IN GOD’S IMAGE AND ACCORDING TO HIS LIKENESS
The first crucial and striking point concerning God’s creation of man is that God created man in His image and according to His likeness (Gen. 1:26a). What is God’s image? Since God is invisible, it is difficult to understand how the invisible God could have an image. In Colossians 1:15 we are told that Christ is the image of the invisible God. Still, we may ask what it means to say that Christ is the image of God. We may also wonder what the likeness of God is, and what the difference between image and likeness is. For years I did not understand what God’s image and God’s likeness are. Gradually, I began to understand that God’s image is what God is in His divine attributes. God is love (1 John 4:8); God is light (1:5); God is holy (Lev. 19:2) and is even holiness (Heb. 12:10); and God is righteous (Psa. 7:9b) and is even righteousness (Jer. 23:6). God is also patient and is even patience itself.
One day nearly sixty years ago I went to visit Brother Watchman Nee at his home. Immediately after sitting down, he raised the question, "Witness, please tell me, what is patience?" I was surprised that he would ask me such a simple question. I thought I knew what patience is. However, since it was Brother Nee who asked me concerning patience, I realized that his question was not simple. Therefore, I did not dare to answer quickly. After considering my response for some time, I said, "Patience is to suffer silently the mistreatment of others." However, Brother Nee replied that that was not patience. Eventually, he said to me, "Patience is Christ." From Brother Nee’s response we can realize that patience is God Himself. We are not patient. All of us, young and old, male and female, have lost our temper many times. In a given day we may lose our temper several times. This shows that we have no patience. Patience is not us. Patience is God. Patience is one of the attributes of God.
Only God is all kinds of virtues. God is kindness, forbearance, and even humility. No one is genuinely humble; only God is humble. One day God humbled Himself to become a man. He was God, lofty in the universe; but the great, unlimited God came down to the lowest part of the universe to be a small, limited man. In John 7:6 He told His brothers in the flesh, "My time has not yet come, but your time is always ready." By this He indicated that while He lived here on earth as a man, He, the eternal, infinite, unlimited God, was limited even in the matter of time. This is genuine humility.
We human beings are lacking in genuine virtues. A man and woman may love each other during their courtship, but immediately after their wedding they may argue with each other. It is common for a husband and wife to quarrel and lose their tempers. Only God does not have any temper.
God’s image is the totality, the aggregate, of all that He is. He is love, He is light, He is patience, He is kindness, He is mercy, and He is forbearance. All the items of God’s attributes added together equal the image of God. When Christ came to express God in humanity, He expressed God in all His attributes. This is God’s image. God created man in this image. Therefore, we all have a small amount of love, light, and other virtues. We are not animals; we are human beings created in the image of God. Hence, we do have some virtues, although they are temporal and do not last. God made us as men in His image to express what He is. In this expression God’s attributes become our virtues. God’s likeness is just the expression of what God is. God’s image is what God is. When this image is expressed, that is God’s likeness. As human beings we were made in God’s image to express what He is. Thus, we were made according to His likeness.
In God’s creation we are all made God in the sense that we were created in God’s image and according to God’s likeness. This means that we all look like God. To be made God in this sense is not to be made an object of worship. We are not God in that sense. We look like God, just as a photograph of a person looks like the person, because we were made in God’s image and according to His likeness. When we say that we look like God, it may seem that we are deifying ourselves. If we do not look like God, whom do we look like? Yes, it is true that we look like man. However, in whose image and according to whose likeness was man made? Man was made in the image of God and according to the likeness of God. Therefore, man was created after God’s kind. In Genesis 1 we are told that in God’s creation, God made the plants and the animals after their own kind, respectively (vv. 12, 21, 24-25). However, man, who was created in the image and likeness of God, was made after God’s kind, not man’s kind. Therefore, at least we can say that we are like God.
God did not create man in His image and according to His likeness merely in form. Toy makers make toys in human form, but in that form there is no reality, because there is no life within the toys. God created man in His image and according to His likeness not only in form but also in life in order that man could be one with God in nature and in life. God’s intention in creating man was that God and man, man and God, could be joined in a union that is altogether organic, in life. This organic union is by God’s life. In His creation of man, God did not produce a toy without life, but He produced man as a living and genuine manifestation and expression of God with His life, just as Christ is the living image of the invisible God in life. Thus, the man created by God in His image and according to His likeness must be in the organic union with God.
(The Organic Union in God's Relationship with Man, Chapter 1, by Witness Lee)