John Wesley’s View of the Image of God

John Wesley’s View of the Image of God

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What follows is a summary of John Wesley’s theology of the imago dei (Gen. 1:26–27). It is an excerpt from The Faith Once Delivered: A Wesleyan Witness to Christian Orthodoxy (Seedbed, 2024).

72. Wesley helpfully espoused a threefold picture of the Image of God—­political, moral, and natural—that incorporates the best of what came before him in the history of interpretation. The natural Image is understood as the divine gift that makes humanity capable of entering into relationship with God. The fall caused this capacity to be corrupted. Yet God’s prevenient grace has restored in humans the ability to respond to God’s gift.

73. The political Image enables humanity to lead, manage, or steward God’s creation. The use of “dominion” in Genesis 1:26 to describe the human relation toward creation does not mean enslavement or subjugation, but proper care and stewardship, thus imaging God’s benevolent and responsive love expressed toward creation.

74. The moral Image is humanity made for living in God’s will, in loving relationship with God and others. It is expressed through God’s infusing human beings with his love, resulting in humankind’s ability to live lives directed or motivated by divine love. This quality of life is expressed in various ways such as holy living, righteousness, justice, mercy, and truth. This is the dimension that reflects God’s trinitarian love, which humanity can depend on for life itself. This love is present in human affairs through love for God and others, through faithfulness to God’s will, a prayerful life, acts of mercy and piety, and so forth.

75. Jesus Christ manifests all three dimensions of the Image, and this is the basis for humanity’s hope to embody God’s Image. Christ is the revelation of God’s natural Image in his constant communion with the Father; he embodied the political Image by preaching God’s alternative kingdom within the context of the Roman Empire; he is the revelation of God’s moral Image incarnating God’s love and obedience to God. As Wesley says, “[Christ] is the Image of God—Hence also we may understand how great is the glory of Christ. He that sees the Son, sees the Father in the face of Christ. The Son exactly exhibits the Father to us” (Explanatory Notes on the New Testament, 2 Corinthians 4:4).

76. While the Wesley brothers may have stressed God’s moral Image more than other dimensions, a full assessment of their arguments on public issues, especially slavery, shows that they viewed all aspects of the Image of God as integrally related. This is most clearly expressed in Wesley’s widely distributed antislavery tract, Thoughts Upon Slavery, in which Wesley challenged all those who were involved in the eighteenth-century slave trade (a corruption of the political dimension of God’s Image) to desist from the practice without delay on account of the principle of mercy, justice, and truth (God’s moral Image) because enslaved Africans are kin to Europeans just as Cain and Abel were kin (God’s natural Image).

This is an excerpt from The Faith Once Delivered: A Wesleyan Witness to Christian Orthodoxy (Seedbed, 2024). Included are 213 articles of faith centered around:

  1. Section I
    God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
  2. Section II
    Creation—Image Given and Marred
  3. Section III
    Revelation—The Image Revealed
  4. Section IV
    Salvation—The Image Restored
  5. Section V
    The Church—Life in the Image
  6. Section VI
    The Fullness of Time—The Glorified Image

An appendix in the back offers discussion/reflection questions for each section. Get it from our store here.


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