With this background in mind, it now makes perfect sense for Paul to say,
(Col 3:9-10 ESV) 9 Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.
“Image” obviously evokes Gen 1:26-28, where God says, “Let us make man in our image.” Before sin entered the world, we humans were made in the very image of God. But we sinned, we fell, and we and the creation were subjected to futility and vanity. Righteousness and justice became hard to find among humans.
But through Jesus the Messiah, we who have been saved are being renewed “after the image of [our] creator.” We’re becoming like God.
(The scholarly term of this is theosis, borrowed from the Eastern Orthodox. But say this in Bible class, and no one will know what you’re talking about.)
But there’s more.
(Col 1:15 ESV) He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.
Jesus is already the perfect image of God. He is as close as a human can be to the image of God. Therefore, when we strive to become like God, we also strive to become like Jesus. Jesus is the standard or pattern of God-ness.
(Rom 8:29 ESV) 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.
I’ll not address the Calvinist/Arminian issues here, because they distract from the much-more important question of being “conformed to the image of his Son.”
So notice the grammar. This is not something we do. It’s something God does for us.
(2Co 3:17-4:1 ESV) 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.
And God accomplishes this by his Spirit — transforming us more and more into the image of Jesus — from one degree of glory to another. Ever more glorious — ever more like God — as we become more like Jesus.
This is also salvation. You see, it’s not just that we’re called to this incredibly challenging mission of justice and righteousness. It’s also that we become more like God as we serve in this mission, and we are helped in so doing by the Helper, the Holy Spirit — as God himself takes us residence in our hearts and minds to make it happen.