What Does “Image of God” Mean? Part 4

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August 17, 2010 Tags: Image of God

Today's entry was written by Pete Enns. You can read more about what we believe here.

What Does “Image of God” Mean? Part 4

We saw last week that Jesus is the complete human, the true image-bearer of God. He is the exact representation of God, the ruler over creation. That “completed humanity” is conferred upon those who believe that Jesus is the Christ. The image is marred in humanity in general; it is restored in the man, Jesus. All those who are “in Christ” (as Paul likes to put it) participate in the restored humanity that began at Jesus’ resurrection. The new humanity is open to all, but the entry way is through the risen Messiah.

So, what does it mean for Christians to be image bearers of God? It means we are called to live daily in such a way that embodies more and more what that image looks like. Jesus is both the cause of our renewed image and the model we follow as we try to live that way.

And this brings us to a paradox that is central to how Christians see themselves as re-created in God’s image. Jesus elevated humanity to its true image-bearing role, but his incarnation was an act of emptying himself of his divine right, as Paul says in Philippians 2:6-7. Jesus humbled himself (v. 8). Incarnation is an act of humiliation.

For Christians, too, participating in the renewed image of God means following Christ in both his exaltation and humiliation. Simply put, we bear the renewed image of God daily as our lives conform to Jesus’.

Paul sums up the matter nicely in Philippians 3:10. Knowing Christ—which is never a simple mental activity but a life path—means experiencing both the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his suffering. This is not an either/or choice but a both/and proposition. Those who are part of this new humanity in Christ bear the marks of Jesus’ exaltation and humiliation every day.

Being part of the renewed image of God means being “conformed to the image” of Jesus (Romans 8:29). We become more and more like him in every way.

Christians are now full representatives of God in his creation, but not in the ancient Near Eastern sense—or even Old Testament sense—of ruler. I am not dismissing that, but “rule” is not the New Testament emphasis. The emphasis has now moved to other things. Christians represent God to all of creation through humility, love, holiness.

One of the many passages that remind us of this is I Peter 2:9-12. Borrowing language from the Exodus, Peter tells his readers that they are a “chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God” (v. 9). This lofty status does not just make them part of the “God club.” They are God’s people who live such good lives among the inhabitants of the world “that they may see [their] good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us” (v. 12).

You may have heard the expression “Be careful how you act. You may be the only Bible people ever read.” That’s a good point, but the reality is much more severe. We represent to the world what God has done in Christ, so a better phrase might be, “Be careful how you act. You may be the only Jesus people ever see.”

This is beyond what Genesis 1:26-27 was about in its original context. There is nothing there about humility, suffering with Christ, or living godly lives. This is true. But what Jesus does to the image of God in Genesis 1:26-27 is what he does with everything else in the Old Testament: he transforms it and fills it out beyond its limited Old Testament meaning. The shadow gives way to reality.

Still, there is one more dimension of the renewed image of God that looks more like what we see in the Old Testament. It is not a dominant theme, but it is there nonetheless. In 2 Timothy 2:13 we read that enduring present suffering has a not yet realized future dimension: “If we endure, we will also reign with him.”

I don’t know what this means, but it seems that the final step of the Christian journey is some type of eschatological ruling authority. This is not explained anywhere—and I am not going to venture a guess as to what this looks like. Suffice it to say that there is “something more” to what Christ in his resurrection has already done in restoring the image of God. The New Testament is more concerned with how God’s people here and now embody Jesus’ life of servant-leadership.

God made humanity in his image. This image has a very focused meaning in the Old Testament—being God’s representative rulers over his creation. That image was marred and eventually restored and transformed in Jesus, the Son of Man, the exact representation of the image of God. Those who are in Christ take part in this new humanity.


Pete Enns is a former Senior Fellow of Biblical Studies for The BioLogos Foundation and author of several books and commentaries, including the popular Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament, which looks at three questions raised by biblical scholars that seem to threaten traditional views of Scripture.

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William Doolittle - #25859

August 17th 2010

Prof. Enns, what relevance do you think Daniel’s “Son of Man” vision has to this discussion, both in its relation to Genesis 1 and also Christ’s use of the title in the Gospels?


Jeremy - #25863

August 17th 2010

When you mentioned our role in creation as God’s representatives and said that it doesn’t carry the same idea as “rule” anymore, I was reminded of the passage where Jesus says, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:25b-28 ESV).  I think that sums up what Jesus did to the definition of “Image of God” really nicely.


Norm - #25865

August 17th 2010

Pete,

Very Good!


beaglelady - #25866

August 17th 2010


We acclaim you, holy Lord, glorious in power.
Your mighty works reveal your wisdom and love.
You formed us in your own image,
giving the whole world into our care,
so that, in obedience to you, our Creator,
we might rule and serve all your creatures.

(Eucharistic Prayer D, Book of Common Prayer, p. 373)


Mairnéalach - #25874

August 17th 2010

One of our eschatological ruling duties is actually spelled out. We are to judge angels. But, as Pete pointed out, we are to empty ourselves here in this life, as much as we can. (God will do much of the emptying which we are loathe to do).


eddy - #25875

August 17th 2010

Some will wonder, Dr. Enns sounds here more like Christian and less biologos - what the heck is going on here?

“That image was marred and eventually restored and transformed in Jesus, the Son of Man, the exact representation of the image of God. Those who are in Christ take part in this new humanity.

But what about those who are not in Christ?

Will they evolve into a different bunch of ape species? Natural selection taking an effect - this time it a supernatural selection?


John Parks - #25883

August 17th 2010

“[Listing heroes of faith] These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect” Hebrews 11:39-40

The work Christ is affecting upon us will do wonders but will never be completed in this life. Everyday we die more to self, and live more for God but the day will come when we are resurrected with new bodies on a new Earth and will be seated with God forever. Those who reject God will be destroyed in the lake of fire along with the rebellious angels and peace will reign. That is truly when the Image of God in each of us will truly shine!


Ken Tazza - #25888

August 17th 2010

Pete:

very nice!!

I saw this in the Sistine Chapel…..unreal!


JKnott - #25898

August 17th 2010

great stuff, Pete.


Michael W. Kruse - #25939

August 17th 2010

“Christians are now full representatives of God in his creation, but not in the ancient Near Eastern sense—or even Old Testament sense—of ruler. I am not dismissing that, but “rule” is not the New Testament emphasis. The emphasis has now moved to other things. Christians represent God to all of creation through humility, love, holiness.”

So if I understand this correctly, the cultural/creation mandate is rescinded. Our economic labor and participation in the culture are purely instrumental, having zero connection with being in the image of God. Our daily work (the accountant, the farmer, the retail clerk, the plumber) is purely a context in which to do evangelism and discipleship with no deeper value. Work is essentially a curse. Jesus has not come to redeem humanity into a role of co-regents but rather to teach them to abandon the purpose for which they were created. I’m I getting this right?


Kyle - #25940

August 17th 2010

Eddy,

Suffice it to say you may have well overlooked the general message of this post, act like Jesus. Instead of striking the proverbial cheek why not listen and debate sans the trite attitude.

Pete,

Ditto!


Mike Smuts - #25980

August 18th 2010

MIchael,

I agree that the New Testament emphasis on the image of God lies in the calling of Christians to live a life of humility, love, holiness.  In that sense we are called to rule over our own sinfull nature, which damages the image of God in us.

With regard to our responsibility towards nature: I do not believe that our calling to rule over nature has been completely rescinded.  It has the emphasis of being appointed housekeepers over God’s creation.  We are responsible to our Creator for how we treat all of His creation.  In that sense Christians should be the prime agents for justice to all people as well as being committed conservationists. I would also place the efforts of science to develop a greater understanding of God’s creation and utilising it for the good of humans and nature, as part of our calling to rule.

All of this is determined by our humility before God, our responsibility towards His Creation and our dependence on the guidance and enabling work of His Holy Spirit.

From you brother in Christ in South Africa.  Soli Deo Gloria!


Michael W. Kruse - #26038

August 18th 2010

Mike,

The idea that we are purely conservationist does not resolve my concern. Several theologians have noted that the creation mandate (exercise dominion and keep the garden) and instruction to fill the earth is transformative not just preservationist. Implied in this mandate is the formation of human communities who work, interact, and exchange with each other. They will form human governance to manage these interactions. As we see in Gen 4:20-22, herders, artists, and craftsman are emerging. Creative work ... transforming matter, energy and data from less useful forms to more useful forms .... is part of being in God’s image. It is integral to exercising dominion.

I’d also add that in the NT, the household was a business unit. There wasn’t the split between home and work we have in our day. Thus, when we are talking about the body of Christ as the household of God, only a modern Western overly-spiritualized notion of household would see this divorced from our daily labor. I suggest that the notion of dominion has not been lessened but that it has been redeemed by how Christ tell us to live and relate toward one another.


beaglelady - #26044

August 18th 2010

I would also place the efforts of science to develop a greater understanding of God’s creation and utilising it for the good of humans and nature, as part of our calling to rule.

Amen. Without science we’d be crippled in our ability to to feed the hungry, provide fresh water, cure disease, and comfort the afflicted.


Trey - #26104

August 18th 2010

Eddy,
It is different from the normal vein of BL articles, but I think it shows that ANE studies aren’t just an excuse to reject creationist ideas or a modernist tool to critique scripture. Placing the Bible in its cultural context may require us to drop some old superstitions, but it can enable us to better grasp the significance of the fall and the gospel message.


Dec - #26241

August 19th 2010

“...rule” is not the New Testament emphasis. The emphasis has now moved to other things. Christians represent God to all of creation through humility, love, holiness.”

Great series, Pete, the latter of which joins in nicely with your post on creation and redemption. I would, however, say that while “rule” may not be an explicit NT emphasis, the passage in Mark 10 where Jesus talks about Gentile rule as contrasted with the rule of Jesus and his disciples is significant for what it means to be God’s image bearers. Jesus turns what it means to be a “ruler” on its head. and words you used such as “humility” and “love” are now characteristic of true leadership - which is really servanthood. He even uses the term “Son of Man” (10:45) found in Psalm 8, but I guess Jesus uses that one a lot, so it might not be so significant.


Scott Mapes - #26251

August 19th 2010

Well said, Dec!  So often in our “recovery” from modernistic thinking, we forget that terms and concepts (such as “rule”) may have different meanings and applications, while maintaining an essential core of meaning.  Pete was correct in what he said, I believe, but the reminder that Jesus transformed the meaning and experience of ruling well is a needed and appreciated reminder.


Dec - #26260

August 19th 2010

Oh, wait. Jeremy said much the same thing as I did, except earlier! Great minds etc etc…


JMFK - #26548

August 21st 2010

Pete Enns,

You wrote, “...he transforms it and fills it out beyond its limited Old Testament meaning.”

I once gave a class in which I had the participants read through Genesis 1 and list together on a white board, in specific detail, all the things the Creator does for life. It was a long list. I then asked them what it meant to them to be made in the image of THIS Creator.

There is a recurring theme throughout the OT that Yahweh’s sovereign reign over his Creation is characterized by his providential servanthood toward that creation. Passages such as Psalm 145: 15-16 and Psalm 104:14-15, 27-28 speak of God in terms almost of a waitservant, whose creatures dine at the table he sets - which includes providing prey for the lion (Psalm 104:21; Job 38:39), roadkill for the raven (Job 38:41), and blood for the eagle (Job 39:41).  And if it is only by humbling himself that God even looks upon the things of earth (Psalm 113:5), what does it mean for him to wait at table upon them?

I am not sure that Jesus “transformed” the image of God if by that you mean introducing an element that had been previously absent. I would say rather that Jesus brings to light that which was present but perhaps ignored.


Bob Jones - #31278

September 21st 2010

In the four roles of Christ, Prophet, Priest, King and Judge, when we are made to be ‘like’ him, we are made to be only kings and priests.  The king rules the earthly as we are called to rule our flesh. The priest intercedes, as we have been called to lay aside judgment and help provide what people lack because of sin.

We are not called to be judges, since Jesus took all judgment upon himself,  and prophecies cease, since they were fulfilled in the cross… ‘It is finished’.


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