In Reformed Dogmatics 2:13–15, Geerhardus Vos coined a phrase for the image of God, entitled “the deeper Protestant conception.” When God formed Adam from the dust of the earth in Genesis 2:7, he breathed into him the breath of life, and Adam was formed in natural religious fellowship with God. Original righteousness, holiness, and knowledge were implanted in him. That served his communion with God. He was wholly inclined toward God in natural religious fellowship that expressed itself in worship.
At the same time that God created Adam in this natural religious fellowship, at the exact same time, God condescended to him in an act of special providence and gave him the covenant of works. That special act of providence is the means by which that natural religious fellowship could reach its consummation if Adam obeyed perfectly, personally, exactly, and entirely. It would have occasioned a transition from his earthly probation at Eden into Sabbath rest in the heavenly places, the new heavens and new earth.
That deeper Protestant conception lays the creational background for the Christ-centered character of the gospel and union and communion with Christ, who, as the second and last Adam, not only has perfect fellowship with God in his earthly ministry climaxing on the cross but rises from the dead three days after dying, ascends into heaven, sits at the right hand of God, and receives the fullness of that fellowship with the Father in the power of the Spirit, and confers it on his church. That, in a thumbnail sketch, is the substance of what Vos termed “the deeper Protestant conception.” It is the produce of classical Reformed confessional theology.