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Image means to reveal and likeness is to reflect
Here is how the difference works. A man comes across a pool of water in the road and he sees his likeness – it looks a little like him. But the water is actually dirty with rocks and silt, reflecting some of pure water but a whole lot more of what is fallen humanity.
This is a picture of fallen humanity. Fallen humans are easy to spot. We see them in prison photos and police mug shots. We may or may not see the image of God because there is so much dirt and silt.
What is difficult is seeing a fallen man, nicely dressed, educated and prosperous, and on the outside not looking fallen at all. We say ” Oh that person would never go to hell. He is so nice.” But we are not looking at the image of God in that person but only the likeness, vastly cleaned up.
All men have the spirit
All men have the spirit of God in them because He has created them in the image of God. We confuse the spruced-up, elegant man with the image of God, when really there are two natures there. Your life is about which one of these natures will eventually rule.
God’s purpose for us as redeemed people is to bear the image of Christ. We are to reveal what He is now in us in holiness.
I thought this especially valuable in helping to explain why missionaries can be so confused about foreigners. I met many wonderful people in China but they were un-redeemed. It would be easy to simply say they don’t need God because of the likeness of Christ in them, and ignore the whole package of salvation.
Our job is to bring forth the image
The first appearance of this word is in Genesis 1 which makes it important to us. It refers to “gods” plural, El meaning god, and the Hebrew plural is “im.” The Jews identify these gods as a combination of their One God and angels.
Three ways to know God not three gods
Christians believe Elohim refers to the Father, the Son and Holy Spirit, the three faces we know as an all-powerful consuming deity.
Genesis 1:26 And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.
27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.
The Elohim cannot include angels because (1) angels have no power of creativity. Their job is simply to obey (good angels) or bad (demons etc.). Angels are called “ministering spirits” and ministering is a matter of obeying God.
Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?
Angels do not need to be saved in the human sense.
(2) We are made in the image of God but not in the image of angels. Angels have no physical body. They do have a spiritual body. Men are made “lower than the angels” which refers to our human body on earth. Angels have abilities as spiritual beings we do not have here. We will have greater mobility in heaven of course, where the human body is not a limitation.
(3) God “breathed” into man and made him a living soul. This does not happen to angels. That breathing-in process is what carries the image of God. Angels do not have that image.
Genesis 2:7 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.
Animals have souls, not spirits
Animals have souls, that is they have will, intellect and emotion, but not a breathed-spirit from God. Angels also appear to have souls since they can appear to man, and speak and have specific duties. Michael, for example is involved in war and Gabriel is a message bearer, but again, like animals, no breath of God. Man alone has his own spirit, that repository where the Holy Spirit can come in a create a born-again being, our important goal in this life.
To sum up, angels do not have the all-essential attribute of God, a God-infused spirit, and man is not made in angels’ images either.