How Should the Image of God Affect Christian Conduct?

The image of God is a discussion that has gathered some attention in recent days. Christians should be thankful for this renewed discussion. Conversations surrounding the doctrine of the image of God have furthered appreciation for the sanctity of life, the dignity of all of humanity, and the responsibility to be an advocate on behalf of the oppressed.

Genesis 1:26-27 presents humanity as being created in God’s image, and thereby being the pinnacle of God’s creation. Though there are varying opinions regarding the doctrine of the image of God, we should at least agree that the divine image gives every person value.

Sin marred the image of God in humanity, but it did not destroy the image of God. God acted through Christ to redeem and restore those created in His image.

Though humanity is created in the image of God, Jesus Himself is said to be the image of God.

In Colossians 1:15, Jesus is introduced as the image of God and is shown to be the One who redeems us (vv. 13-14), the One who rules over creation (vv. 15-20), and the One who reconciles us to God (vv. 21-23).

Christ, the image of God, is presented as both the Creator (v. 16) and the Re-creator of believers into Christ’s own image. In other words, hope is given as people are reconciled through Christ, who renews us to a true knowledge according to His own image (Colossians 3:9-11).

With that brief discussion, I would like to offer three applications of how the divine image of God should affect our Christian conduct as we are being renewed according to His image. In sum, the doctrine of the image of God has implications evangelistically, socially, and eschatologically.

First, knowing Christ as the image of God should strengthen our public witness. Christians should understand that the only way for the image of God to be restored is through the transforming power of the Spirit of Christ. By God’s design, Christian witness is an irreducible link between the One who is God’s image and the ones who need to be restored into God’s image. Our conduct is critical no matter the medium through which our witness is presented.

The social media explosion has provided great opportunity for witness while simultaneously presenting temptations that would destroy our witness. Social outrage has become such a phenomenon that a quick search of the Chronicles of Higher Education returns almost 900 articles written on outrage through social media as it relates to higher education.

James 3:9 appeals to the people of God to be careful that their speech not “curse men who have been made in the likeness of God.” There are certainly times when anger may be the appropriate response to situations of injustice. However, diminishing the value of another person through treating them in an unseemly manner on social media is harmful to our witness of Christ’s work.

In a world that is overwhelmed with outrage, it should be Christians who come to the forefront as voices of reason, pointing others toward the dignity of humanity that is presented through God’s act in creation and Christ’s work in His incarnation.

Outrage tends to deafen the ears of our audience. We should be mindful that any indignation comes from a Christlike mindset that desires the restoration of the image of God within ourselves and within those around us. Otherwise, our witness will be drowned in a sea of un-Christlike anger.

Second, recognizing the image of God should encourage social responsibility. Jesus—the perfect image of God—acted on behalf of those who were created in God’s image. His primary action was to provide for their salvation, yet He also showed concern for their current situations of life. Carl Henry demonstrates that we can still prioritize evangelism and proclamation without sacrificing social concern. Indeed, social concern provides various avenues for evangelism.[1]

Concern for the pre-born, the elderly, the opposite gender, or the immigrant should not be based primarily upon economics or politics (though these are important) but upon recognizing the dignity of every human life and seeking to alleviate their suffering with the hope that we might point them to Christ.

Jesus said that when we contribute to those who are in need, it is as if we are doing the same for Him (Matthew 25:40). He elsewhere states that He has come to be the fulfillment of the prophetic promise to preach the Gospel to the poor, proclaim release to the captives, give sight to the blind, and set free those who are oppressed (Luke 4:18). Jesus cared for the oppressed because they, too, are made in God’s image. There is certainly an eschatological thrust to His words, but is there not also a compassion for those who are presently suffering?

Finally, the doctrine of the image of God should deepen our eschatological hope. There is a forward-looking hope that uniquely belongs to those who have been reconciled to Christ through faith. Our hope is not limited to a new dwelling place but also to a renewal; the renewal of bearing God’s image—“We will be like him, because we will see him just as He is” (1 John 3:2).

Until that time, the commission given to the Christian is to invite everyone to come and receive the hope and forgiveness provided through Christ. As Christians, the integrity of our witness is inseparable from our public conduct and our concern for those who are broken.

Those who are created in God’s image matter to Jesus. They should matter to us, too.

[1] Jerry M. Ireland, Evangelism and Social Concern in the Theology of Carl F.H. Henry (Eugene, OR: Pickwick, 2015), 5.