Human Dignity: Christological Anthropology, Human Worth, and the Dignified Life

Whatever happened to dignity? Perhaps, when we hear the word dignity, we conjure up some image of some overly dressed royal dignitary from a rich foreign country similar to the Monopoly man. In our ever increasing “casual culture,” we see that dignity has been lost. Since we are always told to “just come as you are,” we are finding it increasingly difficult to see anything as special.

This isn’t about getting dressed up for the worship services of the church or ladies competing to wear the biggest hat in the auditorium. This is about the way we treat ourselves and others. This is about how we live before God. Dignity is about the way we treat life and the One who gives life.

When we buy into the creeds of casual and common, then nothing is special and deserving of extra care. Perhaps we see these issues manifested in the way we treat ourselves. If everything is common, then I’m common too. If I’m common, then I’m not special–I’m not important. If I’m not important it doesn’t really matter what happens to me. Depression, anxiety, and suicide rates climb at staggering rates. Unwed mothers are more prevalent now than a two parent home. Crowds cheer at the legalization of late-term abortion. Many refuse to work and live on handouts. Church membership and worship attendance are spiraling down.

Could a lack of self-respect not be part of the cause of many of these ills? Could it not be that we have forgotten that we carry a certain dignity from the moment of conception that continues with our immortal soul? Should we not remember that inherent dignity we have as we live before God, man, and ourselves? In fact our self-worth, our dignity, is derived from our relation to God and the value which he has placed upon us as his image bearers.

Bland Secular Naturalistic Meaninglessness?

Perhaps we are suffering from bland secular commonness of naturalism because we have convinced ourselves that nothing is special, sacred, or dignified. If everything is common, then does anything deserve uncommon effort? Perhaps it is time for us to be reminded of the created order.

God made humanity special in this cosmos. We are created in his image (Gen. 1:27). We are created to rule on his behalf and be productive for his glory (Gen. 1:28-29). These are hardly ordinary things. These are amazing things. This is who you are. This is who every image bearer is. We are not common. We are not just another animal. We are not limited to this physical world. We are tied to eternity. We are linked to Deity. God created us with dignity.

Psalm 8, Dignity, and Christological Anthropology

Psalm 8 is an incredible Psalm that exalts Christ and all humanity through Christ. The question of why God would care about humanity is addressed in Psalm 8:4. The answer is that we can know God cares about humanity because God has exalted humanity in his creation (Ps. 8:5) and humans are exalted to rule over humanity on behalf of God (Ps. 8:6-8).

But Psalm 8 isn’t just about humanity. It is preeminently about the Son of God who added humanity to his person to further exalt redeemed humans (Jn. 1:14). While he was one man among many, he is also the representative of all. He is our righteousness. If he is our righteousness, is not also our dignity? Are we not dignified by being a part of his body? Shouldn’t we, his royal priest ambassadors, live with dignity as part of his body? Isn’t it our responsibility to reflect God’s glory in this chaotic and disgraceful world?

Instead of God walking in the Garden while Adam and Eve were present as we saw in Genesis, now God dwells in us and works through us (Acts 5:32; 1 Cor. 6:19; 3:16; Phil. 2:12-13). All humanity, therefore, should live with dignity and be treated with dignity. The redeemed enjoy the special “in Christ” relationship and the subsequent responsibility to further the Kingdom borders through their influence and preaching (Matt. 5:16; Rom. 10:17).

God placed humanity and Christ in the world to rule over the works of his hands (Ps. 8:6). All humanity, especially redeemed humanity, has the responsibility to care for God’s creation. This includes caring for self, for the unborn, the weak, for the aged, and for the oppressed. Since we are to live with dignity, we must not live filthy lives. This responsibility to be dignified points not only to our spiritual life but also to the care of our physical body, care of our homes, care of emotional life, care of our relationships, our clothes, our work, and our speech.

Life Dignified and Lived With Dignity

This caring rule also leads the redeemed to share the Gospel with others. We are to be dignified because Christ has become human and because God made to live as his dignified rulers. Just as Christ shared in the human condition, we are to share in the divine mission of evangelism (2 Tim. 4:1-2; Matt. 28:19-20). We are to be his dignified ambassadors on earth who proclaim his message of human dignity through salvation.

In On the Making of Man, Gregory of Nyssa wrote:

so the human nature also, as it was made to rule the rest, was, by its likeness to the King of all, made as it were a living image, partaking with the archetype both in rank and in name, not vested in purple, nor giving indication of its rank by sceptre and diadem (for the archetype itself is not arrayed with these), but instead of the purple robe, clothed in virtue, which is in truth the most royal of all raiment, and in place of the sceptre, leaning on the bliss of immortality, and instead of the royal diadem, decked with the crown of righteousness; so that it is shown to be perfectly like to the beauty of its archetype in all that belongs to the dignity of royalty.

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