“So God created man in His own image” – Genesis 1:27
We are created in the image of God. What does that mean? In part it means we are a reflection of God and who He is. We get a picture of who God is and what He is like when we look at the human makeup. Of course, that image has been marred by sin. Adam went from being created in the image of God to having offspring “in his own likeness,” that is, in his own fallen sinful nature likeness (Gen. 5:3). But there is still a lot we can learn about God and His ways by looking at His image in us.
We see; God sees. We hear; God hears. We touch; God touches. “So do animals,” you say. Some would argue that primates are very human-like. They would go so far as to say they are simply less evolved than humans. That is a discussion for another day. Suffice it to say that humanity is so far beyond primates in intellect, creativity, and volition as to make comparison gross. Humanity is uniquely created by God in His image. What really sets humanity apart?
I like the comment of Pastor Chuck Smith in the Word for Today Bible for Genesis 1:26. He states, “What does it mean to be made after God’s likeness? The chief governing characteristic of God is His self-determination – His will and His ability to choose and to determine His own destiny. So man was created a self-determinant being. The chief emotional attribute of God is love. God made man in His image with a beautiful capacity to love – both to give it and receive it.”  The image of God in us is most clearly seen in our will and capacity to love.
Understanding the image of God in humanity is important because it sheds light on our accountability before God. Because we are created by God with the capacity to make decisions and to love others, we are accountable before Him for those decisions and our love or lack thereof.
Our existence is completely due to the sovereign determination of God. We exist because He chose to bring us into existence. “In Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist.” (Colossians 1:16b, 17). “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” (Rev. 4:11). That is grace. We don’t deserve to be created. But God created us by grace; undeserved favor. Grace is God acting according to His own nature of love. God created us graciously; according to His own nature of love. He created us in His image.
Created by His grace and in His image we have the capacity to make decisions. God’s image in us manifests itself in our capacity to choose right from wrong. We trust this or that. We exert the faith He has built into our being. “Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve” (Joshua 24:15). “’How long will you falter between two opinions? If the LORD is God follow Him; but if Baal, follow him.’ But the people answered him not a word.” (1 Kings 18:21).
The greatest decision we make is to love. “Jesus said to him, ‘You shall love the LORD our God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” (Mat. 22:37-40). The love God speaks of is not cheap love. It isn’t a love that is in word only. Love is not mere lip-service. “He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me.” (John 14:21a). “By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth.” (1 John 3:16-18).
Human choice and love are inextricably connected. If humanity does not have the capacity to choose, it cannot love. Love forced is an oxymoron. That’s important because some theology discounts the human will. It removes the image of God in humanity that provides the capacity to choose and make decisions. There are some who would remove human decision from the equation of salvation. And yet Christ’s call to repentance screams for decision (e.g. Mark 1:15). I understand the motive of those who discount human free will and the capacity for decision. I understand the desire to exalt God and make salvation completely and totally of Him, of His grace. But even if the salvation plan of God is viewed as incorporating a decision from human beings, salvation is still totally of God. God created us in the first place. He created us in His image with the capacity to choose. He reasons with us and draws us to Himself (Is. 1:18; John 6:44). He persuades us and convicts us of our sin (John 16:8-11). It’s all by His grace. We wouldn’t know we fall short of His glorious requirements unless by grace he revealed and exposed our depravity (Rom. 3).
Removing the decision required of humanity by God from the salvation equation serves to desecrate the image of God He has placed in the human creation. It makes God’s creation less than He created it to be. It diminishes God’s creativity. It doesn’t exalt God’s sovereignty, it lessons it. Is God only able to rule those He has programmed a certain way to be ruled? Or is God so great and glorious that He can field humanities’ questions and even their accusations and then respond, “Who is this who darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Now prepare yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer Me” (Job 38:2-3).
To say humanity must respond to the gospel with faith or trust should not be viewed as incorporating a human “work” in salvation. Faith is not a work. When a person repents and puts their faith in Jesus they have nothing to boast about. “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” (Eph. 2:8-9). Faith is part of God’s image in humanity. It is there by grace. But humanity is responsible for using that capability.
Some say salvation circumvents a willful decision by people. Some say people cannot make a decision one way or the other. They affirm the only people who are saved are those who have been predestined to salvation by God beforehand. They say salvation is separate from any decision on the part of humanity. Such a view removes the image of God from humanity. Such a view reduces humanity to automatons; robots. Unable to choose, we are unable to love. Thank God this is not the truth! For God has given us a will and capacity to choose. Praise God we can choose to receive Jesus as our Savior and Lord! Praise God we can love! By His grace we can choose. By His grace we can love. Choose wisely.