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What does it mean to be created in God’s Image?


Who and what is a human being? This is perhaps the most compelling moral and ethical question facing us today. How we answer this question will largely determine our view of such issues as abortion, infanticide, genetic engineering, cloning, the whole range of “human rights” issues.

If human beings are by mere happenstance at the top of the so-called evolutionary pyramid and therefore the most sophisticated mammal, then all those practices become far more acceptable since we would just be highly complicated animals.

On the other hand, if human beings are the special creation of God, imbued with His divine image, then there is a sacredness to us. We bear the spiritual and moral nature of our Creator. This means that there are many things that must never be perpetrated against any person. 

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Fortunately, God, in His watch and care over humanity, has left us in no doubt about His answer to the psalmist’s question long ago, “What is man, that thou art mindful of him?” (Psalm 8:4).

As the special creation of God, created male and female, there is an invincible divide between human beings and the rest of creation. It is an enormous difference in kind, not degree, between humans and the rest of all life forms. 

Theologically, this truth has been called the Imago Dei, God’s divine image stamped indelibly on human beings. While that image has been marred and distorted by the fall of man in the garden, it is still present in each of us, awaiting final redemption through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.

Too many modern philosophies define man and his rights as collectives, as part of an ethnic or gender identification, rather than seeing each individual as bearing God’s image.

They see human beings as merely an insignificant part of a vast universe. Author H.G. Wells proclaimed, “Man is an inhabitant of a thin rind on a negligible detached blob of matter, belonging to one of the millions of stars, in one among millions of island universes.” 

Others have taken to worshipping man, making him the “measure of all things,” elevating humanism to a virtual religion, and bowing down to man either individually or collectively. Further, many people today have a false “trinity” of narcissism — “I, myself and me!”

In contrast to these philosophies, the truth of Holy Scripture is that God does not relate to human beings solely in the collective sense. He sees each one of us individually, and He loves each of us with an agape, Holy Spirit-inspired love. The Bible tells us that God has a plan and a purpose for each and every human being (Psalm 139:13-16). God never created a nobody. To God, everyone is somebody.

God sent His Son to die on the cross to redeem “the world” so that “whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

This means quite literally that every human being is uniquely invaluable to God, in a uniquely important way: He creates each of us as a never-to-be-duplicated human being with a divinely pre-ordained purpose to fulfill. 

Among many other things, this means that the active killing of a human being before birth is unacceptable and despicable. In rare cases where baby and mother must be separated to save a mother’s life, killing the unborn child is not medically necessary, even if its life cannot be saved in the act of saving the mother. Further,  hastening the death of any human being at any stage of life before their natural time is despicable and contrary to God’s purposes. 

It is the bedrock belief in the Imago Dei that has led to the improvement of human conditions everywhere Christianity has gone. When Christianity became the dominant force in the Roman Empire, gladiatorial combat, slavery, and other human abuses were eliminated or greatly reduced. Everywhere the Gospel has gone, the plight of women and children has been improved significantly. 

The fundamental truth inspiring the American Revolution, “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” is a direct derivative of the Imago Dei.

As Christians, we must never see any human being as less valuable, or less human than someone else. The ground at the foot of the cross is level. Everyone needs the grace of God equally — the good, the bad, the rich, the poor, the gifted, and the challenged. And that grace is equally available to all who will bend the knee and confess Jesus as Savior and Lord.

Originally published at Decision, the magazine of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. 

Dr. Richard Land, BA (Princeton, magna cum laude); D.Phil. (Oxford); Th.M (New Orleans Seminary). Dr. Land served as President of Southern Evangelical Seminary from July 2013 until July 2021. Upon his retirement, he was honored as President Emeritus and he continues to serve as an Adjunct Professor of Theology & Ethics. Dr. Land previously served as President of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (1988-2013) where he was also honored as President Emeritus upon his retirement. Dr. Land has also served as an Executive Editor and columnist for The Christian Post since 2011.

Dr. Land explores many timely and critical topics in his daily radio feature, “Bringing Every Thought Captive,” and in his weekly column for CP.

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