Oh the Humanity -1- What’s a Human?

Scripture:  Romans 7:15-23, Ephesians 4:20-24

SWAT Officer:  “M-!  M…  MONSTER!!”

Alucard:  “I get that a lot.  So, what does that make you?  A man? A dog?  A monster?”

What words come to mind when you think of humanity?

If we were to put ourselves in the SWAT officer’s place, what would be our answer to Alucard’s question?  Would we say that we’re a man or woman but really believe we’re a dog or a monster?  On what grounds do we claim to be human?  In Christianity, it seems that we often separate our being human from our being a Christian.  We view the two as being in direct opposition to each other.  However, this is not necessarily the case.  To begin this series, we will be looking into the question of what is a human?

Why do we think that being human is a detriment to our Christian pursuits?  I propose that it is because we often confuse our human nature with our sinful nature.  It is true that, as sure as we are human, we have a sinful nature.  But it is also true that there is a part of us that struggles against the sinful nature.  In Romans 7:15-23, Paul talks about his struggles with his own sinful nature.

In this passage, Paul talks about two distinct forces at work within him.  There is the sinful nature which leads him to do the evil that he does not want to do, and there is the other force that wills to do what is right and good.  We know that the sinful nature goes along with being human (Romans 3:23), but where does this part of Paul which wills to do what is right come from?  If we look at verses 24-25, we get a glimpse of the answer.  Paul says that it is God, through Christ, Who frees him from his bondage to sin.  To get a better understanding of exactly what it going on, we can turn to Ephesians 4:20-24.  Here, Paul talks about putting off the “old man” and putting on the “new man”.  This new man, it says, is created by God in true righteousness and holiness.  Let’s hold on to that thought as we continue to examine what Paul is telling us.

Returning to our main passage from Romans, we may notice that Paul uses the words “I” and “me” and “my mind”.  What is he talking about when he uses these terms?  In the passage he says that he wills to do good, that “I (Paul) delight in the law of God”.   Paul is talking about himself, his inmost self, his new nature that he received from God.  In contrast to this, Paul also talks about his flesh, in which “nothing good dwells”.  Here Paul is talking about his sinful nature, that is to say the sin which dwells within him.  Paul has labeled his sinful nature as being distinct from himself.  In verse 20, he goes so far as to say that “Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but the sin that dwells in me.”  It is important to be clear that Paul is not just saying “the devil made me do it” or absolving himself of responsibility for his sins.  Rather he is recognizing that he is not defined by his sin.  Put more broadly, being human involves having a sinful nature with which we either cooperate or struggle.  It is also worth noting that when Paul says that nothing good dwells in his flesh, he isn’t advocating a view that our bodies and physical desires (such as those for food and sex) are intrinsically bad.  As we grow as Christians and put on the “new man” mentioned earlier, our desires are changed and cleansed so that they become part of honoring God and not focused solely on pleasing ourselves.

We’ve discussed the “new man” and the sinful nature, but what does this have to do with our humanity?  Let’s ask this question:  how do we best embrace our humanity?  For our answer, let’s turn back to Genesis, chapter 1, verses 26 and 27 to be precise.  Here we are told that God created humanity in His own image.  It is sometime after this that the Fall occurs and sin enters the world (Genesis 3).  Therefore, would it not be the person who is ruled by God who is more in touch with their “human-ness”, with God’s original design?  As humans, we are reflections of God and to the degree that we show forth God in our lives, to that same degree we embrace our humanity.

If you are not convinced that our humanity is something precious, consider this:  when we were still lost in sin, God saw something of great worth to Him.  He saw the human, the person, He created us to be and He took action to save that which He created and loves.

The fact of the matter is that not all humans are Christians but all Christians are humans.  Our being human is not defined by having a sinful nature.  Rather, our sinful nature is like a parasite living in us which God wants to remove so that we can better pursue Him.  As Christians, we struggle against the sinful nature which seeks to maintain its hold over us.  It is only by God’s grace that we are able to gain ground against our sinful nature.  The more we rest in God’s grace and allow Him to be reflected in us, the more we embrace our humanity.  To answer our question of what is a human, we can say that it is something that reflects God’s image.

When we know what a human is, we can confidently answer Alucard’s question.  We can claim our humanity, not as an unfortunate circumstance, but as a gift from God.  When we claim our humanity, we reject the lie that we are our sin.  When we claim our humanity, we claim the blessing given to us by God which enables us to share in His work by reflecting His nature and image in the world.

Practical Questions:

  1. In what ways are we led to view humanity as evil or bad?
  2. How does our view of our humanity affect how we view others?
  3. How does our view of our humanity affect how we view ourselves?
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