“Made in the Image of God”

Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle him in his words. And they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone's opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said, “Caesar's.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's.” When they heard it, they marveled. And they left him and went away.

(Matthew 22:15-22)

In the above text, Jesus simultaneously escapes a trap and teaches a valuable lesson. The Pharisees and Herodians, normally at odds with one another, team up to trip up the Lord. Their question expects an either/or answer but Jesus gives a both/and answer (“fear God, honor Emperor” 1 Pet. 2:17). But what’s all this about coins? Jesus points to the image of Tiberius on the coin for the poll tax (Greek εἰκών, eikōn). This is the same Greek word used in the Septuagint translation (LXX) of Genesis 1:26-28 which speaks of God creating humanity in his “image.” Jesus makes a subtle and powerful contrast: since Caesar’s image is stamped on the coin, he can lay claim to money through taxation; but since God’s image is stamped on us, he can lay claim to our whole lives (Mt. 22:36-38).

What is the “image” of God within us? It consists of those faculties that distinguish us from the rest of creation. These are things that make us unlike animals and like God. All creation is reflective of the Creator but humans uniquely reflect God. There are at least five dimensions to the divine image within us.

Rational: ability to think — Humans can reason. We are told “be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding” (Psa. 32:9). Though animals have rudimentary intelligence, they don’t share our complex rationality, wisdom and understanding.

Moral: ability to choose — We have a will. That is, we are moral beings who can distinguish between right and wrong (Gen. 2:16f). Humans are imbued with the unique quality of free moral choice.

Social: ability to love — We are emotional beings made for relationship. This is reflected in the plurality of God and the plurality of humanity (male and female, Gen. 1:26). God exists in eternal communion with himself (Father, Son, Spirit). God is love and we reflect God most accurately when we love God and our neighbor (Mt. 22:37-40).

Creative: ability to work — We don’t just exist within creation, we are given jurisdiction to rule over it, yet under God (Gen. 1:28; Psa. 8:3-8). We bear God’s image by using that ruling power to make full use of the amazing potential of creation. We farm fields, build houses, grow families and communities, invent and create. The Hebrew word for “image” (Gen. 1:28) is translated “idol” in most places. Idol statues were often placed in temples to represent the gods (Ex. 20:4-5a). In contrast, humans are God’s living “images” placed in the temple of his creation to represent him and rule on his behalf. Exercising godly dominion is a uniquely human vocation.

Spiritual: ability to worship — Lastly, we were created to be in perfect communion with God. He is described as “walking in the garden” among humans in the beginning (Gen. 3:8). Ultimately, we are fashioned, body and spirit, for that fellowship (Gen. 2:7).

But underneath all this is an intrinsic quality of being human that has nothing to do with ability. Simply by virtue of being human we are made in God’s image, a fact that has far reaching implications. Though God’s image within us has been corrupted by sin it can be fully restored through Christ, who is “the image of God” (Col. 1:15).