What is the image of God?
I have read just about every different theory you can imagine trying to identify the nature of the image of God. I have seen candidates such as being self-aware, or intelligent, or capable of speech, or capable of love, or having a soul, or (as Karl Barth suggested) being created as covenanted male and female.
In his intriguing book, The Unseen Realm, Michael Heiser flatly says, “All those things sound like possibilities, but they’re not. The image of God means none of those things” (The Unseen Realm, p. 40). He continues, “Defining image bearing as any ability is a flawed approach” (p. 40). But if it’s not an ability, then what?
He thinks it is more of a function than an ability, and so prefers to think of the image as an action term: “We are created to image God, to be his imagers” (p. 40). And that function is to be God’s representatives on earth. He says the meaning of the image of God is described by the dominion mandate that follows it. Here is the passage:
Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Then God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Gen 1:26-28).
God created man to rule—which is God’s prerogative, but He has chosen to delegate some of that responsibility to men and women who rule on His authority. Hence, Heiser can say, “His desire was to live among them, and for them to rule and reign with him” (The Unseen Realm, p. 43).
I don’t know if Heiser is right about what the image of God means, but if he is, it strongly supports a key aspect of Free Grace theology, i.e., our emphasis on ruling with Christ. It shows that ruling is not a secondary issue or goal, but part of our original design and original purpose. Ruling is what we were always meant to do as images of God.