Genesis 1 teaches that humans are created in God’s own image. The ancient Orthodox Christian writers came to understand that while God the Father is ineffable, indescribable and invisible, it is the Father’s Word in whose image we are made. The Word becomes flesh and reveals the image (icon) of God to us. Christianity is based in a truth that God became human in Jesus Christ (John 1:1-14). What does it take for God to become human? God fully empties Himself to become fully human.
“Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:4-8)
For us to become fully human, as God became fully human in Christ, we also need to empty ourselves of all selfish, self-centered and narcissistic thinking. Egotistical and egocentric thinking stands in the way of us becoming fully human – fully relational beings abiding in God’s love and loving as God loves us. Our being in God’s image is the basis for the theology of the incarnation and the theology of theosis.
“It seems to me that Orthodox theology insists on the doctrine of deification, theosis, because recovering the fullness of the image will involve real changes in ourselves, changes that mean that the image of God in which we are created becomes more and more evident. We are to become transparent, as it were, to the image of God reflected in who we are most deeply. Others are to find in us, not the fragmented human beings that we are as a result of the Fall, but the love of God manifest in the image of God, for whose sake we have been created. In doing this we shall discover our true humanity: deification, as St Maximos makes so clear, is the restoration of our true humanity, not its diminishment or abandonment. And it is a change grounded in the amazing change that God himself embraced, when he became human for our sakes, not abandoning what he is – divinity – but assuming what he is not – humanity.” (Andrew Louth , Introducing Eastern Orthodox Theology), Kindle Loc. 1841-48)
Central to understanding our humanity is remembering humans are created in the image of God AND understanding the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ. The beginning and the end of humanity are found in the Word of God, in whose image we are created and who has become human in order to enable us to be united to God.
“In the sphere of Christology, . . . [St.] Paul emphasizes both the personal pre-existence of Christ, and what Christ is in relation to God—Son of God, in the form of God, etc. In their Jewish background, these terms express what man was intended to be, so that Christ’s sonship perhaps means basically being truly human. . . .
The Cross is of course vital, but it is the completion of the obedience which characterizes the whole of Christ’s life. It is as man’s representative, rather than as his substitute that Christ suffers, and it is only as one who is fully human that he is able to do anything effective for mankind, by lifting man, as it were, into an obedient relationship with God. . . . The result is that in Christ men become what they were intended to be from the creation. In Christ there is a new creation, so that men now bear his image, as they have borne the image of Adam. They share his relationship with God by themselves becoming sons of god, and so find blessing, righteousness, and glory. In other words, they become truly human.
If Christ has become what we are in order that we might become what he is, then those things which governed and characterized the old life of alienation from God in Adam no longer apply. It is the old man, i.e. the Adamic existence, which is crucified with Christ, Rom. 6.6 . . . [St. Paul] writes continually to his converts – Be what you are! Man has been recreated, called to be ‘holy’ – he should believe it and behave accordingly. Sin belongs to the old, Adamic existence.” (Morna Hooker, FROM ADAM TO CHRIST, pp 22-23)
Humans are physical beings created in God’s image. We bear both the image of our Creator, but also bear the Adamic mortality. Created for eternal life, we allowed death to inter into existence through our sin. God, however, does not leave us in Hades for eternity. Rather God enters into the human condition, descending even into Hades through His own death in order to rescue fallen humanity. Christ our Savior, restores us, transfigures our humanity, and transforms our physical nature into the spiritual again. This is salvation.