in Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, who came to earth to share in our humanity (Hebrews 2:14). Because He did:
“… he had to be made like [men and women], fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”
So, what’s the bottom line? You were created in the image of God and therefore have the ability to understand, love, and obey the One who loves you with “an everlasting love” and has “drawn you with unfailing kindness” (Jeremiah 3:13).
And this, you who are made in God’s image, is cause to rejoice!
David Ettinger was born and raised in a Jewish family in New York. After moving to New Mexico as an adult, he suffered through many trials. The nudge of the Holy Spirit caused him to examine his heart and in 1986 he surrendered his life to Jesus and has walked with Him ever since.
David holds a BA, and MA, in English from New Mexico State University. He began his journalism career writing for The Roundup, the university paper. After graduation he became the sportswriter for the El Paso Times. He has held many other positions as both writer and editor with major publications.
David is active in providing his skills with Zion’s Hope, Inc., in Winter Garden, Florida. His publications include Lifeway publications, Single Parent magazine (Focus on the Family), Zion’s Fire magazine, and Real Life magazine. In addition, he served as managing editor for Zion’s Fire and Real Life. David’s book, Overcomers: 30 Stories of Triumph from the Bible, is available online.
David is proud of his son and grandson.
Please read his testimony here:
CGM wishes to thank Steve Wallpaper Access for graciously granting permission to use our feature photo.