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Human beings are creatures of enormous dignity and worth. They are embodied souls – of the earth and uniquely inspired by God (Gen. 2:7). They are more like God than anything else he has made.[1] In Genesis 1:26 the Creator says:

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

There is some disagreement amongst theologians as to precisely what it means for men and women to bear the “image and likeness” of God. Many have argued that it refers primarily to their unique intellectual and moral capacities, others have preferred to think of it primarily in terms of status and role as his vice-regents over all creation. Allen P. Ross brings the two together by saying: “Humans have spiritual life, ethical and moral sensitivities, conscience, and the capacity to represent God.”[2]

To say that human beings resemble God and represent God – however we might precisely define those things – is a breathtaking statement. It differentiates them from the animals and even from the angels. No other created thing in all the universe is described in such spectacular fashion.

Nevertheless, very early on in the Bible, we discover that human beings are not now what they were created and intended to be. There was a fall and that fall had catastrophic consequences. Thankfully, in the very same chapter that describes that fall, the Bible records a promise that a hero will come, born of a woman, who will defeat their enemy, end their captivity and bring them home to God.

Thus, it has been the practice of Christian thinkers to discuss the nature and state of human beings in terms of 4 distinct categories: Human beings as created, human beings as fallen, human beings as redeemed and human beings as fully and finally glorified.

Human Beings As Created

When originally created, human beings existed in a state of innocence, not yet tainted or diminished by sin. Thomas Boston for example says:

“Original righteousness was created with him; so that in the same moment he was a man, he was a righteous man, morally good; with the same breath that God breathed into him a living soul, He breathed into him a righteous soul.”[3]

Having said 6 times previously in Genesis 1 that everything he had created was “good” when God surveyed the newly created man and woman he declared them to be “very good” (Gen. 1:31). There was nothing corrupt in their physical bodies and nothing deficient with respect to their endowed souls (Gen. 2:7).

Both men and women bear the image and likeness of God. Genesis 1:27 declares: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27 ESV).

Adam and Eve were made image bearers of God as gendered creatures. The first couple, as male and female, presented a picture of unity and plurality that uniquely, though imperfectly, resembled the relational nature of the Godhead. Being male and female was also necessary with respect to their calling to fill the earth and subdue it (Gen. 1:28). Their sexuality was a source of unmixed joy and comfort to them both: “And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed” (Genesis 2:25 ESV).

Human beings in the state of innocence also enjoyed intimate access and personal communication with the Lord. God spoke to Adam directly in Genesis 2:16, giving him a commandment to keep, and in Genesis 3:8, he is described as approaching the man and the woman in the cool of the day so as to communicate with them both as a couple.

Human beings had tremendous dignity, exalted capacities, generous provisions and intimate privileges in their original created state. Their loyalty and obedience to God, however, remained untested.

Human Beings As Fallen

The Bible does not tell us how long the original human beings existed in the state of innocence. What the Bible does seem to indicate however was that their experience was intended to be probationary. God forbade them to eat from one particular tree in the Garden. Genesis 2:16-17 records God saying to Adam:

“You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Genesis 2:16–17 ESV)

Human beings were not morally or spiritually autonomous creatures. They did not have the power or the right of self-definition. They had tremendous dignity, but they were required to operate within divinely established boundaries and limitations. As vice-regents, they were to be under God and over everything else.

In Genesis 3 however, a creature appears and tempts them to break away from God and to decide right and wrong for themselves. He questioned the goodness and generosity of God’s Word and suggested a path toward superior knowledge and autonomous expression. He invited Eve to make decisions on the basis of her own perceptions and desires. His appeal was ultimately persuasive. Genesis 3:6 says:

“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.” (Genesis 3:6 ESV)

The willful rebellion of the man and the woman had immediate and obvious effects.

“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 3:7 ESV)

The man and the woman now had experiential knowledge of sin. They experienced shame and they felt alienated from God and one another. When God arrived to question them, they hid from him and turned on each other. Evidently, as a result of their sin, a great many things had changed.

In addition to the great promise of redemption offered in Genesis 3:15, God also pronounces a series of curses. To the woman he says:

“I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be contrary to your husband, but he shall rule over you.” (Genesis 3:16 ESV)

To the man he says:

“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; 18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. 19 By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” (Genesis 3:17–19 ESV)

Conflict, hardship, exile, diminishment and death: these are the immediate consequences associated with the sin of our first parents. A.A. Hodge describes the impact of the fall in devastating terms:

“The whole nature became depraved. The will being at war with the conscience, the understanding became darkened; the conscience, in consequence of constant outrage and neglect, became seared; the appetites of the body inordinate, and its members instruments of unrighteousness.”[4]

Theologians have long struggled to understand the impact of the fall on the image of God in human beings. John Calvin dealt with the question at some length in his Institutes of the Christian Religion:

“Wherefore, although we grant that the image of God was not utterly effaced and destroyed in him, it was, however, so corrupted, that any thing which remains is fearful deformity; and, therefore, our deliverance begins with that renovation which we obtain from Christ, who is, therefore, called the second Adam, because he restores us to true and substantial integrity.”[5]

In summary, as a consequence of the fall, men and women have a depraved nature, a rebellious will, a confused understanding, a seared conscience, inordinate desires and disrupted communion with God and with one another. The judgment of God upon human beings in their fallen state is given in Genesis 6:5:

“The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” (Genesis 6:5 ESV)

Fallen human beings stand in desperate need of redemption, renovation and renewal.

Human Beings As Redeemed

The incarnation, perfect obedience, sacrificial death, victorious resurrection, glorious ascension and present intercession of Jesus Christ represents a rescue mission on a cosmic scale. Human beings had fallen into a diminished, darkened and depraved state as a result of their sin and rebellion.

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:4–5 ESV).

Thomas Boston refers to the redeemed state of men and women as: “the state of begun recovery of human nature, into which all that shall partake of eternal happiness are translated, sooner or later, while in this world.”[6]

The grace of regeneration reverses the trajectory of human beings. It breaks the power of canceled sin[7] and makes possible the progressive transformation of saved men and women into the image and likeness of Jesus Christ. As the Apostle Paul said:

“And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18 ESV)

Jesus is “the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15), thus as men and women are conformed to his image, they are restored to their original dignity and glory. As Calvin in The Institutes says: “the end of regeneration is to form us anew in the image of God.”[8]

Thus, the effect of redemption is to bring men and women full circle, back around to the privileges, capacities and characteristics which distinguished them at first. This must include the essential harmony and complementarity of the sexes. J.I. Packer says usefully here:

“the man-woman relationship is intrinsically non-reversible … This is part of the reality of creation, a given fact that nothing will change. Certainly, redemption will not change it, for grace restores nature, not abolishes it.”[9]

The process of transformation, or sanctification, is often referred to as a “two handed work”. Unlike the work of justification which Christ performed on behalf of people who were dead in their trespasses and sins, sanctification is a process that the believer must participate in actively and intentionally. Believers must “put off” or even “put to death” behaviours and pursuits associated with their former state. Paul says:

“Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.” (Colossians 3:5 ESV)

Similarly, saved human beings must adopt and nurture new attitudes and behaviours properly associated with their status as the redeemed and exalted children of God:

“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” (Colossians 3:12–14 ESV)

This process of transformation and renovation will be progressive throughout the entire course of life after a person’s conversion and being completed after his or her death or the Second Coming of Christ.

Human Beings As Glorified

Saved men and women should be characterized by gratitude and joy. They were dead in their trespasses and sins, but God being rich in mercy, because of his great love, makes them alive together with Christ – by grace they have been saved! Things are infinitely better for human beings now because of Jesus – thanks be to God!

And yet, the Bible is clear that as wonderful as their current blessings are, as redeemed men and women, there is more and better still ahead. The Apostle John wrote to his children in the faith saying:

“Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. 3 And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.” (1 John 3:2–3 ESV)

The process that begins at the moment of salvation and that is progressive throughout the course of the earthly lives of all believers, will be finally and gloriously completed at the moment of their death or at the time of Christ’s return. “We shall see him,” John says, “and we shall be like him!” This seems to speak of something more than just a return to the innocence they experienced in the Garden; this hints at something further, deeper and beyond. Charles Hodge says here:

“It is altogether probable that our nature, in virtue of its union with the divine nature in the person of Christ, and in virtue of the union of the redeemed with their exalted Redeemer, shall hereafter be elevated to a dignity and glory far greater than that in which Adam was created or to which he ever could have attained.”[10]

That seems to be precisely what the Apostle Paul is teaching in 1 Corinthians 15 when he says:

“Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.” (1 Corinthians 15:49 ESV)

Peter appears even to go a step further, if indeed such a step is possible. In 2 Peter 1:3-4 the Apostle speaks of the generous graces believers have received through Christ and expounds upon their ultimate end:

“His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, 4 by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.” (2 Peter 1:3–4 ESV)

Peter does not precisely define what it means for human beings to partake of the divine nature, but it can hardly mean less than is anticipated by Thomas Boston who says:

“They will be absolute masters over sin, which had the dominion over them. They will have a complete rule over their own spirits; an entire management of all their affections and inclinations, which now create them so much molestation: the turbulent root of corrupt affections shall be for ever expelled out of that kingdom, and never be able any more to give them the least disturbance.”[11]

That seems a fitting explication of what Jesus promised in his parable of the weeds:

“Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, 42 and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.” (Matthew 13:40–43 ESV)

Every trace of the curse removed; every cause and temptation of sin judged, condemned and destroyed! Then shall the redeemed and restored children of God shine like the sun in the Kingdom of their Father forever! This is the future for every man and woman united to Christ through faith. They shall see the face of God and reflect the beauty of God over all creation. They shall resemble him and represent him as they were created and intended to do.

“Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20 ESV)

 

Pastor Paul Carter


Editor’s NoteThis is the first and foundational article in a series we have planned to address key pastoral questions around sexuality, gender, and what it means to be a human being. We hope to equip pastors and leaders in Canada to confront challenges around sexuality biblically and persuasively. 

To listen to the most recent episodes of Pastor Paul’s Into The Word devotional podcast on the TGC Canada website see here. To access the entire library of available episodes see here. You can find his personal blog, Semper Reformanda, by clicking here.

 

 


[1] As per Wayne Gruden, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 439.

[2] Allen P. Ross, Creation & Blessing: A Guide To The Study And Exposition Of Genesis (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1988), 112.

[3] Thomas Boston, Human Nature In Its Fourfold State (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2002), 38.

[4] A.A. Hodge, Outlines Of Theology (Edinburgh: The Banner Of Truth Trust, 1999), 324.

[5]John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. Henry Beveridge, Accordance electronic ed. (Edinburgh: Calvin Translation Society, 1845), paragraph 572.

[6] Thomas Boston, Human Nature In Its Fourfold State (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2002), 203.

[7] As per Charles Wesley in O For A Thousand Tongues, verse 4.  

[8]John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. Henry Beveridge, Accordance electronic ed. (Edinburgh: Calvin Translation Society, 1845), paragraph 572.

[9] J.I. Packer, “Understanding The Differences” in Women, Authority & the Bible, edited by Alvera Mickelsen, (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1986), 299.

[10] Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology Volume II (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 2013), 92.

[11] Thomas Boston, Human Nature In Its Fourfold State (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2002), 434.

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