What Does It Mean to Be Human?
Every era of Christian history has been marked by major theological conflict. Our modern era is no different. The primary concern of the modern era is undoubtedly the issue of anthropology—the study of human beings. Discussions span a broad range of topics under the anthropological banner such as gender, race, sexuality, and politics. In the midst of this difficult, divisive, and diverse anthropological season, parents must maintain and teach a biblical anthropology that centers on the person of Jesus Christ.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE HUMAN?
Christological anthropology is a method used to answer the question, “What does it mean to be human?” The Bible answers this question beginning in Genesis 1 with the creation of Adam and Eve. They are created in the image of God, reflecting aspects of His nature in their own. This reality implies that every human being has inherent dignity, value, and worth that goes unquestioned despite differences in capacity, functionality, or relationability.
Perhaps the best way to understand what it means to be made in the image of God is to locate the concept of image in the context surrounding Genesis 1. In the ancient Near East, deities were localized in temples and in physical idols. The idol or statue signified the presence of the deity; its location demarcating its place of reign. The creation account in Genesis 1 is no different; God creates His own living images of himself and places them in the garden of Eden where they are to rule and reign over His creation.
He also commissions them to extend the borders of Eden, so that His reign and rule would be broadened over the entire world. However, in response to God’s commission, Adam and Eve rebel and insert themselves into the position of authority and cast God away from them. This initial sin results in the humans being separated from God; their home lost and their image fractured.
Everything after Genesis 3 is a revelation of God’s redemptive plan to renew and restore His image bearers to their destined state of worshipful relationship with Him. This mission is accomplished as God enters the human problem Himself, in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. God becomes a human, taking the human plight as His own, in order to redeem them from sin and death and rescue them for eternal life. It is this glorious work of God in the person of Jesus that is at the center of Christological anthropology.
In light of God’s redemptive work, Christological anthropology states that Jesus is the truest expression of humanity. It is in the person of Jesus that we can find the answer to the question of humanity’s purpose. The argument is as follows: Genesis 1:26-28 states that human beings are created in the image of God. Both theologically and literarily, this text serves as the capstone of the creation narrative. Adam and Eve are unique amongst the rest of God’s creation in that they are to reflect and bear out the reality of God’s glory and goodness in their lives as His image bearers. They are to live like God lives.
Following, Colossians 1:15, Hebrews 1:3, and 2 Corinthians 4:4 all state that Jesus is the true image of God. He is the one who most fully reflects and bears out the reality of God’s glory and goodness. He does this not simply by upright moral behavior, but by the nature of His very being. Jesus of Nazareth is God in the flesh. He is, at the same time, and in the same person, fully God and fully man.
Therefore, if the core of humanity’s identity is their creation in God’s image, and if Jesus is the truest expression of God’s image, then it follows that Jesus is the truest expression of what it means to be human. He is the only one who is both the image and its origin; fully man and fully God.
If this is true, then it is only by looking to Jesus that we can find humanity’s meaning and purpose. So then, how might Christological anthropology affect modern culture? First, Christological anthropology insists on the dignity, value, and worth of every human being. Each man and woman has been created in the image of God and is therefore valued and dignified in light of that creation reality. This means that regardless of gender, ethnicity, sexuality, class, political affiliation, or religion, all human beings are worthy of respect and honor. Second, Christological anthropology emphasizes the power of the Gospel for transformation.
At the heart of Christological anthropology is the reality that God the Son became man in order to rescue humanity from sin and death. That Gospel fact means that there is hope for every man and every woman; no one is “too far gone” for the grace of the incarnate Jesus. He became human to save and transform humans from rebels into family. Finally, Christological anthropology declares that the ultimate human destiny is communion with God. While cultural authorities continue to voice a variety of options concerning the meaning and purpose of humanity, the Bible maintains that the true end of this life is sharing in the life of God through the Son of God.
The incarnate Jesus is the way in which humans commune with God because He shares both a human nature and the divine nature. In being united to Him, humans are united to God. Therefore, it is in union with Jesus, by faith, that humans find their true meaning. The right and glorious end of human life is to commune with the triune God and we find a model for such communion in the two-natured person of Jesus Christ. It is through Him, and Him alone, that we find our true destiny.
WHAT ARE THE IMPLICATIONS OF CHRISTOLOGICAL ANTHROPOLOGY FOR PARENTS?
- First, parents must teach their children that all human beings are worthy of respect, dignity, and are inherently valuable. Being created in the image of God gives each person these distinct qualities regardless of circumstance, struggle, or lifestyle. Such training begins in the home, led by the example and instruction of parents.
- Second, parents must trust that only the Gospel of Jesus can transform the lives of their children. All human beings are born with a nature that is bent inward and must be transformed if any of us are to be fitted for heaven. Therefore, this transformation is holistic and cannot be accomplished through a moral improvement plan or behavioral management system. Structure and regulation are significant, yet they are not able to transform the heart of a human being. Only the good news of Jesus can reform the human heart and save it for eternity.
- Finally, parents should train and disciple their children with the goal of their child communing with the triune God. Of all the desires and goals parents may have for their children, foremost among them is a relationship of genuine communion with God. This ought to be the aim of all discipline, teaching, and prayer on behalf of our children. Again, it is only through this relationship with the risen Lord that human beings find their ultimate meaning and purpose. Hebrews 4:12
By Matt Messner, Woodcrest Christian Campus Pastor