Throughout the history of the Church, theologians have discussed the image of God in a large number of ways. I want to add to their discussion today by talking about the image of God regarding holiness and sanctification.
This begins with Adam and Genesis 1:28. In that verse, God gives Adam the dominion mandate, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” Adam, with the aid of his helpmate Eve, were to do these things. Why did God command these things? Because God not only wanted Adam and Eve to rule over creation, but to spread His image throughout the earth by procreation. Adam failed to do this. Next, we see this same command passed onto Noah and his family in Genesis 9:1-2, but Ham, Noah’s son, failed like Adam. This un-fulfilled command was then turned into a promise which Abraham received. Rather than being told to spread God’s image across the globe, God promised Abraham that He would bless the nations through his descendants.
Did the dominion mandate just go away? No. It is fulfilled by Jesus. Jesus is called the “last Adam” in 1 Cor. 15:45, and is referred to in Romans 5:14 when Paul says, “Adam was a type of the One who was to come.” These verses mean that in Adam we get a preview of not only what Jesus would be like, but we also get a preview of the work Jesus will do. How so? I’m glad you asked! This is where the image of God and holiness comes into play. Jesus, unlike Adam fulfilled this command from Genesis 1:28 not by procreation (as Adam was to do) but by making new creations out of sinful human beings. Follow me now. When a person places their faith in Jesus, they become new creations. They, who were originally made in the image of God (but marred by sin) are now by salvation more realistic displays of the image of God than they have ever been before because they are living in communion with God, and thats what they were made for! In regards to holiness and sanctification – when one is saved by Jesus, Jesus begins to conform to His own image, which the Bible says is the exact representation of the image of God (Heb. 1:3, Col. 1:15-20). So being made into the image of Jesus is being made into the image of God.
So you see, the more people come to Jesus, the more people are being into the image of God by Jesus through what is called sanctification (growing in holiness!). What does this mean? Jesus is fulfilling the Genesis 1:28 command by making these new creations all over the globe. Thus, the image of God is now being spread throughout the whole earth by Jesus, with the aid of His helpmate, the Church.