Studying Imago Dei: What is it?

A Scripture study from Caring, part one of four.

From the very beginning, God set humanity apart from the rest of creation. All of creation came to be through the Word of God, but humanity was made through the breath of God and in his image. God paused to specifically make and design us with a plan and a purpose. Imago Dei is the Latin translation of “Image of God,” and the phrase represents the divine rights we are all equally endowed with as human beings. It means that God has stamped us with his image so that we would reflect his character and goodness throughout the earth, and no one is exempt from this privilege. No one’s Imago Dei is greater or less than another’s. It is the great equalizer that qualifies us all to be treated equitably on this earth, regardless of class, race and ethnicity, gender or socio-economic status. Sin has hindered us from fully living out God’s plans for us, but that doesn’t mean we stop working toward the fulfillment of those plans. As you go through this study, I pray that you allow the Holy Spirit to work in you and through you so that you can better understand the importance of Imago Dei and God’s plans for humanity. I pray you begin to live into who he has called you to be, and that you find purpose in who he has created you to be.

Behind the scenes

Read what Scripture says in Genesis 1:26-27: Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

Beyond the surface 

Take some time to read through these verses several times. Let the fact that God created you in his image sink into your mind and heart. We may not physically look like him, but we are endowed with certain facets of his character so that we could be conduits of his character and image on earth. What are some of the characteristics of God that we are to reflect on earth to the world around us? Let some of the following verses guide you.

  • Galatians 5:22-25: But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.
  • 1 John 4:7-9: Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.
  • Deuteronomy 10:12, 17-19: And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God ask of you but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in obedience to him, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul,…. For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt.

Between the lines

In Genesis 1, as God was creating the world, he consistently commanded things to be produced or created, and they would spring to life. Yet when it came to humanity, God said, “Let us make.” This is the beginning of the difference between humanity and the rest of creation. The first difference you may see is that God references an “us,” invoking the trinity. This primarily shows that Jesus and the Holy Spirit were working in concert with God the Father in creation. Secondarily, it shows the importance of community to God. Because God lived in community, he created us through the fellowship of the trinity, and for fellowship with one another and with God. As we go through this study it will be important to note the importance of fellowship and community we were intended to have with God, one another, and the world around us. The second difference we see is that instead of saying, “Let there be,” God says, “Let us make.” God showed purpose and care in creating us, and we cannot forget that.

  • Read Genesis 2:18-25. Why do you believe God saw that man being alone was a bad thing? What are the benefits of community?
  • Read Psalm 139:13-16. What does this say about how God formed you? How does it make you feel that God created you in such a special way?

One thing I marvel at is the deliberate nature of creation. Step by step God created and formed the world so that we would have all that we need to thrive and survive in this world. God even created the Garden of Eden for us, so that we would have an intimate place to fellowship with him and with each other. Notice that while God blessed us to rule over the earth and its creatures, we are not commanded to rule over one another. God deliberately created us to live in harmonious, holy communion with one another regardless of our differences. Genesis 1:27 displays this intention by showing that that male and female are both created in the image of God, without any distinctions.

  • What does this tell us about how we are called to treat our fellow brothers and sisters on earth?
  • What type of community should we strive to have with both God and our brothers and sisters on earth? The fall destroyed the perfect community we were supposed to have with God and others, but that doesn’t mean we have to live as fallen people. Just as Jesus Christ restored our relationship with God, through Christ’s love and the work of the Holy Spirit we can begin to restore our relationships with others.

Closing thoughts

God created us to dwell in perfect and holy communion with him and one another. He created us in his divine image so that we would bear that image throughout the earth bringing about his love, and peace, and grace. He created us with thought, care and immense love. As you let these truths sink in, consider how it feels to know that you bear the image of God in your likeness. How does it feel to know that your brothers and sisters on earth also bear that image?

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