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  • Paul Reich

Formed, Deformed, and Reformed (Part 1)

Updated: Mar 5, 2022

God formed man in His image. Sin deformed God’s image in man. God’s plan is to reform His image, bringing us into conformity with the character of His Son, Jesus Christ.

At creation, God formed mankind in His image and likeness. Through the disobedience of Adam and Eve in the garden, sin entered the world and deformed God’s image in mankind. Now through Christ’s redemption on the cross, God’s plan is to reform His image in His children, bringing us into conformity with the image of His Son by the transforming work of the Holy Spirit.

Building on my previous post that explored God’s plan to conform us to the image of Christ, this post will explore what the image of Christ is and how it is similar or differs from being made in the image of God. What does it mean for man to be made in God’s image? If man is still made in the image of God, what then does it mean for us to be conformed to the image of Christ? To answer the second question, we must first answer the first.

Theological discussions about the image of God have generally taken one of three approaches: 1) The Substantive View, 2) The Relational View, and 3) The Functional View. In this week’s blog, I will explore the first of these views and examine its implications for us being conformed to the image of Christ. We will look at the second and third views with corresponding implications next week. For now, let’s turn our attention to the Substantive View of man being made in God’s Image.

1. The Substantive View

The substantive view (also called the ontological view) examines the ontological similarities between God and man. This approach asks, “What is the nature of God’s being and what attributes does man have in common with God?”

Most Christian scholars reject the belief that the imago dei (image of God) means man physically looks like God, for God is spirit. Rather, those holding the substantive view seek to show how man is similar to God in His psychological and spiritual capacities. To understand this perspective, it is helpful to group God’s attributes into three categories: a) God’s Divine Attributes, b) God’s Psychological Attributes, and c) God’s Moral Attributes.

God’s Divine Attributes

God’s divine attributes consist of those traits that make Him uniquely God. No other being shares these attributes and no other being ever will share these attributes. God alone has the following divine attributes.

God alone is …

  • Eternal & Uncreated: God is everlasting. He has always existed and always will exist. (Deuteronomy 33:37; Psalm 90:2)

  • Infinite: God is without limitations of space, time, knowledge, or power – see “omni” traits below. [1] (Psalm 147:3-5)

  • Omnipresent: God is all present, everywhere. (Jeremiah 23:24; Psalm 139:7-12)

  • Omniscient: God is all knowing. (Psalm 139:1-6, I John 3:20, Hebrews 4:13, Jeremiah 17:10)

  • Omnipotent: God is all powerful, almighty. (Genesis 18:14; Jeremiah 32:17, 27; Matthew 19:26)

  • Immutable: God is unchanging. (Malachi 3:6; Hebrews 6:13-20, 13:8)

  • Creator: God is able to speak matter and life into existence. He created all things and holds all creation together. (Genesis 1; Psalm 33:6-9; Romans 4:17; Hebrews 11:3)

  • Transcendent: God is independent of and exists above the created world. (Genesis 1; John 1:1-3; Colossians 1:16-17; Hebrews 1:2-3)

  • Sovereign: God is preeminent in rule and authority. The fact of God’s sovereignty is without question in the Scriptures, but “how” He exercises His sovereignty in relationship to man’s will is hotly debated. (1 Chronicles 29:11-12; 2 Chronicles 20:6; Psalm 103:19)

Mankind has never been like God in accordance with His divine attributes; nor will he ever be like God in these ways.[2] That would make man equal to God and there is only one God (Isaiah 45:5). God is infinite, we are finite. God is eternal, we are created beings. Though believers will experience future eternal life, this is different than being uncreated and existing from eternity past. God is omnipresent, omniscient, and omnipotent, but we are limited in our knowledge and power and have the physical limitation of being in one place at a time. God is immutable, but we change. God is transcendent and sovereign over all creation. We are part of His creation. Though we share God’s creativity (see below), we can only make things out of pre-existing materials that He alone created out of nothing.

God's Psychological Attributes

The Scriptures describe God with many attributes that we would classify as psychological or spiritual capacities. These attributes demonstrate God’s mental, emotional, relational, and moral faculties. God has the following psychological capacities.

  • Emotional Capacity: God experiences a wide range of emotions including joy, love, compassion, anger, jealousy, and grief. Unlike sinful man, all of God’s emotions are experienced within the bounds of His righteous moral character. (Genesis 6:6; Exodus 20:5-6, 34:5-7; Ezekiel 20:8-9; Zephaniah 3:17; Zechariah 8:2)

  • Intellectual Capacity: God can reason, think, and even foreknow. (Isaiah 1:18, 55:8; Jeremiah 29:11; Acts 2:23; Romans 8:29)

  • Volitional Capacity: God can plan and make choices. (Isaiah 14:27; 46:11; Jeremiah 29:11; Acts 2:23; 1 Corinthians 1:26-29)

  • Intrapersonal Capacity: God knows Himself. His self-awareness is evidenced by His self-description in many Scriptures. (Romans 8:26-27; 1 Corinthians 2:10-11)

  • Communication Capacity: God communicates in many and diverse ways including speech. (Numbers 12:6-8; Hebrews 1:1-2)

  • Relational Capacity: God relates within His triune Godhead, with angelic beings, and with mankind. (Genesis 1:26, 3:8-24, 11:7, 12:1-7; Job 1:6-12; Psalm 82; John 17:24-26)

  • Moral Capacity: God is morally conscious, holding moral values of right and wrong, and justice. (Deuteronomy 10:17-18; 2 Chronicles 19:7; Isaiah 40:14; 1 Peter 1:17)

  • Creative and Aesthetic Capacity: God is infinitely creative, enjoying the beautify of His creation. (Genesis 1 & 2; Isaiah 40:12, 26)

Men and women are clearly made in the image and likeness of God in these attributes of personality. Though we have these abilities in a reduced capacity, we do share God’s psychological, spiritual, and moral faculties for emotion, thought, choice, imagination, self-awareness, sense of right and wrong, creativity, perceptions of beauty, and in our aptitudes for verbal communication and building meaningful interpersonal relationships. In addition, we alone of all earthly creatures have the capacity for a relationship with God. Though humans vary in their experience of these capacities and even though some animals exhibit lower levels of intelligence or relational interaction, mankind stands far above all other creatures on earth in this regard.

"Man is in no way related to the beasts. What animal can transmit accumulated achievements from one generation to another? What animal experiences a true sense of guilt when it does wrong or has a developed consciousness of judgment to come? What animal has hope of immortality beyond the grave? What beast can exercise abstract moral judgment or show appreciation of the beauties of nature? (When did we ever see a dog admiring a sunset or a horse standing breathless before the rugged grandeur of a mountain range?) What animal ever learned to read and write, to act with deliberate purpose, and set goals and achieve long-range objectives? What animal ever learned to cook its food, to cut cloth and make clothes, or invent elaborate tools? What animal ever enjoyed a hearty laugh? What animal has the gift for speech? Even the most primitive human tribe possesses linguistics of a subtle, complex, and eloquent nature. Man stands alone. Physically, he alone of all the creatures on the globe, walks upright; mentally, he alone has the ability to communicate in a sophisticated manner; spiritually, he alone has the capacity to know the mind and will of God” [3]

“The substantive view locates the image of God within the psychological or spiritual makeup of the human being,”[4] In so doing, it identifies those qualities that elevate us over the rest of creation. Even after man’s fall into sin, we possess these attributes; however, these capacities have been severely damaged and deformed by sin. Our thoughts can be evil, and we can believe lies. Our emotions can be wrongly inflamed with bitterness and anger. Our choices can be sinful or enslaved by the power of addiction. On one hand, our consciences can become seared and without a sense of guilt when committing moral violation. While on the other hand, our consciences can become hypersensitive and feel guilt over things that are not wrong. Our creativity can be used for evil purposes. Sin has also damaged our communication and relational capacities – our mouths speak lies or harsh words and our capacities for empathy and understanding give way to feelings of hurt and anger. Yet, even with the deforming affects of sin, we still share God’s image and stand above all creation in these attributes.

God's Moral Attributes

God’s moral attributes are those qualities that emphasize the righteous and loving aspects of His character. Though moral consciousness and having a sense of right and wrong belong to the psychological or spiritual capacities of God, being holy and doing right demonstrate His moral character. One can have the capacity to know right and wrong or feel compassion without having the moral character and ability to do right or to show love. This is clearly evidenced in Satan’s temptation to Adam and Eve promising them that they would “be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5), only to see the devastating effects of sin on every page of human history ever since. Yet, both God’s sense of morality and His moral character are in full alignment. God’s moral attributes are innate to His nature. He can only be holy and righteous, for it is part of his very nature. “God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5).

From the Scriptures we discover that God is ...

  • Sinless (1 John 1:5, 3:5-9; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 4:14-16)

  • Loving (Exodus 34:6-7; Numbers 14:18; Nehemiah 9:17; 1 John 4:7-8, 16)

  • Gracious (Exodus 34:6-7; Numbers 14:18; Nehemiah 9:17; Psalm 145:8; John 1:17-18)

  • Merciful (Psalm 86:15; 145:8; Lamentations 3:22; Jonah 4:2; Luke 6:36; 2 Corinthians 1:3)

  • Holy (Leviticus 11:44-45, 19:2, 20:7; 1 Peter 1:14-16)

  • Righteous (Deuteronomy 32:4; Psalm 145:17; Jeremiah 12:1; Daniel 9:14; 1 John 3:7)

  • Just (Exodus 34:6-7; Numbers 14:18; Deuteronomy 32:4; Psalm 89:14; Isaiah 30:18, 61:8)

  • Truthful (Exodus 34:6; Isaiah 65:16; John 3:33; Titus 1:2)

  • Faithful (Deuteronomy 7:9, 32:4; Lamentations 3:22-23; 1 Corinthians 1:9, 10:13; 2 Thessalonians 3:3)

  • Good (1 Chronicles 16:34; Psalm 107:1; Jeremiah 33:11; Nahum 1:7; Mark 10:18; Romans 2:4)

Before their fall into sin, Adam and Eve were sinless. The Bible is clear that sin entered the world through Adam (Romans 5:12). This raises several questions for me. “Was Adam and Eve’s sinlessness previous to the fall due to a state of innocence living in a pristine world uncontaminated by sin, or was it due to a quality of righteousness and holiness deposited in them by God when He made them?” In other words, “Had God made them holy or were they only innocent of sin, and God’s plan was for them to develop a righteous and holy character?”

My present understanding is that the sinlessness of Adam and Eve was due to living in a world uncontaminated by sin, not because they possessed a righteous and holy character like God. Otherwise, they would not have fallen into sin. I believe that God’s plan was for them to develop His moral attributes. He designed the forbidden tree as an ongoing moral test of their obedience and moral development. When they sinned, Adam and Even lost their innocent sinlessness, but they did not lose an innate quality of righteousness and holiness that could resist sin. I believe this is where the image of Christ comes into play.

The Image of Christ

When studying passages that speak of our transformation into the image of Christ (Romans 12:2; 1 John 3:1-20; 4:7-21) or that describe us as partakers of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:2-11) or that call us to put off the old self and put on the new self “which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth” (Ephesians 4:17-21; Colossians 3:1-14) or to put on Christ (Romans 13:12-14) or that call us to be like God (Luke 6:36; 1 Peter 1:14-16) or that describe what God desires of us (Micah 6:8; Titus 2:11-14; Hebrews 12:1-14), they overwhelmingly emphasize that Christ's image and God's plan for us is that we grow in the moral attributes of God.

Contrary to the teaching of some, we will never be like God in the sense of His divine attributes that make Him uniquely God alone (see footnote 2 below). However, God’s plan is that we do become like Him in character, reflecting His love, righteousness, holiness, truthfulness, faithfulness, grace, mercy, and justice.

For this to happen, our psychological faculties and bodies must come under the control of God’s Spirit so we can overcome the influence of sin. This is only possible through a heart change since it is out of the heart that we live (Proverbs 4:23; Matthew 15:15-20). In genuine conversion, we are born of the Spirit, cleansed from sin, receive a new heart, and are indwelt by the Holy Spirit (Ezekiel 36:25-27; John 3:3-7; Colossians 2:13; Titus 3:5). Yet, we must walk in continuous surrender to the Holy Spirit, bringing our thoughts, emotions, choices, and physical desires under His control if we are to overcome the influences of sin and develop Christ-like character (Galatians 5:16-25).

This requires active surrender on our part, cooperating with the Holy Spirit to bring our psychological faculties and physical passions into alignment with Christ and His teaching. It means renewing my thinking with God’s Word (Romans 8:5-7, 12:2), calibrating my conscience to God’s moral standard (1 Timothy 1:5-11, 19), yielding my will to Christ’s will by obeying His teaching (Luke 6:46-49; John 14:15), and bringing my emotions, speech, and behavior under the control of God’s Spirit (Romans 8:9-14). As we learn to bring our psychological faculties and physical drives into alignment with Christ and His teaching by the power of the Holy Spirit, our lives will be conformed more and more into the image of Christ.

Looking Forward

I hope that this week's post has given you greater clarity on what it means for us to be made in the image of God and for us to be conformed to the image of Christ. Next week, we will look at the relational and functional views of man being made in the image of God along with further implications for us being conformed to the image of Christ. My prayer for this series of posts is that God will awaken in your heart a greater longing to be like Christ and that I can give you practical Scriptural keys for cooperating with the Holy Spirit's transforming work in your life.


[1] A Scriptural understanding of God’s “omni” abilities, recognizes that these attributes are limited by His moral character, by His other attributes, and by the by the law of non-contradiction. For example, though God is all powerful, He cannot lie (Titus 1:2), He cannot be tempted (James 1:13), and He cannot deny Himself (2 Timothy 2:13). He cannot do anything that is contrary to His moral nature or His other divine attributes. To do so, would place Him in conflict with Himself. For example, God cannot sin for He is holy, and God cannot die and cease to exist because He is eternal. Also, to ask, “Can God make a rock so big that He cannot pick it up?” is a self-contradictory statement. The law of non-contradiction shows that this is logically impossible since accomplishing one half of the request is logically in conflict with completing the other half of the request, either of which negates the possibility of achieving the other.

[2] It is in their wrong understanding of man created in the image of God that some “word faith” teachers have strayed into heresy. It is not my purpose in this blog to systematically debunk the “little god” teaching of some prominent “word faith” teachers. However, I will share a few brief thoughts on their misunderstanding of the “power of the tongue” which is an outflow of this misunderstanding. Often Proverbs 18:21, "Death and life are in the power of the tongue," is used to support their teaching. Certainly, there is judicial power in the tongue to permit physical life or pronounce death for those who have the position, such as a judge or king, to render judgment over a person’s life. There is also power in the tongue to nurture emotional life and build someone up or inflict emotional pain in the hearts of others and tear them down. In this sense, we can call someone to life or dishearten them to give up on life. James warns us of the devastating effects of the tongue (James 3:1-12), and certainly we must watch our words. But to claim God’s creative power in words to call forth physical life or to call things into being that did not previously exist is a misapplication of Scriptures that refer to God’s divine powers, not ours (Romans 4:17; Hebrews 11:3). Even, when it comes to miracles and healing or speaking to “mountains” (Mark 11:22-26), we are dependent on God’s power and His will to perform these. Faith is not the independent determination in ourselves to bring something to pass so that if we only believe harder and confess louder, we have the power in ourselves or in our faith to produce whatever we want or somehow obligate God to produce whatever we want. Rather, faith sees what God wants to do, places dependent trust on Him, and then acts in obedience to Him in our thoughts, words, and actions. Faith needs an object. God is the object of our faith. His Word is also reliable and trustworthy because it is an extension of Him. We trust His promises because they are rooted in His trustworthy character, for He cannot lie. However, we must correctly understand His Word, so that we do not wrongly claim things He has not promised. In contrast to us, God does not need faith, because He is God. He can speak things into existence because this power resides in Himself to do so. This is not true for us. Certainly, God can give the authority to heal and to perform miracles (Matthew 10:1; Luke 9:1) but this power must be used in subjection to Him and in alignment with His will. When healing the lame man, Peter recognized it was not his power or piety that brought this about (Acts 3:6-12; 4:9-10). If these faith teachers are truly “little gods” having independent god-like power in their words, then why aren’t they clearing out hospitals and graveyards. Sadly, they are, however, using the power of their words to increase their prosperity by “calling” others to send them money as a "seed" to receive God’s provision in return. But why is God’s promise to bless their listeners only linked to giving to them? Why don’t they recommend giving to someone in need locally or to support missions? Enough said.

[3] Phillips, John. Exploring Genesis. Chicago, Illinois: Moody Press, 1980, p. 45.

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2 comentários

26 de fev. de 2021

Another great blog Paul! I thought I had a fairly good grasp of these concepts but this proves there is always more to learn. There was plenty to chew on but I still found it quite accessible to my simple thinking. If you don't mind, I'd like to use some of it in a personal discipleship context. Also, I found number 2 in your notes very interesting. I have to do some thinking about that. I have wondered about some of these things and have experienced frustration with certain aspects of word of faith doctrine, but it has thus far remained unresolved for me. Thank you again for sharing Plumbline.

08 de mar. de 2021
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