By Jonathan Rice

What Makes Us Human

We are all different. We have different physiques, intellects, and temperaments. But in at least one way we are all the same—we are all created in the image of God. Genesis 1:26, we read, “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.’” Perhaps more than any other characteristic, this sacred likeness is what makes us human.

The Breath of Life

The Bible says, “God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being” (Genesis 2:7). Adam’s body was created good (Genesis 1:31a). Our own bodies today are still fundamentally good, reflecting in their complexity and unity, their utility and beauty, God’s sacred image. Receptors that give us sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch bring the outside world to our minds, giving us experiences that elicit a spectrum of emotions. Our complex brains help us to innovate and calculate. We discover new wonders about the world. We form new systems of thought, works of science, and objects of beauty that can affect the course of history.

We can achieve amazing things. But even more amazing than our complex biological design is our intuitive knowledge that we are more than machines. We see that we are physical, but we intuitively know that we are more than physical.

The Bible teaches that the breath of God animated the first human being, giving him what we may call a spirit (Job 32:8), which is different from God’s Spirit. The Bible nowhere teaches that we are conceived as deities or shall someday become gods. Instead, each of us is uniquely human, distinct from every other created person, plant, and animal on this earth, created not only with a physical body but also with a human spirit.

People speak of this human spirit in various ways, however. Sometimes they speak of the human spirit as a ghostly replica of our physique, or a courageous impulse within our heart, or a secret code within our chromosomes or brain synapses. But according to the Bible, this spiritual aspect of ourselves is a God-created personhood, an image of the living God, and the essential fact of what makes us human (Ecclesiastes 12:7Romans 8:161 Thessalonians 5:23).

Reflecting God’s Love

Perhaps the human characteristic that most reflects God’s image is our desire to love. Scripture tells us that this desire originates with God: “We love because [God] first loved us” (1 John 4:19). In other words, God’s love for us sparks our desire to love.

We may then find it comforting, perhaps even convicting, to remember that no one is born into this world without being loved, for we are all loved by God from the very moment of our conception. God creates each human with great personal worth. If all people, whatever their ethnicity, social status, or disability, are of personal worth and dearly loved by God, should we not also show love to all people, treating them with much respect?   

When we demonstrate the power of sacrificial love, or the love of forgiveness or kindness, we experience the astonishing power of God’s love reflected in us. When we love as God loves, particularly in the most unlikely places or circumstances, people can experience the character of God. The Bible says that God’s Spirit indwells those who believe in Jesus Christ (John 14:16-171 Corinthians 6:19-20). And the more we permit God’s Spirit to love people through us, the greater will be the witness of God’s image in this world.

But obeying God’s Spirit is not always easy. Too often we fail. We are selfish. Then rather than revealing the character of God’s goodness, our selfishness exposes our own sinfulness.

We Are Sinful

Traditional Christian teaching about sin says that it is not merely a behavior but a state of being imputed to all people from generation to generation. Today we are as sinful as our ancestors. This sinful state of being, this imputed and “passed-on” corruption of the first humans’ original goodness, disposes us to disobey God to the same extent our first parents disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden. We are all without excuse, and our culpability is just as severe as Adam’s and Eve’s. Our love for God, for other people, and for God’s creation is corrupt.

So, we do not love God as we ought. We do not live thankfully toward God, and the consequences of our ingratitude are a darkening of our hearts and a slipping down into deeper wickedness (Romans 1:18-32).

We do not love people as we ought. We exploit other humans as if they are mere resources to fulfill our selfish desires.

And we do not love and care for God’s creation as we ought. The earth is given to us for sustenance and enjoyment. We are stewards of God’s creation. But we fail to obey God’s command to care for the earth and instead abuse its animals, destroy its wonders, and squander its resources.

What Next?

Our having the image of God comes with a responsibility for our being God’s visible representatives on earth. God wants his image to be seen in human society.

Today you may wish to consider how you are made in God’s image and how you can express Christlike character. By doing so, you will demonstrate in this world the image of God, the sacred image that makes you truly human.

Jonathan Rice is an editor and writer with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship.

Image by twentyonehundred productions team member Laura Li-Barbour.

For more on what it means to be human, check out these resources:

Created in God’s Image

Identity and Idolatry: The Image of God and Its Inversion

Being Human: The Nature of Spiritual Experience

Distorted Images of Self: Restoring Our Vision (LifeGuide Bible Study)

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Jonathan Rice is an editor and writer with InterVarsity.

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