Genesis 1:26-31, 2:4-8, 1 Corinthians 15:42-49
Why look at this topic?
The questions, ‘Who am I?’ and ‘What does it mean to be human?’ are the biggest questions most people will ever ask. We are the first person we meet when we start life, and in a sense we will all be alone with ourselves when we die – it’s a journey we take as an individual.
It is a two-pronged question. The is the big-picture one of humanity in general – ‘What is a human being?’ – but then there is the deeply personal one, ‘Who am I?’ I put it to you that a healthy view of the second (Who am I?) is dependent on a right view of the first (What is a human being?), even though our culture tends to think differently.
The dilemma of our culture: confident but confused
Today it is everyone’s right to choose their own identity. We see the extreme examples of this on popular media – children who are encouraged to choose their own gender at a young age; people who choose to identify as certain animals; strange movements and fads that allow a person to immerse themselves in a fantasy world.
However it’s an enterprise that everyone is involved in. Every morning when we get out of bed we do so with a certain perception of ourselves – good or bad. And every time we step out our door into the world we have certain hopes and fears about how others will perceive us, and how that will shape our own sense of identity. How will the way I look, the way I dress, the way I act and speak and relate, shape people’s responses to me to confirm to my insecure heart that I am the person I think I should be?
Have you noticed how much marketing contains images of smiling, good looking, obviously fulfilled people, who have discovered that purchasing a certain product is the key to their wholeness as a human being? These images that surround us constantly tell us that we have the absolute right to be the person we want to be.
Social media helps in this search. We can be whomever we want on the internet. Facebook gives you the opportunity to either portray the real you, or to carefully craft an identity that you want the world to see. Everyone only posts the best photos of themselves; you can reveal as much or as little of yourself as you want; and you can choose from dozens of genders and orientations, or even create your own – illustrated by the fact that at the moment my gender on facebook is listed as ‘regular flat white’ (just so people know what kind of coffee to buy me…).
Yet despite this facade of confidence humanity has about our identity, we are in fact very confused and unsure about what it means to be truly human, and it’s particularly apparent in our western culture.
Wanting the best of both worlds
We like the Biblical, Christian idea that human beings are made in the image of God, and therefore are endowed with dignity, value and individuality – but we don’t want the ‘God’ bit of it. We want the benefits, without the moral accountability. And so we also love the view of human beings that we are simply a highly evolved species of animal, the product of some very fortunate if not highly improbable processes of nature. If, in the end, we are just another animal, then moral accountability is something we can define ourselves, or even discard altogether, and we are then free to do and be whatever we want – and it’s our right!
We foolishly thing that personal identity is the ultimate goal, and that somehow that will enable human beings as a race to best express our humanity. What we don’t realise is that it is our view of humanity – wanting the benefits of being in God’s image but without the moral accountability of acknowledging God – has a profound effect in shaping our sense of personal identity. Even though we think we are free to define ourselves, we will always be forced into an understanding of ourselves by some external force.
This is because it’s how we are designed. We were never meant to discover who and what we are by trying to discover it ourselves; our nature and identity are defined by God who created us, and we know who and what we are only as He tells us.
Seeing ourselves in the context of the Human Story
It is important that when we think about what it means to be human, we do so in the context of the whole story of humanity. (See diagram). The Scriptures speak of four ‘stages’ in this story: Design, Degradation, Redemption and Glorification.
This morning we will be looking at Design (green), with a view to the goal of humanity in Glorification (gold). Yet we do so from the perspective of those who are living in-between (grey and purple). We can only say about what we will see today, either,
‘In Adam, this is what I should be, but I’m not.’ or,
‘In Christ, this is what I will be, but not yet.’
We will explore more of this in the coming weeks, but the vision of humanity that we will see today must always be tempered by the fact of sin and its devastating effects, yet also with a sense of hope as we see things through the lens of Jesus’ death and resurrection. It is only in Jesus that we discover our true humanity.
Created in the Image of God (Genesis 1:26-31, 2:4-8)
Humanity’s creation was quite different to that of the animals. ‘Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds…’ (1:24). There is a magnificence and beauty in this, but there is also a ‘distance’ between God and the animals, almost as if they come about through the natural processes of the earth that God has put in place.
However when it comes to human beings there is a closeness and an intimacy. God ‘gets his hands dirty’ as he forms the man from the dust. Hence the images in Scripture of God being like a potter, shaping a vessel out of clay, as he gets his hands dirty with the very stuff that the pot is made of.
Even more intimate is the picture of God breathing into his nostrils the breath of life. God comes into direct contact with the man as He gives him life by His Spirit. And then the man is placed into the garden that God had planted – not simply to be part of the ecosystem/biosphere, but with a calling and a mission, to care for creation, be fruitful, fill the earth and rule over it.
Everything we are, and everything we are called to do is a gift from God, to be shaped and defined by Him, not us.
What does it mean to be ‘in the image of God’?
On a basic level it means that everything God is, we are like that. Yet, like a portrait of a person we are not duplicates of God – he has not created mini-gods, or done a copy & paste. Anything that God is, we are none of that. God is God, and humans are humans. We are not supposed to to ‘God-things’ but ‘human-things’, but in our humanity we reflect something of the nature and character of God. (See Geoffrey Bingham, ‘I, The Man’)
Some faulty ways of finding out
But what does that actually look like? We might try to take a number of different approaches to find out.
- Examining creation
We might try to work out how human beings are uniquely different to the other species on the planet – especially the most intelligent animals. What abilities do we have that they don’t? The problem is that the more we learn the more we seem to notice ‘human traits’ in animals – personality, emotion, loyalty, even language, and a sense of fun. Just watch Youtube!
- Examining God
Or we might try to examine the nature of God Himself, and try to superimpose His qualities onto ourselves. The result of this is that we an end up saying things of human beings that the Scriptures never do, almost making ourselves out to be ‘demi-gods,’ like the heroes of Greek mythology (Isn’t it interesting that the Superhero genre is so popular in movies and entertainment? Do we wish we could believe the fanciful notion that we have potential to be like gods?)
- Examining Adam and Eve
Or, we might try to examine what little data we have of Adam and Eve before they sinned, which can be a good first step, but only gives us a glimpse of how we began, not of the ultimate goal.
Jesus: The True Man, the Image of God
In fact, God has given us a very clear, foolproof picture of what a true human being is in the person of Jesus. This is why Jesus is called the ‘Last Adam,’ the ‘Second Man,’ and the ‘Heavenly Man.’ (1 Cor. 15:45,47,49)
In Jesus we not only see a full revelation of God, but also a full revelation of Humanity. He is not only Son of God in its most literal sense, but also Son of Man in its most literal sense.
By looking at Jesus we will see not only what we should have been – in every point in which Adam failed, we see Jesus succeed – but we also see him in contrast to our own fallen, frail and corrupt humanity and so we see something of what we have become in our drive to forge and choose our own identity apart from God. We also see in Jesus what has been done to bring restoration to our humanity, and what it now means to live as redeemed, re-created people in this world as we look forward to the new heaven and earth in which we will finally reach our goal.
Jesus, the Last Adam fulfills and confirms all that God originally said to the first human beings as He created them, put them into the garden and gave them the mandate – all that it means to be in the image of God.
- Sonship. Being ‘like God’ is not a thing in itself; it is the outworking of a deeper truth, that we are created to be children, or Sons of God. A son or daughter bears some resemblance to their parents. And as life goes on, we tend to realise that we are much more like our own parents than we realised – or even like!
Our image-bearing is to be known not in a purely functional sense – what we do – but in a relational sense. We know what it is to be in God’s image as we relate directly to him as a child to the Father.
This is what we see in Jesus. His life, his identity, his mission, his security, is all bound up in knowing the Father, loving the Father and being loved by the Father. When he was commissioned for his role as Messiah at his baptism, the Father’s word’s were not, ‘This is my servant, and here is the task I have for him,’ but ‘This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.’! The mission, the task flowed out of the relationship of Son to Father, and would have been completely meaningless if it were all done without reference to and communion with his Father.
- Humble Authority. ‘Fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion… over every living thing,’ sounds to our ears as something very dominating or even aggressive. Then we see that Adam is put in the garden to ‘work it and keep it’ (Genesis 2:15), words which mean ‘nurture and cause to flourish’ and ‘protect from harm and evil’. We see the fullest, best expression of this in the humble, self giving service of Jesus the Son of Man: ‘The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many.’ (Matthew 20:28)
Jesus’ humility was not an exceptional, out of the ordinary expression of humanity, but the fullest expression of humanity. His humility and obedience even to death on the cross was the reason the Father exalted him above every other creature. At that point he did not put aside his humanity, but brought his humanity to its ultimate fulfilment: to be bestowed with glory and honour by the Father, this is HIs goal for all who are in Christ; as we will see later, all of Creation is groaning in anticipation of the revealing of the glory of the children of God!
Neither did Jesus cast of his humility upon being seated at the Father’s right hand. In that place he does all to the glory of the Father, and he continues to serve us from this place as our Great High Priest, interceding for us, and pouring out the Spirit upon us along with the fullness of God’s grace, mercy and love. He does this as a Man – still fully God, and fully Man. In Jesus we see a human being fulfilling the high human calling given to Adam at Creation
- Displaying the Father’s Glory. We know that the Moon does not have any light of its own, but only reflects the light of the Sun. Yet the Moon does have a glory of its own – almost as if its silvery-grey surface was especially designed to reflect the Sun’s light and send to to the earth.
Similarly, the image of God is not something inherent of intrinsic in a human being that can be expressed even in the absence of God. Our glory will be that we will be finally conformed to the Image of the Son, who himself is the ‘…radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature.’ (Hebrews 1:3), like a finely polished mirror that accurately reflects what’s put in front of it. When Jesus said, ‘Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.’ he was making a statement not only about his divinity, but also his humanity. This is the purpose of a human being: to show forth the glory of God in order that every creature we encounter is led to worship Him. ‘Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.’ (Matthew 5:16)
‘Humanity’s chief and highest end is to glorify God and fully to enjoy Him forever.’ (Westminster Catechism, Q1)
This is an astounding thing, that God should give His glory to creatures of dust! Never say, ‘I am only human,’ or ‘That failure was just my human side.’ We have no other side apart from our ‘human side;’ a human being is a magnificent creature, designed to reflect and bask in the glory of God Himself, to love and know him as Father, and to function as priests to lead all of creation into worship of its Creator.
Even in our fallen sinfulness some of that reflected glory ‘leaks out’. In fact it is only because of our design to reflect God’s glory that sin has any significance.
The secular view of humanity, that we are simply animals, with ultimately no moral accountability, means that in the end sin and evil don’t matter. But sin does matter, because we are creatures made in his image to reflect His glory. When I call my dog and he disobeys me, it’s something to laugh as and shrug off, because in the end, he’s just a dog. However when my children disobey me, it is serious, not just because of who I am, but because of who they are – my children. I actually bestow a dignity on them by holding them accountable for their actions. So much more then does the Father bestow dignity on us by making us morally accountable to Himself – it means he is treating us as sons (Hebrews 12:7).
Jesus’ Humanity: not an example to aspire to
Jesus’ true humanity is shown to us not as a challenge for us to aspire to achieve, but as I said it shows us what we should have been, and it gives us hope for what we will become in Him, but it creates a sharp contrast with what we are now, so that we will look to him alone for salvation ‘What a wretched man I am, who will save me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!’
While we can’t say, ‘I am only human,’ we must also say that I am not the human being that I should be. Sin has degraded and distorted me, and made me a child not of glory but of wrath. I am inextricably bound to Adam in his sin and death. My only hope is that another Adam, a true Son of Man, will come and liberate me.
Next week we will explore the reality of humanity in sin. It will not be an easy journey, and we may well see some things that will offend us when we see what God has to say about the human race as they are now. But we will do so still with Jesus in our sights. He came to us, ‘In the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, [and] he condemned sin in the flesh in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.’ (Romans 8:3-4). We will see that a realism about our sinfulness will help us appreciate, and celebrate even more the grace of God shown towards us in Jesus.