Identity Part I: The Image of God

From identity flows nature, meaning, and purpose. If we can learn who we are, then every belief and action gushes from that knowledge.

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Why are you here? What are you? What is the point of everything? Do life and existence have a meaning? Are we guided by impersonal fates or plans designed by higher beings? Or are we the product of spectacular, natural forces acting over the eons through haphazard processes to yield the accident of consciousness? Man has long contemplated his place in the universe and the metaphysical questions that follow. History and literature are filled with the search for truth and meaning as humanity has cried out for knowledge and sought significance. The world’s philosophers, scientists, theologians, and thinkers have sought to answer the rudimentary question: Who am I?

Identity is the most basic question for an individual. From identity flows nature, meaning, and purpose. If we can learn who we are, then every belief and action gushes from that knowledge. For instance, if our identity is simply a ‘cosmic coincidence,’ then our nature is survival, our purpose is whatever we desire, and our existence has no loftier meaning. However, if our identity is a ‘created being,’ then everything about us is defined by the Creator.

Whatever we are, we clearly have been given a choice in what we believe about ourselves (and that choice itself leads to another philosophical set of questions). We can live our lives following various belief systems, but only some will fulfill what our true identity demands while other philosophies lead us to believe and act erroneously. But we are not left without a guide in this most important matter. The full counsel of God is written in His Word to answer our most basic question about life, purpose, and identity. Tragically, many Christians do not fully grasp who they are.

The Image of God

Man’s identity is discussed from the earliest chapters of Genesis. God wants us to understand our uniqueness and purpose so we can spend our life fulfilling our divinely appointed destiny—not wondering about it.

Throughout Genesis, chapter one, the order of creation unfolds with the words repeated, “And God said. ” The Lord spoke the world into existence. But when man was created, the pattern of creationism changed to something personal: “Then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature” (Genesis 2:7, ESV). Adam literally means ‘mud man’ or ‘man of the mud.’ Think of the intimacy of the Creator reaching into the earth and taking the time to mold the first man from the mud then breathing into his nostrils so that man’s first breath was God’s breath. Are you beginning to see your importance to the Creator?

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them (Genesis 1:26-27, NIV).

What does it mean to be in the ‘image’ and ‘likeness’ of God? God refers to Himself as ‘us’ and ‘our’ in verse 26. This is not an editing error but a reference to the first verses of the Bible: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters” (Genesis 1:1-2, NIV). God (the Father) and His Spirit were both present at creation. God is establishing that He is a multi-faceted being from the very beginning of His introduction to man.

Think about that. Before we learn of His holiness or great love, God tells us two things: He is our Creator and He contains layers inside of His unity. Talk about messaging! The first knowledge God gives us is that everything in existence owes its being to Him and that He is relational both internally and with us. Before He established our identity, He established His.

We also learn that there is a third member of God. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God…And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:1-2; 1:14, ESV). God the Word was incarnated (or born) as Jesus. So, before creation in eternity, there was God, the Word, and the Spirit of God who we know as God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Being made in the image of God means you have three parts as well that correspond to the aspects of the Trinity:

Body—The body is obvious as the physical manifestation of personhood, or the part everyone sees.

Soul—The soul could also be called the mind, the summation of intelligence, reasoning, will, and emotions. Do not confuse this with the brain, which is the physical organ that receives the stimuli from the world.

Spirit—The spirit is the part relating a person to God. The conscience or morality of a man resides in the spirit. The Bible states, “The spirit of a man is the lamp of the Lord, searching out his inmost being (Proverbs 20:27, ESV) and “the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it (Ecclesiastes 12:7, ESV). The lamp (or candle) of the Lord reveals a man’s thoughts and intentions, like light piercing darkness. The body is part of the earth, but the Lord gave men their spirits from His breath. The addition of the spirit is what makes us different from the animals. The Bible tells us that higher, more complex concepts reside in the spirit, “for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control (II Timothy 1:7, ESV) Earlier, I mentioned that emotions and thinking were in the realm of the soul, but higher-level actions and decisions (like love and self-control) cannot exist apart from the spirit of man because they involve moral reasoning.

Often, Christians confuse the soul and spirit, using the words and concepts interchangeably. Part of the misperception is that academia, modern culture, and Classical literature (especially the Greeks and Romans) use the terms interchangeably. However, the Bible makes a difference. ‘Soul’ in Hebrew (Old Testament) is ‘Nephesh,’ and in Greek (New Testament), ‘soul’ is ‘Psuche.’ This is where we have the basis of the modern English word ‘psychology.’ ‘Spirit’ in Hebrew is ‘Ruach,’ and in Greek, ‘spirit’ is ‘Pneuma’ which translates in English to mean both ‘breath’ and ‘life.’ Remember, in Genesis, chapter two, God breathed life into man; He added the spirit.

Notice that quite a few important aspects of mankind were not yet assigned to any one part of the person. Decision-making, personality, and communication (to name a few) are the result of the three parts of mankind working together. Truly, every child of God is made to be ‘like’ God.

Our Kind

One of the most interesting (and overlooked) facts about man’s creation is that Adam, the first man, was created as a ‘kind’ by himself. Look at the order of creation in Genesis 1:27 (quoted above). Man was created first in God’s image and then split into genders. Chapter two of Genesis contains the specific order and details of the story. The genders of humanity are one way we differ from God.

When God created Adam, He did not make maleness but humanity all contained in one person. Adam needed nothing outside of himself to reproduce; he was like God, alone or all-in-one. “Then the LORD God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him‘” (Genesis 2:18, ESV). To solve the dilemma of human companionship, “the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man” (Genesis 2:21-23, ESV). God did not go back into the earth to get more mud; everything to make woman was taken out of Adam. Eve gained existence apart from Adam, but he lost aspects and ability. Only together do man and woman form the ‘totality’ of humanity.

As an aside, the creation of man and woman is proof only two genders exist because as God split the physical aspects, Adam’s soul and spirit split to give Eve each of those, too. So as Adam became male and Eve became female, their specific souls and spirits linked to their physical properties. In other words, the soul and spirit were specifically gendered as well. The idea of transgenderism or genderless people is just another attack by the enemy on God’s creation and purpose for humanity. The person who believes himself or herself to be born of the ‘wrong’ gender or an ‘alternate’ gender is simply believing the lies of the enemy. These people are still worthy of our love, respect, and prayers, not abuse.

Humanity’s special creation in the image of God exhibits the great care and value our Creator places on us. All of the great questions of mankind can be answered if we recognize who we are. This is certainly not all there is to learn about man’s divinely-given identity, so look for the next article in the series titled Identity Part II: Vice Regents.



Image by Ray Hennessy

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About the Author

Shannon Gibson was an average believer in Jesus living an average life . . . until he received the anointing of the Holy Spirit. Since then, nothing has been the same.