“For though the divine glory is displayed in man’s outward appearance, it cannot be doubted that the proper seat of the image is in the soul.”
John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion Book I, page 163
When discussing man being made in the image and likeness of God (Gen. 1:26), we need to understand just how important a good understanding of this truth is. Without a clear understanding that humanity is made in the image of God, it is far to easy for us to write off others as somehow sub-human. That they are less worthy of respect than ourselves. Truly, we cannot live out the greatest Commandments, to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27, Mark 12:30-31), without having this biblical framework. Within this, there are several attributes that we share with God. The first we’ll look at is our spirit.
“God is Spirit,” says Jesus in John 4:24. Throughout the Old Testament, the Spirit of God repeatedly appears, beginning in Genesis 1:2 (“The Spirit of God was hovering over the deep…”). The Spirit of the Lord falls on ordinary people, allowing them to act as God’s voice on Earth (see 2 Samuel 23:2). Through God’s Spirit, His plans, purposes and desires are revealed to us.
When God created humanity in Genesis 1:26-27, God set us apart as unique among all creation. In doing so, he also gave us spirit. At conception we are given a soul, although we do not know exactly how, according to Ecclesiastes 11:5. Zechariah 12:1 tells us that God “form[s] the spirit of man within him.” In death, Ecclesiastes 12:7 says, “the spirit returns to God who gave it.”
In the Old Testament, the center of our being is frequently referred to as the heart—it is the center of one’s inner life, including mind, will, and emotions. And it appears to be (contextually) interchangeable with the term “spirit,” when referring to humanity (Exodus 14:8 says that the heartof Pharaoh was hardened and Daniel 5:20 says that Nebuchadnezzar’s spirit was hardened—the result of both being a stubborn resistance to the will of God). If I am incorrect in this, I hope the more learned readers will be kind in their correction.
So what exactly does the spirit of man, our heart, do?
Through the spirit (and the Spirit), we not only hear from God, but can speak to Him (cf Eph. 6:18, Rom. 8:26-27). We hear from God in our spirit. Just as our spirit can be inclined toward God, it can also be hardened against Him by pride (see Exodus 10:27, 14:8; Daniel 5:20).
Our spirit gives us our desires (cf. Gen. 6:5, which says the desire of our hearts is only evil continually), which is why God says that He will put a new spirit in us (Ezekiel 36:26), and why Paul warns us against the desires of the flesh, for they are against the Spirit (Gal. 5:17).
Because we have a spirit, we a will, just as God does.
Because we have a spirt, we have emotions, just as God does (see Gen. 6:6, Exodus 34:14, Isa. 63:10, Eph. 4:30, among others).
Because we have a spirit, we have wisdom and knowledge, although of a lesser kind (see 1 Cor. 2:13) than that imparted by the Holy Spirit, who is the Spirit of Wisdom (see Eph. 1:17, 1 Cor. 12:8).
Through our spirit, we worship God. Jesus says that because God is spirit, we must worship in spirit and truth (John 4:23-24). When we worship, we bring glory to God, which is the purpose for our creation (“everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made,” Isa. 43:7).
Our spirit is the foundation of our imaging God. If we did not have a spirit, we could do none of these things, nor could we image God in any of the other ways in which we do. Because all humanity has a spirit, and therefore are God’s (imperfect, rebellious) image-bearers, they are worthy of our love, respect and care. When we acknowledge this, we are able to begin to live the command to love our neighbor as ourselves.