The Human Person

What Does it Mean to Be a Human Person?
What does it mean to be human? Looking at that question, you might suggest that perhaps I’m biting off more than I can chew in a short article. A question like that falls into the same category as, “What is the meaning of life?” or “How do I know who I am?” I can’t even figure out how to use all the apps on my phone, let alone find explanations for the vast mysteries of life! Scripture teaches us that we cannot really know our own hearts (Jer 17:9, Ps 19:12, Rom 1:21). “Despite all their efforts to search it out, no one can discover its meaning” (Eccl 8:17b).

Yet it is precisely this type of question that we try to answer every day. The answers to these questions are tremendously important for us. They cut to the core of who we see when we look in the mirror. They give us reason to get up in the morning and motivation to do whatever it is we do. We see our neighbors, friends, family members, all struggling to answer the same questions. It moves me to consider the grace of God in a different way. Grace in his forgiveness of our sins, but also gracious guidance in our questioning through his Word. It is in God’s eyes that we discover our human identity.

Who We Were Created to Be
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” —Genesis 1:26 (ESV)

When the Bible begins to describe humans, it describes them as the deliberate creation of God. We are God’s creatures, totally dependent on him, down to our very existence. Each day, as my body continues to function, as there is food in my pantry, as the sun continues to shine, I recognize that these things are gifts from my loving Father.

We see from the text that God makes us different from the other creatures. “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Gen 1:27). Being made “in his own image” distinguishes humanity from the rest of creation, establishing in this image a likeness to God. In Colossians, the image is described as consisting of knowledge (Col 3:9-10), and in Ephesians, of true righteousness and holiness (Eph 4:22-24). Genesis 9:6 points to the protection and value that God gives to humanity because of that unique relationship that we have with him.

Humanity was given purposes as a result of being made in God’s image. They were called to fill the earth and subdue it, to have dominion over everything (Gen 1:28). In Genesis 2:15 that dominion is further described as working the garden and keeping or guarding it. Humanity was originally called into marriage (Gen 2:24) and family life. To the roles of father and mother, husband and wife. To worship and the ministry of the Word (Gen

Humanity was never a burden to God. He delighted in humanity and his creation. He delighted in Adam and Eve, in their rule over his world, in their marriage and family, in human sexuality, children, and work. All of these things were very good (Gen 1:31). All of these things were received as gifts from God by our first parents. Their relationship to God, their Creator, was entirely determinative of who they were, what they did, and what everything meant. He provided those answers to them. Fellowship with him was itself the answer. And so they delighted in him, and he in them.

Who We Are in Our Sin
But humanity fell. Rather than allowing God, and fellowship with God, to be the only answer they needed, explaining “who they were,” “why they got up in the morning,” or “what it all means,” they instead doubted God and trusted the word of the serpent. Although they were made in the image of God, they sought to be “like God, knowing good and evil,” on their own terms (Gen 3:5). And so they took that which had not been given.

As a result humanity lost fellowship with God and that aspect of the image was lost. While it still afforded them protection (Gen 9:6), humanity was no longer like God in knowledge, righteousness, and true holiness. And their relationships to each other, to the rest of creation, and to themselves, were cursed. Filling the earth was cursed with pain (Gen 3:16). Ruling over the earth was cursed with frustration (Gen 3:19). Humanity, in its sin, went so far as to take on the image of another (John 8:44).

Who We Get to Be in Christ
But even way back in Genesis 3:15, God promised that he would deliver humanity back to the special relationship they had with him, through the work of a Son. He would restore them to that place as God’s children. And in a way, what we receive in the gospel is restoration to what we were before; but in another way, it’s the promise of something better. Through Christ, we are renewed in the likeness of God, which, we discover from Scripture, means ultimately being renewed in the likeness of Christ (2 Cor 3:15-18, 2 Cor 4:4-6).

What Does it Mean to Be Human?
To be human means that you are designed for fellowship with the Triune God. Apart from God, we cannot know God and are in darkness to that truth. We are left trying to find meaning, purpose, and identity from within our own deceitful hearts. We are left wondering where we  come from, how we are to live, what is right, and what is wrong.

This is a message for all of us. Hear the good news of Jesus Christ, which is this, “You are not your own; you were bought at a price” (1 Cor. 6:19b-20a). In God’s design we find meaning. In his will we find purpose. These are his gifts to us in his Word. We were meant for love and fellowship as defined in and by the Triune God who gives us all these answers, commissioning us to share them with our neighbors. We are the children of God. 
Rev. Clint Knutson is Professor of Systematic Theology at Lutheran Brethren Seminary in Fergus Falls, Minnesota.
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