What Every Christian Must Know about People

Volume 29, Issue 7, September 2023

by Gary E. Gilley, Pastor/teacher Southern View Chapel

There are very few issues that are more confusing than trying to understand people, including ourselves. Few have credible answers to the questions such as who we are, why are we here, and what is our destiny? This does not mean there are not many opinions about these questions. As a matter of fact, we are flooded with philosophical, scientific, and psychological theories, which keep us off-balanced and confused.  But very few people know and believe what God, our Creator, has to say about who we are, why we are here, and where we are headed. In the Ligonier Ministries and LifeWay Research, State of Theology survey for 2022,[1] statement #15 reads, “Everyone is born innocent in the eyes of God.” 71% of Americas agreed with this statement, but amazingly 65% of evangelicals did as well. That means that two-thirds of evangelical Christians do not have a biblical worldview regarding human beings, and that filters down to a muddled understanding of almost everything that pertains to life. We simply cannot understand who we are, why we are here, or our direction in life, if we don’t comprehend and accept what the Scriptures say about people. In this article, we will address several foundational truths that every Christian must know about people.

Who Are We?

We Are Made in the Image of God

Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth (Genesis 1:26-28).

The elevated and exalted status of human beings is taught in the first chapter of the Bible. No other creature is said to be made in the image of God. Animals are not, and even angels and other heavenly beings are never said to be made in God’s image. Only people. Since the Scriptures do not explain exactly what the image of God means, theologians have been debating its meaning for ages. Yes, we are made in the image of God, but what does that mean? Some views are as follows:

  • Substantive view: Mankind is like God in that he can think, reason, feel, and make choices. That is, the intellectual, emotional, and volitional components that compose personality is what is meant by image. While it is true that humans can think, feel, and choose, angels can as well; therefore, the substantive view does not define image.
  • Relational view: People can relate. Just as there is relationship within the Trinity, so humans are uniquely relational beings. And again, while this is true, so, too, the angels are relational, but they are not made in God’s image.
  • Representative: Humans were designed to rule the earth as vice regents of God. They are God’s representatives on earth. As the supreme creation living on the planet, they are to mirror and represent God. People living in biblical times would understand how images functioned because ancient kings would often set up images of themselves in distant lands over which they ruled in order to represent their sovereign presence.[2] We see examples of this in Scripture when Nebuchadnezzar set up an image of himself in Daniel, chapter three, and when the Antichrist creates a similar image in Revelation 13:14. Owen Strachan comments: “To see a man or woman is to see the only living creature made in the image of God…To see humanity is to see the likeness of God”.[3] “The human race is the race made to display the glory of God in all the earth in a special way”.[4]

What Constitutes a Human Being?

A human being is made up of two basic components, a physical body, and an immaterial nature.

We start with the body: Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being (Genesis 2:7). Most philosophies and religions downplay the body, or they dismiss it as inferior or bad but not the Scriptures. The Greek philosophers such as Socrates wanted to be rid of the body, considering it the prison for the soul. The ancient Gnostics were antimaterial. Eastern religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism teach that the human body and all material realities are illusions. But Genesis 2:7 said God personally formed our bodies out of the dust, and Genesis 1:31 pronounced all that God created was very good, including the human body. Because of the fall, our bodies are weak, get sick, and die.  Yet, believers are privileged to have the Holy Spirit dwell in our bodies (1 Corinthians 6:19), and the Lord promised to resurrect our bodies, refashioning them so that they are fit for life in glory (John 5:25-29; Romans 8:32). Believers will live in glorified bodies for all eternity (Philippians 3:20-21).

In addition, humans have an immaterial nature (Genesis 2:7). We are more than physical bodies; we have an immaterial component. God had already formed Adam’s human body, as the verse tells us, but it was not alive until He gave it the breath of life and he became a living being. The Hebrew word for “living being” in this verse is nephesh or soul. Soul speaks of our inner, immaterial nature. Other words in Scripture also refer to our immaterial nature such as spirit, heart, mind, and conscience. In Luke 10:27, Jesus quotes from Deuteronomy 6:5 which calls on us to love the Lord with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind. All of these terms are used throughout Scripture interchangeably for our immaterial self. Distinctions between the terms, as used in Scripture are impossible to maintain.

Our inward, immaterial nature cannot be measured, weighed, or touched. Scientists can perform surgery on our brains but not our minds. Bodies can be touched and examined but not our soul or spirit. When a person dies, the body remains behind, but our inward self departs. At the death of Rachel, we read “Her soul (nephesh) was departing (for she was dying” (Genesis 35:18).

The human person is therefore composed of a material body and an immaterial nature. Both will exist forever. At the resurrection of the body, it will be transformed into a body fit for eternity, and the inward nature will be fitted for either heaven or hell.

Why Were We Created?

Does the human person have any intrinsic value? What is the point of life? In the movie 21 Grams, a voice is heard saying, “They say we all lose 21 grams at the exact moment of our death…everyone. The weight of a stack of nickels, the weight of a chocolate bar, the weight of a hummingbird.”[5] Shakespeare seems to agree with these sentiments when he has Macbeth, upon hearing of his wife’s death, say, “Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more: it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

But are our lives virtually meaningless, of no value, a lot of noise about nothing, and a tale told by an idiot? Do we lack any real purpose for our existence? Are we just filling space for a short time and then puff, we are gone and quickly forgotten? This is not the narrative of Scripture. Look at the assessment found in Psalm 139:13-14: “For You formed my inward parts; You wove me in my mother’s womb. I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; wonderful are Your works, and my soul knows it very well.” And Psalm 8:4-6 adds, “What is man that You take thought of him, And the son of man that You care for him? Yet You have made him a little lower than God, And You crown him with glory and majesty! You make him to rule over the works of Your hands; You have put all things under his feet.” We are fearfully and wonderfully made and crowned with glory and majesty. And because we are made in the image of God, even as fallen beings, we are still the supreme creation in all the planet and have been given authority over the rest of earthly creation.

But before we over-inflate our worth, let us remember we are created by one far superior: “O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is Your name in all the earth, Who have displayed Your splendor above the heavens!… When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have ordained; What is man that You take thought of him, and the son of man that You care for him?” (Psalm 8:1, 3-4). All that we have and are has been given to us by a majestic God, and thus the ultimate purpose of our lives is to reflect His glory.

Think about how twisted this has become in the thinking of most people. Owen Strachan states it well: “We hear today that we are only limited by our imaginations. We can become whatever we like; we should never stop dreaming; we have no meaningful constraints on our potential greatness.”[6] This is a constant theme, hollow and silly as it is, heard everywhere. But the reality is that we are limited creatures. We are limited by our circumstances, personalities, giftedness, talent, brains, by time, and we are definitely limited by death.[7]

The problem is that down deep, we want to be God. But none of this is new. This is exactly the lie that Satan used to deceive Eve. If you choose, Satan said, you can be like God — maybe even better. When Adam entered the picture, he simply rolled over — he put up no fight (Genesis 3:1-5).   Of course, the choices made by the first couple backfired tragically. Instead of becoming like God, they became polluted, corrupted, and eventually died. Created to reflect the glory of God, they now found themselves broken and alienated from God. To this reality, we must now turn if we are to understand what it means to be human.

What Has Gone Wrong?

When 65% of evangelicals agreed with the statement “Everyone is born innocent in the eyes of God,” on the State of Theology survey, it reveals an incredible ignorance of what the Bible says about human beings. And if we do not understand that all humans are born sinners and that all humans continue to sin, and that as a consequence all people are rightly under the holy judgment of God, then we neither understand the human condition nor the means of being delivered from that condition.

Scripture says we have been ruined by sin. George MacLeod said, “I have never met a man who wanted to be bad. The mystery of man is that he is bad when he wants to be good.”[8] And we can relate to D. L. Moody who said, “I have never met a man who has given me as much trouble as myself.” Ephesians 2:1 informs us that we are born dead in our trespasses and sins. With Adam, we have died spiritually and will die physically. If we stay in the state of spiritual death we die eternally–meaning we will be forever separated from God. We sometimes refer to this as total depravity. Strachan again is on the money: “Our minds, hearts, souls, bodies, and entire beings are oriented toward wickedness; we are not as bad as we could be…but we are totally ruined by sin, and as such are comprehensively evil.”[9] No place in Scripture says this with more clarity than Romans 3:9-18. Your mother may have told you to never say “never,” because there is almost always an exception. When you say to your spouse, “You never pick up your socks,” inevitably he will remember at least one time when he did. Absolutes are hard to come by, but Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, fills these verses with absolutes: four “nones,” one “all,” and two “not even ones.” There are no exceptions to Paul’s argument.

It is not that man does not have any sense of morality, for the Gentiles come by that understanding through their conscience and the light of nature (Romans 1:19-23), and the Jews from the Law (Romans 2:12-18); but all people have chosen to go their own way instead of God’s. Why?  Because they are controlled by sin (“under sin”). How much of our being is controlled by sin?  Every part of us:

  • Our mind is controlled by sin, There is none who understands the mind of God (Romans 3:11a). Not only is no one righteous, but in fact, no one even understands his true spiritual condition. 
  • Our will is controlled by sin: There is none who seeks for God (Romans 3:11b). There are many who no doubt think they are seeking God. If they read this verse, they would disagree. But Paul affirms that no one really desires God. They may be interested in a god that would meet their needs, or they may pay homage because of fear; but no one, devoid of the Holy Spirit, at any time, has ever truly sought God for whom He really is.  And no one ever will. 
  • Our behavior is controlled by sin: All have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good, there is not even one.  (Romans 3:12). “Turn aside” is a phrase that means “leaning in the wrong direction.” In a military context, it refers to a soldier running in the wrong direction. In other words, deserting amid battle.[10] As a result, we have all become “useless.” This is a word that was used sometimes to describe milk that had turned sour and rancid and as a result, had no value or purpose. These are sad descriptions of the human condition.
  • Our speech is controlled by sin. Four pictures are drawn to demonstrate our speech pollution. Their throat is an open grave, with their tongues they keep deceiving, the poison of asps is under their lips; Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness (Romans 3:13,14).
  • Our lifestyles are controlled by sin: Their feet are swift to shed blood, destruction and misery are in their paths, And the path of peace they have not known (Romans 3:15-17).

Finally, the motive for man’s sinfulness, destructiveness, and evilness is not his bad home life or his environment, but his general godlessness. There is no fear of God before their eyes (Romans 3:18). Man does not fear God; for God is not before his eyes.  That is, what God thinks does not concern him, for God is the furthest thing from his mind. He is not looking for God’s approval, and he does not fear God’s judgment.

What Is our Destiny (Hebrews 9:27)?

First, we must understand that all humans will live forever somewhere. Secondly, if we do not understand our sinful condition beginning at the very moment of birth, we will not be able to comprehend our eternal destiny.

Those who are sinners by nature and by choice will spend forever in a state Paul describes as eternal destruction and away from the presence of the Lord, (2 Thessalonians 1:9). They have chosen to live without Him in this life, and so they will live apart from Him in the next.

For the Christian, just the opposite is true, we will dwell in the presence of God for all eternity: Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them’ (Revelation 21:1-3). We will look at the future for the believer in greater detail in the last article in this series.

Conclusion

When we put all the pieces together, we discover that we have been made in the image of God, with both material and immaterial components. We were created to represent God on earth and reflect his glory.  But something went totally and tragically wrong, and sin resulted in death and separation between us and God. By nature and choice, we are now sinners and rightly face eternal judgment and condemnation. But because of the work of Christ on the cross, we can now be rescued from sin and live eternally with Him.  We have been made redeemable.

John Ortberg illustrates well this dynamic:

Preaching is the coming together of two worlds: the world of the Bible and the world of the listener. It is the intersection of two stories – God’s and mine.

When my oldest daughter was old enough to give me an excuse for doing so, I took her to her first Disney movie. I remember vividly going with my own parents to see Snow White; it hardly seemed possible I could be going now with my child.

For Laura, it was as if she entered into the world on the screen. She laughed at Dopey and got mad at Grumpy and cringed before the evil queen, with real tears running down her face. She had been transported.

And then Snow White began to sing, “Someday My Prince Will Come,” and Laura’s eyes shone. She squeezed my hand and said, “Daddy, the prince is coming.”

But at one point, the story goes all wrong: the bride tastes the fruit, falls under a spell, and then falls asleep. The dwarves cannot wake her. They, too, are waiting for the prince to come.

In this familiar fairy tale, I began to see hints of a deeper story, one that always and everywhere seeks to break through if only we will have eyes to see and ears to hear.

For we have all tasted the forbidden fruit; all eaten the poisoned apple. We have all fallen under the spell – the curse – and all fallen asleep.

The preacher’s job, finally, is not to figure out how to be novel or distinctive or say something no one has ever said before. Ours is a more humble one: to look at every moment of time, every inch of space, to find there the old, old story, and to keep reminding everyone who will listen that the curse shall not have the last word. One day the Prince will come for this bride and take her home.[11]


[1] Ligonier Ministries and LifeWay Research survey, research.lifeway.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/09/Ligionier-State-of-Theology-2022-Full-Report.pdf.

[2] Owen Strachan, Reenchanting Humanity (Great Britain: Christian Focus Publications Ltd, 2019), p. 28.

[3] Ibid., p. 29.

[4] Ibid., p. 30.

[5] Erwin Raphael McManus, Soul Cravings (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2006), Introduction p.3.

[6] Strachan, Reenchanting Humanity, p. 313.

[7] Ibid., pp. 315-345.

[8] As quoted in Marshall Shelley, Well-Intended Dragons (Christianity Today, 1995), p.47.

[9] Strachan, Reenchanting Humanity, p.86.

[10] John MacArthur, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary Romans 1-8 (Chicago, IL: Moody Bible Institute, 1991), p. 185.

[11] John Ortberg, “Let There Be Wit and Wisdom,” Leadership, Volume XIV, Number 3 (Carol Stream, IL: Christianity Today, Inc., 1993), p. 41.

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