Why the Imago Dei Matters
Having a correct understanding of the “Imago Dei” or “the image of God” is important for Resurrection Church and the individual Christian because questions on human dignity and ethics (such as abortion, racism, injustice, human sexuality, poverty, classism, euthanasia, and more) flow from one’s belief concerning the Imago Dei. This doctrine helps determine how a Christian interacts with federal & local government, community, family, and friends on these important topics.
What Is the Imago Dei (Image of God)?
The Imago Dei (image of God) is the phrase used to describe the inherent value and dignity of all humankind. God describes the creation of humankind in Genesis 1:26-27 saying:
Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, after our likeness, so they may rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move on the earth. God created humankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them, male and female he created them.
The image of God is not a shallow idea tied to humanity’s physical appearance, rather the image of God is tied to who God is as our Creator. God says, “let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” The Triune God: Father, Son, and Spirit, is wholly other than his creation. The Triune God, who is one in nature and three in persons, is eternal. Because God is spirit, the image of God is not merely physical, but rather a physical and spiritual reality stamped on every human.
Definition: The imago dei or the image of God is the theological truth that all humanity has the Creator God’s image stamped on them. Although there is some mystery surrounding this concept, we know one thing for certain: being made in the image of God separates humanity from the rest of creation. Being image-bearers means that all humanity - all children (in the womb or out of the womb) and adults (however old), all men and women, all ethnicities and people groups, all able and disabled, all incarcerated and free people - have inherent and equal dignity, value, and worth. Humans do not earn their dignity and value through work, culture, government, or society; rather, their dignity, value, and worth is given directly by God.
Different Historical Perspectives on the Imago Dei
While the belief that humankind is created in the image of God is self evident in Scripture (Genesis 1:26, 2:7), the bible does not explicitly define what the image is. So, throughout the Church’s history there have been multiple views on what the Scriptures mean regarding the idea of Imago Dei. Yet even in this diversity of views, the Church has consistently affirmed that humans alone have been made in the image of God. Three common perspectives are:
- The Imago Dei viewed as Human Rationality. In this perspective man’s cognitive ability and rational nature clearly shows the inherent dignity that God gave humankind. Theologians such as John Calvin, Thomas Aquinas, and Augustine of Hippo held to versions of this theological perspective.
- The Imago Dei viewed as Human Relationship. In this perspective man’s relationship with God and with others clearly shows the inherent dignity that God gave humankind. Theologians such as Karl Barth and Emil Brunner held to versions of this theological perspective.
- The Imago Dei viewed as Human Dominion. In this perspective man’s dominion, authority, and stewardship over the earth clearly shows the inherent dignity God gave humankind. Theologians such as D.J.A. Clines and Richard Middleton held to versions of this theological perspective.
A Holistic Approach to the Imago Dei
While all the above historical perspectives are biblically and theologically true, none fully explain the Imago Dei in its entirety. Therefore, it’s helpful to think of the theological concept of the Imago Dei like a puzzle. If only one perspective of Imago Dei is viewed as the attribute or expression of the image then the puzzle is incomplete. Only when all the pieces come together do we start to see the image in its entirety. As Resurrection Church, we hold to a holistic view of the Imago Dei that is multifaceted and includes all three of these perspectives and more.
God who is rational gave humanity the ability to think and have reason; God who lives in perfect unity and relationship as a triune God (one nature and three persons) creates mankind to have relationships; God who has dominion over all things gives mankind dominion and stewardship over the earth and all within it. Therefore, the Imago Dei includes, but is not limited to, Human Rationality, Human Relationship, and Human Dominion.
If we don’t view the image of God holistically, there can be legitimate, negative effects. Three examples are as follows:
- If the Imago Dei is only Human Rationality then we may fall into the trap of Gnosticism where we elevate the mind (rational thought) over the body. Or, we might have trouble acknowledging the value of those with cognitive disabilities. Is someone with down syndrome fully human? Yes. So, we don’t dehumanize them.
- If the Imago Dei is only Human Relationship, then we might have trouble acknowledging the value of those who aren’t in relationships. Is someone with social anxiety fully human? Yes. So, we don’t dehumanize them.
- If the Imago Dei is only Human Dominion, then we may have trouble acknowledging the value of the unborn, the elderly, or those with physical disabilities. If someone is not able to work and contribute to society, are they still fully human? Yes. So, we don’t dehumanize them.
As image bearers, we have been gifted with Rationality, Relationship, Dominion, and other gifts that reflect and represent God to the world. We want to avoid minimizing the scope and importance of the image of God, and rather affirm that ALL humans have the image of God EQUALLY and deserve to be treated with complete dignity. So, rather than endorsing a partial perspective, we choose to affirm that all created humans inherently have the image of God.
Sin Nature & the Image of God
In Genesis 1 and 2 we see the first humans, Adam and Eve, created in the very image of God. As we’ve previously stated, this shows that all humanity is created in and with the Image of God. But, in Genesis 3, we see our first parents committing the first sin. This act brought sin into the world which has negatively affected all humanity and all creation. All humans born after Adam and Eve are born with a sin nature that affects every area of life (Gen 8:21, Rom 5:12, Ps 58:3).
As sinners, we misuse our God-given humanity and fall short of faithfully reflecting and representing God on earth:
- We misuse our rationality; humans deny the existence of God, build idols in place of God, are prideful, and more.
- We misuse our relationships; humans murder, are ethnically prejudiced, are sexually immoral, sacrifice their own children, oppress the poor, hate strangers (foreigners), are envious, are liars, and more.
- We misuse our dominion; humans abuse power, are unfaithful stewards, use our resources for personal pleasure and evil, and more.
However, despite our sin, humanity does not lose the image of God. In Genesis 9:6, God is speaking with Noah and his family after the flood, and guiding them in his righteous ways. One thing God establishes is that humans should not murder another. God speaks to Noah saying, “Whoever sheds human blood, by other humans must his blood be shed; for in God’s image God has made humankind.” This is after the flood, when all of humanity turned against God and pursued wickedness, and still, God exclaims that they still retain the Imago Dei. God continues to uphold the dignity of humanity, because humankind bears his very image no matter the crimes and evil they commit.
So, the Scriptures teach emphatically that: (1) Adam and Eve, and all humanity, were created with the image of God; (2) Adam and Eve sinned against God and they pass down a sin nature to all of humanity; (3) Adam and Eve, even after the fall, also pass down the image of God to all of humanity; (4) Our sin nature distorts and obscures the expression of the image of God in humankind, but does not remove the image; because (5) God still acknowledges his image in humankind, despite our sin nature.
Because of these truths, we believe that all human beings bear the image of God simply because they are human. And, while humans can obscure or distort the expression of the image of God through their sin, no human can lose the image of God because of their sin.
We have failed to perfectly and faithfully represent and reflect God to the world. For this reason, we need complete redemption. But for redemption to happen we also need a redeemer - one who has perfectly and faithfully represented God to all creation.
The Perfect Image of God: Jesus Christ
In Jesus Christ, our Savior who was fully God and fully man, we see the perfect expression of the image of God in human form. The Apostle Paul writes in Colossians 1:15-19
He (Jesus Christ) is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.
In the person of Jesus Christ, God is reconciling all things to himself. The eternal Son of God, the second member of the Trinity, comes to completely redeem humanity. Jesus Christ was conceived by the Spirit and born in human form, lived a perfect life and died a sacrificial death, and he rose from the grave and ascended to the right hand of the Father, and will one day return to complete God’s redemptive work.
Through the power of Christ we can live in newness of life and enjoy redeemed fellowship with God and other humans:
- Our rationality is redeemed in Jesus; humans believe in God through the Son by the Holy Spirit, idols no longer have power over us, we can experience true humility, and much more.
- Our relationships are redeemed in Jesus; humans can now truly love, let go of ethnic prejudices, pursue God’s design for marriage and or celibacy, love their children well, help the poor and marginalized, and much more.
- Our dominion is redeemed in Jesus Christ; humans can now use power to uplift others, can faithfully steward their resources, pursue God’s glory, give to others in need, and much more.
Through the one man, Adam, all humans received a sinful nature that distorted and obscured our expression of the Imago Dei. Through the one man, Jesus Christ, all humans, by the power of the Holy Spirit, can receive salvation and reflect/represent God to a broken world. This is not to say that humans who believe in Jesus are perfect, rather that through the Spirit's indwelling we are becoming more like Christ, who is the perfect image of God.
Biblical Principles Rooted in the Imago Dei 
- Because all humans are created in God’s Image, we believe in the full dignity, value, and worth of every single human being, without any reservation whatsoever. Therefore, we denounce all forms of partiality.
- Because God created humans male and female, we believe that men and women are equal in dignity, value, and worth. Therefore, we denounce all forms of sexism (partiality with respect to gender).
- Because God created sexuality and gave it to humanity to be enjoyed in the context of monogamous, heterosexual marriage, we believe that humans reflect and represent God when we live in light of God’s plan for sexuality. We also affirm that no sin - sexual or otherwise - removes the image of God from humanity. Therefore, we denounce all forms of dehumanization on the basis of sexual immorality, sexual orientation and/or gender identity (partiality with respect to sexual orientation or gender identity).
- Because God ordains both marriage and singleness, we believe in the full dignity, value, and worth of every individual regardless of their marital or relational status. Therefore, we denounce all forms of discrimination on the basis of relational status (partiality with respect to relationship).
- Because the Scriptures talk of unborn children as human persons, we affirm the full dignity, value, and worth of every child, born or unborn. Therefore, we denounce all forms of abortion (partiality with respect to human development).
- Because God explicitly commands respect and care for the elderly, we believe all persons, no matter their age, have equal dignity, value and worth. Therefore, we denounce all forms of agism (partiality with respect to age).
- Because God is the author/giver of life, we believe it is a sin to murder the image of God (i.e. humans). Therefore, we denounce all forms of murder and suicide, including euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide (partiality with respect to the value of life).
- Because Jesus cared for the sick and disabled (physically and spiritually), we believe in the full dignity, value, and worth of every human regardless of cognitive or physical disability. Therefore, we denounce all forms of ableism (partiality with respect to human ability or capacity).
- Because God shows no partiality or prejudice among the nations, we believe in the full dignity, value, and worth of every human being of every ethnicity. Therefore, we denounce all forms of racial and ethnic prejudice, both individual and corporate, including prejudice based on skin color (partiality with respect to race and ethnicity or skin color).
- Because God condemns hatred of others and commands love, we believe all people should value others and treat them accordingly. Therefore, we denounce all forms of abuse - physical, sexual, verbal, spiritual, relational and/or psychological (partiality with respect to power and control).
- Because God commands his people to care for the poor, we believe in the full dignity, value, and worth of every human being of whatever economic or class status. Therefore, we denounce all forms of classism - hatred of the poor and/or hatred of the rich (partiality with respect to economic status).
- Because God is the one Creator and Ruler over all, we believe that the full dignity, value, and worth of every human being can never be removed, diminished, or modified by any human decision or action. Therefore, we denounce the dehumanization of accused, convicted or incarcerated persons (partiality with respect to criminal history).
- Finally, because God is the final judge of all humans, we believe in the full dignity, value, and worth of every human being and commit to making disciples of all nations by sharing the eternal hope found in the gospel, to call all people to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ, and to love our neighbors as ourselves.
Cultural and Civic Implications of the Imago Dei
Since all people are created with the image of God stamped on them, there are cultural and societal implications. The Church has held four primary convictions in all societies and cultures over the last 2,000 years. The Church has always been: Pro-Life (for the dignity of all life from womb to tomb), Pro-Family (for monogamy or celibacy), Pro-Justice (against lawlessness, slavery, racism, etc), and Pro-Charity (helping the poor and marginalized).
So, when we engage our civic authorities and the democratic process, we exhort each individual to uphold the image of God and promote life, family, justice, and charity. Below are our guidelines for cultural and civic engagement.
Biblical Guidelines for Cultural and Civic Engagement
When we address cultural issues we will strive to uphold a biblical worldview. The Gospel is God’s timeless truth that is relevant for all people, in all places, throughout all time. Therefore, we affirm the following biblical guidelines for cultural engagement.
- God chooses the times and places in which we live. Therefore, we believe that God has chosen Resurrection Church to make a gospel impact in the Puget Sound region.
- God’s people are called to engage in and shape culture. Therefore, we will bring a gospel presence into the places we live, work, learn, and play.
- God’s people are called to obey governing authorities. Therefore, we will follow all civil laws that do not cause us to violate God’s law.
- God’s people are called to practice civil disobedience when necessary. Therefore, whenever the governing authorities or civil laws contradict God’s law, our allegiance is to God and we will act accordingly.
- God’s people are called to have dominion over the earth. Therefore, we will participate in creating systems and laws in both the public and private sectors with the goal of helping humanity and creation flourish.
- God’s people are called to live humbly and peaceably. Therefore, we will contend for the gospel with love, grace, and truth.
- God calls us to live as citizens of his kingdom. Therefore, we will pursue change in ways that align with the Kingdom of God rather than the kingdoms of men.
- Jesus is to be preeminent in all things. Therefore, we will not align ourselves with any movement or cause over Christ. Rather, Christ is our cause and all.
- Jesus commands us to love our enemies (and especially our brothers and sisters in Christ). Therefore, we will not dehumanize other people over issues of conscience or disagreement.
- God calls church leadership to equip the saints for the work of ministry. Therefore, church leadership will equip and empower individuals (who are the church) to engage in culture.
Corporately Resurrection Church will not promote or embrace any earthly political party or ideology but the leadership of Resurrection Church will encourage individual Christians to engage politically according to their conscience in such a way that is pro-life, pro-family, pro-justice, and pro-charity and supports the dignity, value, and worth of every human being and seeks their flourishing.
<p id="ftnt1"> Closson, David, “What Does it Mean to be Made in God’s Image?” erlc.com.
<p id="ftnt2"> Ibid.
<p id="ftnt3"> Ibid.
<p id="ftnt4"> Isaiah 1:18 (reason), Proverbs 1:1-7 (instruction, understand), Romans 12:2 (mind), Luke 2:52 (grew in wisdom)
<p id="ftnt5"> Genesis 1:26 (Let us - make them), Genesis 1:28 (male and female),
<p id="ftnt6"> Genesis 1:26 (rule over) Psalm 8 (dominion, all things under his feet)
<p id="ftnt7"> Genesis 3:6
<p id="ftnt8"> Psalm 14:1, 53:1
<p id="ftnt9"> Judges 10:14, Psalm 16:4, Jonah 2:8, Romans 1:21-23, Revelation 9:20
<p id="ftnt10"> Proverbs 16:18, Obadiah 1:3, Luke 18:9-14
<p id="ftnt11"> Genesis 4:8
<p id="ftnt12"> Genesis 27:46, John 4:9
<p id="ftnt13"> Numbers 25:1, 2 Samuel 11:4, 1 Kings 11:1-6
<p id="ftnt14"> Psalm 106:37-38, Ezekiel 16:20-21
<p id="ftnt15"> Proverbs 21:13, Ezekiel 22:29, Malachi 3:5
<p id="ftnt16"> Ezekiel 22:7, 29, Deuteronomy 27:19
<p id="ftnt17"> Ecclesiastes 4:4, James 3:16
<p id="ftnt18"> Genesis 27:14-29, Psalm 101:7, Acts 5:1-11
<p id="ftnt19"> 2 Samuel 12:1-11, Ezekiel 34:4, Luke 22:25
<p id="ftnt20"> Genesis 11:1-4, Jeremiah 2:7, Revelation 11:18
<p id="ftnt21"> Genesis 3:1-7, Romans 1:21-31
<p id="ftnt22"> Colossians 1:15-19. ESV.
<p id="ftnt23"> Isaiah 7:14, Matthew 1:18
<p id="ftnt24"> Isaiah 9:6, Matthew 2:1, Luke 2:7
<p id="ftnt25"> Psalm 22:14-18, Luke 23:46-47, John 19:30, Philippians 2:8
<p id="ftnt26"> Luke 24:2-6, Mark 16:5-7, Acts 3:15, Ephesians 1:20
<p id="ftnt27"> Luke 24:51, Acts 1:9-11, Ephesians 4:8-10
<p id="ftnt28"> Revelation 21:5
<p id="ftnt29"> John 14:17,26; 15:26, Romans 8:9,14, Ephesians 1:17
<p id="ftnt30"> Ezekiel 36:25, Romans 6:6-7, 1 Corinthians 10:1-14
<p id="ftnt31"> Psalm 25:9, Isaiah 66:2, Romans 12:3, Philippians 2:5-8
<p id="ftnt32"> John 13:34-35, 1 Corinthians 16:14, Colossians 3:14, 1 John 4:7, 19
<p id="ftnt33"> Isaiah 56:7, Acts 10:34-35, Galatians 3:27-29, Revelation 7:9-10
<p id="ftnt34"> Genesis 2:18-25, Mark 10:9, 1 Corinthians 7:1-16, Ephesians 5:25-33
<p id="ftnt35"> Psalm 8:2, Matthew 18:2-6, Mark 10:13-16, Ephesians 6:1-4, 2 Timothy 3:14-15,
<p id="ftnt36"> Deuteronomy 15:11, Proverbs 19:17, Luke 14:12-14, Acts 20:35, 1 John 3:17,
<p id="ftnt37"> John 19:38, Matthew 10:8, Hebrews 13:11-16, 1 Timothy 6:17-19, 1 Peter 1:3-11
<p id="ftnt38"> Matthew 25:14-30, 2 Corinthians 9:6-7, 1 Peter 4:10,
<p id="ftnt39"> Matthew 5:16, John 15:8, 1 Corinthians 6:20, 10:31, Colossians 3:17
<p id="ftnt40"> Matthew 25:44-45, Luke 3:10-11, James 2:14-17
<p id="ftnt41"> Romans 5:12-14
<p id="ftnt42"> Romans 5:15-19
<p id="ftnt43"> Modified from the 2018 Southern Baptist Convention
<p id="ftnt44"> Genesis 1:26-28, Psalm 8
<p id="ftnt45"> Genesis 1:26-28
<p id="ftnt46"> Genesis 1:26-28; Genesis 2:18, 21-25
<p id="ftnt47"> Genesis 9:6
<p id="ftnt48"> Psalm 139:13-14, Psalm 51:5
<p id="ftnt49"> This does not include therapeutic abortion where the child is already dead or will not survive and the mother’s life is at risk such as an ectopic pregnancy. Nor, does this include spontaneous abortion such as a miscarriage.
<p id="ftnt50"> Leviticus 19:32, Job 12:12
<p id="ftnt51"> Genesis 2:7
<p id="ftnt52"> Matthew 4:23, Luke 5:17-26
<p id="ftnt53"> Acts 10:34, Romans 2:10-11
<p id="ftnt54"> Matthew 5:21-22 & 43-48, 1 John 3:15, Matthew 22:36-40
<p id="ftnt55"> Proverbs 28:27, Deuteronomy 15:10-11, 1 John 3:17
<p id="ftnt56"> Genesis 1:1, Nehemiah 9:6, Psalm 22:28
<p id="ftnt57"> Psalm 75:7, Hebrews 12:23, Revelation 20:11-15
<p id="ftnt58"> Matthew 28:19–20; 2 Corinthians 5:11; 1 Peter 3:14–17
<p id="ftnt59"> Matthew 22:39; Romans 12:10, 15; Philippians 2:4–7
<p id="ftnt60"> Tim Keller
<p id="ftnt61"> Acts 17:26
<p id="ftnt62"> Jeremiah 29:4-7
<p id="ftnt63"> Romans 13:1-7
<p id="ftnt64"> Daniel 3
<p id="ftnt65"> Psalm 8:5-8
<p id="ftnt66"> Romans 12:18
<p id="ftnt67"> Isaiah 9:6-17, Daniel 2:44, John 18:36