Church Education Trust

Christian Belief

ST005/3 The image of God in Man.


The Image of God in Man.

The first chapter of Genesis states that Man was created in the image of God. This is the distinctive note in the Scriptural account of creation. As Ewald says, it is almost a triumphant statement uttered with joyful exultation at the thought of Man's peculiar excellence. Some have made a distinction between "image" and "likeness".

There seems to be no necessity for this but we must discover what exactly is meant by the image of God and whether it was completely lost in the Fall. These are the questions which need to be answered. It is usual to divide the image of God in Man into two parts, i.e. the Natural or Essential Image and the Moral or Incidental Image.

The Natural or Essential Image.

By this is meant Man's original constitution, that which makes him essentially Man and thus distinguishes him from the lower animal creation. It can be summed up in the term "personality" and by virtue of this "personality" Man possesses certain powers, faculties, characteristics etc.. Three of them are important.


This is the most profound fact in Man's likeness to God. God is spirit and Man has a spiritual nature which makes him like God and capable of fellowship with Him.


Man`s cognitive powers, i.e. powers of perceiving, apprehending, knowing, belong to this original image. Man has consciousness, self-consciousness, God consciousness and consciousness of the world. 


The church has mostly maintained that Man was created immortal, and that death, as far as Man was concerned, entered with sin. Man's personality and spirituality both point to the fact that in is destined for immortality.

When we speak of immortality as part of the essential image of God, we speak only of the immortality of the soul, The Scripture references are as follows: Gen.3:22 cf. with Matt.22:31,32; Matt.25:46; John 3:36; Rev.20:10,15.

For additional evidence outside of Scripture we may say that it is inconceivable that personal consciousness can be completely obliterated or that the universal expectation of survival after death is a mere myth. This whole subject will be dealt with further at the end of the course in discussing life after death.

One more thing must be said before leaving the consideration of the natural image. The word "image" in no sense refers to likeness of form. God is spirit and thus formless.

The Moral or Incidental Image.

While the natural image has to do with the powers given to Man and the faculties he possesses, the moral image has to do with the use he makes of these powers and can be summed up in the word "holiness".

It refers to moral likeness to God, and thus to the dispositions and tendencies within Man and to the quality of his personality. The nature of this holiness will be dealt with in the next section.

The question as to whether this image was ccompletely lost in the Fall needs to be answered. The natural or essential image was not lost in the Fall. (cf.Gen.9:6; 1 Cor.11:7; Jas.3:9). Man is still like God in the sense of possessing personality, spirituality etc., though even this has been marred by sin.

This natural or essential image can never be completely lost. It was different with the moral image. This could be and was lost at the Fall, and in this sense Man in his natural state is no longer like God. This moral image, therefore is said to be amissible, i.e. capable of being lost (from the Latin "amitto", "send away" or "lose").

(d) The Nature of Man's Primitive Moral Condition.

Man was created holy, but it is important to consider rather carefully the sense in which he was holy as a wrong conception of this was the basis both of extreme Augustinianism and extreme Pelagianism and led them to a position where reconciliation was impossible.

First, then, it was not mere innocene, or the possibility of holiness.

This means it was not just a nature free from either virtue or sin, not a negative condition, It was rather a "positive attitude of the soul, a spontaneous tendency to obey the right and reject the wrong"!

Secondly was it an ethical holiness.

That is, it was not a holiness resulting from Adam's own moral choices, and therefore there could not be considered to be any merit in it. It was a subjective holiness, a holiness of nature, not of character.

Thirdly, it meant the presence of the Holy Spirit.

Not only was Man's nature right, but he possessed the continual presence of God's Spirit, who was constantly operative in his life. Augustinianism will be considered better when dealing with the question of sin, but something should be said about Pelagianiam.

Pelagianism and its descendants, Socinianism and Unitarianism, deny the fact of inherited depravity and state that children are born into the world with a nature entirely free from either virtue or sin, a nature equally balanced between the two.

They only sin as a result of sinful influences around them. They assert that Adam was created in the same condition and base their arguments on the false assumption that the only holiness possible is an ethical one, that is, one that is the result of right acts and habits.

This is not so. Holiness is as much the right state of our powers as the right use of our powers. As Wesley said in his reply to the great Socinian, Dr.John Taylor, "A man may be righteous before he does what is right, holy in heart before he is holy in life."

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