Four Thoughts on Christ as the Image of God

Christ as the Image of God is important not only to make us orthodox but for how we do ministry and relate to God.

First John Calvin’s comments on Colossians 1:15a, then some thoughts of my own.

Calvin:

Who is the image of the invisible God. He mounts up higher in discoursing as to the glory of Christ. He calls him “the image of the invisible God,” meaning by this, that it is in him alone that God, who is otherwise invisible, is manifested to us, in accordance with what is said in John 1:18,—No man hath ever seen God: the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, hath himself manifested him to us. I am well aware in what manner the ancients were accustomed to explain this; for having a contest to maintain with Arians, they insist upon the equality of the Son with the Father, and his (ὁμοουσίαν) identity of essence, while in the mean time they make no mention of what is the chief point—in what manner the Father makes himself known to us in Christ. As to Chrysostom’s laying the whole stress of his defence on the term image, by contending that the creature cannot be said to be the image of the Creator, it is excessively weak; nay more, it is set aside by Paul in 1 Cor. 11:7, whose words are—The man is the IMAGE and glory of God.
That, therefore, we may not receive anything but what is solid, let us take notice, that the term image is not made use of in reference to essence, but has a reference to us; for Christ is called the image of God on this ground—that he makes God in a manner visible to us. At the same time, we gather also from this his (ὁμοουσία) identity of essence, for Christ would not truly represent God, if he were not the essential Word of God, inasmuch as the question here is not as to those things which by communication are suitable also to creatures, but the question is as to the perfect wisdom, goodness, righteousness, and power of God, for the representing of which no creature were competent. We shall have, therefore, in this term, a powerful weapon in opposition to the Arians, but, notwithstanding, we must begin with that reference3 that I have mentioned; we must not insist upon the essence alone. The sum is this—that God in himself, that is, in his naked majesty, is invisible, and that not to the eyes of the body merely, but also to the understandings of men, and that he is revealed to us in Christ alone, that we may behold him as in a mirror. For in Christ he shews us his righteousness, goodness, wisdom, power, in short, his entire self. We must, therefore, beware of seeking him elsewhere, for everything that would set itself off as a representation of God, apart from Christ, will be an idol.

Jonesey’s Four things:

1. We see God by looking at Christ.

Christ “makes God in a manner visible to us.” Jesus himself says as much in John 14:9. This theme John introduces at the end of his prologue (John 1:18, cited by Calvin above).

2. Only Christ can make God visible to us. 

God has not chosen or permitted any other way to make himself known in His Fullness. Humanity bears God’s image but cannot reveal the things central to God’s character and nature because humanity is ignorant of these things.

3.  In revealing God, Christ does not simply tell us about God, he shows us who God really is, God’s character and nature.

Calvin notes that Christ reveals “the perfect wisdom, goodness, righteousness, and power of God.” These are the parts of God’s nature that are not revealed in creation or in humanity as image-bearers except in limited capacity, limited as a result of the Fall.

4. No creature is capable of revealing God in this way (in his essence) so all of our talk about God must be centered on Christ.

Since God chose to reveal himself through his Son (Heb. 1:1-3), we waste our breath when we talk about God without reference to Christ. We also waste our breath when we seek to point people, whether unbelievers who do not know God or believers whom we are discipling, to God but bypass Christ.

As the congregation I serve is probably tired of hearing: Christ must be at the center or we’ve already lost the very gift God has given us to show himself and bring us near to him. You can’t walk with God and not walk with Christ. You can’t worship God without Christ. You can’t pray to God without going through Christ. You can’t love God, obey God, serve God, without loving Christ, obeying Christ, and serving Christ.

That’s why one of our church’s “slogans” (I don’t like that term for a church but we use it for lack of a better one) is: Christ-centered.

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About Michael R. Jones

Pastor and PhD candidate writing on Paul's theology of suffering.
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