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In His Image (Genesis 1:27)

October 2, 2016 Speaker: Bryce Morgan Series: The Essentials: One Lord

Topic: Genesis Passage: Genesis 1:26–1:28

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In His Image
Genesis 1:27
(One Lord: What is Man?)
October 2nd, 2016


I. Body Image?

You may or may not be familiar with the teachings of the LDS or Mormon Church, but let me share with you an excerpt from one of their websites. This short paragraph is answering a question on what they believe about the nature of God. It reads...

God is perfect, all wise, and all-powerful; the ruler of the universe. He is also merciful, kind, and just. He is our Father in Heaven. We are created in His image (Genesis 1:27). He has a body that looks like ours, but God’s body is immortal, perfected, and has a glory that words can’t describe. (from www.mormon.org)

The 15th President of the LDS Church, Gordon Hinckley, who served up until 2008, said this about that phrase from Genesis 1:27...“In his image man was created. He is personal. He is real. He is individual. He has (here he quotes from the Mormon scriptures..”He has...) ‘a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s.’ (D&C 130:22.)(from the book “Faith: The Essence of True Religion,” p. 21).

But wait, is that really what that phrase means? Does “in his image” mean that God has a body like ours, that is, that we have a body like his? That God has arms and legs and snot in his nose. That he has hair of a particular color and length? That he has a digestive tract and reproductive organs? Is that really what “in his image” means?

Well, let's tackle that interpretation by turning together to Genesis 1.


II. The Passage: “In the Image of God” (1:26-28)

We had Genesis 1:27 wonderfully recited for us at the beginning of our time together. But with Bibles open, let's also look at the two verses surrounding verse 27. So let me read from Genesis 1, verses 26-28. Verse 26...

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” [27] So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. [28] And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.

Stop and think about this for a minute. These verses are describing you. You and me! These verses tell us something astounding about human beings, every single human being.
Three times these verses tell us that God made mankind in his own image. It's hard to argue with the idea that the writer wants to emphasize that point. But...but what does that mean? That's the question we were trying to clarify earlier, isn't it?

I believe the context of Genesis 1 can tell us so much about what it means to be made in God's image. So using the context, I'd like for us to think about four realities to which that phrase “in his image” points us. And you can see from your outline what those four realities are. Being made in God's images points to our 1) distinctiveness, 2) to our duality, 3) to our dominion (and design), and 4) to our dignity.

Before we work through each of these points, let me briefly explain a word from verse 26 that can be a bit confusing. It's the word “our”. What exactly did God mean when he said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” Well, I think to answer that, we need to ask the more precise question: “What would the first readers of Genesis have understood about that word 'our'?”

I believe based on the context and the culture, the first readers would have recognized this “our” as a “plural of majesty”. Notice how the word “our” does not correspond to a plural pronoun in verse 27. It doesn't say, “So God created man in their own image”. It says, “So God created man in HIS own image”.

Interestingly, the Hebrew word for “God” here, elohim, is in fact a plural noun. The plural was probably used here as a kind of superlative, to stress God's greatness. The plural of majesty corresponds to this same idea. Rulers in many cultures throughout time have used this kind of plural for their official decrees. A king might say “We have seen fit to award this land to our humble servant and to his descendants.” This is probably what we find here.

But let's turn to those four realities, those concerned with being made in God's image. For example, in light of the context, there is an emphasis here on...


1. Our Distinctiveness

We have to remember that what we are looking at here regarding the creation of man is taking place on the sixth creation day. If we were to go back, we find all sorts of plants being created on the third creation day, and all the creatures of the oceans and skies appearing on the fifth creation day. Then, in the first part of the creation day six, we read about God creating all the other animals who live on the land.

But when you read all that, and then read Genesis 1:26-28, you cannot help but be struck by the distinctiveness of humanity's creation. Not only is their relationship to all other living things emphasized in verses 26 and 28, but in verse 27, they are described, as we've already seen, in a way no other part of creation is described. All things have been created by God, but only man is made “in His image”.

Though your grandpa may look like a chimp when he scratches his head, and your tiny dog looks adorable with her Christmas sweater, there is a very real gulf between us and the animal kingdom. And that distinctiveness is fully derived from the fact you and I have been made in God's image.

But there's another important reality we find here. Notice how the writer points to...


2. Our Duality

Did you see that in verse 27? We heard at the beginning of that verse how “God created adam in his own image.” We think of that word as the proper name Adam (and it is used that way of the very first man), but adam is the generic Hebrew word for “man”, used almost 500 times that way in the OT.

But as we go on to read at the end of verse 27, what the writer has in mind here with adam is clearly what we would call “mankind” or humanity. We know that because adam is both “him” and “male” and “female”. Every person in this room is adam, whether man or woman.

Now think for a moment about what this reveals in terms of being made in the image of God. In some sense, men, by themselves, cannot fully reflect the image of God. In the same way, women, by themselves, cannot fully reflect the image of God. It is in this duality of mankind that God intended to reveal His own image.

We need one another, don't we? In both feminine and masculine characteristics, the image of God is reflected. Isn't that amazing and encouraging!

But there's more. In these verses (esp. 26, 28), there is a clear emphasis on...


3. Our Dominion (Design)

We are distinctive from all other living things because, through or in our duality, we have been called to (v. 26) “have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” And this same statement is repeated two verses later at the end of verse 28!

But as we see in verse 28, this work was not simply the work of the first man and first woman. They were commanded to “be fruitful and multiply”. Why? In order to “fill the earth and subdue it”. But what exactly does it mean to “have dominion” over the other living creatures on this planet? What exactly does it mean to “subdue” the earth?

Well, while we could spend hours, maybe even days talking about what this might look like, I think it's enough to say that we are called subdue or bring the earth, that is the ground, the land...to bring it under our control in order to exercise authority over the other living creatures of the earth. In the next chapter, we get a glimpse of what this looks like as Adam (2:15) “works” and “keeps” the garden, and names all the living creatures that God brings to him.

We might have a better sense of this work if we imagine God giving each of us an acre of land and instructing us to work it and keep it. It would require an intimate knowledge of the soil and the plants and the creatures that fill that acre. It would require wisdom about how to help life flourish on that acre, while at the same time, flourishing ourselves. It would require vigilance, care, effort and even community (since the work is clearly a family business).

In fact, for the first readers of Genesis, those who had come out of Egypt and received these writings from Moses, these ideas of dominion and subjection were the very things they were called to do in the land of Canaan, the land God promised to their ancestors. And all over the world, throughout history, we have seen glimpses of this kind of “dominion”, carried out with the knowledge, wisdom, vigilance, and care we just described. Of course, we have also seen how this mandate can be abused.

But this is what I want you to see in all this: being made in the image of God means being made like God in certain ways in order to rule like God in certain ways, and ruling for Him, together. Think for a minute about what attributes characterize God as ruler over this universe. How does He rule? What kind of king is He? To what end does He rule? Now, of those attributes, which ones should we see in human beings as they seek together, as a human family, to fulfill God's mandate to “have dominion”?

It is this overlap that helps us see how the idea of dominion is related to our design. To be designed in God's image does not point back to God having a nose or spleen or cowlick (God does not have body. As Jesus said in John 4, “God is spirit”). No, being made “in his image” points back to God as a good and wise ruler over the universe. The question we must ask is “How well are we today reflecting God's image as good and wise rulers over the earth?”

But there's a final idea implied here. In light of this passage, we should also think about...


4. Our Dignity

There is a genuine dignity that comes with such an exalted position and purpose. There is a dignity inherent in our design, a dignity in reflecting a good and awesome Creator.

I believe that dignity, that worth, that value is confirmed eight chapters later in Genesis 9:5-7. This is what God said to Noah and his family...

“And for your lifeblood I will require a reckoning: from every beast I will require it and from man. From his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of man. [6] “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image. [7] And you, be fruitful and multiply, increase greatly on the earth and multiply in it.”

Did you hear the echoes of Genesis 1 in those words? God himself states that the loss of a human life, something of such great value, demands a reckoning.

So whether male or female, whether Black, White, or 'brown', every single person, every person, has incredible value and dignity as a human being made in the image of God.


III. A Massive Restoration Projection

Our distinctiveness, our duality, our dominion (and design), and our dignity. All of these are aspects that help us understand what it means to be made in the image of God. But as we know, the blessing of mankind in Genesis 1 would soon be followed by the cursing of mankind in Genesis 3.

So we have to ask, how did our descent into sin affect our distinctiveness, duality, dominion, and dignity? As rebels against God, have we lost the image of God? No, we have not lost the image of God. If we had, God's words to Noah (who lived after the Fall) about people being made in His image would make no sense.

But listen to Paul's words in Colossians 3:8-11:

But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. [9] Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices [10] and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. [11] Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.

For it's 75th anniversary in 2014, a restoration project was undertaken to bring the Wizard of Oz fully into the digital age. A team spent months meticulously cleaning and scanning and recoloring the original film elements. They even converted the film into a 3D IMAX format. Combine that with new digital audio and you have what could be described as a stunning new experience. But at the same time, it's still the Wizard of Oz, right?

Our world is God's massive restoration project. Ever since the disobedience of our first parents, the layers and layers of our sin, of our me-centeredness in a God-centered universe, of our rebellion as human beings has meant a very dirty lens for projecting the cinematic masterpiece of God's glory. Traces of it can still be seen on the screen, but it's like a badly damaged film reel.

But the work of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the gospel of grace, is to restore in us the fullness of the image of God. And the work that Jesus does even takes us beyond our first parents. The work of Jesus will eventually bring us into a restored and enhanced version of humanity; stunning color, in crisp HD, with clear and powerful sound.

I like this quote from Mark Twain that a friend shared several days ago: “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born, and the day you find out why.” Like me, you were made in God's image. You were made to rule for His glory as part of the human family. But it is impossible to realize that purpose without Jesus.

As you look to His cross with eyes of faith, as you trust in what He did in taking your punishment, as you believe on the only person to ever beat death, as you truly acknowledge Him as both Lord and Savior, as both King and Redeemer, you realize God's restoration has begun in you. And that restoration gives you new eyes to see all people as made in His image; new eyes to see both the dignity and the dangerous condition of the human family.

And by God's grace, that restoration begins to give you a new heart for God and His mandate. What is the result? The result is that, as the image of God become clearer, sharper, more vivid in your life, by His Spirit, His rule is seen in your rule over the areas of life with which He has entrusted you. Is God's image shining in a new way in the parts of the earth to which He has called you: your home? Your workplace? Your community? In all your passions and pursuits?

Let's pray that God would do that very thing through us His image-bearers.