The Bible proposes a radical notion that human beings can and should be like God. We are created in the “image of God” (Gen. 1:27) and called to “be imitators of God” (Eph. 5:1, ESV).
But in order to know what it means for humans to image or imitate God, we must know what it means to be human and what it means to be like God. Unfortunately, humanity has misunderstood both parts of this equation since the dawn of time.
In the Garden, Adam and Eve were offered a fruit that would make them divine. The Hebrew word is not “You will be like God,” but plural: “You will be gods.” They soon succumbed to that temptation, reaching out to grasp Satan’s offer of divinity, which promised them the wisdom and agency of an almighty God, accountable only to oneself.
There’s an African proverb: “Never develop an appetite for the fruit of a tree you cannot climb.” Yet that is exactly what Adam and Eve did. They gave in to the desire to escape their human limitations and become gods on earth. The problem was, they didn’t know the first thing about what it meant to live or behave like the God who had created them.
Generation after generation, the human race passed on this cursed appetite for divinity. We continued to build towers ascending to the heavens and fall for other foolhardy schemes and deceptive offers to escape the human condition we were born into.
Science and technology have found incredible ways to improve our quality of life. But there is also a growing trend toward transhumanism in everything from antiaging potions to artificial intelligence; there’s a multitude of modern methods to pursue omniscience, omnipotence, and omnipresence, among other things.
And while these are essential attributes of God’s nature, they are not divine traits human beings were created to image or called to imitate. Moreover, our pursuit of self-deification deceives us into thinking we can somehow escape our humanity.
God did the opposite. Already possessing the invulnerability of divinity, Jesus fully embraced the status of humanity; not just for a lifetime, but for all time. The Incarnation has been likened to a great or wondrous exchange, wherein God became human in Christ so that we might become like God—but in the opposite way of Adam and Eve.
“Because in Adam we mounted up towards equality with God, he descended to be like us, to bring us back to knowledge of himself,” Martin Luther wrote. And “through the regime of his humanity and his flesh, in which we live by faith, he makes us of the same form as himself.”
Only in the person of Jesus can we understand both what it means to be human and what it means to be like God—and every divine-human characteristic we were created to image and called to imitate are fully and perfectly embodied in Christ.