What Is Man, Part 1

Have you ever stopped to think about yourself? Where did you come from? Where are you going? Why were you born? Human beings have a self-awareness no other member of God’s creation has, and this makes him ask such questions. For the Christian, the answers are found in the Bible, and they are surprising.

what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. (Psalms 8:4-5 | NIV84)

Thanks to what the New Testament book Hebrews tells us, we know that Psalm 8 is referring to Jesus Christ, but the point of the psalmist can’t be missed. Man has God’s attention – God is “mindful” of human beings to the point, in fact, where His Son became their representative in Heaven.

Another psalm says this:

O Lord, what is man that you care for him, the son of man that you think of him? Man is like a breath; his days are like a fleeting shadow. (Psalms 144:3-4 | NIV84)

Again we see that God cares for man; that God thinks about man. That’s an astonishing fact, and made all the more astonishing by the fact of man’s frailty: he is like a breath – there one moment and gone the next. Yet somehow and for some reason, the weak, impermanent man has God’s eternal attention. The Bible paints a pathetic picture of humanity: Created to be the greatest of God’s creative achievements, yet utterly dependent upon on Him.

Anthropology is the doctrine of man and theological anthropology deals with man in relation to his Creator, while scientific anthropology deals with man as a physical and psychological being in relation to natural history. In this series of studies, we’ll examine different aspects of ourselves in the light of what the Bible has to say.

The origin of man

Ever since man was first able to look up into the night sky and see the stars and faraway constellations, he was confronted with the mystery of his origin. Over the centuries, man has set his mind to figuring out where he came from. Charles Darwin, the unfortunate originator of the theory of evolution wrote this:

Authors of the highest eminence seem to be fully satisfied with the view that each species has been independently created. To my mind it accords better with what we know of the laws impressed on the matter by the Creator, that the production and extinction of the past and present inhabitants of the world should have been due to secondary causes, like those determining the birth and death of the individual. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and that whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been and are being evolved.

The idea of “theistic evolution” is not a new one, but it is an incorrect one. The Bible teaches very clearly the doctrine of special creation, meaning that God, the Creator, made every creature “after his kind.”

So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living and moving thing with which the water teems, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth.” (Genesis 1:21-22 | NIV84)

With the utmost care, the Lord created all the various species of animal life on earth and in the seas and then let them develop and progress (we might even use the word “evolve”) according to the laws that govern their being.

And God said, “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: livestock, creatures that move along the ground, and wild animals, each according to its kind.” And it was so. (Genesis 1:24 | NIV84)

This wasn’t the case with man, however. Of man’s creation, we read something very different:

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:26-27 | NIV84)

Only man was created in God’s image. And this why Christians cannot accept any version of the theory of evolution. It takes a personal Creator out of the picture. The theory of evolution and its proponents attempt to link man with animals, yet the Bible clearly states that man is linked to God through his creation. Though sin ruptured that link, Jesus Christ came into this world to re-establish man’s eternal link to His Creator by re-creating or repairing the marred image of God in human beings.

The sinister side of evolution is that human nature is gradually evolving; ever so slowly becoming more and perfect or divine. Again, this is as far from Biblical teaching as you can get. The Bible teaches that the opposite is occurring. Man without God, left up to his own devices, is getting worse and worse, not better and better, and that man progresses spiritually, physically, culturally, and in every other way, not by his own efforts but by the work of God in Him.

His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. (2 Peter 1:3-4 | NIV84)

The nature of man

In Genesis, we read this:

the Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being. (Genesis 2:7 | NIV84)

Clearly there’s more to man than meets the eye. He is a physical being, having been constructed from “the dust of the ground,” but God added something to that physical part of man: a soul. The soul – whatever it is – adds life to the body, and when the soul is taken from the body, the body dies.

Yet there’s more to it than that. The New Testament expands our knowledge of man’s two sides:

May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Thessalonians 5:23 | NIV84)

For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12 | NIV84)

So are human beings a dichotomy or a trichotomy? Are we made up of two parts or three? Theologians, who will argue over how many angels can sit on the head of pin, are divided. Some say we are made up of just two parts: the body and the soul/spirit. Others say we are made up of three parts: the body, soul, and spirit. In fact, in spite of the contention between the two camps, both are correct. The soul and the spirit represent the immaterial, or non-physical side of man. They are separate, as we see in Hebrews, since they may be separated by the Word of God, but they are not separable. They are “wound around each other” so tightly that words “soul” and “spirit” are used interchangeably sometimes in Scripture.

But each part has its own function. The “soul” is “the self.” It’s the part of man that makes him aware of himself, his surroundings, and of other people. The soul of a man makes him who he is, with all of his brilliance and his foibles and fears. The soul includes such things as the intellect, the emotions, and the will. We could say that the soul governs man entire personality.

The “spirit” is different. Man is not a “spirit,” but he possesses a spirit that was put in him by his Creator, and it is his “spirit” that sets man apart from all other created beings. Our “spirit” is that part of us that connects us to the spiritual world. It is that part of us that is conscious of God’s Spirit and Presence in us and in the world around us.

When Paul wrote a letter to the Ephesians, he described the spiritual state of man without God:

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins…. (Ephesians 2:1 | NIV84)

Obviously, when Paul said his friends were “dead,” he wasn’t referring to their bodies or their souls – they ability to read the letter, after all! He was referring to their “spirits.” Unsaved man is spiritually dead. He’s physically alive, and he’s able to think and laugh and do all sorts of great things, but he’s dead with respect to God. The human spirit is unable to relate to God in any way. Part of God’s gracious gift of salvation is the complete restoration of man’s spirit: the Holy Spirit (God’s Spirit) enters man and renews man’s spirit, bringing that man to a higher level of living and giving him the capacity to relate to God; giving him the capacity of love God.

So you can see that man without God is a mess; he’s not a whole person. He’s a pathetic shadow of what he was created to be. And the truly sad part of man without God is that somehow, deep down inside, he knows something is terribly wrong. That’s why human beings, left up their own devices, will spend a lifetime and thousands and thousands of dollars looking to be made complete and whole, never realizing it is God they need, because they are dead to Him and He is dead to them. Brown Bannister captured sinful man’s sad state like this:

One I was dying, my soul was crying,
Trying to find the nature of Love.
I thought I found it,
But I just walked around it,
Looking for the nature of Love.

That’s when You seized me,
And now You have released me,
To know You are the Nature of Love.
Your Spirit found me,
And now Your Love surrounds me,
I know You are the Nature of Love.

That’s what God does for sinful man; something he could never, ever do for himself. How man ended up in this predicament – as a broken, hurting being – we will cover that next time as we continue to look at God’s most amazing creation:  Man

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