How Can Man Be in God’s Image?
“GOD proceeded to create the man in his image, in God’s image he created him; male and female he created them.” So says the inspired record, but what does it mean? How were the first man and woman created in God’s image?—Genesis 1:27.
Were they physically like God? No, that is impossible. Man is human, fleshly, designed to live on the earth. God is spirit, living in unimaginable heavenly glory that no human can even approach. (Exodus 33:18-20; 1 Corinthians 15:50) How, then, was man made in God’s image? In that man was given the ability to exercise God’s outstanding attributes—love, justice, wisdom, and power—as well as other qualities.
The Qualities of Jehovah
Jehovah God’s qualities are reflected in all his creation, but they were dramatically displayed in his dealings with the first human pair, Adam and Eve. (Romans 1:20) His love was seen in that he created the earth just right for man to live on. Jehovah created for man a perfect wife to be his companion and the mother of his children. He placed the two of them in a beautiful garden and gave them in abundance all the things necessary to continue to live and be happy. Most wonderful of all, God gave them the opportunity to live forever.—Genesis 2:7-9, 15-24.
God’s wisdom was seen in his testing the first human pair. If they were to remain as members of Jehovah’s universal family and if they were to live forever as parents of the human race, they would need to be examples in faithfulness and true worship. Hence, Jehovah gave them the opportunity to demonstrate their heart condition under an appropriate test—they were not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and bad. How wise on the part of Jehovah to allow humans to prove their obedience and love for him before giving them the wonderful privileges that he had in mind!
God’s justice was seen in his insistence on high standards in his creatures and in his not compromising those standards. It was seen in his giving Adam and Eve every opportunity to do what was right. And when they failed to do so, his justice was seen in his sentencing them to suffer the stated penalty for rebellion.
Jehovah’s power was seen in his following through on his sentence. Satan, the great rebel, had implied that Jehovah was a liar, and Satan offered great things to Eve if she disobeyed God. (Genesis 3:1-7) But Satan was unable to deliver. He could not prevent Jehovah from expelling Adam and Eve from the garden of Eden, and he was unable to prevent the fulfillment of God’s words to Adam: “Dust you are and to dust you will return.” (Genesis 3:19) However, Jehovah did not at once carry out the death sentence, and in this he further showed his love. He allowed Adam and Eve time to produce children by means of which his original purpose for mankind would eventually be realized.—Genesis 1:28.
Finally, Jehovah God’s justice, love, power, and wisdom were embodied in his promise to furnish a seed that would destroy the works of Satan and undo the sad results of that first rebellion against divine sovereignty. (Genesis 3:15) What a wonderful Creator we have!
Efforts to Imitate God
Although no longer perfect, humans can still display God’s qualities. Hence, Paul encouraged Christians of his day: “Become imitators of God, as beloved children.” (Ephesians 5:1) Throughout history, though, most have demonstrated a gross disregard for God’s qualities. By the time of Noah, men had become so corrupt that Jehovah determined to destroy all mankind except for Noah and his family. Noah was “a righteous [just] man. He proved himself faultless among his contemporaries,” and he demonstrated his love of God by carrying out God’s commands.a “Noah proceeded to do according to all that God had commanded him. He did just so.” (Genesis 6:9, 22) Noah showed love for his fellowman and his attachment to justice by being “a preacher of righteousness.” (2 Peter 2:5) He showed wisdom and properly used his physical power by following God’s direction to build a huge ark, store food in it, collect animals, and go into the ark at Jehovah’s command. He also showed his love of righteousness in not letting his wicked neighbors corrupt him.
The Bible describes many others who similarly demonstrated godly qualities. The foremost was Jesus Christ, who was perfectly in God’s image and thus could say: “He that has seen me has seen the Father.” (John 14:9) Among the qualities that Jesus displayed, outstanding was his love. Love for his Father and for mankind moved him to leave his heavenly home and live as a man on earth. It moved him to glorify his Father by his righteous conduct and to preach to mankind the good news of salvation. (Matthew 4:23; John 13:31) Then, love moved Jesus to offer up his perfect life for the salvation of mankind and, more important, for the sanctification of God’s name. (John 13:1) In striving to imitate God, is there any better example to follow than Jesus Christ?—1 Peter 2:21.
How Can We Be More Like God Today?
How can we, today, display God’s qualities and thus act in God’s image? Well, consider first the quality of love. Jesus said: “You must love Jehovah your God with your whole heart and with your whole soul and with your whole mind.” How do we show love for God? The apostle John answers: “This is what the love of God means, that we observe his commandments; and yet his commandments are not burdensome.”—Matthew 22:37; 1 John 5:3.
Of course, in order to obey Jehovah’s commandments, we have to know them. That involves reading, studying, and meditating on God’s Word, the Bible, and on Bible literature. Like the psalmist, we should be able to say: “How I do love your law! All day long it is my concern.” (Psalm 119:97) As we get a deeper and deeper understanding of God’s Word, we become imbued with God’s way of thinking. We come to love righteousness and hate lawlessness. (Psalm 45:7) That is where Adam went wrong. He knew Jehovah’s law, but he did not love it enough to stick to it. When reading God’s Word, we should constantly ask ourselves, ‘How does this apply to me? What can I do to make my conduct more in harmony with God’s qualities?’
Jesus also said: “You must love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:39) Every healthy individual loves himself and wants the best for himself. That is not wrong. But do we show a comparable love for our neighbor? Do we follow the Biblical injunction: “Do not hold back good from those to whom it is owing, when it happens to be in the power of your hand to do it”?—Proverbs 3:27; Galatians 6:10.
What about the quality of wisdom? Our seeking to manifest this quality leads us to study the Bible because that is the repository of divine wisdom. Psalm 119:98-100 reads: “Wiser than my enemies your commandment makes me, because to time indefinite it is mine. More insight than all my teachers I have come to have, because your reminders are a concern to me. With more understanding than older men I behave, because I have observed your own orders.” At Proverbs 3:18, wisdom is described as “a tree of life.” If we gain wisdom and exercise it, we will receive God’s approval and the reward of everlasting life.—Ecclesiastes 7:12.
What about justice? In this wicked world, justice is a vital quality for those who would please God. Jesus loved righteousness (justice) and hated lawlessness. (Hebrews 1:9) Christians today do the same. Justice moves them to appreciate right qualities. They avoid the unrighteous ways of this world and make the doing of God’s will the most important thing in their lives.—1 John 2:15-17.
As far as power is concerned, all of us have a measure of this. We naturally have physical and intellectual power, and as we grow as Christians, we develop power in a spiritual sense. Jehovah augments our power with his holy spirit to the extent that we, even though seemingly weak, can accomplish Jehovah’s will. Paul said: “For all things I have the strength by virtue of him who imparts power to me.” (Philippians 4:13) The same strength is available to us if we pray for Jehovah’s spirit.
Preaching the Good News
Our displaying the four major attributes of God is well seen in our obeying the command: “Go therefore and make disciples of people of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the holy spirit, teaching them to observe all the things I have commanded you. And, look! I am with you all the days until the conclusion of the system of things.” (Matthew 28:19, 20) Such an educational work brings life to those who respond. What a fine demonstration of love for those who, for the most part, begin by being total strangers to us!
Further, such teaching is the course of wisdom. It brings fruitage that endures. Of what other work can it be said: “By doing this you will save both yourself and those who listen to you”? (1 Timothy 4:16) There are no losers in the disciple-making work. Both those who listen and those who teach gain everlasting blessings.
As for justice, Christians are teaching just and righteous principles to their Bible students. We are helping them to serve Jehovah, “the God of justice.” (Malachi 2:17) Those today who dedicate their lives to serve Jehovah and follow through in faithfulness are declared righteous, justified, leading to their survival of Armageddon.—Romans 3:24; James 2:24-26.
What a demonstration of power is the preaching and teaching of the good news worldwide! (Matthew 24:14) It takes endurance to preach continually in territories where the majority do not wish to hear. But Jehovah, through his spirit, gives the strength necessary to endure to the end.—Isaiah 40:30, 31; Matthew 24:13; Luke 11:13.
True, as imperfect offspring of Adam, we cannot exercise these fine qualities perfectly. Yet, remember, man was made in the image of God, and if we strive to be more and more like God, then we are in part fulfilling the reason for our existence. (Ecclesiastes 12:13) If we exert ourselves to do the best we can and ask for forgiveness when we fall short, then we can hope to survive into God’s righteous new world, where we may eventually attain to perfection. Then, we will be in a paradise earth populated with perfect humans, all displaying Jehovah God’s qualities to the full. What a joy! Finally, in the fullest sense of the expression, humans will be in the image of God.
a “Righteous” and “just” are very closely related. In the Greek Scriptures, they are represented by the one word, diʹkai·os.
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Jesus showed us how to cultivate Jehovah’s divine qualities
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Finally, humans will in the fullest sense be in the image of God