Ministry Resources

Mankind: Human Subjects of the Creator

People have a wide variety of answers to explain the origin of man. Philosophers reason; evolutionists present their case; social scientists speculate. The attempts of secular men to explain their origin and development somehow leave us empty, for they believe that man is merely an accident, without meaning or purpose. By contrast, the Psalmist reflects on his origin and says to God, “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made . . . All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be” (Psalm 139:14,16).

We are made in the image of God. We were made by our Creator to rule the earth justly, creatively, and responsibly. He has given us intelligence, feeling, and the ability to make morally responsible choices. We have the capacity to accomplish so much, but we also have the possibility of wasting our natural gifts and denying the Giver of them all. The only way we can realize the great potential which God has given us is by obedience to His Word. Our disobedience, however, robs us of reaching our potential both now and for all eternity.

In our last lesson we examined the spirit realm. Now we look at another class of God’s subjects: the human race. The terms man and mankind in this lesson refer to both members of the human race, male and female. As you study the lesson, you should be able to understand yourself better and know more clearly what are the duties, as well as the rights, of those who accept the sovereignty of God.

Man’s Origin

A Special Creation

The Bible speaks reasonably and directly to the question, “How did man come into existence?” It gives evidence of man’s origin, purpose, and destiny. It reveals to us that man is a special creation of God.

Man is unique. The Scriptures declare that he is the result of a special divine act: “This is what the Lord says . . . ‘It is I who made the earth and created mankind upon it’” (Isaiah 45:11-12). Other Scriptures give us the same testimony.

The creation of all other creatures simply involved a divine command which was put into effect immediately (see Genesis 1:20, 24), but in creating man God performed a special act. First, He formed man out of the earthly elements; then He breathed into man’s nostrils the breath of life (Genesis 2:7); and man became a living being. This divine inbreathing imparted to man a spiritual nature from God that gave him a position far above all other creatures mentioned in Genesis 1. Moreover, God’s command to rule and subdue the earth indicates the great distance between man and all other earthly creatures in the created order (1:28).

We can also see God’s special interest in man when God blessed him with fruitfulness (Genesis 1:28; 5:2) so that he could fill the earth with the human race, and gave him dominion (rulership) over all other creatures upon the earth and over all seedbearing plants.

The most important distinction between man and all other creatures is that man was created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26). No other creature was made in God’s likeness; only man was given the image of the Creator. As we shall see later in this lesson, man’s likeness to God is not physical but a moral and spiritual likeness.

We discover further evidence of the special nature of man in the great differences we see between man and animals. Let’s consider some of these differences.

1. Man has the power of speech—the amazing ability to communicate both concrete (real) and abstract (theoretical) ideas in a dynamic and creative way. An example of a concrete (real) idea is this: I live in a white house that has five rooms. An example of an abstract (theoretical) idea is this: It is better to love than to hate. Both of these ideas can be communicated to other human beings because of man’s ability to think, understand, and express his thoughts through speech. No animal can do this.

2. Man has the ability to enjoy beauty. Animals, however, appear to have no more appreciation for a beautiful garden than they do for an ugly weed patch.

3. Man has the ability to distinguish between right and wrong. Animals do not have this capacity. For example, a dog might show distaste for punishment because it has disobeyed, and it might be conditioned or trained to obey through repeated punishment, but it never learns that it is morally wrong to steal a hen’s eggs or to eat her chicks.

4. Man has a deep sense of the need to worship a superior being, but animals have neither the capacity for worship nor the means to express reverence.

5. Man can plan ahead, anticipate future needs, and bring about changes of events. He delights in creating new styles of houses and new forms of art. He strives continually to modify his environment to make life easier and better. Animals, however, are incapable of creativity or foresight. Anything they do in preparation for what lies ahead is simply a response to their natural instincts. For example, while birds have the natural instinct to build a nest for their young, through the centuries they continue to build the very same type of nest that their ancestors built.

It seems obvious, then, that man is a special creation of God. He is not the product of chance—he did not “evolve” from a lower form of animal life. We have seen in an earlier lesson that the God who created the universe also sustains it. Nature left to itself tends to lose quality, rather than improve. Things wear out. Order begins to show signs of disorder. It takes an intelligence and energy outside of and superior to the system to maintain it and cause it to get better. It was by a special act of a sovereign God that this most marvelous creature, man, was created (Colossians 1:16-17).

Made in God’s Image

The Bible teaches that man was made in the image, or likeness, of God (Genesis 1:26-27; 5:1; 9:6; 1 Corinthians 11:7; James 3:9). Like God, man can think in terms of design and purpose. Each of us, in his own way, can create things that are useful and beautiful. We can also discover through our own studies the principles in creation that give evidence of God’s creative handiwork. What else does this “likeness to God” include? What does it not include?

The term “in the image of God” does not mean that man is an exact copy of God. The idea is that in some ways he resembles God. We saw in Lesson 1 that God is invisible, and He is Spirit. So we know that the image of God in man is not a physical likeness. If our likeness to God is not physical, what is it?

1. Personality. Even though God is Spirit, our human spirit can interact with His divine Spirit, for we, like God, are personal beings. We have the possibility of communion with Him in a personal relationship, and we also have the capacity, like Him, to have fellowship with other beings.

2. Moral Likeness. Man, like God, has the ability to distinguish between right and wrong. Originally, man’s total personality—intellect, feelings, and will—was directed to God. Man’s moral nature was a limited copy of God’s unlimited moral nature. Man had freedom to choose and to act responsibly. He could be tested, exercise judgment, develop, and progress as he exercised his freedom to choose between good and evil. The fact is that man was conscious of the need to choose between right and wrong.

3. Rational nature. Man has a likeness to the rational being of God because of his rational nature or intellect, his ability to reason and to know God and others. This ability is also referred to as man’s mental likeness to his Maker.

4. Ability to rule. Man is like God in his ability to exercise dominion, to take control. Man can tame animals that are stronger than he. He harnesses rivers with dams in order to generate electricity. He makes deserts blossom like naturally fertile areas. In a small way, this God-given ability reflects God’s dominion over the entire universe.

5. Self-awareness. As a personal being made in God’s image, man has a consciousness of self. Very early in life a child begins to sense that he is a being apart from everyone else in the family. He is an individual. No matter what is required of him by his family or his cultural surroundings, he knows that he is a separate person. He has his own dreams, ambitions, hopes, fears, and motives. He is unlike any other being. Other creatures do not have this self-awareness.

6. Social nature. The basis of the divine social nature is God’s affections, or His love. All through eternity God has found the objects of His love in the Trinity. Jesus said, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love…Love each other as I have loved you” (John 15:9,12). Since we have received a social nature, we seek fellowship with God and others, and organize our lives according to the basic social unit: our families. Our love and our interest in others flows directly from the social aspect of our nature.

The Bible gives us a reasonable account of the origin of man. It deals with his nature and the potential with which he was created. It reveals facts about man’s likeness to his Creator. This helps us to see how very special man is and how superior he is to other creatures. The Bible also teaches us that, along with his superior position as a moral being, man has some very important responsibilities—responsibilities that affect his eternal destiny, as we shall see in our next lesson.

Man’s Nature

It will be easier for us to solve our problems and understand how and why we behave as we do if we have a more complete understanding of human nature. It is true that man is a complex creature—he has a marvelous body, a fertile mind, and the ability to distinguish between right and wrong. These are but a few of his more prominent characteristics. This description reveals to us that man has a material or physical aspect which can be seen, and immaterial or nonphysical aspects which cannot be seen, measured or analyzed in a laboratory. Let’s consider now these various aspects or characteristics of man’s nature.

The Material (Physical) Aspect

It is quite easy for us to identify the material or physical aspect of man. It is what we see of another person. It is what a doctor examines and performs surgery on. It can be weighed, measured, and analyzed in a laboratory. It is the human body.

The Scriptures speak of the body quite frequently and include it in our redemption (Romans 8:23; 1 Corinthians 6:12- 20). What value does the Bible place on the human body? While we are taught that the nonphysical aspect of man is more important than the physical (Matthew 10:28), we are not led to consider our bodies as something to be despised or as inherently evil. On the contrary, the apostle Paul taught that even though our bodies decay after death, they will be miraculously resurrected some day: “. . . the Lord Jesus Christ . . . will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body” (Philippians 3:20-21).

In writing to the Corinthian church, Paul states that believers’ bodies are members of the body of Christ. Their bodies, he says, are the temples of the Holy Spirit. For this reason he charges Christians to honor God with their bodies (1 Corinthians 6:15, 19-20).

The Lord Jesus honored the human body to the highest degree when He took one for Himself. Luke records that Jesus grew in “stature” (Luke 2:40) as He grew to maturity. In fact, the writer to the Hebrews declares that it was necessary for our Lord to have a body so that He could be our sympathetic High Priest and atoning Savior (Hebrews 2:14-15,17-18).

The Immaterial (Nonphysical) Aspects

While it is easy to identify our material aspect, it is more difficult to describe the immaterial (nonphysical) dimension of the human makeup. For example, the Bible speaks of the soul and the spirit in 1 Thessalonians 5:23, which together with the body represent the total person. However, in Matthew 10:28 the soul seems to represent our total nonphysical aspect. Are we twofold or threefold beings? Are the soul and the spirit the same thing, or are they different?

It is difficult to determine whether soul and spirit are two separate aspects of man’s total being, or one and the same thing. Let’s keep this in focus as we examine in greater detail the nonphysical elements of our being.

Some Bible scholars believe that when God created man, He breathed into man but one principle: the living soul. Other Bible scholars believe that there are two elements to the immaterial part of man’s being. One of these is soul, which is the principle of biological life, or that which gives us breath and makes us living creatures. The other is spirit, which is the basis of rational life, or that which is related to reason or understanding.

There are several important elements of rational life. You will recognize that the first three are also the aspects of personality. They are:

1. The intellectual element: the ability to understand, to reason, to remember.

2. The emotional element: the ability to feel, to be affected by what one knows or experiences.

3. The will: the ability to choose, to decide, to act.

4. The conscience: the knowledge of self in relation to a known standard of right and wrong.

In our study of the nature of God (Lesson 1) we learned that we were created with the basic ingredients of personality: intellect, emotions, and will. These qualities enable us to communicate with God and with other people in a responsible and meaningful way. Together with our physical being, these nonphysical elements enable us to live as whole, complete beings. We subdue the environment, taking from it what is necessary to live. We learn to work with others in harmonious social settings. We try most of all to please our Creator, who has provided all that is necessary for a meaningful life and eternal salvation.

Our will and our conscience are important elements of the moral aspect of our nonphysical being, as we shall see in our next section of study.

The Moral Aspects

The rational qualities of our immaterial being which we have just studied equip us for right or wrong action. Our intellect enables us to know the issues of both right and wrong. Our emotions appeal to us to move in one direction or the other, and our will decides the matter. But without the fourth element, our conscience, there can be no moral action.

Our conscience might be described as an “inner voice” which applies God’s moral law to us in relation to specific courses of action and urges us to obey it. In order to understand more clearly the nature of this moral power, we shall now consider the conscience and the will as they relate to our actions.

The Conscience

We have seen briefly that our conscience is concerned with our attitudes and actions. It is the faculty that enables us to judge appropriately between courses of action or the formation of attitudes that may be either pleasing or displeasing to God. God has revealed in His Word an acceptable standard of living. The teaching and practical application of divine truth we receive helps us to understand how we ought to live. Thus, what we know of the will of God as revealed in His Word and what we have learned in the application of this truth in our own daily lives forms the basis upon which the conscience acts.

Conscience monitors (warns of or instructs about) the rightness or wrongness of attitudes that are taking shape or of actions that we are about to carry out. The apostle Paul gives an example of this when he speaks of those who “show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them” (Romans 2:15).

For example, consider a Christian businessman, Jerome, who is faced with a decision: “Shall I go to dinner with an important business contact in a place where wicked amusements are featured? Or should I stand on my convictions that this would be wrong even though I may lose a business transaction if I do not accept the invitation?”

Jerome’s standard is the Word of God. He knows what God has to say about wrong associations (2 Corinthians 7:1; 1 Corinthians 15:33). His conscience testifies that it is wrong to accept the invitation, because it is contrary to God’s standard. It also reminds him of his obligation to behave as God intends. Jerome’s conscience thus discriminates (notes the difference) between right and wrong action on the basis of God’s Word. Because Jerome is a Christian, his conscience speaks to him under the influence of the Holy Spirit.

If Jerome disregards the witness of his conscience and his moral responsibilities, he will feel shame and regret, and he will fear the consequences of his action. Yielding to temptation brings with it a sense of failure—failure to live according to God’s standard. The feelings associated with failure—shame, regret, and fear—are not elements of the conscience but of the emotions. Conscience, then, acts as the judge of our mental attitudes and our behavior.

Since God has created us with this inward monitor or “voice,” we should understand more about what can be done to our conscience and what its limitations are. First, like the intellect, the conscience develops as we grow and mature. As we come to understand our responsibilities, we begin to understand the consequences of our actions. Second, the Bible teaches that the conscience can be defiled, corrupted, and seared:

Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat such food they think of it as having been sacrificed to an idol, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled (1 Corinthians 8:7).

To the pure, all things are pure, but to those who are corrupted and do not believe, nothing is pure. In fact, both their minds and consciences are corrupted (Titus 1:15).

Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron (1 Timothy 4:2).

These Scriptures indicate that carelessness in Christian living, ignoring the voice of conscience, and giving up one’s faith can make ineffective the God-given function of the conscience. Nevertheless, the Bible does not indicate that the conscience can be destroyed.

Third, the conscience is not infallible (without error, perfect). That is, it is capable of misleading a person if the wrong standard is given to it. The apostle Paul, before his crisis on the Damascus Road, was very conscientious in his wrong conduct. He thought he was doing the right thing. His zealous spirit and flawless character were commendable, but his actions were shocking! Because his reason had adopted a wrong interpretation of the Old Testament, his conscience witnessed on the basis of that interpretation, and it led him astray. (See Acts 9.)

Our conscience, then, judges our actions and attitudes on the basis of:

1. our knowledge of God’s existence;

2. God’s revealed will;

3. the moral awareness He has given us;

4. what we have been taught (the input given to the conscience);

5. the social standards we have accepted.

We know that we are accountable to God. Social standards however, are not always the same, because of sin and rejection of God’s standard. Therefore, the only standard of conscience acceptable to God is that which is based upon His Word as it is interpreted by the Holy Spirit.

The Will

The will is our faculty of choosing or deciding between possible courses of action. With regard to any possible action, we must know about it before we can express feelings about it. Then, on the basis of knowledge and feeling, we can by an act of the will choose a particular course of action. We can freely choose to do anything that is consistent with our nature. We can will to run, but we can’t will to live under water like a fish. Running is consistent with man’s nature; living under water is not. As we shall see in our next lesson, man is limited by sin so that he cannot change his moral state simply by willing to become righteous.

What, then, influences the will? Is it totally under man’s control, or God’s? What process is involved in our decision making? Let’s examine these matters now as we study man’s nature more fully.

When God created man, he gave man the power of choice: the power to sin or not to sin. God placed him in the Garden of Eden and stated the conditions under which he could continue in fellowship:

And the Lord commanded the man, ‘You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die’ (Genesis 2:16-17).

How did Adam respond to this instruction from the Lord? The decision-making process probably followed this pattern:

1. Adam’s intellect accepted God’s standard. He understood what God was telling him.

2. His emotions assented to the rightness of God’s words. As his Creator and Sovereign Lord, God had the right to make this standard.

3. His will prepared to decide between acceptance and rejection of the temptation presented by the serpent (Genesis 3:4-6).

4. In this crucial time, Adam’s conscience weighed the consequences of acting contrary to God’s standard.

5. Adam yielded to temptation by an act of his will.

Thus, Adam deliberately disobeyed God’s word and suffered immediate consequences. His conscience condemned him, causing him to recognize that he had failed to keep God’s commandment. He felt shame, regret, and fear because his act of disobedience had robbed him of his innocence (Genesis 3:7-10). Now his nature was corrupt. He had fallen from a state of innocence to one of corruption. Since Adam’s fall from God’s favor, man has been limited by his sinful nature. He cannot will to be obedient to God’s will without God’s help. Paul says, “I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out” (Romans 7:18).

God, however, is not content to leave man in his corruption. He extends grace to man in his lost condition, appealing to him to repent of his sins and to accept the salvation He offers (Titus 2:11). It is here that the Holy Spirit takes the initiative, influencing the will of man to turn to God (Philippians 2:13). Those who turn have the right to become children of God (John 1:12).

While God extends grace to fallen man and enables him to accept Christ as his Savior, He does not force man to do so. By an act of the will, man may accept the offer and become a child of God; or he may reject it and remain under the condemnation (judgment) of God. His will is free to decide this issue. In the process, both the will of God and the will of man are involved (Titus 2:11-12; John 7:17).

While our rational faculties are involved in making moral decisions, the Holy Spirit exerts a positive influence for good as long as we have our minds set on what the Spirit desires (see Romans 8:5-9, 12-14), and He works in us to bring us to a desire for His will (Philippians 2:13). Learning to live in the Spirit and to keep in step with the Spirit represents a growing experience in each of our lives as we move progressively toward Christian maturity (Galatians 5:16-18, 25).

Man’s Immortality

What happens to man at death? There are many things we do not know about life after death, but the Bible does teach us some things that reveal there is life after death.

Physical death is what happens when the body ceases to function. The body decays and returns to dust (see Genesis 3:19), but the immaterial part of man, which the Bible refers to as soul or spirit, continues to exist. Numerous Scripture passages confirm this:

Luke 23:43: “Jesus answered him, ‘I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.’”

2 Corinthians 5:8: “We . . . would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.”

Philippians 1:22-23: “If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. . . . I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far.”

John 5:24: “Whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life . . . he has crossed over from death to life.”

Man’s physical death was part of the curse which came upon him, when Adam sinned: “. . . for dust you are and to dust you will return” (Genesis 3:19). While at death the Christian ceases to exist as a complete material/immaterial being, he has the blessed hope of the second coming of Christ, when he will receive a glorified body. Jesus, by His death for our sins and by His resurrection, has assured our resurrection from the dead. This is explained in 1 Corinthians 15:42-49:

So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. So it is written: ‘The first man Adam became a living being’; the last Adam [Christ], a life-giving spirit. . . . And just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven.

By contrast, when an unrepentant sinner dies, his soul continues in a state of conscious existence in a place of intense suffering called Hades or hell. We are given a glimpse of this in Jesus’ story of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-24). In Hades, the rich man described by Jesus could think, remember, talk, and feel. He also kept his self-awareness.

Thus, we see that man was created by God as an immortal being. This is a blessed hope to those who have accepted the atoning work of Christ and who serve and obey Him. When believers die, their souls are immediately in the presence of the Lord. At His second coming, their mortal bodies will be resurrected and will be changed into glorified bodies (1 Corinthians 15:50-57). What a glorious day that will be! However, the unbeliever faces eternal judgment and torment away from the presence of the Lord (see Revelation 20:7-10).

Next Lesson