“What is man that thou art mindful of him?” (Psalm 8:4). What is mankind? The science of anthropology studies the physical, social, and economic aspects of humanity. However, we must also study the spiritual aspects of human kind. After all, are the spiritual questions not far more important than the physical? Isn’t the after life far more important than the current life? Isn’t the nature of our immortal soul far more important than the nature of our frail body?
In studying humanity we are studying ourselves. However, we are not studying what we think of ourselves or what the natural sciences teach about ourselves. We are studying how God, our Creator, views us, and what purpose God would have us to fulfill. In this way we can better understand ourselves, our relationships with others, and our relationship to God.
Mankind is created by God.
“Where did that come from?” That’s the question we may exclaim when we encounter something amazing. If we can understand the origin of something, perhaps we can better understand the thing itself. If we understand our origin, we can better understand who we are and our purposes.
Genesis 1 and 2 record the creation of mankind. In Genesis 1 we see the summary of mankind’s creation. “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, ovate the birds of the heavens, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that crept on the earth. And God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them” (Genesis 1:26-27 ASV). In Genesis 2 we find a more detailed description of God creating Adam and Eve.
From the creation accounts, we can learn much about the nature of mankind. First, we see that mankind is created by God. This places and inherent value on human existence, just as there is value in all of God’s creation. We also see that mankind is created, as God said, “in our image, after our likeness” (Genesis 1:26). To be made in the image of God has to do with “resemblance.” Humanity has a resemblance to God that the other created beings do not have. This “image of God” characteristic elevates mankind over the rest of God’s creation.
As a part of humanity’s resemblance to God, we are given “dominion” over all the earth and told to “be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it, and have dominion… over every living thing that moves upon the earth” (Genesis 1:27-28). Notice that all these actions are things that God does. In Colossians 1:15 Jesus is described as “the image of the invisible God.” The Greek word for “image” (εἰκὼν) means “that which has the same form as something else (not a crafted object…), living image.” It is the same word used by the translators of the Septuagint in Genesis 1:26 to translate (כִּדְמוּתֵ֑נוּ) the “image” of God.
Ultimately, God is the one who has dominion—all things were created through him and for him” (Colossians 1:16). It is God who produces and replenishes the earth— “all things were created through I’m and for him…and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:16-17 ESV). Furthermore, mankind is to exercise dominion over all the earth just as God does through the Gospel—“that we may present everyone mature in Christ” (Colossians 1:28).
Comparing Colossians 1:15-28 can help us to understand Genesis 1:26-27. Just as Jesus was perfect “the image of God,” we are to be the best “image of God” we can be. This involves being God’s ambassador—a reflection of God’s glory. This also means that we are to function as God’s fellow workers. We are to be on God’s mission just as Jesus was.
Man is Created to Choose
Moral freedom is necessary for God’s purposes for mankind. Aside from the lower creatures (animal kind) God expects his higher creation (angels and mankind) to choose him. The concept of “free-will” is a highly debated subject in theological and philosophical circles. However, a survey of the Bible demonstrates that God sovereign providence includes and works with a degree of human freedom.
From the very beginning moral freedom is evident. The words “choose,” “chose,” and “chosen” describe the decisions of both mankind and God in the Bible and appear 208 times in the ASV. Some choices are quite weighty. God placed Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden and gave them choice (Genesis 2:16-17). The “sons of God” (whoever they are) took wives of all that they chose (Genesis 6:2) Other choices seem inconsequential but are part of the grand narrative of Scripture. Lot “chose” to dwell in the Plain of the Jordan in Genesis 13:11.
One of the most revered Scriptures in all the Bible has to do with mankind’s decision in serving God or self. Joshua challenged his people, “And if it seem evil unto you to serve Jehovah, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve Jehovah” (Joshua 24:15).
At the same time, there are many verses which seem to say that God has made the choice and is in complete control of all things. This debate has led to doctrinal extremes by many. Some would place salvation entirely as a work of man with no influence from God. Others claim that those who are saved are saved apart from any decision of their own and completely by God’s sovereign initiative. While we can never escape the influence of God, we are still yet responsible for our own moral decisions.
Some say that God’s foreknowledge is equal to the Calvinist or Reformed doctrine of predestination. Foreknowledge does not necessitate predestination of individuals to either salvation or damnation. The definition of the word itself simply declares that God knows beforehand who will be saved and who will not be saved. It does not say that God has eternally determined some to salvation and others to condemnation.
As the sovereignty of God and the free will of men are held together we see they are compatible. God knows what free moral agents will do in any given situation. However, that does not mean that God necessarily chooses what will happen in every situation. If God chose every action then: 1) God would be responsible for sin; 2) God would have no right to punish sinners; 3) personal evangelism would become irrelevant, and 4) the possible relationship between God and mankind would be robbed of any real value.
Another challenge to free-will is the doctrine of original sin. The doctrine of original sin states that since Adam sinned as the representative of all mankind then all mankind are lost and totally depraved by their heredity. This doctrine teaches that no one can choose to do “the right thing” until God regenerates their soul. Not only is this doctrine seen to be false in the “good actions” of non-Christians, but if true it would make civilizations impossible since everyone would be doing his neighbor the most harm possible since they all suffer from total hereditary depravity.
There are several Scriptural objections to total depravity. In Exodus 32:31-33. God lets Moses know that it is the ones who sin, not the ones born in sin, whose names are removed from the book of life.
In Deuteronomy 1:34-39 the Israelites were refused entrance into the promised land because of sin but their children were welcomed into the land. Ecclesiastes 7:29 tells us that God made man upright. Isaiah 59:1-8 tells us that it is our sins and iniquities, not someone else’s, which separate you from God. Ezekiel 18:5-20 tells us the individual is responsible for his or her own actions—“The soul who sins shall die.” Romans 7:9-11 tells us that the apostle Paul was born spiritually alive, but he experienced spiritual death through his own sin. 1 John 3:4 teaches that one becomes a sinner because he commits sin rather than being born that way.
Man is Created to Glorify God
“The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:13–14). Why are we here? We are created for God’s glory. Paul wrote, “all things were created through him and for him” (Colossians 1:16). Isaiah 43:7 speaks of “everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.” 1 Peter 4:11 describes the desire “hat God in all things may be glorified.”l Corinthians 10:31describes every Christian’s ultimate ambition: “Whether therefore ye eat or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.”
Will God be glorified in my life? In a sense God will be glorified in every life. The sinner will glorify God as God pours out his wrath on the ungodly. God’s justice will be seen and God will be glorified. However, that is not how we want to glorify God and that is not how God would have us to glorify him.
Christians have the unique privilege of honoring God through their lives and by being rewarded by God. In order to positively glorify God, mankind must first be “born again” (John 3:3-5). Isaiah 53:11-12 describes how accepting the gift of salvation is the initial step in glorifying God:
Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors.
As a saved person, we are able then to honor God by giving thanks to him and worshiping him. Turn away from God involves neglecting worship and giving thanks to him—Romans 1:21. Furthermore, we are to continue in bringing creation in subjection to him. Paul recognized his duty toward God and said his life was devoted to God “through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations” (Romans 1:5).
- How does recognizing God as our Creator change our self-esteem or self-worth?
- How does nature of mankind affect our treatment of others?
- How does the nature of free-will affect our degree of devotion toward God?
- How does being an “image bearer” of God shape your life’s purpose?
- How does being an “image bearer” of God shape decisions in your day?