At the end of the sixth day of Creation God made human beings, the pinnacle of His creation, in His image. Throughout the centuries it has been heavily debated about what exactly God meant in Genesis 1:26 when He said this. It certainly does not mean that since we are made in the image of God we are gods too. There have been many arguments in the debate, but the basic stances are the substantive view (we share with God innate characteristics like rationality and morality), relational view (a reference to our unique ability to have a relationship with God), and the functional view (a reference to our unique ability to copy God’s actions to a much lesser degree such as in creativity or having dominion over nature).
I am not personally prepared to say it’s either all of one or all of the other. Partly because I suspect there is at least some of all three involved, but mostly because I’m just not sure. Whatever it does mean, the Bible is clear that human beings are indeed a very special creation—much more special to God than anything He had previously made. Although I may not be convinced of the full nature of the “image of God,” I strongly believe the moral aspect plays a very big part of it. I believe it is such a strong part of this image that God spent the entirety of the Bible in fixing a problem involving its damage.
The Compass That Pointed to Heaven
Morality itself is a system that governs right and wrong. However, the first moral law in Genesis is not referring to just any moral system. The first moral system that begun at this time was God’s moral system. This system was comprised of one, single law. (Genesis 2:16-17) Free will was key to this law and remains key to all laws to this very day. It makes morality work. Instilling any moral system would be useless without some form of free will. Adam and Eve needed free will to decide whether to obey God’s one law or to do evil and disobey.
We all know that the one law (God’s one law) was broken, thus ruining our perfect relationship with our perfect God. Our moral compass, which I believe was an important piece of our divine image, was damaged. While we have always maintained it to some extent, it was just not as God originally intended it. And it appeared it was going to remain this way for good. There is a reason that it looked like this was “for good”. It would have been convenient if man could have fixed the entire problem by just being a good person. It would have been nice if we could have bridged the gulf and thus renewed the original image by simply obeying the further laws God set forth.
This paved the way for the long road of the Old Testament–which is much more than a whole bunch of unrelated stories, much more than just a history of the Israelites or the roots of mankind. It was a road to salvation through Christ. One could go through every single book of the Old Testament and find themes of various kinds clearly pointing to Jesus. 1 One of the things God did in the long years before Jesus came was to instill further laws to govern the Israelites. None of this was good enough to really fix the problem and restore our moral connection to God. At no point has obeying a law or set of laws or rules saved us from eternal death. It has always been believing in and obeying God. God says:
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the men of old gained approval.Hebrews 11:1-2
All of these laws have really only highlighted our sin and the need for a savior. God commanded his believers to heed his list of rules that measured right and wrong. But he didn’t just command specific rules; God also gave every individual an innate guide that hints at moral right and wrong. You do not have to be a believer in God to obey His rules. Paul tells us that unbelievers sometimes do certain things because they just feel these are the right things to do and because God has placed a moral code on the hearts of all people. (Romans 2:14, 15) Although morality exists, this is still not a restoration of the original moral essential.
A Long Turn in the Right General Direction
The story of the Old Testament is long and complex. In all of it, God had a plan of salvation in mind, a way to restore us to perfection. And from time to time God had to remind the Israelites of this fact. After they were taken into exile in Babylon, false prophets began appearing among the home-sick people. It never specifically says what they prophesied, but based on what God said through Jeremiah in chapter 29, we can deduce that they were promising a quick return home. Basically, Jeremiah told the people that, no, these false prophets were wrong and that they should settle down for 70 years of Babylonian captivity. After that, God would send them home.
God said in Jeremiah 29:11 that he had a plan of prosperity. In the relative short term, it meant sending them home and making them a country once more. In the long run, God had in mind bringing salvation to all mankind through the Israelites. This salvation would come through Jesus, the Son of God, sent by God to the virgin Mary, a very poor resident of Israel. During His time on earth Jesus was born, lived, ministered, and taught. His life, ministry, and teachings are all essential truths of the Gospel that we should never ignore. 2
Today we can celebrate how God finally made a way for us to bridge the gulf. By dying on the cross and resurrecting from the dead, he made a way for us to set that moral essential aright. This article was not just called The Moral Essential. That does not really say the whole thing. That might indicate that it is essential for only a certain group of people. Wrong! It is an essential of the entire human race. It is the moral essential of being.
We who are Christians are still living in a fallen world and have fallen bodies. The essentials of our image with God may not have been fully restored yet, but we are well on our way. Accepting the ultimate sacrifice of the Son of God was the big first step. Through sanctification, our moral natures are aligning more and more with God’s. In that new heaven and new earth, they will finally be restored.