Ethics,  Theology

What Does it Mean to Be Human?

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Someone asked me this last week if I would write down my thoughts on what it means to be human. My answer will of course focus on the Bible, since that is the best source for understanding the intricacies of what it means to be human.

Being human means being a creature made in the image of God (Gen 1:26-28).

There are two important aspects to this statement. First, human beings are creatures made by a Creator. Hence, man is obligated to follow and obey the Creator. No creature has the authority to supersede the Creator, and thus morality and ethics are completely derived from the Creator himself.

Second, although mere creatures, human beings are accorded honor that is unparalleled in creation—human beings are made in the image of God. As such, mankind is given direct authority on behalf of God to function as caretaker and guardian of the rest of creation (Gen 1:26; Cf. Psalm 8). Being made in the image of God is a unique privilege which separates human beings from animals and every other part of creation. This is why each and every human being is sacred. Theologians have termed this, “the sanctity of human life.” Each life has value, this is why murder on any level is wrong. This is also why any mistreatment of a fellow human being is wrong (Matt 5:21-22).

Being human means being a sinner (Gen 3; Rom 3:23; Rom 5:12).

Although originally created without sin, humanity’s earliest ancestors (Adam and Eve) disobeyed God. Through their sin, the rest of humanity became partakers of sin. Any time a new human being comes into the world, there is no neutrality (Eph 2:1-3). People are not born good, they are born sinners (Rom 3:23; Rom 5:12).

Being human means being a special recipient of God’s love (John 3:16).

Although humanity has been plagued by sin, God loves those who are created in His image. He demonstrates this love by sending His Son, Jesus to die for us—even though we were still enemies of God (Rom 5:8). His love is manifest in that His love is completely undeserved, and completely unilateral. The reason God loves human beings is not because they deserve it, but because God chose to love us, and provide a means of reconciliation (2 Cor 5:19-21). Therefore, in being God’s special recipient of God’s love, God secures salvation and eternal life for those who believe in Jesus as the only way of reconciliation (John 14:6).

Being human means having an eternal destiny—either of eternal life or eternal damnation (John 5:28-29; Rom 6:23; Rev 20:14-15).

Being a human being does not end at death. There are two paths of continuation after death. Those who reject God’s provision of salvation and reconciliation will be condemned to an eternity of torment. They embrace their status as enemies of God and refuse to be reconciled with their Creator, thus they justly are punished for their commitment to rebel against God. Alternatively, those who embrace Jesus the Savior as their Master, and trust in His work of reconciliation, those will go on to eternal life, living in a wonderful relationship with their Creator.

In summary, being human means being subservient to a Creator. It also means having immense value—more value than any other part of creation. Sadly, being human means being alienated from God; yet, it also means having the God-given path to reconciliation with the Creator. Finally, what any human being does with that offer of reconciliation determines their eternal destiny, whether of eternal death or eternal life. That is the wonder and fear of being human.

photo credit: No two sunsets are ever the same via photopin (license)

Peter serves at Shepherd's Theological Seminary in Cary, NC as the professor of Old Testament and Biblical Languages. He is a husband, father, and sports enthusiast.

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