Image Bearers: Ways You Are Made Like God


No, you are not omnipotent, and you never will be. You are not a god, and you cannot ascend to that level. That’s been tried, and the devil and his angels got condemned forever for it. Yet, God made you like Him. You bear the image of God.

Genesis 1:26 records how God created human beings: “Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness.’” By design, God purposely made us like Him. But how? What does it mean to bear the image of God?

Image and Likeness

The idea of an image is not complex or foreign. The Hebrew term refers to a statue or copy that represents the original. In 1 Samuel 6:5, the word image described replica mice and tumors that represented the real rodents and diseases that plagued the Philistines. God told them,

“You shall make images of your tumors and images of your rats that ravage the land, and you shall give glory to the God of Israel; perhaps He will lighten His hand from you, from your gods, and from your land… . And they set the ark of the LORD on the cart, and the chest with the gold rats and the images of their tumors.”

That’s kind of gross, but the meaning is clear. When people saw the replica rats and tumors, they knew what they represented. No, the images did not have all the abilities of the genuine rats and tumors to spread disease and sicken people, but everyone could make the connection between the images and what they represented. The same is true for mankind.1 We are made in the image of God. No, we do not have all the attributes and abilities of God Himself, yet in how we are made, we reflect our Maker.

The word likeness is a close synonym to image. A likeness is a resemblance, a shape, or a pattern. Often a likeness is created using a mold which gives the object its shape and distinctive features. God patterned human beings after Himself. In some sense, we are like Him. But in what sense?

Attempts to Describe the Image of God

Substantive View: The Image of God is What We Are

According to theologian Millard Erickson, going back to the church fathers, Christians have considered the image of God to “consist of certain characteristics within the very nature of the human, either physical or psychological/spiritual.”2 This is called the substantive view. The image of God is what we, as humans, are.

Relational View: The Image of God is What We Experience

In more recent times, scholars have viewed the image of God not as “something inherently or intrinsically present in humans, but as the experiencing of a relationship between the human and God, or between two or more humans.”3 This is the relational view. The image of God is seen in what we, as humans, experience in our relationships.

Functional View: The Image of God is What We Do

Another approach identifies the image of God not as “something a human is or experiences, but something a human does.”4 This is the functional view. For example, God creates, and man in God’s image reflects God in what he makes. God is Lord over creation, and He gave humans the responsibility to represent Him and have dominion over creation. The image of God shows in what we do that mimics our Maker.

Which View is Most Biblical?

Theologian Wayne Grudem argues that all three views contain biblical truth: “The expression ‘image of God’ refers to every way in which man is like God. (Therefore there is some truth in the substantive views of the image of God, as well as in relational views and functional views, and we need not choose between them.)”5 John MacArthur and Richard Mayhew agree that all three views do express truth about aspects of being in the image of God, but unlike Grudem, they choose one view as preferable. They write, “The best view, however, is that the image of God is substantive or structural to man. Function and relationship are the consequences of man being the image of God structurally.”6 In addition, verses that use image/likeness terminology describe what man is (Gen 1:26), was born to be (Gen 5:3), or will one day become (Rom 8:29). Therefore, the image of God is what we humans are, but some unique abilities and experiences result from being made in His image.

Ways We Are Made Like God

If the image of God is what we, as humans, are, then how is this likeness to God seen in our makeup? What abilities do we have as a result of how God made us?

God’s Image Seen in What We Are

  1. Ontological: Like God, “man is a living, personal, self-conscious, active being with personality.”7
  2. Spiritual: Man has a spirit and has the “ability to relate to God who is a spirit.”8
  3. Moral: Man has a God-given conscience, a built-in sense of justice.
  4. Intellectual: Man can reason and think logically and critically.
  5. Volitional: Man can make personal choices that are much more than instinct.
  6. Emotional: Like God, man can feel complex emotions.

God’s Image Seen in What We Can Do

  1. Social/Relational: Man has the capacity to love God and others similar to God within the Trinity.
  2. Linguistic: Man can communicate with God and each other and receive communication from God about abstract and spiritual concepts.
  3. Functional: Like God, man can create (though not from nothing) and have dominion over the rest of creation which is not made in God’s image like man is.

Parallel Truths: The Image of God and the Glory of God.

So, in many ways, you are like God. He made you to reflect your Maker. Why did God do this? Because He made you to represent Him! When you represent God well, you glorify Him. This is the chief end of man, revealed from the beginning in how God made us.

In the distant past, God said to Israel: Glorify Me!

Isaiah 43:7 Everyone who is called by My name, Whom I have created for My glory; I have formed him, yes, I have made him.”

To the church today, God commands: Glorify Me!

1 Corinthians 10:31 Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.

Of future saints, God foretells: Glorify Me!

Revelation 4:11 “You are worthy, O Lord, To receive glory and honor and power; For You created all things, And by Your will they exist and were created.”


From creation, God made human beings in His image for His glory. So, reflect your Maker in who you are and what you do. Represent Him well wherever you are. Glorify Him because He made you in His own image to reflect His likeness.

Read Part 2.


1 In this post, the terms man, mankind, human, humankind, and human beings are interchangeable. The Bible uses the terms man (Genesis 1:27) and mankind (Genesis 5:2) to refer to both males and females and the entire human race.

2 Millard Erickson, Christian Theology, 460.

3 Erickson, 460.

4 Erickson, 460.

5 Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, 568.

6 John MacArthur and Richard Mayhew, Biblical Doctrine, 413.

7 MacArthur and Mayhew, 413.

8 Grudem, 571.

MR Conrad Bio

Dr. Conrad serves in urban Asia. He, his wife, and their four children squeeze into a 700 square-foot apartment where he seizes rare moments of quiet to write amidst homeschooling, a cacophony of musical instruments, and the steady stream of visitors they so enjoy having in their home. He enjoys birding, board games, and basketball. He is the author of, so far, two books.