What Is Man?
James R. Aist
“…what is man that You are mindful of him, and the son of man that You attend to him?” (Psalm 8:4)
Isn’t it amazing that the God who is so big that He created everything and rules and reigns over it, is mindful of “little old us” and attends to our every need and concern? Why is God so interested in us? I believe that answer lies in our peculiar nature and purpose and destiny, as God has established them. So, who are we, really, and how do we fit into the larger context of the fullness of God’s creation? Are we just another animal that God created, or are we uniquely special and set apart from the others for special purposes?
Like No Other “Kind”
The Bible says that God made all the animals according to their “kinds.” But, among all of these kinds of animals, we, alone, are the kind that was made in the image and likeness of God himself (Genesis 1:26). In fact, He created us “a little lower than the angels” (Psalm 8:5), making us far above the other animals in the hierarchy of God’s animal kingdom. Moreover, Psalm 139:14 declares that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made.” And it was not until mankind had been created that God looked at all He had created and said “It is very good” (Genesis 1:31). Thus, we are clearly a “kind” set apart from, and far above, all of the other animals. But, how else are we distinct from and superior to all other animals?
Made in The Image of God
Mankind is the only creature that God made in His own image (Genesis 1:26-27). What does “Made in The Image of God” mean? “In a word, it means “godly.” God made man a free spiritual being, a responsible moral agent with powers of choice and action, able to commune with Him and respond to Him, and by nature good, truthful, holy and upright (Ecclesiastes 7:29) and wise. Tragically, the moral qualities which belonged to the divine image were lost at the Fall; God’s image in man has been universally defaced, for all of human kind has in one way or another lapsed into ungodliness.” – J.I. Packer in “Knowing God.” This undefiled image of God was possessed by the first humans, Adam and Eve, until they obeyed Satan and disobeyed God (i.e, sinned), and it is restored in all who are born-again by faith and trust in Jesus Christ (Romans 5:18-18).
The Triune Nature of Man
The Bible speaks of God existing in three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It also speaks of man as being comprised of three entities: spirit, soul and body. All three are mentioned in 1 Thessalonians 5:23b, “And I pray to God that your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” This is the true and full nature of man as he was originally created in the Garden of Eden. Man is not complete without all three entities together, and that is the reason why the resurrection of the body is necessary: when God restores all things to their original, created condition, the body must be reunited with the spirit and soul for man to be fully restored to the original condition. In the Bible, the human spirit is often referred to as the heart, or the inner man, and it lives forever. This is the entity that is born anew (from above) upon conversion. The soul of man is comprised of the intellect, the emotions and the will, and it also lives forever. It is renewed after conversion in ongoing processes called sanctification and spiritual formation. The body is the physical entity, is under the direct command and control of the soul and does not live forever. However, its death is not natural, because death separates the body from the soul and spirit. Only the complete man, with spirit, soul and body together, is truly natural. The body of the born-again person will be transformed into an incorruptible, glorified and everlasting body upon resurrection from the dead.
While we may be amazed at how intelligent some mere animals seem to be, the fact remains that human beings are endowed with mental abilities that far exceed those of all other animals, including learning, analysis, reasoning, cognition and abstract thinking, among others. So, when God gave us “…dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the livestock, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth” (Genesis 1:26), we were well equipped for the task.
Animals possess a number of impressive ways to communicate with one another, yet no other animal has been endowed with anything even close to the breadth, depth and communicative power of human verbal language.
Among the animals, human beings are uniquely endowed with a sense of right and wrong and the freedom to act on those moral convictions (see, Made in The Image of God, above). And, we are unique among the animals in being accountable to God for our actions, whether they be good or bad. With freedom comes responsibility, but only for mankind.
Only We Can Know God
This is, perhaps, the most important characteristic that sets human beings apart from all the other animals: only we have been created with the ability to truly know God. And it is precisely that ability that defines our true destiny and purpose; namely, to know and be known by God in close fellowship and communion with Him. Of all the animals that God created, it is only we – who are connected with God through faith and trust in Jesus – that He calls “friends” (John 15:15). It is from this knowing of God that our primary purpose for being flows, that is, to worship, praise and glorify our creator, who alone is worthy and deserving of all the credit for all that is good. Therein also lies our true destiny. It is only in a properly subordinate relationship with our Creator that we can know and experience our true purpose, meaning and destiny. And we get to enjoy this relationship forever!
Our True Identity
Next, allow me to share with you a practical and important application of knowing and being known by God in this way. Once we grasp the breadth and length and depth and height and know the love of Christ, which surpasses knowledge (Ephesians 3:17-19), then we can know, with complete confidence and assurance, that we are deemed of great value and infinite worth in the eyes of our Creator, and that the opinions of mere mortal men to the contrary are no longer even relevant. Then, its goodbye low self-esteem and self condemnation; God says you are “to die for”, and that’s exactly what He did! Loved by God is who we are, it’s our true identity, and nobody can ever take that away from us! (NOTE: if you are sensing that this may be a word for you, then please take a moment or two and reflect on it until it sinks in. It can be both freeing and empowering.)
What Man Is Not?
Finally, it’s also of paramount importance that we keep in mind what man is not. Simply said, man is not God! He is the potter, we are the clay. Man is not to judge the ways of God, as many Christians are quick to do when they find in the Bible something that they find hard to believe about Him. You see, the problem here is that we try to understand God from a human perspective rather than a heavenly perspective, and doing that will, more often than not, lead us to false assumptions about God, such as “That would be cruel and unfair!” The God of the Bible operates in each and every way that the Bible says He does, and it is not ours to pass judgment on those divine operations. “O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable are His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has become His counselor?” (Romans 11:33-34). And, “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:9). So, man is neither the judge nor the counselor of God, nor is he equal to God. It’s only when we have settled these matters in our hearts and in our minds that we can enter fully into our true destiny and purpose in life as God’s highest and most cherished creation.
Human beings are the only “creatures” that God made in His own image and likeness; we are fearfully and wonderfully made. In fact, we are the only “kind” of animal that can truly know God and purposely give Him glory and praise. That is the primary reason for our existence, and that is our true destiny. God’s opinion of us is that we are so valuable and precious in His sight that He, in the person of His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, died in our place so that our sins could be forgiven; God thinks we are “to die for”, and no contrary opinion of us stands before God. That is who we really are. However, man is neither the judge nor the counselor of God, nor is he equal to God. It’s only when we have settled these matters in our hearts and in our minds that we can enter fully into our true destiny and purpose and identity in life as God’s highest and most cherished creation.
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