Ask the UMC: What is meant by the term ‘image of God’?
Great question! Humans are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27), which means we were created good. We are made to be in a close relationship with God — to love God and love our neighbor, who is also created in the image of God. It also means God gave us some responsibility to be God’s representatives in the world, to be the caretakers of God’s creation.
In an early sermon called “The Image of God,” Wesley describes pre-fall humanity as having “an unerring understanding, an uncorrupt will, and perfect freedom” and God gave “the last stroke to the image of God in man, by crowning all these with happiness.”
Happiness is part of the image of God!
Sin then enters, distorting that image in us, but it is still there. Wesley writes, “The instrument being now quite untuned” — God’s image is still there, but we are not in tune with it. God restores that image in us through God’s sanctifying grace.
The Rev. F. Belton Joyner Jr., in “United Methodist Questions, United Methodist Answers” offers similar insight.
“Genesis 1:26 indicates that God created humankind in God’s own image so that humans would have dominion over the rest of the created order. Being created in the image of God means, first, having responsibility as stewards of creation.
“Genesis 1:27 spells out that when God created humankind in God’s image, God created them male and female. Being created in the image of God means, second, that we are created for relationships.
“Genesis 1:26 says that God created humankind to be in God’s likeness, to live in the moral life of God. Being created in the image of God means, third, that we are intended to be in relationship with God and God’s values.
“In his sermon ‘The New Birth’ … John Wesley used three phrases to mark these dimensions of being created in the image of God: natural image (we are spiritual beings with freedom of will); political image (we are governors of the created world and engaged in relationships with others); and moral image (we are intended for holiness and righteousness).
“… this perfect image, this unbroken reflection of God, was shattered by human sin. It took the perfection of Jesus Christ to restore the image.
“To be in the image of God is not to be God. To be in the image of God is to be free to obey God. United Methodists take with great seriousness all three implications of being in God’s image: natural image (we invite persons to be in relationship with God); political image (we invite persons to care for the environment and to care for personal relationships); moral image (we invite persons to live lives of personal and social holiness).
“All persons are created in the image of God, even those we do not like, those we do not respect, and those whom we actually fear. That image is broken in all humankind, including those whom we enjoy, those whom we honor, and those who are ‘on our side.’
“Do United Methodists always live in perfect reflection of God’s love, God’s justice, God’s image? Of course not. But the God who created humankind in God’s image is still at work to restore us all to that image.”
This content was produced by InfoServ, a ministry of United Methodist Communications.
First published June 26, 2017.