The direction of focus is now turned back towards practical obedience. How can we honor the image that we have been given to bear?
First, I must repeat that the chief end of man is to glorify God, and this is first seen in God’s gracious gifting of man with the imago dei. This image bearing, however, was perverted and distorted by man’s fall into sin. The exactitude of the distortion is not as important as the essential truth that our fitness to achieve our designed end – to glorify our God – was damaged. The submission with which we happily exerted towards God was forsaken, as we exchanged the means of our satisfaction. Man sought to satisfy himself apart from the glory of God. This distortion of God’s image in man must be addressed. If we do not recognize the fall, then we see no striving necessary to accomplish our design. So then, how is the imago dei restored in us?
In Christ, this design is restored – “The Son is the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15a). Jesus Christ came and bore the image of God with perfection in the likeness of man (Phil. 2:7-8), accomplishing what Adam did not. Jesus was the second Adam who brought righteousness and the gift of grace to all men (cf. Rom. 5:12-21). “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross” (Col. 1:19-20). So then, how does Jesus’ perfect image-bearing restore and reconcile mankind’s imago dei?
“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21) God took Jesus who bore the image of God without sin and made Him to be sin for those of us who had distorted His image with sin. God did this so that we might inherit that righteousness with which Jesus exerted in the perfection of bearing God’s image. In what Christ did, the Father made a way for us to be credited with Jesus’ righteousness. This reckoning of righteousness restored the man’s imago dei because it imputes the perfect image of Jesus Christ on the man.
Now, what are the means of this imputation? How am I credited with what Christ has accomplished? The strongest and simplest answer is “through faith” (Rom. 3:22, 24, 28; 4:13; 5:1-2; Eph. 2:8-9). Faith is the essential action of one’s salvation. Why is it that ‘faith’ credits us with what Christ has accomplished? It is because faith takes us and unites us with Christ. In a mysterious way, faith entrances Christ into our lives, whereby He lives in us. Observe the close connection of faith, unity, and identity in Galatians 2:20 – “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Faith brings Christ into our lives, where we can live in Him, and thus live out His image, which is the image of God. It is a glorious exchange; it is the ultimate restoration of the image of God in man by giving man the image of Christ.
Let us work through this passage, Ephesians 2:4-10. There, the apostle proclaims that we were “made alive with Christ” (5a) “because of [God’s] great love for us” (4a). Notice that the emphasis of God’s purport in salvation is His love for us, not necessarily the execution of His magnification through us. Nonetheless, we see the glory of God running underneath this whole passage, primarily in 2:7: “in order that…[God] might show the incomparable riches of his grace” and remove boasting from anyone else (cf. 2:8-10). God uses those whom He saves to magnify the splendor of who He is and what He does.
We resolve back to the beginning. Is it degrading to those whom God saves that God receives the glory? Certainly not, because people get saved! We are most satisfied in God when we have been satisfied in salvation through Jesus Christ. The salvation of God is a glorious representation of His ultimate power and goodness, and thus magnifies His name; yet it also produces fullness of joy in His children.
Why did God seek to restore the image of Himself in man? Being that the chief end of man is to glorify God, God sought to restore man’s fitness to accomplish that end by giving them Jesus, applying His work to our failing. Is God’s giving us Jesus simply for His own megalomania? Certainly not! God’s reckoning us as righteous has given us salvation, resurrection; yet our good was for His glory as His children. Was our salvation simply a tool for us to be used by God, or was it because He loved us? It is ‘both and.’ God loved us by giving us salvation in Jesus Christ, which equips us for good works for His glory.
 It is important to clarify that the entirety of man’s imago dei has not been thrown out. There is a remnant of God’s image in us post-fall. It is simply not the purpose of this examination to discuss these specifics.