The Image of God and the Apostle Paul

The Apostle Paul was a Jew, in fact he was a Pharisee; everything about him was Jewish, including his mindset. He was the Pharisee who persecuted Christians, who met Jesus on the road to Damascus and who gave his life to Christ and became the apostle to the Gentiles, and in the process of all this, he wrote the largest part of the New Testament sending his writings to Gentiles. Ironic isn’t it?

A common theme that runs through his writings is that of the old way of life versus the new life in Christ, and in discussing this, he used several ways of explaining it. Perhaps the most common of these was his dichotomy between “the flesh” and “the spirit”, but he also described the same thing in other terms; the first man v. the second man, the old man v. the new man, the Law v. life, in all of this, Paul makes essentially the same point; we have choices to make.

On the one hand, we can continue to live according to the ways of this world, just like we did before we had a relationship with Jesus Christ, or we can live a new life in Him. We can worry about the transactional legalism of the Law, or we can be free in Christ; yes, that is our decision to make. None of that, however, tells us that our physical forms are anything other than the image of God, nothing Paul has written tells us that our bodies are bad, wicked, evil or terrible; actually the opposite is true.

If God made us with physical bodies that are evil, wicked, shameful and oozing sin, then why would using our bodies for sinful purposes be “immoral”? In such a case, we could rightly say that God made us sinful and wicked, and we just can’t help being what God made us, but Paul (not to mention Jesus) taught the exact opposite. Paul not only gave us the problems, he also gave us the solution: “be transformed by the renewing of your mind”, and “set your mind on things that are above”. Humanity’s great challenge comes not from evil in our physical bodies, but from the wrong kinds of thinking, for we start our journey with Christ thinking like everyone else around us, rather than seeing things from a more heavenly perspective. Consequently, our focus is on the things of this physical life; money, food, shelter, pleasure, entertainment, sex, luxuries, sensuality, emotions, feelings, passions and social positions… just like the pagans.

Does this kind of thinking describe Jesus?

We recently studied the kind of living that a citizen of the Kingdom of heaven should be living (Matthew 5-7), so how do the old ways stack up against the Sermon on the Mount? Paul did not contradict the notion that we were created, in every way in the image of God, for it is precisely because we were created in God’s image that this is important.

And we don’t have to do this on our own… that’s why we have the indwelling Holy Spirit.

If you have “your game on” today, then you have already seen the next step in our exploration, it’s in Genesis 2, and we’ll dive into it next time!

About Don Merritt

A long time teacher and writer, Don hopes to share his varied life's experiences in a different way with a Christian perspective.
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20 Responses to The Image of God and the Apostle Paul

  1. I have been studying a long time with a Muslim in Uzbekistan. I always use John 1 as my explanation of God the Father and Son being interchangeable and one, not three Gods as Muslims claim we believe. He wrote this to me just now: “Faith is belief and trust. I believe and trust God as our Creator and Judge. I believe in Jesus Christ, in whose body, God walked and talked to people; taught them about God; told them how to tell good from bad; and showed the right way to God.”

    • Don Merritt says:


      The Holy Spirit is doing a mighty work in this Katheryn; we are so fortunate to have so many like you who allow Him to work through them! There is a lesson for the rest of us in this; thank you so much for telling us about it!

  2. pipermac5 says:

    That is why, in my studies in the Old Testament, I try to understand the life, culture and mindset of the Old Testament Jews, so that I see as “normal” what WAS “normal” to them. It is also helpful in sorting out the difference between what was “sinful” and what made a person “ceremonially-unclean”. We often confuse those, making what made a person “ceremonially-unclean” – “sinful”, even if God commanded it.



    • Don Merritt says:

      There is a point to be made in that, surely.

      • pipermac5 says:

        I am also bring the historical-background of events into our studies in John’s Gospel. Last week, we looked at the Wedding in Cana, and I brought in some background about why the large stone jars were there, for ceremonial-purification. Yesterday, we looked at Passover, when Jesus cleansed the Temple, so we looked back at the original Passover-event and its institution as an annual-feast, and then I gave them some background on the Temple itself. These events have much more meaning to us if we understand the historical-context in which they occurred.



    • Matt Brumage says:

      REALLY good point. Ceremonially unclean and sin were not the same thing at all. That’s something I never really took the time to connect, at least not explicitly. I’ve moved through the idea in my teaching, but only touched on it implicitly.

    • Pam says:

      I thank you for bringing to light those verses in the OT that speak of an individual being “ceremonially-unclean.” When I was studying the sacrifices and offerings, I slowed down my studying and research in order to gain insight into what this meant too.

  3. Pingback: The Image of God and the Apostle Paul | A disciple's study

  4. I just completed a biblical historical novel in my “Intrepid Men of God” series entitled, “Paul: The Unstoppable.” I cannot come close to comparing myself to him, but do have to say with Jeremiah, “I cannot hold it in.”

  5. Matt Brumage says:

    I think my struggle with Paul’s use of flesh and spirit has always stemmed from my Western “filter” translating “flesh” into “physical” and “spirit” into “insubstantial”. I’m probably not alone in that, but the epiphany I had in re-framing it into a flesh/spirit whole and the problem being which one I give preference to was a shock to my mind. I’m still struggling out of my Western mental cocoon, and my wings are wet, but I’m getting there. I’ll probably have a different way of referring to it in a few days.

  6. pipermac5 says:

    Having a clear-understanding of how we are created in God’s image is crucial to my ability to minister where and how I do. I couldn’t do ministry there if I was stuck in my old mind-set.

  7. obsfo21 says:

    Some good points made in your posting.
    A verse of Scripture that is not often quoted is the following: Romans 8:7 ‘Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be’.
    Comes as a bit of a shock to some people!

    Generally speaking, it would appear that Human Nature/Human Spirit – OF ITSELF- is not created, initially, to understand or to even interest itself in the Laws of our Creator. It would appear that we are not able to start on the journey of renewal until such times as we are ‘called’ (John 6:44).

    The carnal mind of Mankind would appear to be incomplete – it only sees the things of this world. The spiritual world is a mystery – although the occult world (the world of the ‘god of this world’) appears to be very attractive to the carnal mind.

    We have, however, just like Adam, been given the ability to freely choose which path we take in life.

    • Don Merritt says:

      Thank you for your comments; I think it would be helpful to our readers if you would discuss the context in which the Romans and John verses you mention fall within and how that relates to your application.

  8. obsfo21 says:

    I have already written an updated provisional posting regarding ‘Human Nature’ that I am considering publishing on my own blog. It is rather long and not really appropriate as a comment on your own posting. However, I can send an URL to your site when published if that would be agreeable to you?

    I hasten to add that I am not attempting to advertise my own blog on your site.

    I always keep one particular verse of Scripture in mind when writing my own postings or making a comment on another person’s: Math.24:14 And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.

    There is a plan for humankind and the framework of that plan is revealed through a study of God’s annual and weekly Sabbath Days – which most Christian churches do not observe – being rather more inclined to celebrate their man-made ’holy’ days.

    The Gospel is to be preached as a witness (which will be proved to be true in the coming future) and not in an effort to convert everyone now or in the past. That is why we need faith – if we already knew the truth we would not need faith!


    John Graham

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