Who are we? Who am I? Why has God made me? This question is intimately personal and extremely critical for our lives on earth and into eternity. In this session of Secret Church 22, Pastor David Platt helps us to understand our identity through a biblical worldview. He reminds us that we have been personally and intentionally made by God. He is the Creator and we are the creation. As humans, true life is found in exalting God in all of his glory.
- Who Am I?
- What Is Wrong in the World?
- How Can It Be Made Right? How Can I (How Can We) Experience the Good Life?
Good evening! I want to personally welcome you to Secret Church. For some of you, this is your 22nd experience doing this which is hard to believe. The first Secret Church was in 2006 and some of you have been along for the whole ride, every single year and sometimes twice a year. You’ve watched us grow from one room with about a thousand people to 50,000 people in thousands of places around the world.
Then for others of you, this is your first Secret Church experience. If that’s you, I want to especially welcome you. From the beginning, I want you to hear from me what we’re doing and why we call this Secret Church. It’s not just to get together and talk about the issues in this booklet. While that’s part of it, the reality is that we have persecuted brothers and sisters around the world who have to gather late at night in secret. Usually they gather after midnight and are so hungry for God’s Word that they will soak in as much of it as they can in the little time they have together, not knowing if or when they can get back together.
Just picture this scene. One of our urgent workers is in Afghanistan right now; we will be praying for and supporting them financially tonight. After everybody else goes to bed in their village, they get together in one little house, by candlelight. Then one of them leaves and hikes a couple miles out to a cave where hidden beneath some rocks is the one Bible they have between them. This brother gets the Bible from the cave, tucks it in his jacket, brings it back to the village and they read it real quietly together for hours. Then before the sun rises, he takes the Bible back out to the cave and hides it there until they are able to do this again. That’s a real Secret Church and I so want to love God’s Word like that. I want to be part of a church and churches that love God’s Word like that.
Now we’re about to dive deep into God’s Word tonight. This study guide is filled with His Word, with Scriptures from various places. Ever since 2006, we’ve covered the whole Old Testament and the whole New Testament, learning how to study the Bible and sort through major doctrines. We’ve covered the doctrine of God, Scripture, salvation, the Holy Spirit, the church and much more. But there’s one major doctrine we have not yet covered in all these years—the doctrine of humanity, so that’s what we’re going to do tonight. So get ready; we’re about to dive in deep.
Hopefully you have our study guide, either physically or electronically, to be able to follow along. We’re going to see what God says in His Word about who we are and how this affects the way we think about a variety of pressing issues in the world right now. We’re going to remember that we have brothers and sisters who are doing this at the risk of their lives. We’re going to pray for them and give financially, letting them know we are with them.
So, let’s do this. Let’s start with what is a foundational passage for this entire night. I want us to read this first text out loud together from God’s Word. You may be alone or with just one or two other people. You may be with a small group in a house or in a church building with many others. As we read this out loud together, I want you to sense right now that thousands and thousands of people in places all around the world are at the same time reading this truth from God, out loud and together before Him. Let’s read Genesis 1:26-28 together:
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.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
This is the Word of God.
This question is intimately personal.
So who am I? Who are you according to God? This question is intimately personal. I put Matthew 16:13–18 there in the notes; it’s such a fascinating interchange between Jesus and Peter. Jesus asked, “Who do all these people say that I am?” Then he asked, “Who do you say that I am?” As soon as Peter identifies who Jesus is, Jesus then defines who Peter is: “I tell you, you are Peter.”
Now see this: You will only understand who you are when you understand who God is and what God says about you. We are creatures and our creator defines us—God the creator—defines you and me, right where you’re sitting right now. God defines you so don’t you want to know what your creator says about you? This question is infinitely personal and extremely critical.
This question is extremely critical.
So how we understand who we are defines our understanding of gender and sexuality in a world where, in the words of the American Psychological Association and many others:
“The language around gender and sexuality continues to evolve rapidly…” which means we need to know what God says about who we are and how it relates to terms like: Asexual, Bullying, Cisgender, DSD, Gender, Gender Expression, Gender Identity, Gender Diversity, Gender Dysphoria, Gender Non-Conforming, Gender Role, Genderqueer, Intersex, Pansexual, Pushout, Queer, Questioning, Sex, Sex Assignment, Sexual Orientation, Transgender.” (American Psychological Association, Division of School Psychology, and Society for the Psychological Study of LGBT Issues)
Our understanding of humanity is going to drive how we understand terms that we hear in the world around us. Then our understanding on humanity is going to drive our perspective on race and justice. If we don’t let God’s Word drive and transform our perspective on justice and race, then we will be, in the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. “…dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century.”
A biblical understanding of humanity shapes our approach to technology, as we think about issues like the Metaverse. Just read this in your notes:
“Humans of the Metaverse is a collection of 6,500 unique Meta Humans NFTs, stored as ERC-721 tokens on the Ethereum blockchain and hosted on IPFS. Each resident of the Metaverse will represent a unique composition from over 200 traits collected from the most notable and influential personalities aggregated from all temporal spaces. We are creating the Metacity—a fully integrated Web3 ecosystem where HOTM token holders will be able to spend $HOTM (our proprietary ERC-20 token) in an increasing number of ways, providing long-term value and utility to holders as the city grows.”
What does that mean? This is the language of the future in our culture. How do we filter all of this through the Word of God? Specifically, look at this next quote:
“The metaverse has been peddled as a futuristic place where we all—sitting in our living rooms with goggles strapped to our noggins—can interact, buy things, date and more in a virtual world. But what if, in addition to being a place, the metaverse also represents something else: a point in time when we live more in the digital world than we do in the physical one?” (Katie Canales, Business Insider)
I hope it’s clear, but the implications of this for how we understand who we are—what it means to be human—are astounding.
Or think about Artificial Intelligence. Stephen Hawking, widely acknowledged by many in the world as a genius, particularly in matters of the universe, once said, “The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race… It would take off on its own and re-design itself at an ever-increasing rate… Humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn’t compete and would be superseded.”
I’ll just say that the more you dive into AI, the more you realize why Stephen Hawking would say that and believe it.
Julian Huxley, who discovered what’s known as modern evolutionary synthesis, became the first General Director of UNESCO, the United National Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization, once said, “The human species can, if it wishes, transcend itself—not just sporadically, an individual here in one way, an individual there in another way, but in its entirety, as humanity.”
Like the human species can transcend humanity? That’s a big statement. Understanding God’s Word on these things influences our use of science and genomics. It was a massive step, not too long ago, when scientists discovered how to read genetic patterns in DNA. Now, we’re not just able to read genetic code in humans, we’re able to write it. Josiah Zayner, a biohacker known for his self-experimentation with genetic material, declared this: “We did it!… We genetically engineered an embryo! Our humanity has just been changed forever!… I view it as one of the most groundbreaking things that’s been done in science. In all of human history, we didn’t get to decide what genes we have, right? Now we do… For days I was so excited I couldn’t sleep, because it affirmed to me why I do what I do, which is to try to make sure that people can push humanity forward.”
Then Walter Isaacson wrote a book on gene editing and those who are leading the way in this field. He put it this way, obviously from an evolutionary perspective: “After more than three billion years of evolution of life on this planet, one species (us) had developed the talent and temerity to grab control of its own genetic future. There [is] a sense that we [have] crossed the threshold into a whole new age, perhaps a brave new world, like when Adam and Eve bit into the apple… ”
Then he starts asking questions from which I want you to get a sense of the complexity of these very personal questions that flow from this discussion. He asks, “Should we edit our species to make us less susceptible to deadly viruses? What a wonderful boon that would be! Right? Should we use gene editing to eliminate dreaded disorders, such as Huntington’s, sickle-cell anemia and cystic fibrosis? That sounds good, too. And what about deafness or blindness? Or being short? Or depressed? Hmmm… How should we think about that? A few decades from now, if it becomes possible and safe, should we allow parents to enhance the IQ and muscles of their kids? Should we let them decide eye color? Skin color? Height? Whoa! Let’s pause for a moment before we slide all of the way down this slippery slope. What might that do to the diversity of our societies? If we are no longer subject to a random natural lottery when it comes to our endowments, will it weaken our feelings of empathy and acceptance? If these offerings at the genetic supermarket aren’t free (and they won’t be), will that greatly increase inequality—and indeed encode it permanently in the human race? Given these issues, should such decisions be left solely to individuals, or should society as a whole have some say? Perhaps we should develop some rules. By ‘we’ I mean we. All of us, including you and me. Figuring out if and when to edit our genes will be one of the most consequential questions of the twenty-first century.”
So what does the Bible say about these things? Are we, as followers of Jesus, going to be part of these conversations, not just in medical labs but around the dinner table? At the office? At school? If so, what are we going to say? What does God say? Not just about genomics but about Eugenics, which we’ll see is not just editing genes but actually increasing the number of people with certain desirable traits and decreasing the number of people with less desirable traits. The kind of thinking that was at the heart of the Holocaust. Adolf Hitler stated, “…the demand that defective people be prevented from propagating equally defective offspring is a demand of the clearest reason and if systematically executed represents the most humane act of mankind.”
It’s humane he said. “It’s most humane to reduce or eliminate certain types of people with certain traits.” None of us, I don’t think, would say that, but what’s to keep us from doing that through gene editing?
This is where an issue like abortion comes in. Margaret Sanger essentially founded Planned Parenthood. She argued quite openly that abortion and birth control were necessary in order to limit the number of undesirable children. This was years ago—in the first half of the 21st century—when she said this:
“The emergency problem of segregation and sterilization must be faced immediately. Every feeble-minded girl or woman of the hereditary type, especially of the moron class, should be segregated during the reproductive period. Otherwise, she is almost certain to bear imbecile children, who in turn are just as certain to breed other defectives… Moreover, when we realize that each feeble-minded person is a potential source of an endless progeny of defect, we prefer the policy of immediate sterilization, of making sure that parenthood is absolutely prohibited to the feeble-minded.”
Those are frightening words. Have I convinced you that this question—how we define and understand humanity—is extremely critical, with massive implications for our lives, the world and our future in it? Which is the point.
This question is ultimately consequential for life on this earth and all these different issues. And not just for here, but for life in eternity.
So here’s our plan for tonight. With this set up, we’re going to ask epic questions about our lives in this world and answer them with God’s Word:
- Who am I? Or to put it collectively, who are we as human beings in this world?
- What is wrong in the world?
- How can it be made right? How can I (how can we) experience the good life as human beings in this world?
I’m assuming all of us want the answers to these questions. All of us want the best life possible in our own lives and in other people’s lives. So how can I, how can we, experience this? We’re going to ask and answer these epic questions biblically. Then we’re going to apply them to issues of sexuality, race, abortion, infertility, ART (Artificial Reproductive Technology), genomics, eugenics, AI (Artificial Intelligence), digital and social media and the Metaverse. Then we’re going to land on some ultimate conclusions that will bring us back to the question who is God? Knowing and understanding who God is is necessary to understand who we are.
Along the way, this is how we’re going to go about this. Some of this will be a little different from any other Secret Church we’ve ever done. I want to give you a few moments along the way for some Biblical meditation; I’ll talk more in a few minutes about what that means. We’ll have some time to meditate personally on a few passages in the Bible in a way that will lead us into theological foundations, which is where we’ll spend the bulk of our time together in this study, bringing together truths from all over Scripture, to lay theological foundations for thinking about our lives and all these issues in the world. Then I want some time for some intentional reflection. There are not easy answers to a lot of the questions we’re looking at, so once we lay the foundation in God’s Word, I’m going to pause and give you an opportunity to reflect, either personally or with people around you—whatever will be most comfortable for you on some of these topics.
So, let’s start with biblical meditation. In your study guide, you will see Genesis 1:26–31—the passage we read plus a few more verses. I want to start our time together really diving into God’s Word, with you having an opportunity, just between you and God, to meditate on this passage. That may sound like a foreign term to some of you. Meditate. You’re not sure what that means.
Simply, I want to give you a few minutes to read this passage slowly, soaking in it and thinking about what it means. I encourage you to underline or circle certain words or phrases that stick out to you. So make notes as you read through this slowly about things you notice. Write out different observations. Then if you have time, try to summarize this passage in one sentence. How would you put in one sentence what God is saying through his Spirit through Genesis 1:26-31. So spend the next few minutes in this passage, between you and God, then we’ll come back together.
So let me pray for us first.
God, with your Word before us, we acknowledge that we cannot understand your Word apart from the help of your Spirit. We ask for your help; please open our eyes to you, here and in all the places we’re gathered right now; for our ears to hear; for our minds to understand what you are saying about the way you made man and woman from the very beginning. So please speak to each of us during the next few moments as we listen to you here and in all the different places where we’re gathered. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
26 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.” 27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. 28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” 29 And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. 30 And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. 31 And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.
Let’s come back together. There’s so much in this passage, isn’t there? We could talk about this a long time, but did you notice the one word that’s repeated three times in just the first two verses? Image. “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” We’ll come back to that phrase again.
Then we come to verse 27: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” So three times we see how God is interestingly described as “us”—so potentially a picture of the trinitarian nature of God here: God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit at work in creation. From the very beginning of the Bible, man and woman are created in his image; in his own image; in the image of God. So that’s obviously significant in a way that sets humanity apart from everything else in creation leading up to this, including fish of the sea, birds of the heavens, livestock, all the earth, every creeping thing on the earth. None of these other creatures are created in God’s image; only human beings. We’re not just distinct from everything else. Notice that we have dominion over everything else; that’s the language in verse 26.
Then in verse 28, “God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over…” then it lists all these other things in creation. God says, “I have given you” all these different things in creation; given them to you, for you.
Then come back to verses 26 and 27 where we obviously have a picture of humanity represented by the term “man”: ““Let us make man in our image…” Obviously God didn’t just make males; God created “male and female” as we see at the end of verse 27. He created both equally in his image; both to have dominion over everything else in the earth.
Then notice verse 28. The first thing God did after he created was bless them. We see this picture of God’s love and care for these people made in his image. Then he commands them to be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth and subdue it. God was saying, “I want my image to multiply all across the earth.”
Let me jump to the end. There’s so much we could talk about here, but in all of this, verses 30-31 say it was not just good. When you look at Genesis 1, everything else in creation is described as good, but after the creation of man and woman in the image of God, we read, “God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.” Very good. So there’s something powerful, unique and distinct with dominion that’s happening in the creation of man and woman. It’s greater than anything else in all creation.
Who am I? Who are we?
Now we want to be careful to read each Scripture in light of all Scripture, so let’s see what the Bible says elsewhere and see if the truths we’re observing here in Genesis 1 align with the rest of God’s Word. So let’s ask the question who am I? Who are we? Here’s one sentence to summarize—not just Genesis 1 but all Scripture—and the answer these questions for each of us:
I am a man or a woman personally made by God in the image of God to enjoy and exalt the glory of God.
Or to state that for all of us:
We are together, men and women, personally made by God in the image of God to enjoy and exalt the glory of God.
Every phrase here matters, so let’s unpack this phrase by phrase.
I am . . . personally made by God . . .
Psalm 139:13–16 says of God, “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.”
What a picture of God personally forming and making each one of us. The foundations we are seeing here are significant. From the very beginning of the Bible, it is clear that God is creator; we are creatures. This means God is independent and we are dependent. God exists in and of himself; his existence does not depend on you or me. God does not need you or me to exist; he is who he is. He has always been; he will always be. You and I, on the other hand, depend on God for our existence. The only reason our hearts are beating right now is because God is giving them rhythm. Were he to stop, so would we. Even if we hate God, our breath still comes from the very one we hate. In the words of Colossians 1:17, “…in him all things hold together.” You hold together; I hold together. Everything holds together in him. God is independent; we are dependent.
God is sovereign; we are subordinate. In other words, God is in control; we’re not. We are below God.
God is authoritative; we are accountable to God for everything we say, think, desire and do. That’s evident from the beginning of creation as God gave these commands to Adam in Genesis 1-2. Then Romans 3:19-20 makes clear the whole world is accountable to God, which means God is in charge; we make choices.
So follow this: Just because God is sovereign, authoritative and in control does not mean we are robots in some way that we don’t make genuine choices for which we are accountable. This is the mystery of God’s sovereignty and our responsibility that we see throughout the Bible, particularly in places like Joseph’s brothers. They made an evil choice for they were accountable for selling their brother into slavery, yet God was sovereign over even that by bringing about good (Genesis 50:19–20). There are many other stories in the Bible, probably most clear in the cross. Acts 2 and Acts 4 show the work of evil men, falsely trying, accusing and crucifying Jesus, yet God sovereignly working in all of that for our salvation. This means God is in charge while we make choices.
So God as divine is ultimately in control; we as humans make choices. In all this we see that God is love; we are beloved. God is love…period. That’s who he is. He loves us; every single one of us in this world, personally made by him. “I am personally made by God.” Let the depth of that phrase soak in. Right where you’re sitting now, you are personally made by God. So why has God made you?
. . . to enjoy and exalt the glory of God.
Life is found in enjoying God in all of his glory. We talked about this a lot at the last Secret Church; we’ve covered it in other Secret Churches so I won’t spend a lot of time here. Remember what God did. Immediately after creating man and woman in his image, he blessed them. God has created each one of us to enjoy his blessing. Look at John 17:3. Jesus says eternal life is found in knowing the only true God. This is life to the fullest; abundant life is knowing and enjoying God in all of his glory.
We were created to delight in God. In his “presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16:11). We delight in God as God delights in us. The picture in the Bible is of God rejoicing over us as his creation. God says in Zephaniah 3:17–18 that “he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.” Picture a mother or father rejoicing over their baby, quieting with love, singing over them. This is the imagery God uses for his delight in us.
Life is found in God in all of his glory. Look to and trust in him; you were created to enjoy the love, mercy, goodness and greatness of God in all of his glory. This is life.
Life is found in exalting God in all of his glory. Right after God blessed man and woman made in his image, what did he tell them to do? Be fruitful, multiply and fill the earth with more and more boys and girls, with men and women, who are enjoying God. With more and more people who are exalting God. This is so powerfully depicted in Isaiah 43:1-7. See this picture of enjoying God in his love, promises and protection: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior… Because you are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you…” What a picture of his love for us. Then later in this passage it says all those “called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made” (Isaiah 43:1–7). Do you see it here? God formed and made us to his glory.
Romans 11:36 says, “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.” Revelation 4:11: “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.” We were created to give him his glory.
In everything we do. Whether we’re eating, drinking, working, sleeping, reading, watching, speaking or listening (1 Corinthians 10:31). Life is found in exalting God in all his glory and everything we do to the ends of the earth. Fill the earth with his glory, God says from the very beginning of creation. So it’s no surprise then that right before Jesus leaves that he tell his disciples in Acts 1:8, witness to my glory “to the end of the earth.” This is why Revelation 5:9-14 gives us a picture of “every tribe and language and people and nation” represented around the throne of God, giving him glory because this is what you were created to do. You were personally made by God to enjoy and exalt God in all his glory to the ends of the earth. This is the purpose of your life. You were formed and fashioned personally by God for this purpose.
This then leads us to this oh so interesting phrase. Remember our summary sentence? In answer to the question “Who am I?”, the first part says you are personally made by God and ends with to enjoy and exalt him in all his glory. In the middle of this sentence is this phrase:
. . . in the image of God . . .
So what does that mean? We’re going to spend some time here because this phrase is so important. You’ll see in your notes three main things that being in the image of God means. I’ll mention all three of them here, then we’ll unpack each of them.
Being made in the image of God means that we as human beings resemble God in a way that enables us to relate to God and carry out our responsibility to represent God in this world. Think of these as three Rs:
Let’s start with the first: Resemble. To be made in the image of God means that humanity resembles God, not in every way but in a variety ways that we’ll think about together.
First, we resemble God spiritually.
We alone are spiritual beings with bodies. Now bodies is where we differ from God; we’ll talk about that more in a bit. We have spirits. Isaiah 42:5 talks about God giving us a spirit. Romans 8:16 talks about God’s spirit relating to our spirit. There are countless places in the Bible where we see this, but notice the Bible does not talk like this about anything else in all of creation. Animals don’t have spirits in the way we do because they are not made in God’s image.
We’ll talk about this when we get to AI (artificial intelligence) and machines, but no matter what we can make or manufacture physically with advanced technologies, we can’t make a spirit. We alone are spiritual beings with bodies.
We’re influenced by spiritual beings without bodies. If we could only see the spiritual world around us, like we see in 2 Kings 6:15-18, we’d realize there is so much more than we can see. We did a whole Secret Church on this years ago, on angels, demons and spiritual warfare. We are all spiritual beings who are influenced by other spiritual beings, by demons who work to harm us, by angels who work to help us. We are spiritual beings influenced by other spiritual beings and our spirits will never die. So each of our bodies will one day stop working in this world, but our spirits will continue.
We resemble God spiritually in a way that’s unique and apart from anything else in creation. Then we resemble God physically. I’ve already mentioned God is spirit. He doesn’t have a body like we do, so this is one way we’re different from God. But this doesn’t mean there’s no resemblance at all, because we reflect God’s spiritual qualities in our physical bodies.
Think about this: God sees and our bodies enable us to see even though God is spirit and doesn’t have physical eyes like us. The Bible talks about God seeing with spiritual eyes in a way that is resembled in our physical bodies with our physical eyes. Similarly, God hears; our bodies enable us to hear. God speaks; our bodies enable us to speak. God spoke and the world was created. God gave his people commands, even though God is spirit. So we reflect God’s spiritual qualities in our physical bodies.
In a similar way, we imitate God’s spiritual qualities in our physical bodies. So God calls us to imitate him and his spiritual qualities, including his holiness (1 Peter 1:16), in the way we live in our physical bodies. That’s what it means to be made in his image. This is so important. Our make up as humans, then, includes both soul and body. We see this throughout the Bible—body and soul, body and spirit—even seeing both of these terms at different points. The terms soul and spirit actually bring up the question, is it soul/spirit (implying interchangeable terms) or soul and spirit (in a way that these are two different things)? In other words, is our make up, soul and spirit and body—three parts? Or are we just soul/spirit and body, two parts? We’re not going to dive into an exhaustive theological discussion at this point. There are a variety of verses in the study guide that refer to soul or spirit. My conclusion would be that soul and spirit are used interchangeably in the Bible to refer to the same reality that as humans we have two dynamics in our makeup—our body and a soul or spirit.
Our souls/spirits work in coordination with our bodies. There are verses in the Bible that describe our souls or spirits working in tandem with our bodies. Our bodies are a physical reflection of our souls’ or spirits’ desires, working in coordination with each other. We need to remember that our souls/spirits can exist apart from our bodies. As we’ve already talked about, when our bodies die, our souls persist in such a way that we persist. So even when we die, we will continue. Jesus could say to the thief on the cross, whose body was about to die, “today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). Revelation 6:9–10 describes the souls of martyrs who have died for Christ are in heaven right now, crying out with a loud voice. I should mention that they are doing this even though they don’t have a resurrected body, yet their spirits are crying out for God’s justice to come.
So we resemble God spiritually and physically. I’ll keep saying this over and over again, we resemble God in these unique ways that are different from everything else in creation. Trees are not made in God’s image. Planets are not. Animals are not. Fish are not. We alone are made in God’s image, resembling him spiritually, physically and intellectually.
In so many ways that are unique, we resemble God intellectually. In the image of God, we are innately able to reason and remember. We are able to communicate in complex, abstract language. We have an awareness of the future. We have a unique capacity to create. obviously in a way that is different from God because God creates from nothing while we create from something. Our creative ability is a reflection of the image of God in us.
We resemble God intellectually and emotionally. Our emotions like love, compassion, holy hatred, anger, even grief, are all part of how we resemble God. Our emotions are deeply personal. We’re not detached from them; they affect us. Look at the passages in the study guide of hearts trembling (1 Samuel 4:13), or Nabal’s heart that “died within him” (1 Samuel 25:37), making him like a stone. Our hearts melt and stagger; our emotions are deeply personally and intricately complex, ranging from cheerful joy to crushing sorrow, sometimes both at the same bitter-sweet time.
We resemble God morally. God has written a moral law on each of our hearts (Romans 2:12–16), such that we are aware of right and wrong. As we’ve already seen, we are ultimately accountable to God for moral decisions we make.
Then finally, being made in God’s image means that in a unique way, we resemble God relationally. We have the ability to love God and others. We’re actually commanded to do so. Isn’t it interesting that when you read the first and greatest commandment, and the second (Matthew 22:37–40), they both involve the whole of who we are—our whole heart, soul, mind and strength. We are to love God with everything in our make up, and then to love others in the same way we love ourselves, with everything we are. All of our emotions, intellect, body, spirit/soul, are involved in relationship with God and others.
Then, we also have authority to rule under God with others. God has not given dominion, according to Genesis 1 and Psalm 8:5–8 which we’ll look at more later. He’s not given dominion just to you or me individually, but to us together as all the people made in his image. We carry out this responsibility which we’ll talk about more later. In relationship with each other, out of the overflow of his relationship with us, we resemble God relationally.
Now, I should add at this point though that we resemble God incompletely in these ways. So in all this talk about how we resemble God, how we are like God, we are definitely not God and never will be God. Our resemblance of him is and never will be perfect or complete, even when we’re without sin, because God possesses some attributes that he does not share (or hardly shares) with us at all, like his independence that we’ve already talked about. We’re dependent on God but God is dependent on no one. God is both self-existent and self-sufficient. When it comes to his self-existence, God was never created and never came into being, which is unlike us. When it comes to his self-sufficiency, God has no needs, whereas we have all kinds of needs.
Then think about God’s eternity in a way that is different from us. God is both infinite and eternal. Being infinite means that God is unlimited and unlimitable. He is measureless and boundless. Whereas we have all kinds of limits. God is eternal which means he has no beginning or end; He transcends time, as Lord over time. That’s obviously not true of us.
Think about God’s omnipresence; all of God is always present everywhere. Or his immutability—the perfections, purposes and promises of God that are unchanging as he carries out his unfolding plan. But we change in all kinds of ways. The point is that, while being made in the image of God means we resemble God, it does not mean we are like God in every way. God possesses other attributes that he shares with us in part, which we’ve already talked about, like his spirituality. God is both spiritual and personal. God is spirit. God is not physical, visible, nor limited by space, size or location.
God is personal, meaning he is not a force to be reckoned with or an object to be manipulated; he is three persons in one to be loved. God shares these personal and spiritual attributes with us at least in part.
Even his omnipotence. God has infinite power to do all things in his holy will. Obviously, as humans, we are not omnipotent and never will be. God does give us some power in different ways, like when Jesus said to his disciples, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you…” (Acts 1:8). Paul writes that we “do not have a spirit of timidity but of power” (2 Timothy 1:7). So God shares his power with us in part in this way.
Or think about God’s omniscience. He has all knowledge and all wisdom at all times; we don’t, but God does give us some knowledge. He also gives us wisdom; he’s generous with both when we seek him. Or even God’s holiness. God alone is ultimately, perfectly holy, perfectly unique, completely separate, absolutely pure, untouched by sin, intolerant of sin. At the same time, what does he say to us as men and women made in his image? He says, “You shall be holy, for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:15–16).
Think about God’s integrity which is made up of God’s genuineness. He is true. God’s veracity; God always tells the truth. God’s faithfulness; God always proves true. As people made in his image, God calls us to reflect his integrity in our lives.
Obviously God’s love is shared with us. God eternally gives of himself and shares his gifts with others. He gives us the capacity and command to do the same. Think of his mercy and grace, flowing from the love of God freely and sovereignly, distributed by God amidst our sin and suffering. God shares these attributes with us and call us to reflect him in these ways.
Think about God’s justice, jealousy and how he is deeply committed to his glory for the good of his people. I think about how we are created and called by God to be jealous for his glory and for other people’s good.
In a beautiful array of ways, humanity resembles God, though we are not God. He is separate from us. He is high above us. We are created in his image, like him in unique and majestic ways that resemble him: spiritually, intellectually, emotionally, morally, relationally, even physically in some ways, albeit incompletely.
So that’s the first “R”—what it means to be made in the image of God. We resemble him.
The second “R” is relationship.
To be made in the image of God means humanity experiences relationship with God. Also in a way that’s unlike anything else in creation, whether plants, animals, oceans, valleys or machines, because humanity possesses the capacity to relate to God in such a way that God could speak to Moses as his friend (Exodus 33:11). What a beautiful statement that Jesus later reiterates with his disciples (John 15:15). We are made for this. In the words of Augustine, “You have made us for Yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.”
We’ve already talked about this when it comes to being made to enjoy God, but that’s part of the beauty of how God has made you. Just think about this: Right where you’re sitting now, you are made for a relationship with God—the God who spoke and the world came into being; the omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, eternal, infinitely holy, just, righteous, love, sovereign creator and sustainer of the world has created you to experience relationship with him. You cannot, you will not, experience life apart from him. Your heart will be in a perpetual state of restlessness apart from relationship with God. This is what it means to be human.
Then the final “R” is represent.
To be made in the image of God means that we resemble God, we relate to God, and third, humanity is responsible for representing God. We’ve seen this already. It’s often called The Cultural Mandate based on Genesis 1. From the very beginning of creation, humanity is responsible for stewarding all of God’s creation. “’Subdue the earth,’ God said, ‘with dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.’ And God said, ‘Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food’ (Genesis 1:28–31). God has entrusted the world to us. This is our stewardship.
To summarize what we see throughout Scripture, we’ll talk about this more as the night goes on. Stewarding the earth means ruling in a way that reflects God’s goodness and living in a way that is right for all people. More on that to come. The Cultural Mandate, which we then tie to Jesus’ final command before he left the earth—The Great Commission—where he made clear that humanity is responsible for spreading God’s glory to all of the nations (Matthew 28:18–20), making disciples over all the earth, teaching them to obey God, to walk with God. The Great Commission makes total sense in light of the reason for which God created in the first place. “Multiply and fill the earth with my goodness and my glory. Make disciples among all the nations because this is what image bearers do.”
So let’s come back to our one-sentence summary answer to the question, Who am I?” I am a man or a woman, personally made by God, in the image of God to enjoy and exalt the glory of God. So we’ve hit every part of that sentence now, except for the first phrase.
I am a man or a woman. . .
So what does that mean? God didn’t have to create us this way. He didn’t have to create two different types of people. He didn’t have to create gender or sexuality. But he did, so let’s think about why he did this and how this relates to who we are in the image of God and how we uniquely enjoy and exalt the glory of God as men and women. What does the Bible teach here?
First and foremost, the Bible clearly and unequivocally teaches that as image bearers of God, men and women possess equal dignity before God and each other. Men and women are both created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27), so from the very beginning of the Bible, God is speaking directly against any kind of male or female superiority or dominance, which means it is wrong in any culture, any country, any relationship where man is thought to be better than woman, or woman is thought to be better than man. It is wrong in any culture, any relationship where a man or woman is treated as inferior, meaning we are going directly against the design of God. It is not right—it is never right—to disparage or belittle women or men. Sexual inferiority or superiority, misogyny, male dominance, female exploitation—all these things are sinful violations of God’s Word and there is no place for them anywhere in the world. As image bearers of God, men and women possess equal dignity before God and each other.
As image bearers of God, men and women are uniquely distinguished by God in relation to each other.
As we’ve already seen, God did not create gender-neutral people. Genesis 2:20–25 elaborates on how God created man, then woman—distinct from man yet like man—being also made in the image of God. This distinction is divinely designed, not humanly constructed. Contrary to common ideas in our culture, gender identity is not chosen by people; gender identity is given by God.
Christopher Yuan has written honestly about his own struggles along the lines of sexuality, yet he clearly lands where the Bible lands. He wrote, “Being created in the image of God and being male or female are essential to being human. Sex (male and female) is not simply biological or genetic, just as being human is not simply biological or genetic. Sex is first and foremost a spiritual and ontological reality created by God. Being male or female cannot be changed by human hands; sex is a category of God’s handiwork—his original and everlasting design.” Then he continues, speaking specifically about transgenderism and what’s at stake in these conversations, saying, “Transgenderism is not exclusively a battle for what is male and female, but rather a battle for what is true and real. Christians cannot simply nod and smile politely in the face of damaging lies.”
We don’t reluctantly accept the design of God; we gladly celebrate his design, knowing that gender distinctions are for the flourishing of humanity. Quite literally, God physically made man and woman and told them to multiply. God’s design for the multiplication of humans, as we see in Genesis 2 and will talk more about later, is the marriage relationship and sexual union within marriage that leads to multiplication. This is not just in God’s design for making babies, but God has designed men and women both to flourish in distinct, unique, wonderful, beautiful, awesome ways. We are not all physically like each other; we’re not all men; we’re not all women. This distinction is good for us and for the world.
Ultimately, gender distinctions are for the glory of God. First Corinthians 6:13–20 makes clear that God created our bodies with these gender distinctions for our good and for his glory.
Now, I should add at this point that I am not addressing the rare number of people who are born with physical anatomy that is not typically male or female. I do want to acknowledge that reality in this fallen world and to say without question that we need to show particular grace as we care for and walk alongside people for whom this is a reality.
The reality is that we need to care for and walk alongside everyone around us as we think about our bodies Biblically, knowing that God has designed this distinction between male and female from the beginning of creation to be beautifully expressed in different ways. When God makes us fearfully and wonderfully, according to Psalm 139:14, that includes our gender. This distinction is beautifully expressed among women throughout the Bible in pictures of women, wives, mothers, sisters, prophetesses, disciples. Among men, it is pictured through brothers, husbands, dads, men of valor and good presence (1 Samuel 16:18). We see this distinction beautifully expressed in different ways,
It is also culturally expressed in different ways, meaning at different points in history, even in the Bible, we see different cultural expressions of womanhood and manhood. There’s a nose ring for Bethuel’s daughter in Genesis 24:47. There’s a headdress for the groom and jewels for the bride in Isaiah 61:10.
There were certain clothes for men and women in Deuteronomy 22:5. First Corinthians 11:4–5, which many see as a complicated text, is a lot about cultural expectations and what someone is communicating culturally through head coverings, long or short hair, as a man or woman in the first century. By God’s design, this distinction between men and women is expressed culturally in different ways.
Yet regardless of culture, from the beginning of the Bible, this distinction is particularly expressed in the marriage relationship. From the second chapter of the Bible, before sin entered the world as we’ve seen, man and woman were made in the image of God, coming together in marriage. We learn that God has designed this distinction, not just for physical procreation but as a gospel illustration. By God’s design, it’s a picture of how Jesus relates to his church, according to Ephesians 5:22–33, which points back to Genesis 2.
A husband possesses:
- Humble authority to lead his family lovingly.
- Sober responsibility to serve his family sacrificially.
- Divine accountability to care for his family faithfully.
This is the distinct role of a husband in a marriage relationship according to God’s good design.
As a picture of how the church relates to Jesus, a wife:
- Supports her husband’s oversight of their family.
- Submits to her husband’s loving leadership in their family.
- Respects her husband with ultimate reverence for Jesus.
We did a whole Secret Church on family, marriage, sex and the gospel years ago, so I’d point you there for more.
This is the clear, plain picture we see in the Bible. This God-designed distinction and role for a man or woman, a husband or wife, in marriage. I would emphasize here that a
A husband and wife’s respective roles in marriage:
- Arise from God’s wisdom, not cultural trends. This has been the case from the very beginning of creation. It doesn’t change based on cultural trends. It’s also worth noting what these respective role in marriage are.
- Are grounded in God’s good, created order, not individual gifting or competency. In other words, a wife may have a gift of leadership that doesn’t mean she automatically takes the God-given responsibility of a husband in the marriage relationship. There’s a ton more we could talk about here. Again, feel free to check out that other Secret Church.
So now we come back to our question, “Who Am I?” The answer the Bible gives is:
I am a man or a woman personally made by God in the image of God to enjoy and exalt the glory of God.
This truth resounds from the first chapter of the Bible all the way through the rest of the Bible. At the end of that chapter, what do we read? “And God saw everything that he had made…” Specifically on this day, the sixth day, he saw man and woman made in his image…”and behold, it was very good.” Not just good like we saw, it was “very good.” It was perfect in a sense. And in the sense, this is the most perfect understanding of your humanity. You are a man or a woman, personally made by God, in the image of God to enjoy and exalt the glory of God. This is who you are. Yet, this is so often not how we think of ourselves or see ourselves. This is so often not how we think of or see others around us in the world.
This leads to our next question: “What is wrong in the world?” The Bible answers this question just as clearly starting in the third chapter of the Bible, then illustrated on every page after that. So here’s the answer to this question, specifically as it relates to our understanding of humanity: Every human (except for one) has sinned against God, marring the image of God in us and warranting the judgment of God forever.
Again, that’s a loaded statement where every word counts. Let’s unpack it.
WHAT IS WRONG IN THE WORLD?
Every human (except for one) has sinned against God, marring the image of God in us, and warranting the judgment of God forever.
Every human (except for one) has sinned against God, for all have—everyone has—”sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
So what’s the definition of sin?
Sin is any failure to conform to the moral law of God in our attitudes, our actions or our nature. So sin can refer to:
Our attitudes and actions, evident from the first commandments in the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20:3–17, deal with our hearts before God and others. It deals with the way we relate to others, which is why Jesus talks about how adultery, for example, starts with lustful thoughts (Matthew 5:21–30). In the Bible, sin can refer to our attitudes and actions, or to our nature, the very essence of who we are in this world. We are sinners (Romans 5:8).
Now, I want to emphasize the first part of this definition of sin—failure to conform to the moral law of God. Think about Genesis 2 when God gave humanity his law which included a law to eat fruit from any tree but one. Sin from the very beginning was failure to conform to that moral law from God. So follow this.
Sin is not (merely) selfishness, because not all self-interest is bad. God calls us to experience life. So to want life for yourself is actually a good thing. Jesus said in Matthew 6:20, “…store up for yourselves treasures in heaven…” That sounds like selfishness; you want treasures in heaven? Live for that, Jesus said. So clearly by God’s design, not all self-interest is bad.
Similarly, not all selflessness is good. God actually speaks sternly to those who are denying the goodness of marriage or certain foods at different points (1 Timothy 4:3). God says, “I’ve created these things for you to enjoy.” God speaks against estheticism, which is self-denial in self-made religions. So sin is not merely selfishness.
Sin is lawlessness. That’s the exact language used in 1 John 3:4. Sin is failure to conform to the law of God, whether it’s in written words or written on our heart (Romans 2:12-16). In all this, it’s worth noting and not forgetting that God is not the author of sin, even though ultimately God has authority over sin. This goes back to the mystery of God’s sovereignty and human responsibility. We sin in ways that God has ultimate sovereign authority over, but our sin is attributable to us and never to God as its author, which we’ll see even more clearly as we look at this next point.
The Anatomy of Sin
Let’s read about this in Genesis 3. We’ve read in Genesis 1 about humanity perfectly created in the image of God. In Genesis 2, we were given the law of God, don’t eat from this tree.
Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths (Genesis 3:1–7).
So how does sin work? How does it happen? What does it involve? Just looking at this one picture of sin in Genesis 3, we see that sin involves the following:
- Sin is rejecting God’s Word, what God has said.
- Sin is spurning God’s authority, thinking, “I don’t want to have to listen to God; I don’t want to do what he says.”
- Sin is denying God’s good character. Do you see the temptation there? “God is not good; he doesn’t want what’s best for you. He’s keeping you from something.”
- Sin is trying to take God’s place.
Think about this. Sin confronts us with these questions:
- Am I made in the image of God, under his authority?
- Am I created for relationship with him in which I trust and follow him as my creator?
- Or should I try to take the place of God as the one in control, in defiance of relationship with him?
- Or can I believe I know better than my creator what is best for me?”
Follow this; it is so important.
- Sin is our attempt to define who we are (establish our identity) and how we live (achieve our destiny) apart from who God is and how God has designed us to live.
- Sin is our attempt to establish our identity, outside our relationship with God, that resembles and represents God.
- It’s a fundamental denial of who we are and how we live.
- Sin says, “I’m going to choose my direction and destiny for my life, instead of God’s direction and destiny to my life.”
This leads to the foolishness of sin. Foolish is the right word here. Think about us, in our sin. When we sin, we transgress the law that God give us for our good. God loves us. He doesn’t give us his law to punish us; he gives us his law to satisfy us, but we transgress the law he gives us for our good. In the process, we turn away from the only one who can give us life. In the words of Jeremiah 2:12–13, we leave behind the only foundation of living water, turning to broken cisterns that cannot hold water. We are fools.
Our sinfulness is pervasive. Our nature is sinful from birth (Psalm 51:5). Think about all the ways that sin affects us according to God’s Word.
- Our minds and thoughts are blinded; debased according to Romans 1:28-32).
- Our desires are disordered. We have dishonorable passions (Romans 1:26–27) that wage war against our souls (1 Peter 2:11).
- Our bodies are defiled. Romans 1:24–25 talks about the dishonoring of our bodies.
- Our wills are distorted. We don’t submit to God’s law; instead we’re hostile to it.
- Our relationships are broken, first and foremost with God, evident from Genesis 3:8–10, right after Adam and Eve sinned. Our relationships with one another are broken as the first brothers in the very next chapter (Genesis 4:8) introduced murder into the world.
Now think about what we just walked through. Blinded minds; disordered desires; defiled bodies; distorted wills; broken relationships. Think about all of that in light of what it means to be made in the image of God and how we resemble God intellectually (with our minds), emotionally (with our desires), physically and morally (in our relationships). So now we see why we would say that our sin against God has marred the image of God in us.
What’s wrong with the world? Every human, except one, has sinned against God,
. . . marring the image of God in us . . .
Now follow this. Despite sin in our lives,
The image of God is still maintained in us, so we are still like God. Sin doesn’t mean we lose the image of God. Look at Genesis 9:6; this is after sin has entered the world, talking about the shedding of blood and we still see the Bible talking about humanity being in the image of God. Or in James 3:9, sinners are still referred to as “people who are made in the likeness of God.” So even as sinners, the image of God is still maintained in us.
In that sense, we’re still like God, but the image of God is definitely distorted in us; we are less like God. We’re not upright in the way God made us to be (Ecclesiastes 7:29). Listen to this helpful quote from a French theologian who wrote a book on original sin. Henri Blocher wrote, “We must state both that after his revolt mankind remains mankind, and also that mankind has radically changed, that he is but a grisly shadow of himself. Mankind remains the image of God, inviolable and responsible, but has become a contradictory image, one might say a caricature, a witness against himself.”
So every human, except one, has sinned against God, marring the image of God in us and warranting the judgment of God forever. The wages, the payment, the judgment due sinners is death. The Bible is very clear. Again, we did a whole Secret Church on this: Heaven, Hell and the End of the World.
To summarize the clear teaching of God’s Word, as sinners, we deserve condemnation in a just, eternal, horrifying hell. Jesus clearly taught this as Mark 9:43–48 makes clear, for one example. We’ve talked a lot so far about the first few chapters of the Bible, including the picture of sin in the third chapter. Well, let’s look at the third chapter from the end of the Bible. In Revelation 20:11–15, the picture is clear:
Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.
Because we have sinned against God, we deserve condemnation in a just, eternal, never-ending, horrifying hell. Sin is a major problem in this world with implications far beyond this world—forever. So who am I? I am a man or woman, personally made by God in the image of God, to enjoy and exalt the glory of God. But what’s wrong? Every human, except one, including you and me, has sinned against God, marring the image of God in us and warranting the judgment of God forever. This immediately leads to our next questions.
HOW CAN IT BE MADE RIGHT?
Can the image of God be fully restored in me? In us?
HOW CAN I (HOW CAN WE) EXPERIENCE THE GOOD LIFE?
Revelation 20 talked about a book of life and those whose names are written in it. How can I know my name is in there? How can I experience the good life? Is there a way, despite my sin against God, that I can be made right and be restored to relationship with God, not just now but for all eternity? Even as we ask these questions, I hope we quickly realize what we don’t need.
What we don’t need is to live our lives as sinners, practicing superficial religion for God. That will actually get us nowhere. Isaiah 1:11-16 says we don’t need to try to do better; the problem is so much deeper than that. The last thing we need are attempts to define or redefine ourselves in our image. No.
What we do need is a Savior who brings supernatural regeneration. We need a supernatural transformation from the inside out. We need a new heart and a new life. Ezekiel 36:26–27 describes this as “a new heart, and a new spirit.”
In the words of John 3:3, we need to be born again. That’s the language Jesus uses. Fundamentally, we need our Creator to restore our lives in his image. The good news of the Bible, the greatest news in the all the world, is that our Creator has come to do exactly this. Jesus is Immanuel, God with us, God in the flesh. Let’s put this all together. This is the gospel of what we’ve already seen about humanity.
Jesus is the perfect human, born in the likeness of men—in human form (Philippians 2:5–11). This is the mystery of the incarnation. In many ways, the hinge on which the whole gospel turns. The identity of Jesus. He is fully God. In him, according to Colossians 2:9, “the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily.” He’s the Word, the revelation of God in the flesh (John 1:1-4). He’s fully God and fully human. He is “the man Christ Jesus (1 Timothy 2:5-6). He is made like us “in every respect” (Hebrews 2:17), yet without sin.
So let’s unpack this. Where Adam was fully human; Jesus is truly human, meaning both are human but Jesus even more than Adam illustrates what it means to be truly human, truly perfectly in the image of God (Colossians 1:15). Jesus “is the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4). He was born of a virgin, which is important because he was born without the sinful nature that we, in our humanity, have inherited from Adam.
Jesus possessed the full range of human characteristics.
- A human body, starting in a little baby’s body (Luke 2:7), a body that would get tired, weary and hungry (Matthew 4:20; John 4:6).
- A human mind that “increased in wisdom” (Luke 2:52). Ah, there’s so much mystery here in the incarnation.
- A human soul. He said, “Now is my soul troubled” (John 12:27).
- Jesus possessed human emotions, from marveling to weeping and everything in between (Matthew 8:10; John 11:35).
- Human observation, meaning people who saw him knew he was human like them (Matthew 13:53–58).
In all of this, Jesus is fully able to identify with us in our humanity. Hebrews 4:14–16 says he is able to sympathize with us.
- He is familiar with our struggles.
- He is familiar with our sorrow.
- He is familiar with our suffering.
- Yet, one key distinction, he is without sin. “He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth” (1 Peter 2:22). This is so important on so many levels. This is why we said earlier that every human, except one, has sinned against God. So notice that to be human does not mean to sin; sin is not essential to humanity. In fact, to be truly human is to be free from sin. That’s what we’re seeing in Jesus who never sinned.
Jesus came to save us from our sin. Right after we see that Jesus is Emmanuel in Matthew 1:21, we read that “his name will be called Jesus for he will save his people from their sins.” That’s what the name Jesus means—the one who saves.
So how can Jesus do this? How can a man save all men and women from our sin? I’m glad you asked. Here’s how:
- Jesus came to live the life we could not live, a life of no sin against God. It’s not just Jesus’ sacrificial death that makes the way for our salvation; it’s his sinless life.
- Jesus came to die the death we deserve to die. He had no sin to die for, but in love he chose to die on the cross to pay the price for sins.
Follow this, in light of all we’ve seen, Jesus assumed our identity. As a sinner, standing in our place, enduring the judgment due our sin, in our stead. By assuming our identity and paying the price for our sin, Jesus accomplished our salvation. He came to live the life we couldn’t live and die the death we deserved to die. And then the good news keeps getting better because Jesus came to conquer the enemy we could not conquer.
Death itself has been defeated. Jesus, the perfect human, without sin, came to save us from our sin through his death on the cross and resurrection from the grave, so that through Jesus, because our creator has come to us, we can now be transformed more and more into the likeness of God. We can be renewed after the image of our creator. We can be restored into God’s image, the way we were created to live.
In other words, new creation is possible!
The new birth we need is possible. This is what it means to be born again as Jesus says in John 3:5–8: unless you’re born again, you cannot enter the kingdom of God.
So what does that mean? It means that by God’s grace—meaning by the grace of God at work in our lives, opening our eyes to our sinfulness and our need for Jesus as our Savior and his beauty as our Savior—we turn from our sin and ourselves. By God’s grace, we repent of our sin and our every attempt to save ourselves. In our thinking, if we just do enough good, practice religion or do whatever, then we can make ourselves new. We can’t; we need God to make us new. So we repent of our rebellion against God and even all our effort to be made right before God.
By God’s grace, we trust in Jesus as Savior and Lord of our lives. We trust in Jesus as the perfect human, God in the flesh who came to live the live we cannot live, died the death we deserve and conquered the enemy we cannot conquer. We trust in Jesus as the only Savior from our sin and the only Lord overall. By faith and trust in him, we experience eternal life. See it!
The way to happiness is not through Adam which we’ve seen in the anatomy of sin in Adam and all of our lives. The way to happiness is not through Adam, rejecting God’s Word, spurning God’s authority, denying God’s character and trying to take God’s place. No. The way to happiness is through Jesus; it’s the total opposite of sin and all we see above. The way to happiness is through Jesus, receiving God’s Word, not rejecting God’s Word, submitting to God’s authority; not spurning it. We submit to Jesus as Lord through trusting God’s character, His love, goodness, greatness and grace. Not through denying those things about God, but believing those things about God.
Instead of trying to take his place, we take our rightful place—living in God’s image as a new creation in him. This means we have a new identity in Jesus through union with Him. Galatians 2:20–21: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Christ in me. Talk about identity. What our world craves in self-worth, hear the words of Greg Morse:
“Simply put, Christians should have a positive view of themselves—in Christ. As the secular world lies in the sun of ignorance and licks itself with self-help gurus cheaply affirming their self-worth, the born-again Christian should have the most concrete, positive, confident self-image on the planet. Not because he is sinless. Not because he wakes up every morning and reads his Bible. Not because he is more selfless than his fellow man. But because God has made him alive, forgiven him all of his trespasses, adopted him into his family, and dwells in him. If any man desires true self-worth, he should see all he can hope for in the shining faces of the church of God.”
Yes! We have a new identity. We’re new creations. We are united with Jesus. The Bible teaches that for all who are born again, all who have experienced this supernatural regeneration, turning from sin and self, trusting in Jesus as Savior and Lord, Jesus says that Jesus is in us; we are in Jesus, we are with Jesus, and Jesus is with us. Just think about each of those statements.
Jesus is in us. Christ is in you (Colossians 1:27). For all who trust in Jesus, you’ve been born again. Believe this: Jesus died for you so he can live in you.
In the words of Hudson Taylor:
“Oh, it is joy to feel Jesus living in you; to find your heart all taken up by Him; to be reminded of His love by His seeking communion with you at all times, not by your painful attempts to abide in Him. He is our life, our strength, our salvation… I am no longer anxious about anything…for He, I know, is able to carry out His will, and His will is mine. It makes no matter where He places me, or how. That is rather for Him to consider than for me; for in the easiest position He must give me His grace, and in the most difficult His grace is sufficient. So if God should place me in great perplexity, must He not give me much guidance; in positions of great difficulty, much grace; in circumstances of great pressure and trial, much strength. I have no fear that His resources will be unequal to the emergency! And His resources are mine—for He is mine, and is with me and dwells in me.”
That’s just hit me in a fresh way in my own heart and life right now. I don’t know what you’re walking through in your life but I want you to know that if you are in Christ, all his resources as yours. At every moment. No matter how hard it gets. Christ in you now means Christ in you forever. Jesus doesn’t come into us and leave us; he is in us now and will be in and with us forever. And we are in him. The Bible uses this language: “…if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
God guards our hearts and minds with his peace in Jesus. There are so many examples of this in the Bible. We are with Jesus. We died with Jesus; we live with Jesus; we’re united with him in his death and resurrection. Look at the language in Ephesians 2:4–7: God has “made us alive together with Christ and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus…” This is the Bible describing you, Christian. Where you’re sitting right now, you’re with Jesus and Jesus is with you. You’re never alone. Jesus is always, always, always with you.
Do you see the supernatural identity we now have? The language is not just in Jesus the Son; the Bible also says:
- We are in the Father.
- We are in the Holy Spirit.
- The Father is in us.
- The Holy Spirit is in us.
- We have fellowship with the Father.
- We have fellowship with the Holy Spirit.
We have a new, supernatural identity. A spiritual identity. We’re joined to the Lord, “one spirit with him” (1 Corinthians 6:17). His spirit is alive in us (Romans 8:9–11). Don’t live as if Jesus is outside of you.
In the words of John Calvin, we must understand:
“We must now examine this question. How do we receive those benefits which the Father bestowed on his only-begotten Son—not for Christ’s own private use, but that he might enrich poor and needy men? First, we must understand that as long as Christ remains outside of us, and we are separated from him, all that he has suffered and done for the salvation of the human race remains useless and of no value for us… [A]ll that he possesses is nothing to us until we grow into one body with him… [T]he Holy Spirit is the bond by which Christ effectually unites us to himself.”
This is a supernatural, spiritual, deep identity that is profound. It’s mysterious. It’s a vital identity, meaning it’s vital to our lives. To live is Christ (Philippians 1:21). It’s a personal identity for each one of us. You. Me. Each of us as the righteousness of Jesus through faith in him, we know him, his power, his love, his resurrection and the joy that surpasses everything else in this world.
It’s not just personal for each of us individually, this is a family identity for all of us together. We are one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28). We’ve all been adopted into the same family with the same father (Galatians 4:4–8). According to Ephesians 2:18–22, we’re fellow members of the same household and citizens of a kingdom. Do you see how important the church is? It’s part of our new identity in Christ. We’re part of a family in Christ.
God calls men and women who trust in Jesus his sons and daughters. In the words of Julius Kim:
“So it is with the family of God. Republican or Democrat, liberal or conservative, we are first, foremost, and always sons and daughters of the same Father. Made in his image, we are called now to bear it—to embody and express the reality of God our Father in all spheres of life, including politics. Sadly, many Christians today bear the image of their preferred political leader or tribe more proudly and clearly than the image of their Father. Their identity is more profoundly shaped by a worldly god than the transcendent God. As a result, observers often can’t look at an assortment of Christians and say, ‘I see their family resemblance,’ because while many Christians might bear the name of Christ, it isn’t clear that they bear his image as their truest source of identity and allegiance.”
This is so critical for us to understand and realize and feel. All who are in Christ are sons and daughters to God first and foremost. We are brothers and sisters with the same Father. We are co-heirs in his kingdom. We are co-laborers in his mission. We relate to one another as siblings, not as subordinates.
God gives men and women spiritual gifts as part of this family:
- For the building up of his church (1 Corinthians 12:4–13) and
- For the spread of the gospel, meaning to point out a clear and practical implication of this.
- The contribution of both men and women serving in the church is vital to the health of the church. It makes no sense if the whole family is not contributing to the health of the family.
- The church is incomplete without a full complement of men and women partnering together in ministry, using all of their gifts according to God’s good design for God’s great glory.
Much like we see in the list of names in Romans 16:3–15, every man and woman matters. Just listen to the different names here: Epaenetus, Mary, Andronicus, Junia, Ampliatus, Urbanus, Stachys, Aristobulus, Herodion, Narcissus (that’s an unfortunate name), Tryphaena, Tryphosa, Persis, Rufus and his mother, Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas, other brothers, Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, Olympas. Every one of us matters. You matter in the family. I matter in the family. This is a family identity.
We have an eternal identity from eternity past. God our Father chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:3–4) to eternity future. In Romans 8:28-39, we see that God is working all things together—all things, even the hardest things—for our good. This good is that we would be conformed to the image of Jesus and glorified with him. So no matter what comes at us in this world, we can know that if God is for us, nothing can stand against us. Nothing can separate us from his love; not trouble, hardship, persecution, famine, nakedness or sword. “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” Nothing. “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord”
Our identity is in him. We are new creations with a new birth, a new identity and follow this:
A new image. This is where we’re going to close out this session. In 2 Corinthians 3:18, talking about those who have new life through faith in Jesus, “beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.” In other words, all who trust in Jesus are being conformed into the image of Jesus. In the words of 2 Peter 1:3–4, we are becoming “partakers of the divine nature…” Now, the Bible doesn’t teach that this process of being conformed to the image of Jesus happens automatically or easily. It’s a daily struggle with our sinful nature that still remains in us.
It’s a daily struggle to walk by the spirit, not gratifying the desires of our flesh which is a reference to our sinful nature. “For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law” (Galatians 5:16–18).
This struggle involves the mortification of the flesh (sarx, the biblical word for flesh). It’s works are listed out in Galatians 5:19–21: “sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these.” So this struggle includes the mortification of the flesh and the vivification of the spirit (pneuma, the biblical word for spirit here) which gives life to the spirit of Jesus in us with “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22–25).
Then we read that those who belong to Jesus Christ have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires, if we live by the Spirit, then let us also keep in step with the Spirit. So this process of being conformed into the image of Jesus is a daily struggle, a gradual transformation as God is working in us (Philippians 2:12–13). He is transforming our minds (Romans 12:1–2). He’s transforming our desires (1 Peter 2:11). So we love the things of God (1 John 2:15), not the things of this world. He is transforming our wills (Philippians 2:12–13) and our bodies (2 Corinthians 6:16–7:1), which we’ll talk about more when we get to sexuality.
God is also transforming our relationships.
- In the church with brothers and sisters in Christ as we love one another (John 13:35).
- In the world as we “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:18–20), knowing this process of transformation will not be complete in this world, meaning none of us are going to be fully transformed into the image of Jesus, for we still struggle with a sinful nature. That’s not going to happen this side of heaven for any one of us.
In fact, the closer we get to the image of Jesus, the more cognizant we will become of our sinful tendencies. In the words of John Murray:,
“Indeed, the more sanctified the person is, the more conformed he is to the image of his Savior, the more he must recoil against every lack of conformity to the holiness of God. The deeper his apprehension of the majesty of God, the greater the intensity of his love to God, the more persistent his yearning for the attainment of the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus, the more conscious will he be of the gravity of the sin that remains and the more poignant will be his detestation of it… Was this not the effect in all the people of God as they came into closer proximity to the revelation of God’s holiness.”
Now, to be clear, this is not an excuse for spiritual laziness, as if this means we just throw up our hands and think, “Well, I have a sinful nature and am tempted to sin, so I might as well just sin.” No. That’s the last thing that our loving Father is calling us to. The fact that our spiritual transformation into the image of Jesus will not be complete in this world is not an excuse for spiritual laziness.
This is an exhortation to spiritual perseverance, to press on, to fight the fight of faith, to run the race marked out for us, pursuing Jesus in righteousness and holiness that he has purchased for us and made possible for us with hope. He has promised this process of transformation will one day be complete in the world to come (1 John 3:2–3).
- We will be like him when we see him as he is.
- We will then be purified completely in his image. That’s the day we’re living for, knowing that in Adam, we are fully human.
- We are made in the image of God with all the dignity this involves, resembling God, for relationship with God, representing God in the world.
- It’s only in Jesus that we are becoming—and will become!—truly human.
In other words, Jesus is our only hope for truly becoming who God has created us to be. Jesus is the only one who can make our lives right. He’s the only one who can make this world right and the good life for humanity is only possible in him.
So I would be remiss at this point if I did not pause right now and ask every single person have you experienced this supernatural regeneration in your heart? Have you been born again? I ask that because I know some of you have not been born again. I know there are scores of people who call themselves Christians but have not been born again. You are caught in a web of superficial, nominal religion where you may say you believe in God and Jesus, you did this or that when were young, you go to church but your life does not reflect the things we’ve been walking through. This relationship with God should be conforming you more into the image of Jesus which is the fruit of what it means to be born again.
If that’s you, I encourage you that God has brought you to this place and this time to hear him saying to you that he loves you and made you for a relationship with him. You will not experience a life apart from trust in Jesus to save you from your sin and trust in Jesus as the Lord of your life. Trust in Jesus to restore you to relationship with God, to experience what it means to know God and enjoy God, exalting the glory of God; what it means to be truly human. This is the fruit of what it means to be born again.
I ask right now, have you been born again? This is an infinitely important question. Heaven and hell hang in the balance on this one. To use Jesus’ language from John 3, you will not see the Kingdom of God unless you have been born again. I hope for many of you, when I ask this question, you know beyond a shadow of a doubt in your heart, that, yes, by God’s grace, you have new life in Jesus. He is in you; you are in him. You are being conformed into his image. With all the struggle this involves, with confidence that one day you will see his face and be like him. I trust you are living for this.
For others of you, these things are not true. If that’s you, I encourage you right now to pause and say to God, “I want new life; I need new life, God. Tonight, right now in this moment, I believe that Jesus died on the cross to save me from my sin. I am putting my trust in him as Lord of my life. Lord, I want to know you, enjoy you, live in relationship with you. I want to become more like Jesus. I want to become more like who you have created me to be. In this moment, I’m asking you to bring about this new life in me.”
As you pray that, I want to encourage you that God loves you so much and desires to answer that prayer. He will answer that prayer when you call out to him in this way. Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved (Romans 10:13). He will give you new life in Jesus when you place your faith in him in this way.
Oh God, we praise you for these truths that we’ve walked through in just this first session. It’s been full. We pray, as we move into the rest of this night, that you would help us understand what all this means, not just for our lives but also for others, in the way we love, care for, live alongside them and the way we address so many pressing issues in the world around us. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
Alright, I know it’s been a full first session, but this isn’t over yet. Remember why we’re gathering together to dive into God’s Word like this and in light of our persecuted brothers and sisters around the world. I’ve already mentioned about our brothers and sisters in Afghanistan and I want you to see and hear from them. This will lead us into intentional time together to pray for them and to think together about how we can come alongside them and support them, even tonight through our giving.
My favorite stories from the history of the spread of the gospel into other nations was when William Carey was preparing to go to India. He was facing lots of opposition when he came across a relationship with Andrew Fuller who basically said, “How can I help you as you go into a place where the gospel has not yet gone, where there are lots of challenges to spreading the gospel?” William Cary said, “I will go down into the pit if you will hold the rope.”
This picture of both going down into the pit and holding the safety rope is important. So we may not all be in places in the world where the church is gathering together in secret—in places like Afghanistan—but we have a part to play in holding the rope as we pray for our brothers and sisters in places like that and as we have the opportunity to use our resources to come alongside what God is doing in and through them.
So watch this with me, then we’ll go into a time of prayer and thinking about how we can give.
Session 1 Discussion Questions
1. Where should we look to find our true identity and purpose?
2. How do you think your answer to the previous question is influenced by social media, movies, music, news outlets, etc.?
3. What questions do you have as you begin this study?
*Discuss any reflections from the group based on your meditation on Genesis 1:26–31.
Who Am I (Who Are We?)
1. This section begins by pointing out who God is and how he is different from us. How might this approach change the way we answer the question, “Who am I?”
2. Though God is different from us, he has made us to “resemble” him and “represent” him in the world. How should these realities affect the way we view the purpose of our lives? How should they change the way we think of the dignity of other people?
3. God has given men and women equal dignity and he has made them distinct. What are some dangers of denying either of these truths? Which of these truths seems to be most under attack in our culture?
4. When it comes to God’s design for the complementary roles of men and women, what are some ways our culture tries to undermine Scripture’s teaching?
5. Some people view male leadership in a marriage as dangerous or oppressive. How does the analogy of Christ’s relationship to the church help us see a husband’s leadership as God’s design for our good? (see Ephesians 5:22–33)
What Is Wrong in the World?
1. In your own words, and based on the biblical truths covered in this section, how would you answer a non-Christian who asked, “What is sin?”
2. Given the way sin disorders our desires, why is it dangerous to look inward to try to find our true identity?
3. In this section, we saw that sin is our attempt to define ourselves apart from God. What are some specific ways you’ve seen this play out in your own life, the lives of others, and/or in the surrounding culture?
4. According to Scripture, what are the consequences of sin? (see Romans 6:23)
5. Does the reality of sin mean that people are no longer valuable in God’s eyes? Explain your answer