It’s time for a trick question: Why are men forbidden from making images that represent God? Because the Lord has commanded man not to make an image of God, but to be the image of God. We see this in practically the Bible’s first teaching about mankind: “God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.’ . . . So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Gen.1:26–27).
What does it mean for man to bear God’s image? It means that in all this wide creation, with mountains tall to show God’s grandeur and rolling oceans to bear witness to His power, with plumed birds to reveal God’s artisanship and roaring beasts to display His majesty, God placed mankind on the earth so that God would be specially known amid His creation. This is why, when the Westminster Shorter Catechism poses its first question, “What is the chief end of man?” it answers that “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him for ever.” That is, man is to glorify God and delight forever in the knowledge of Him.
“Bear my image,” God said, in effect, to Adam and Eve. While the image of God in our race has been marred and damaged by sin, it remains man’s calling to bear that image in this world. Today, all men carry that image in some measure—but by grace, Christians carry it in greater measure and are called to spend their lives increasing that measure. This is because, while fallen Adam was still in the garden, a Messiah was promised. The purpose of that Messiah, which He fulfilled perfectly, was to purchase men by His own blood that they might glorify God with their lives, and then—as the catechism says—enjoy Him forever. Therefore, we Christians, purchased by that blood, are called and enabled to bear God’s image to a degree that would otherwise be impossible for us. This is why Jesus our Messiah urges us, saying, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:16). As Christian men redeemed from sin, we have been given a high calling indeed. It may be true that unbelieving men spend their lives trying to “find themselves” and display their own success before the world. But men who have been redeemed from sin through Jesus Christ have been freed from the bondage of self to live for the glory of God in all things. Through the way we live, we want others—our friends, our family members, our co-workers—to see something of the truth and grace of God in Christ, with the aim that they will be encouraged to seek Him for their own salvation. This is the chief end of our lives and our fondest desire: that others would see something of the glory of God—His mercy, His faithfulness, His power, His grace—in us.