It is a common belief that all human beings are created in the image of God. This belief is used by some as comfort for the way they look or feel. It is used by others to justify a sinful behavior: “If I’m created in the image of God, this can’t be wrong.” But is it true? Are human beings created in the image of God? The answer is quite simple: no, because that image was lost in the Fall.
God did originally create man in his image. Genesis 1:26-27 tells us, God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. The Triune God did create the first humans in His image.
What is the image of God? Our catechism defines it this way: “The image of God is the true knowledge of God and the perfect righteousness and holiness which our first parents, Adam and Eve, possessed before the Fall.” (ELS Catechism, p.97) In other words, the “image of God” has nothing to do with how you look or feel. But the loss of it has everything to do with who you are.
The only two humans ever to be created in the image of God were Adam and Eve. That image, perfect righteousness and holiness, was lost when they disobeyed God and brought sin and death in to the world. Since then, we are all conceived and born sinful: Just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned. (Romans 5:12)
We see this already in Genesis when Adam and Eve’s son, Seth, is born: When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God. Male and female he created them, and he blessed them and named them Man when they were created. When Adam had lived 130 years, he fathered a son in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth. Notice the distinction? Man was created in the likeness (image) of God. But Seth is fathered in the image of Adam, because the image of God had been lost due to Adam’s disobedience.
None of us are born in the image of God. That’s the sad truth. Instead of being born, as God intended, in perfect righteousness and holiness, we are born apart from God, disobedient and sinful. And in that natural state we are without hope.
But God, in His mercy, did not leave us without hope. He sent His Son, Jesus, to save us from our sins and restore our relationship with God: For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. (Romans 5:19) Jesus lived the perfect life God demanded of Adam and Eve and that He demands of us: You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:48) Perfect means that you have never sinned, not even once. Only Jesus can make that claim. And Jesus died on the cross to pay the price for your sins and mine and for the sins of all: Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us. (Galatians 3:13)
And by God’s grace, his undeserved love for us, faith in Christ as our Savior is created through God’s Word and through Baptism. Faith, created by the Holy Spirit, takes hold of the message of forgiveness and salvation. Rejection of Christ damns us. Faith in Christ alone saves us.
And faith in Christ as our Savior gives us the desire and will to live according to God’s plan. In Christian faith, the image of God is partially restored: Put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. (Colossians 3:10) Put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. (Ephesians 4:24) Only through faith can we reject the temptations and sins held out as desirable, fun or satisfying by Satan and the world. May God grant a strengthening of faith, through His Word and Sacrament, to all believers.
We are not born in the image of God. But through Christ we are forgiven, and in faith that image is partially restored. We look forward to heaven, where the image of God will be fully restored in us.