09 June, 2019

FAQ — The Image of God. What is it? Does fallen man still possess parts of it? Or was it lost completely?

Q. 1. “What is the image of God, according to Scripture?”

The key passages which define the image of God in man clearly limit this image to true knowledge, righteousness, and holiness. Paul writes in Ephesians 4:22-24:

“That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts: and be renewed in the spirit of your mind; and that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.”

And in Colossians 3:10 he writes:

“And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him.”

Although these passages refer to the renewal of the elect in Jesus Christ, they specifically mention that these elements are elements of the image. The elect are renewed after all. They are given what was lost in Adam. Restored, in them, is what Adam possessed, but lost because of his sin. And the elements that are mentioned are limited to knowledge, righteousness, and holiness. (Herman C. Hanko, “Another Look at Common Grace” [2019 edition], p. 158)


Q. 2. “But is not man a rational and moral being? Can’t rationality and morality also be included in the image?”

It is true that man continues to be a rational and moral being. It is also true that only a rational and moral being is able to bear the image of God. No tree or hippopotamus, no dog or thistle is able to be an image-bearer. Only man can bear that image. And only he can bear it because he is created with a soul, i.e., with a mind, a will, and affections. But to include that which belongs to the nature and essence of man as man, in the image, is to broaden the image beyond that which Scripture sanctions.

It is such a broadening of the image, which has led to all kinds of trouble. Because man retains his rationality and morality, be they only remnants, man retains the image of God in a measure. And if he retains the image of God, he remains like God in certain respects, even though fallen. And it is easy to make the jump from saying that man, even in his fallen state, because he is still image-bearer, is still under grace, is less than as bad as he can be, and is capable of doing good things. And so the retention of the image becomes the avenue to introduce common grace as a restraining inner influence in fallen and unregenerate man.
But if the image is truly lost, in the fall, in its entirety—as Scripture teaches—then man is truly depraved, incapable of doing any good and inclined to all evil. Then he is not the object of grace, but of wrath. And grace comes to him only through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Then we can understand what the Belgic Confession states in Article 14:

We believe that God created man out of the dust of the earth, and made and formed him after his own image and likeness, good, righteous, and holy, capable in all things to will, agreeable to the will of God. But being in honor, he understood it not, neither knew his excellency, but willfully subjected himself to sin, and consequently to death, and the curse, giving ear to the words of the devil. For the commandment of life, which he had received, he transgressed; and by sin separated himself from God, who was his true life, having corrupted his whole nature; whereby he made himself liable to corporal and spiritual death.

This same truth is echoed by the Canons in 3–4.1:

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; his heart and will were upright; all his affections pure; and the whole man was holy; but revolting from God by the instigation of the devil, and abusing the freedom of his own will, he forfeited these excellent gifts; and on the contrary entailed on himself blindness of mind, horrible darkness, vanity and perverseness of judgment, became wicked, rebellious, and obdurate in heart and will, and impure in his affections.

(Herman C. Hanko, “Another Look at Common Grace” [2019 edition], pp. 157-158)


Q. 3. “But what about Genesis 9:6 (“Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man”) and James 3:9 (“Therewith [that is, with the tongue] bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God”)? Do they not prove that man retained the image after the fall? Murderers are to be killed because they shed the blood of a man who was created after God’s image, and violations of the ninth commandment are such dreadful sins (especially when hypocritically a man blesses God and curses his fellow man) because man was made in God’s image?

[A careful] scrutiny of the texts, and the contexts in which they are found, will clearly show that the reference is to the original creation of man by God. Man is unique in God’s world. He alone, among all creatures, was originally created as image-bearer of God. That unique character of man remains even though he fell. The image does not remain in the sense that man still bears the image, but it remains in the sense that he is still unique and still capable of being an image-bearer, because he is rational and moral.
There is an important point here. Even fallen man is image-bearer because of his rationality and morality. But fallen man has become image-bearer of Satan—for the wicked are of their father the devil whose works they do. But the elect are destined in God’s grace to be renewed after the image of Christ. And, as renewed in the image of Christ, they are renewed to bear the image of their Father in heaven with whom they will dwell in glory. (Herman C. Hanko, “Another Look at Common Grace” [2019 edition], pp. 158-159)

They cannot prove that man, in the condition and state of sin, doth retain any thing of the image of God. The places mentioned, as Gen. ix. 6, and James iii. 9, testify only that he was made in the image of God at first, but that he doth still retain the image they intimate not; nor is the inference used in the places taken from what man is, but what he was created. (John Owen “The Works of John Owen,” vol. 12, p. 162)


Q. 4. “Who else says that fallen man now bears the image of the devil?”

Richard Sibbes (1577-1635): "Therefore, when you read of the image of God in the New Testament [this would include I Cor. 11:7 and James 3:9], it must be understood of the image of God in Jesus Christ, the second Adam. Now this image consists in knowledge, in holiness and righteousness. If we compare Col. iii. [verse 10] with Eph. iv. [verse 24], this was perfect in Christ, who was the image of his Father, and we must be like Christ the second Adam in sanctification ... When God set his image on the first Adam, it was rased, and decayed and lost, by the malice of the devil ... For every man by nature carries the nature of the devil on him, till the image of God be stamped on, and the image of Satan rased out" (Works, vol. 4, pp. 260-261).

Ralph Venning (1621-1674): "Sin is contrary to the image of God, in which man was made. God made man in his own likeness, viz. in righteousness and true holiness (Ephesians 4. 24). Now sin is clean contrary to this image, as much unlike it as deformity and ugliness is unlike handsomeness and beauty, as darkness is to light, as hell to heaven. Yes, and there is more too: sin is the Devil's image. When God made man, he made him in his own image; so when the Devil made man sin, he thereby made him his own image and likeness. In this sense I conceive the Devil meant that phrase, 'Ye shall be like gods,' Elohim (Genesis 3. 5). He did not say or mean that he should be like the Elohim, the Creators, as the word is in Job 35. 10 and Ecclesiastes 12. 1, the God who made them; but like Elohim, gods, viz. such as I and my angels are, who once knew good, but now know evil, both by doing it, and suffering the sad effects of it. The word Elohim is used not only of God and good angels, but of fallen angels or devils (1 Samuel 28. 13). And under the covert of this ambiguous word, he craftily abused our first parents; for he well knew that by sinning they could not become like Elohim, God above, but would become like Elohim, the gods below. And alas! are we not like Elohim-devils, knowing good by loss, and evil by its sad and dismal effects? Thus he that runs may read the picture, image, and likeness of the Devil in sin; sinners are as much like the Devil as anything. He that sinneth is of the Devil (1 John 3. 8), not only a servant but a child of the Devil: 'Ye are of your father the devil' said holy Jesus to the sinful Jews (John 8. 44). Never was child more like the father than a sinner is like the Devil; sin has the nature, the complexion, the air, the features, the very behaviour of the Devil" (The Sinfulness of Sin [Edinburgh: Banner, 1993], pp. 33-34).

A. W. Pink (1886-1952): "Even among those preachers who desire to be regarded as orthodox, who do not deny the Fall as a historical fact, few among them perceive the dire effects and extent thereof. 'Bruised by the fall,' as one popular hymn puts it, states the truth far too mildly; yea, entirely misstates it. Through the breach of the first covenant all men have lost the image of God, and now bear the image of the Devil (John 8:44). The whole of their faculties are so depraved that they can neither think (2 Cor. 3:5), speak, nor do anything truly good and acceptable unto God. They are by birth, altogether unholy, unclean, loathsome and abominable in nature, heart, and life; and it is altogether beyond their power to change themselves" (The Doctrine of Sanctification [Choteau, MT: Gospel Missions, n.d.], p. 45).

Joseph Caryl (1602-1673): "Sinful man is loathsome and abominable unto God. 'How much more abominable ... is man' [Job 15:16]. This is not to be understood of some particular man or of some sort of men who are more vile than others. But take the best of men, the most accomplished and complete in the whole course of nature, these are abominable. They are deprived of the image of God; they are stamped with the image of Satan. They are not only unable to do that which is good but they are totally averse from it, yea, enemies to it. Is not all this enough to render man abominable in the sight of God? And so abominable is man that he doth not only displease the eye of God but the very eyes of those who have received the grace of God. A godly man turns away from the wicked, as the wicked man does from the godly. 'An unjust man is an abomination to the just: and he that is upright in the way is an abomination to the wicked' (Prov. 29:27). The distaste is mutual; it is called enmity (Gen. 3:15), here abomination" (An Exposition on the Book of Job; spelling and punctuation modernized).


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