What Is a Human?
John Telgren


What does it mean to be human? What is the essence of humanity? Humans have been reflecting on that question in various ways for several millennia. How one answers that question has huge implications for a better self-understanding and especially how we are to relate to the world, God, and one-another. If man is the result of random processes in the universe with no intentional design or purpose from a higher being, then man is nothing more than a talking ape. Man is on the same level as any other animal. Is it any wonder that people who are taught they are animals tend to start acting like animals? Is it any wonder that a society brought up with this belief winds up living by the law of the jungle?

Fortunately, the truth is that man is not just an animal. According to Genesis, the one and only living God created all of life. God's assessment is that it was all good. When God created humans, they were inherently different. Unlike the animals, humans were created in the image of God (Gen 1:27). Humans bore the likeness of God in several ways. Like God, humans were creative. They could appreciate, create, design, and build works of art, beauty, and stability. Humans had a sense of justice. They were able to explore, study, and harness the forces and resources of nature for good. They were capable of creating culture and society. Humans were not ruled by instinct but could think, reason, and choose. Humans had the God-given capacity to rise above the law of the jungle and exercise dominion that was good, beneficial, and just in service to their creator.

However, man became twisted by sin. Rather than honoring the God who created them, they created their own gods and even became their own gods. According to Romans 1, they became fools when they turned their back on the designer and creator of all life. When sin came into the world and disconnected men from God, they often became like unreasoning animals (Jude 10).

Fortunately, God did not leave man there. He provided a way of redemption and restoration through the sacrifice of Jesus, his resurrection, and the promise of the Spirit. God works to transform us to the glory of the Lord (2 Cor 3:15-18). This means that part of God's people exercising dominion today involves the ministry of reconciliation. We have a part in redemption and restoration through the sharing of the Gospel. As people are formed, reformed, and transformed into the image and glory of God, the world is slowly transformed as well. But it will not be completely transformed until the last trumpet sounds and Jesus returns and all rule, power, and authority is abolished (1 Cor 15:24). The kingdom of this world will become the kingdom of God and of his Christ and he shall reign for ever and ever (Rev 11:15), and we shall reign with him, exercising dominion without reference to sin (Rev 22:5).

In considering the majesty and glory of God, the Psalmist exclaims, "What is man that you take thought of him?" (Ps 8:4). What is man? The answer is that you are made in the image of God, and that even though you were twisted by sin, in Christ are being reformed, or transformed into his glory to carry out his purposes here and in eternity.