Reading Dr. Anthony Bradley’s recent article, “The Great Commission Christianity Keeps Blacks Away From Evangelicalism,” I was reminded of the section of Herman Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics entitled, “The Whole Person as the Image of God.” Bavinck is careful throughout to capture all that it means to be created in the image and likeness of God (Gen. 1:26-28), in order to properly know who man is, what redemption must include to fully restore him, and to rightly know the “Last Adam,” our Lord Jesus Christ, who is to accomplish this redemption.
In this post, however, I hope to narrowly focus on the correlation between redemption and the image of God in man, as I think this aspect of Bavinck’s study nicely reinforces Dr. Bradley’s emphasis on “Cosmic Redemption.”
Redemption is Image Renewal
To begin with, we must acknowledge that salvation, or redemption, itself includes the restoration and renewal of the image of God in man. We read in Colossians 3:9-10,
Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds; And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him[.]
This restoration and renewal of the image is legal and definitive, i.e., once and for all upon union with He who is by nature “the image of the invisible God”; it is also progressive, becoming more and more an existential reality as we “put off the old man with his deeds” by the power of God’s Spirit; and last, it will be complete and final upon the resurrection of the body, when the whole of redeemed mankind will be fully renewed “after the image of him that created him.”
But to understand what this restoration and renewal of the image includes, we must know what the image of God in man included from the beginning. In turn, we must also be confident that all that was marred by the fall of the First Adam must be, and will be, restored by the Last Adam. If any part of the image of God is not within the scope of Christ’s redemption, then there simply is no restorative renewal of the image of God—the “old man” yet has the victory, in this life and the next.
I have highlighted below, in outline form, six aspects from Bavinck’s treatment.
1. The Image Consists in Being Ensouled by Spiration
We see in the creation account that Adam was ensouled by the very breath of God (spiration):
And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul. (Gen. 2:7)
All other creatures, we read, were made after their “own kind” rather than after the image of God, and only man is said to be created by God’s own breath. God is spirit (Jn. 4:24); man is created in His image and likeness.
This ensouled nature of man and woman includes all the peculiar faculties of the human nature as well. Bavinck writes,
Belonging to the image of God […] are the human faculties. While the spirit is the principle and the soul the subject of life in man, the heart, according to Scripture, is the organ of man’s life. It is, first, the center of physical life but then also, in a metaphorical sense, the seat and fountain of man’s entire psychic life, of emotions and passions, of desire and will, even of thinking and knowing. From the heart flow “the springs of life” (Prov. 4: 23). (Volume 2: God and Creation, pp. 530-531)
2. It Consists in Original Righteousness
Man was created good.
And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. (Gen. 1:31)
As we know, goodness is relative to and dependent on the capacities and purpose of that which is being appraised. Since man, being created in the image of God, possesses each of the faculties noted by Bavinck above, then the goodness of man consists in …
… true knowledge:
Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds; And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him[.] (Col. 3:9-10)
… righteousness and holiness:
And be renewed in the spirit of your mind; And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness. (Eph. 4:23-24)
As Bavinck rightly points out, this Original Righteousness also included Original Justice. He writes,
Goodness, for a human being, consists in moral perfection, in complete harmony with the law of God, in holy and perfect being, like God himself (Lev. 19: 2; Deut. 6: 5; Matt. 5: 48; 22: 37; Eph. 5: 1; 1 Pet. 1: 15– 16). That law is one and the same rule for all persons. Scripture knows of no two sorts of human beings, no double moral law, no two kinds of moral perfection and destiny. If man was created good, he must have been created with original justice. (p. 532)
Man’s created righteousness necessarily included conformity to God’s standard of justice; thus, the image of God in man includes justice.
3. The Image Consists in the Human Body—the Whole Man is the Image of God.
Just as God, though he is spirit (pneuma), is nevertheless the Creator of a material world that may be termed his revelation and manifestation, with this revelation coming to its climax in the incarnation, so also the spirit of man is designed for the body as its manifestation. (p. 534)
Remember, bodies matter. Upon union with the archetypical image bearer, our bodies are joined to Christ:
Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? (1 Cor. 6:15)
For we are members of his body. (Eph. 5:30)
God cares for our bodies, for they reflect His eternal image:
Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image. (Gen. 9:6)
Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? … Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? (Mt. 6:26-30)
When the image of God in man is fully restored, this will include the resurrection of our bodies:
I believe … in the resurrection of the body. (Apostles Creed)
1 Corinthians 15 (ALL)
If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. (1 Cor. 15:19)
Yes, even our skin, as well as other peculiarities of our personhood, image God and will be part of our resurrected nature:
For I know that my Redeemer lives, And He shall stand at last on the earth; And after my skin is destroyed, this I know, That in my flesh I shall see God, Whom I shall see for myself, And my eyes shall behold, and not another. (Job 19:25-27)
After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb…. (Rev. 7:9)
This restoration of the image will be a full and complete renewal of our bodies into the likeness of our Lord, the eternal “image of God” (Col. 1:15):
[…]the Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself. (Phil. 3:20-21)
Finally, as Bavinck rightly notes, Jesus Christ came, “being born in the likeness of men” (Phil. 2:7), to restore us to His eternal image and likeness; therefore,
The incarnation of our Lord is definitive proof that humans, not angels, are created in the image of God, and that the human body is an essential component of that image. (p. 504)
4. The Image Consists in Immortality.
[P]recisely because the body, being the organ of the soul, belongs to the essence of man and to the image of God, it originally also participated in immortality. God is not a God of the dead, but of the living (Matt. 22: 32). Death is a consequence of sin (Gen. 2: 7; 3: 19; Rom. 5: 12; 6: 23; 1 Cor. 15: 21, 56). (p. 534).
This should be a simple concept, which I will not dwell on here.
5. It Consists in Community
Before the fall of Adam and the creation of Eve, Adam was alone. This was not good:
Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone […].” (Gen. 2:18)
Adam was in fact created to be in society with both God and other humans. Man and woman’s social nature is after the image and likeness of He who declared, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” (Gen. 1:26). As God has revealed Himself as Triune, so He has revealed Himself to be in eternal and blessed community and society. Therefore, when Adam was made in His image, it was not good that he be alone, outside of community; “alone” was contrary to his image bearing nature.
As the image of God is restored in His people, we see a radical re-introduction to blessed communal life:
And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. (Acts 2:42-47)
And this community and society extends beyond the Covenant community.
Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you. You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. (Mt. 5:42-45)
As John Calvin proclaimed, preaching on Deuteronomy 5:17,
Can we deny before God our common bond with other men, seeing that he has created us in his image? Or can we repudiate him as our Father and disavow fraternity with each other, seeing that he has willed to unite us by such a bond? Shall we say that God crowds us too much and that he imposes too heavy a burden on us when he leads us to work equity and justice? Whatever the case, let us be on guard against flattering ourselves, seeing that we have understood that our Lord wants us to go to the trouble of helping each other, in so far as our neighbor’s life ought to be as precious to us as it is to him. (Sermons on the Ten Commandments, p. 163)
6. The image of God consists in his habitation in Paradise.
Again, Herman Bavinck:
Finally, also belonging to this image is man’s habitation in paradise (Gen. 2: 8– 15). Holiness and blessedness belong together; every human conscience witnesses to the fact that there is a connection between virtue and happiness; the ethical dimension and the physical dimension, the moral and the natural order in the world, being and appearance, spirit and matter— these may not be opposites. Congruent with a fallen humanity, therefore, is an earth that lies under a curse; a place of darkness therefore awaits the wicked in the hereafter; the righteous will one day walk in the light of God’s countenance; the not-yet-fallen but still earthy man makes his home in a paradise. (p. 535).
“Holiness and blessedness belong together.” God lives in eternal blessedness for He is perfectly holy. Likewise, man being created in His image and likeness—in righteousness and true holiness—communed in society with God in his blessed Garden habitation. But when man fell from this created holiness, he was barred from the Garden paradise. We read in the curse pronounced on Adam that the ground itself would work against him. And further, the Apostle Paul tells us that when the sons of God are finally and completely redeemed, all creation will be restored with them.
For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God. For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope, Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. (Rom. 8:19-21)
The blessed habitation is part of being created in the image and likeness of God.
[…] the whole human being is image and likeness of God, in soul and body, in all human faculties, powers, and gifts. Nothing in humanity is excluded from God’s image; it stretches as far as our humanity does and constitutes our humanness. (p. 535)
“Great Commission Christianity” vs. “Cosmic Redemption Christianity”
This brings us back to Dr. Bradley’s article. It seems to me that those Bradley describes as “Great Commission Christians” (defined in his piece) focus almost exclusively on the renewal of the soul and its faculties, Original Righteousness, and immortality. As such, this Gospel message is indeed anemic as it does not properly answer to the nature of mankind, nor the restoration of all that is the image of God in man. If man as the image of God includes not only soul, righteousness, and immortality, but also his physical nature, his social relations, and even his proper habitation, then the message of redemption—i.e., renewal “after the image of him that created him”—must of necessity be, in Bradley’s words, “the good news of God’s saving work in Christ and the Spirit by which the powers of sin, death, and judgment are overcome and the life of the new creation is inaugurated, moving towards the glorification of the whole cosmos”; that is, something like “Cosmic Redemption Christianity.”
If the message of redemption includes anything less, then man is not being restored by the Gospel; but if we take seriously all that it means to be made in the image and likeness of the Triune God, then we must likewise take seriously all that is included in man’s redemption, and craft our mission and message accordingly.
To conclude, Herman Bavinck summarizes the whole of this doctrine brilliantly in the following two passages:
The whole being, therefore, and not something in man but man himself, is the image of God. Further, sin … has profoundly affected the whole person, so that, consequently, also the grace of God in Christ restores the whole person, and is of the greatest significance for his or her whole life and labor, also in the family, society, the state, art, science, and so forth. (p. 528)
The Gospel is a joyful tiding, not only for the individual person but also for humanity, for the family, for society, for the state, for art and science, for the entire cosmos, for the whole groaning creation. (“The Catholicity of Christianity and the Church“)