Into the Image of Jesus Christ
Christian spiritual formation is the lifelong process of being conformed into the image of Jesus Christ for the sake of the world. What does the “image of Jesus Christ” refer to? To understand this, we must think back to the creation account in Genesis, where it says that God created Adam and Eve in His image (Genesis 1:26-28). John Wesley wrote about the image of God both before and after the Fall, saying the image of God can be thought of in three parts.
The first part is called the natural image. As people made in God’s image, Adam and Eve were immortal—they wouldn’t die; had perfect reason or understanding—they understood things completely; had free will and judgment—their choices were made just like we make choices, but with perfect judgment; and perfectly ordered emotions or affections—they didn’t get angry over the silly little things, they were patient, etc.
After the Fall, this natural image was marred. They were still able to make decisions, but they didn’t always turn to God when making them. They definitely weren’t immortal anymore; death had entered the Garden. And their emotions were swayed easily over little things. It didn’t take much for them to become depressed or saddened.
The second part is the political image. This refers to our ability to rule over earth and engage in interpersonal relationships. Adam and Eve ruled over creation, naming the animals and living peacefully in the Garden of Eden. They didn’t have to worry about famine or drought, as the earth had not yet been cursed. They also got along with one another. No miscommunication, no hurting each other’s feelings, no secrets or betrayal.
After the Fall, the political image was also marred. Adam and Eve were kicked out of the Garden, rule over the earth became much more difficult as a result of the curse, and they did not rule the earth as God intended. Neither did they relate to one another perfectly: the first sin recorded after humanity’s booting from the Garden was Cain killing Abel.
The third part is the moral image. This refers to our immediate personal knowledge of God. Adam and Eve knew God intimately. God wasn’t just a part of theirs lives; He was there with them. He cared for them, and they spoke with Him like we do one another. They loved God with all their hearts. And because of this, they understood that people were special to God.
After the Fall, the moral image was completely destroyed. Not just marred, but destroyed. Adam and Eve didn’t know God intimately as before. God no longer walked in the cool of the day with them. Their sin separated them from God. And there was nothing they could do to restore the relationship. Sin was alive, and as a result, they would have to rely on God to make Himself known to them and to make it possible for them to know Him once again.
And here is the kicker: The New Testament intentionally speaks of Jesus Christ as the second Adam!
- Romans 5:14, 18: Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who is a pattern of the one to come…. Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all.
- 1 Corinthians 15:21-22: For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a human being. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.
Jesus Christ is the second Adam, the one who is both fully human and fully God who lived a life faithful to God unlike Adam. When given the choice to sin, Jesus did not. He perfectly reflected the image of God to humanity by His faithful obedience, showing us exactly who God is. Hebrews 1:1-3 says, “In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.”
And so, when we are being conformed into the image of Christ, what God is doing is making us like the Son of God, capable of representing God to the world in faithful obedience. We go from having a marred natural and political image and a fully broken moral image, incapable of even knowing God, to a partially-restored natural and political image. When we are born, we have some ability to reason, to understand the world around us, to relate to those around us, etc. But our moral image is still fully broken. Those who accept Christ receive His grace and begin on the road to receiving more grace, which enables them to cooperate with God and to find full restoration of the moral image in this life. God enables us to be conformed into the image of Christ.