For our winter morning series we are going to examine who we are and who God is. The book of Genesis is the book where God introduces himself to the world, defining who we are and revealing who he is. Often the book of Genesis is looked at in ways that the book does not intend, missing the key thrust of the early chapters. Open your copies of God’s word to the book of Genesis where God introduces himself to the world.
The Set Up (1:1-25)
When you look at the first 25 verses of Genesis 1 you will notice that there is not much time spent on the creation process. For something as amazing and staggering as the creation of the universe, just a couple sentences are given to each creation day. There are two important repetitions found through these first six creation days. The first repetition is “And God said.” Each day begins with God speaking and when he speaks, things are created. What amazing power that we see in God who simply says words and universes, animals, plants, and so much more are created! The second repetition is that God sees his creation as good six times in the first 25 verses (1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25). The repetitions tell us what we are supposed to focus on regarding this account. God creates by his powerful word and what he creates is always good.
The Crown of Creation (1:26-28)
But the pattern changes in the reading when we come to verse 26. Not only is the longest narration found regarding the creation of humans, but the description of the creation sequence is different. In verse 26 we are told that humans are going to be different than the rest of creation. Humans will be made in the image of God, after God’s likeness. Verse 27 makes clear that we are not talking about males being created in God’s image, but all humans, male and female. Volumes have been written trying to understand what it means that humans are made in God’s image. Much has been said that humans are able to reason, have self-awareness, have a conscience, and possess spiritual discernment. These things are part of what distinguishes humans from the rest of creation. The idea of sharing characteristics with God is certainly an important observation. We can say that a child is in the image of the parents because the child mirrors the attitudes, expressions, and character traits of the parents. But the context tells us what God means by making humans in his image. Let us look carefully at verses 26-28.
Then 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. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Genesis 1:26–28 ESV)
Notice that the picture of rule is given twice. In verse 26 God says that humans will have dominion over the creation. Then God creates humans in his image and then gives the charge to humans to rule over the earth. Now you may be asking how this shows the meaning of being made in God’s image. “Throughout the ancient Near East, an image was believed to contain the essence of that which it represented. That essence equipped the image to carry out its function” (NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible). Many other commentators note that in ancient Near Eastern thinking, an image represented the king, not in appearance, but in authority. Images would be established as signs of the rulers authority over a region.
This picture makes sense of what God is saying about the creation of humans in Genesis 1:26-28. Humans are made in the image of God, possessing God’s authority throughout all of the creation to rule over it. Humans are not a physical representation of what God looks like. But we bear the essence of God, reflect his attributes, and act on his behalf over the creation. This is an important description. Our rule as humans over the earth is not indiscriminate nor is it that we possess the authority of ourselves. We are God’s representatives. Our acts are to represent God as we show God’s authority and rule to all creation. Think about that idea: everything we do is to represent God. You are made in his image.
Now this is to be a liberating idea for us also. Our worth is not based on what we own, what we look like, where we are from, what we have done, what people think of us, how much power we have or do not have, if you are married or have children, or what our ethnicity is. No metric that we come up with is a proper metric for our worth or self-valuation. Here is our worth: you were made in God’s image. That is why you are valuable. You do not make yourself valuable by what you do. You do not make yourself valuable by what you own or who you boss around. You are valuable because God made you and gave you a purpose to represent God on the earth. This is what we mean by speaking about not having self-esteem but God-esteem. Self-esteem looks at what other thinks of us, what we own, what we do, what our career is, if we are good looking, if we have great net worth, and any other definition that the world places on us. God-esteem looks at what God thinks of us and that becomes our self-worth and value. God-esteem is our self-esteem. What God says about us is all we need to feel good about ourselves.
Therefore, we love God because God has given each person value. This is the level playing field that the world needs. If there is no God, then how are we to measure we each other? This is when the powerful oppress those who do not have power. This is when the rich harm the poor. This is when mighty get away with injustice. It is only when we recognize that there is a God who has made every person and therefore every person has equal value and rights regardless of gender, race, color, power, wealth, and the like. There is no master race. There is no better race. There is no smarter race. There is one race: humans made in the image of God. Do we see how liberating this is? This is the liberation God is giving to us in this first chapter.
Now we need to consider our value even further because the world is skewing this important concept. Humans are made in the image of God. No human is higher than another. This is why abortion is a sin, slavery is a sin, sex trafficking is a sin, prostitution is a sin, and any other action that harms or devalues another person is a sin. Further, all humans are more valuable than anything else in creation. You will notice that humans are the crowning achievement of the creation sequence. Nothing else is said to be made in God’s image. Nothing else is given the rule as God’s representatives over the earth. Animals are not equal to or higher than humans. Plants, trees, and vegetation are not equal to or higher than humans. The ground and all that is in the earth is not equal to or higher than humans. God has placed humans at the top and humans are to have rule over it. Animals, plants, and the earth are not to have rights as if they are humans made in God’s image. Again, this does not mean we can do whatever we want. We are acting on God’s behalf in this world. We are to represent God in this world. But we cannot overthrow the order that God did give to humans. Animals, plants, and ground are not humans and are not to be treated in that way.
Second, notice in verse 27 that God made male and female in the image of God. In this creation account there is nothing superior about males or about females. We will more closely examine this in Genesis 2. But it is important to notice that there is nothing here that speaks to any inequality between males and females. All are made in God’s image. The historical ugliness of the male-female relationship is not biblical or godly. It is sin. No one is greater. Women have equal dignity, equal value, equal worth, equal respect, equal care, and an equal destiny. No man should ever look down on a woman or ever feel some sort of superiority. Maybe when we embrace this idea we would be able to move away from a hatred of our gender. God made us male and female. He made you who you are. You should not desire to be another gender or try to change who God made you to be. Perhaps our definition of gender is broken in this world. Too often our world has unbiblical, false definitions of what it means to be male and female. Being male does not mean you never cry and being a female does not mean you never can be tough or play sports. We have too many false constructs that are hurting people because we have moved so far away from God’s picture of male and female. Again, we will have more to say about this in Genesis 2. God gives equality, value, and dignity to male and female as both are made in God’s image. There should have never been nor should there ever be in the future anything that altars the equality that God gives to men and women. Glorify God in how God made you as a male or as a female.
Our Mission (1:28)
Let us turn our attention to the mission that God gives to humans. God tells humans to be fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth. Subdue the earth and have dominion over it (1:28). Now we can clearly see our mission in this picture. Humans, as representatives of God, are to fill the earth with God’s image. More humans should mean more people acting as God’s representatives in every place. Use the earth and rule the earth in a way to display the greatness and glory of God. It is worth noting that God has no concern for overpopulation. Ancient texts considered overpopulation a problem (cf. Atrahasis Epic). But God declares it his blessing for humans to flourish throughout the earth.
It does not take much reflection to realize that we have messed up this mission. We will see this more clearly in Genesis 3. We were made in the image of God and to represent God all over the earth. But we have messed that image up. What God is doing through Jesus is restoring that image of God. The apostle Paul declared in Ephesians 4:23-24 that we to put off the old self and put on the new self “created after the likeness of God.” Paul told the Corinthians that we are being transformed into the same image of God (2 Corinthians 3:18). In 2 Corinthians 5:18 the apostle Paul used the image of being ambassadors as we go through the world representing God. We are made in God’s image. Sin wrecks the image. Jesus restores the image.
So who are we? Every single person is made in God’s image. This changes how we look at others and how we look at ourselves. Other people were made in God’s image just like you. So you are not better than anyone else. No one else is better than you. You are not superior to them in any way. They are not superior to you in any way. It does not matter how different we may be, how we look, or what we have, we are all made in God’s image.
This changes how we think about life. You are to represent God as a bearer of God’s image. We are to show the character of God everywhere we go. Rather than God setting up statues and monuments all over the earth to reflect his rule on earth, he put us on earth as living representations of him. So we need to represent God at work, in our neighborhoods, in our marriages, in our homes, in the church, and anywhere we go. You are God’s image. Represent God in your world.