Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” (Genesis 1:26)
God created us in the image and likeness of God — to be like Him. His plan was for us to represent Him on the earth and exercise dominion on His behalf. However, that image was marred when Adam rebelled against God, and through Adam, all humanity was bent toward evil and made subject to death. And the expectation of godly dominion on the earth was shattered.
Which is why Jesus came. The eternal Son of God “became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14) in order to redeem us and restore creation to godly dominion. Paul says that Jesus is “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation” (Colossians 1:15). The author of Hebrews calls Him the “express image” of God’s person.
In Jesus Christ, not only is our humanity restored but so also our godlikeness. All who believe on Him are part of that restoration; Paul says that we are “predestined to be conformed to the image of [God’s] Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren” (Romans 8:29). So then, we are being conformed to the image of Jesus, who is the express image of God. We have “put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him” (Colossians 3:9-10).
Though Peter does not use the word “image,” he does indicate the same reality concerning our restoration to godlikeness:
Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord, as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. (2 Peter 1:2-4)Through the Lord Jesus Christ, we become partakers of the divine nature, participants in what God Himself is like. This does not mean, however, that we become God Himself. We do not participate in who God is in His infinite powers — His omnipotence, omnipresence, or omniscience, for example. But we do share in the life of God, who is immortal. “And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son” (1 John 5:11). And we partake of the character of God, which can be summed by one word, love, “for God is love” (1 John 4:8).
This is the direction Peter moves in. Directly after the promise of being partakers of the divine nature, he adds, “But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love” (2 Peter 1:5-7). Love is what caps it all off, bringing faith to completion.
Paul also speaks of the divine nature of love, in the book of Galatians, where he identifies love as the fruit of the Spirit: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). This is the character of the Lord Jesus Christ, and is perfectly fulfilled by Him. Love heads the list, and all the other “fruit” that follows can be understood as manifesting love.
We were created to be like God, who is love. In Jesus Christ, and through the Holy Spirit, we are being restored to that likeness. And that changes the world.