Disciple Hour: Systematic Theology (The Creation of Man – Chapter 21)

Systematic Theology: The Whole Counsel of God

Lecture Notes: Chapter 21: The Creation of Man

26 Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all,
27 for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God

(Acts 20:26-27)

Why did God create us? How did God make us like himself? How can we please him in everyday living?


  1. Why Was Man Created?
  2. God Did Not Need to Create Man, Yet He Created Us for His Own Glory. Since there was perfect love and fellowship among members of the Trinity for all eternity (John 17:5, 24), God did not create us because he was lonely or because he needed fellowship with other persons—God did not need us for any reason.

Nevertheless, God created us for his own glory. In our treatment of his independence we noted that God speaks of his sons and daughters from the ends of the earth as those “whom I created for my glory” (Isa. 43:7; cf. Eph. 1:11–12). Therefore, we are to “do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31).

This fact guarantees that our lives are significant. When we first realize that God did not need to create us and does not need us for anything, we could conclude that our lives have no importance at all. But Scripture tells us that we were created to glorify God, indicating that we are important to God himself. This is the final definition of genuine importance or significance to our lives: If we are truly important to God for all eternity, then what greater measure of importance or significance could we want?

  1. What Is Our Purpose in Life? The fact that God created us for his own glory determines the correct answer to the question, “What is our purpose in life?” Our purpose must be to fulfill the reason that God created us: to glorify him. When we are speaking with respect to God himself, that is a good summary of our purpose. But when we think of our own interests, we make the happy discovery that we are to enjoy God and take delight in him and in our relationship to him. Jesus says, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). David tells God, “In your presence there is fulness of joy in your right hand are pleasures for evermore” (Ps. 16:11). He longs to dwell in the house of the Lord forever, “to behold the beauty of the Lord”

Fullness of joy is found in knowing God and delighting in the excellence of his character. To be in his presence, to enjoy fellowship with him, is a greater blessing than anything that can be imagined. (Ps. 84:1–2, 10)

As we glorify God and enjoy him, Scripture tells us that he rejoices in us. We read, “As the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you” (Isa. 62:5)

This understanding of the doctrine of the creation of man has very practical results. When we realize that God created us to glorify him, and when we start to act in ways that fulfill that purpose, then we begin to experience an intensity of joy in the Lord that we have never before known. When we add to that the realization that God himself is rejoicing in our fellowship with him, our joy becomes “inexpressible and filled with heavenly glory” (1 Peter 1:8, author’s expanded paraphrase).

  1. Man in the Image of God
  2. The Meaning of “Image of God.” Out of all the creatures God made, only one creature, man, is said to be made “in the image of God.” What does that mean? We may use the following definition: The fact that man is in the image of God means that man is like God and represents God.

When God says, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” (Gen. 1:26), the meaning is that God plans to make a creature similar to himself. Both the Hebrew word for “image” (צֶלֶם, H7512) and the Hebrew word for “likeness” (דְּמוּת, H1952) refer to something that is similar but not identical to the thing it represents or is an “image” of. The word image can also be used of something that represents something else.

In this discussion it would be best to focus attention primarily on the meanings of the words “image” and “likeness.” As we have seen, these terms had quite clear meanings to the original readers. When we realize that the Hebrew words for “image” and “likeness” simply informed the original readers that man was like God, and would in many ways represent God, much of the controversy over the meaning of “image of God” is seen to be a search for too narrow and too specific a meaning. When Scripture reports that God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” (Gen. 1:26), it simply would have meant to the original readers, “Let us make man to be like us and to represent us.”

This understanding of what it means that man is created in the image of God is reinforced by the similarity between Genesis 1:26, where God declares his intention to create man in his image and likeness, and Genesis 5:3: “When Adam had lived a hundred and thirty years, he became the father of a son in his own likeness [דְּמוּת, H1952], after his image [צֶלֶם, H7512], and named him Seth.” Seth was not identical to Adam, but he was like him in many ways, as a son is like his father. The text simply means that Seth was like Adam.

  1. The Fall: God’s Image Is Distorted but Not Lost. We might wonder whether man could still be thought to be like God after he sinned. This question is answered quite early in Genesis where God gives Noah the authority to establish the death penalty for murder among human beings just after the flood: God says “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for God made man in his own image” (Gen. 9:6). Even though men are sinful, there is still enough likeness to God remaining in them that to murder another person (to “shed blood” is an Old Testament expression for taking a human life) is to attack the part of creation that most resembles God, and it betrays an attempt or desire (if one were able) to attack God himself. Man is still in God’s image. The New Testament gives confirmation to this when James 3:9 says that men generally, not just believers, “are made in the likeness of God.”

However, since man has sinned, he is certainly not as fully like God as he was before. His moral purity has been lost and his sinful character certainly does not reflect God’s holiness. His intellect is corrupted by falsehood and misunderstanding; his speech no longer continually glorifies God; his relationships are often governed by selfishness rather than love, and so forth. Though man is still in the image of God, in every aspect of life some parts of that image have been distorted or lost. In short, “God made man upright, but they have sought out many devices” (Eccl. 7:29). After the fall, then, we are still in God’s image—we are still like God and we still represent God—but the image of God in us is distorted; we are less fully like God than we were before the entrance of sin.

Therefore it is important that we understand the full meaning of the image of God not simply from observation of human beings as they currently exist, but from the biblical indications of the nature of Adam and Eve when God created them and when all that God had made was “very good” (Gen. 1:31). The true nature of man in the image of God was also seen in the earthly life of Christ. The full measure of the excellence of our humanity will not be seen again in life on earth until Christ returns and we have obtained all the benefits of the salvation he earned for us.

  1. Redemption in Christ: a Progressive Recovering of More of God’s Image. Nonetheless, it is encouraging to turn to the New Testament and see that our redemption in Christ means that we can, even in this life, progressively grow into more and more likeness to God. For example, Paul says that as Christians we have a new nature that is “being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator” (Col. 3:10). As we gain in true understanding of God, his Word, and his world, we begin to think more and more of the thoughts that God himself thinks. In this way we are “renewed in knowledge” and we become more like God in our thinking. This is a description of the ordinary course of the Christian life. So Paul also can say that we “are being changed into his likeness [lit. “image,” Gk. εἰκών (G1635)] from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor. 3:18). Throughout this life, as we grow in Christian maturity we grow in greater likeness to God. More particularly, we grow in likeness to Christ in our lives and in our character. In fact, the goal for which God has redeemed us is that we might be “conformed to the image of his Son” (Rom. 8:29) and thus be exactly like Christ in our moral character.
  2. At Christ’s Return: Complete Restoration of God’s Image. The amazing promise of the New Testament is that just as we have been like Adam (subject to death and sin), we shall also be like Christ (morally pure, never subject to death again): “Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven” (1 Cor. 15:49). The full measure of our creation in the image of God is not seen in the life of Adam who sinned, nor is it seen in our lives now, for we are imperfect. But the New Testament emphasizes that God’s purpose in creating man in his image was completely realized in the person of Jesus Christ. He himself “is the image of God” (2 Cor. 4:4 nasb); “He is the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15). In Jesus we see human likeness to God as it was intended to be, and it should cause us to rejoice that God has predestined us “to be conformed to the image of his son” (Rom. 8:29; cf. 1 Cor. 15:49): “When he appears we shall be like him” (1 John 3:2).
  3. Specific Aspects of Our Likeness to God.
  4. Moral Aspects: (1) We are creatures who are morally accountable before God for our actions. Corresponding to that accountability, we have (2) an inner sense of right and wrong that sets us apart from animals (who have little if any innate sense of morality or justice but simply respond from fear of punishment or hope of reward). When we act according to God’s moral standards, our likeness to God is reflected in (3) behavior that is holy and righteous before him, but, by contrast, our unlikeness to God is reflected whenever we sin.
  5. Spiritual Aspects: (4) We have not only physical bodies but also immaterial spirits, and we can therefore act in ways that are significant in the immaterial, spiritual realm of existence. This means that we have (5) a spiritual life that enables us to relate to God as persons, to pray and praise him, and to hear him speaking his words to us. No animal will ever spend an hour in intercessory prayer for the salvation of a relative or a friend! Connected with this spiritual life is the fact that we have (6) immortality; we will not cease to exist but will live forever.
  6. Mental Aspects: (7) We have an ability to reason and think logically and learn that sets us apart from the animal world. (8) Our use of complex, abstract language sets us far apart from the animals. (9) Another mental difference between humans and animals is that we have an awareness of the distant future, even an inward sense that we will live beyond the time of our physical death, a sense that gives many people a desire to attempt to be right with God before they die (God “has put eternity into man’s mind,” Eccl. 3:11).
  7.   Our Great Dignity as Bearers of God’s Image. It would be good for us to reflect on our likeness to God more often. It will probably amaze us to realize that when the Creator of the universe wanted to create something “in his image,” something more like himself than all the rest of creation, he made us. This realization will give us a profound sense of dignity and significance as we reflect on the excellence of all the rest of God’s creation: the starry universe, the abundant earth, the world of plants and animals, and the angelic kingdoms are remarkable, even magnificent. But we are more like our Creator than any of these things. We are the culmination of God’s infinitely wise and skillful work of creation. Even though sin has greatly marred that likeness, we nonetheless now reflect much of it and shall even more as we grow in likeness to Christ.

Questions for Personal Application

  1. According to Scripture, what should be the major purpose of your life? If you consider the major commitments or goals of your life at the present time (with respect to friendships, marriage, education, job, use of money, church relationships, etc.), are you acting as though your goal were the one that Scripture specifies? Or do you have some other goals that you have acted upon (perhaps without consciously deciding to do so)? As you think about the pattern of most of your days, do you think that God delights in you and rejoices over you?
  2. Is it only Christians or all people who are in the image of God? How does that make you feel about your relationships to non-Christians?
  3. Do you think an understanding of the image of God might change the way you think and act toward people who are racially different, or elderly, or weak, or unattractive to the world?[3]


[1] Based on and various Quotes from Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology, Zondervan

[2] All Scripture from ESV Bible, Crossway

[3] Grudem, W. A. (2004). Systematic theology: an introduction to biblical doctrine (p. 450). Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; Zondervan Pub. House.

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