STUDY ONE: THE BIBLICAL VIEW OF MAN
© Rosemary Bardsley 2006, 2016
Until the middle of the twentieth century most Australians, irrespective of whether they personally acknowledged God, lived with a consciousness that he was there. But from the 1960’s onwards, our society has increasingly embraced ideas which originate in the godless mindset of secular humanism and evolutionism. This fundamental rejection of God as creator has seriously impacted ethical issues centring on the sanctity of human life.
As Christians we need to reclaim the Biblical view of man, grounded in God’s creation of man in his image. This study calls us back to that focus.
PART ONE: THE CREATION FACTOR
A. THE VALUE OF THE HUMAN
The fact of creation by God gives value and purpose to everything, including human life.
Read these verses. Study what they teach, and identify the high value they put on all human beings.
1 Corinthians 8:6
These verses teach us that human beings are:
Created by God
Sustained by God
Created for God
This puts extreme value on the human. The other human being, our neighbour, was created, not for us to use and abuse according to our mood and our purposes, but for God and for his purpose. Every human being is God’s possession and God’s property by virtue of creation.
It could be argued here that it is not only humans, but all of God’s creation, which derives significance and value from creation by God. This leads us on to the second point:
B. THE UNIQUE DIGNITY OF THE HUMAN
When God created human beings he gave them a specific identity which distinguished them from everything else he created.
Read Genesis 1:26,27. Write out the three ways this specific identity is expressed in these verses.
This identity, this being created ‘in the image of God’, gives to human beings a unique value and a unique responsibility. It gives to human beings a significance, a dignity and a role which nothing else can achieve or fulfil, and puts a heavy boundary around the way we view and treat one another. This fact of creation in the image of God is vitally important in our understanding of what the Bible teaches about the sanctity of human life.
B.1 The human being was created with the ability, role and responsibility to reflect the being and nature of God
Creation in the image of God, means that the human creature, distinct from all other creatures, was created with the capacity for godliness [= ‘God-like-ness’]. The human person, our neighbour, our marriage partner, our child, our enemy, was created with the ability, the role and the responsibility, not to be God, but to express the likeness, the reflection, the qualities, of the nature of God.
This identity as God’s image-bearers gives an awesome dignity to the human being, and holds each one of us accountable to God for the way we treat our fellow human beings. He does not allow us to treat his image-bearers with contempt or disrespect.
Read the verses below. Discuss their significance for our attitudes to and treatment of other human beings. [Note that in the Matthew passages Jesus looks behind murder to the emotions and attitudes which give birth to murder, including these also under the judgment of Genesis 9:6.]
B.2 Creation in the image of God identifies humans as moral and spiritual beings
Secular humanism and evolutionism, while appearing to honour human life, have actually, by their godless presuppositions, robbed human life of its uniqueness and its specialness, generating the perception that human life is no more than the material, physical stuff that we can feel and see, the chance result of evolutionary processes, of no more value than any other life form. Individual human life is becoming more and more disposable.
But the Bible endows human life, and only human life, with personality and eternality. We were created to live in a specific relationship with God in which we image his being. This relationship indicates both unique personhood, and moral responsibility.
B.3 Creation in the image of God assumes a relationship of dependence on God
An image has no significance in and of itself. It is dependent for its existence and its glory on the existence and the glory of that which it images or reflects.
The human being was created in an uninhibited, positive, face-to-face relationship with God. Only in such a relationship with God can the image of God be expressed by the human being. Only in this relationship of dependence on God can the human being maximize his/her God-given potential as human.
What does this teach us about our attitudes to other human beings?
That I, as a person created in the image of God, can only be truly and fully human as I live in positive, face-to-face relationship with God, dependent on him for my being, my significance and my glory. I will not seek my significance and my glory, or the meaning of my life, from another human being, for that would be to put him/her in the place of God, a role that it would be impossible for him/her to fulfil.
That I will recognize that my neighbour is a person created in the image of God, a person whose significance and glory come not from me, nor from him/herself, but from God alone, and who will find his/her fulfilment as a human being in God alone; so I will not presume to usurp or demand the place of God in his/her life.
B.4 Man’s unique standing in the natural world
A further indication of human dignity is identified in the role God ordained for humans – that of dominion over the rest of creation.
John Stott comments:
‘Our third distinctive quality as humans is our relationship to the earth and its creatures. God has given us dominion, with instructions to subdue and cultivate the fruitful earth, and rule its creatures. … we may sum up what is meant by human dignity in these three ways: our relationship to God … our relationship to each other … and our relationship to the earth.’ [p155 Issues Facing Christians Today ]
PART TWO: THE SIN FACTOR – GENESIS 3
In Genesis 2:17 God confronted man with one prohibition. The existence of this prohibition is an essential companion of creation in the image of God. It distinguishes man from:
 the inanimate creation, which functions in a mechanical manner,
 the non-human animate creation, which functions by programmed instincts.
Created in God’s image, man had the freedom to act by choice, within the realms of what is possible. This freedom included the freedom to obey and the freedom to disobey. Here in this command man, created in a relationship of communion with God, is asked to live in the reality of that relationship by choice. To love and obey God by choice.
When we ask the question ‘Why did God create Adam with the ability to disobey, that is, to sin?’ we are in effect stating that we wish God had made us without the ability to choose, without the freedom to choose. We are wishing that he had made us either like the animals or like the inanimate creation: pre-programmed or predetermined. We would then have been less than human, less than the image of God.
God did not create us sinners. But in creating us free, unprogrammed, undetermined creatures he creates us with the ability, the possibility, to sin. Nor did God create sin. But in giving the word of prohibition ‘but you must not eat ...’ God implied by this prohibition and exclusion that sin was possible. God did not create suffering. But by stating the consequences of sin – ‘you will surely die’ – he revealed that suffering was possible, and that it would happen, if we chose disobedience.
Let us note that sin had no independent existence or reality of its own: it existed only as a possibility dependent on our choosing to disobey the word of God. Sin – our disobedience to the divine command, our refusal of the fundamental creature-Creator distinction and roles, our refusal to love God – is something to which God said “No.’ So also are all the flow-on effects of sin.
Genesis 3 records our rejection of the creature-Creator relationship that is taught in Genesis 1 and 2. In response to Satan’s deceptive suggestions the first humans exchanged
Obedience to God for disobedience.
Dependence on God for independence from God.
Submission to God’s word for rebellion against God’s word.
A God-centred life for a man-centred life.
Belief for unbelief.
Trusting God for trusting oneself.
The truth for a lie.
Life for death.
The impact of this choice is catastrophic.
For the Bible’s teaching on our personal involvement in this choice, this exchange and this impact read Romans 5:12-21 and 1Corinthians 15:21-22.
A. THE KNOWLEDGE OF GOOD AND EVIL [Genesis 2:17; 3:5]
God’s prohibition of eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was a prohibition with our well-being in mind. This is obvious from the stated consequence ‘you will surely die’. Satan, however, deceived Eve into thinking that God was withholding something good and desirable, that God’s prohibition stemmed from mean and selfish motives in God [3:5]. The tree itself was insignificant, God could have said ‘Don’t do this’ or ‘Don’t do that’ and whatever he prohibited would have been the focus of the ‘knowledge of good and evil’, for the ‘knowledge of good and the evil’ consisted in our rejection of God’s word. Disobedience to the word of God, rejection of the authority of God, catapulted Adam and Eve into an experiential knowledge of evil and of the distinction between good and evil. Having disobeyed the command, having refused to love God, attempting by their choice to exist independently of God and his Word, they now know by immediate experience what ‘evil’ is: it is, in essence, disconnection from God. This experiential knowledge of evil [of sin and suffering] has characterized human life and human relationships ever since.
B. DEATH AND DIVISION [Genesis 2.17; 3:7-13]
God warned in 2:17 that ‘death’ would surely come on the heels of disobedience. By this word ‘death’, as we will see below, are included all forms and levels of suffering and separation.
B.1 Death and division within [Read Genesis 3:7]
Satan had promised ‘your eyes will be opened’ [3:5], and indeed they were. But not to a better perception. The ‘knowledge of good and evil’ he promised brought a destructive self-awareness within the individual that tortures and fractures people right up to the present. Our rejection of God and his command brought a death and a division within our own being. We are our own worst enemy. We consistently embrace self-destructive thought patterns. We live with a sense of self-rejection and a self-focused fear of rejection by others. Even in our pride there is a constant necessity to promote ourselves. We are riddled with psychological problems.
Make a list of ways in which this destructive self-awareness commonly manifests itself today within the hearts and minds of individuals. [One is listed to start you off].
Reflect on how these expressions of inner death – alienation, fragility and fragmentation within our self - interfere in human relationships.
B. 2 Death and division in interpersonal relationships [3:7,12]
Accompanying this separation between man and his own being is a parallel separation between man and his fellow man. The relationship of peace and unity and mutual acceptance that characterized the relationship between Adam and Eve in 2:25 is shattered. Their now destructive self-awareness translates into a destructive awareness of, and vulnerability in the presence of, the other and the other’s opinion. Their inner shame and division has automatically created a division between them, separating them from each other. They now feel compelled to protect, defend, preserve and justify themselves, even if it means further severance and disconnection from the other. Instead of peacefully fulfilling their God-given role of imaging him they now, having chosen life cut off from God, live cut off from each other, with the perceived necessity of presenting, promoting, protecting and preserving their own image.
Although it is not mentioned in Genesis 3 we can legitimately conclude that the divisive, destructive attitudes expressed there inevitably generate fear between human beings. This conclusion is validated by both history and experience. In modern terminology these expressions of this death of the interpersonal relationship, if persistent, are labelled in the category of emotional and verbal abuse. It is only one step from these to physical abuse, assault and murder.
[A second factor in relation to fear, is that the above expressions of death and division both within the individual and in interpersonal relationships are generated by fear. This primary fear is the fear of loss of identity – and it is in fact a valid fear in man severed from God, for in rejecting God we have actually rejected our fundamental identity as his image-bearers and as his dependent creatures.]
B.3 Death and division between man and God [3:8-13]
In this point we come to the most significant impact of our fall into sin: separation from God. It is this disconnection that automatically generates the other disconnections. We were created to live in relationship with God and dependence on God; we can only fulfil our God-given identity in face to face relationship with God. To try to live in independence from God, which we sought in our disobedience of the 2:17 command, is to try to live as humans severed from the very source and meaning of our existence as humans. It is to reach for an impossibility.
The life lived by every human being since Genesis 3 is not human life. The caution of 2:17 ‘you will surely die’ tells us that this ‘life’ in which we survive as humans beyond our choice to separate from God, is actually ‘death’.
This fact of our existence as ‘death’ is verified by the gospel promises that in union with Christ we gain ‘life’ or ‘eternal life’, and by the gospel statements about regeneration or being ‘born again’.
The choices made in Genesis 3:1-6 separated man from God: they constitute a rejection of God and his word, a turning away from a dependent, trusting, face-to-face relationship with God. In this rebellion man becomes severed from his source, his sustenance, his purpose/goal and his identity as human. The resultant isolation, exposure, disorientation and alienation are expressions of this ‘death’.
Alone, cast adrift by his own choice, he who was made for relationship with God and with his neighbour, now, as well as the inner and relational severances noted above, also experiences:
Fear in the presence of God [3:8,10]
Guilt in the presence of God [3:8.10]
Separation from God [3:8,10].
C. PRACTICAL IMPLICATIONS OF THIS DEATH AND DIVISION
This distorted human being defined in Genesis 3 is the identity of every human being from Genesis 3 onwards. About this human being, now perceived as ‘normal’, but actually far removed from the human being God created, we can say:
The essential value and dignity of the human being remains unchanged: these are retained by virtue of creation. However, because of the Sin Factor human beings frequently fail to treat one another [and themselves] with value and dignity.
Creation as the image of God continues to give significance to human beings over and above the rest of creation [the prohibition of murder in Genesis 9:6 is grounded on the image of God]. However, as long as we are in rebellion against God we will not and cannot image his character, we will not and cannot reflect his likeness.
The equality and unity which we saw in Genesis 1 and 2, are also essentially retained, but because of the Sin Factor their practical recognition in daily life has been destroyed and replaced by rivalry and division.
The violence and the destruction of human life that we see in contemporary society are expressions of this innate fear and lostness of human beings. The self-centred fear that motivated Adam to shift the blame from himself to Eve in order to protect and preserve himself is that same self-centredness that generates mistreatment of human beings today. Separation from God, perceived independence from God, while superficially seeming to give man more significance, has actually robbed him of the knowledge of his true identity and sacredness.
It is this sin factor, not the creation factor, nor the incarnation or redemption factors, that has produced the issues raised in this module.
PART THREE: THE INCARNATION FACTOR
The real incarnation of God has significant implications for the question of the sanctity of human life.
‘Sanctity’ means ‘sacredness’, ‘right to reverence’, ‘inviolability’. Something set apart from all else, something that ought not to be treated as common.
In the incarnation – in which the eternal, spirit God became finite, material man – we find the greatest affirmation of the sanctity of human life. It was human life that God took upon himself. It was human life that the incarnate God came to save.
A. HUMAN LIFE OF THE UNBORN
The incarnation testifies to the real human life of the unborn.
Read these scriptures. What do they reveal about the real human life of the unborn?
From these references we understand that the unborn child in Mary’s womb, is from his ‘conception’ the result of the special operation of the Holy Spirit, and is acknowledged as the Son of God and the Lord. The spontaneous response of the foetal John in the presence of the first trimester embryonic Jesus is also instructive.
Human life is clearly evident in the womb.
B. AFFIRMATION OF HUMAN LIFE
The incarnation affirms the sanctity of human life in other ways:
B.1 God did not despise a real human body
Jesus Christ was incarnate in a real human body, with a real human life. It was part of his mission that he should live an authentic human life in order to qualify  as our substitute in his death and  as our intermediary great High Priest. [See Hebrews 2:10-18; 4:14-16]. Thus the incarnation affirms the great dignity of human life: real human flesh, a real human life, held within it the eternal God.
[This real human life of Jesus Christ is the original offence of the Gospel.]
B.2 Jesus affirmed the sanctity of human life by his attitude to human beings
The dignity of all human life, including human life that was despised or rejected by men, was affirmed by Jesus:
He affirmed the life of little children [Mark 10:13-16]
He affirmed the life of women [Luke 7:36-50]
He affirmed the life of the disabled [John 9:1-38]
He affirmed the life of the poor [Mark 12:41-44]
He affirmed the life of the socially ostracised [Luke 5:12-14]
He affirmed the life of those who were a burden to others [Luke 16:19-31]
He affirmed the life of the ‘insane’ [Mark 5:1-20]
This is not to say that Jesus affirmed the lifestyle of any of these, but that he affirmed their life – their existence as human beings – as something of value and dignity precisely because it is human life.
B.3 Jesus affirmed the sanctity of human life by his teaching
As we have already seen, Jesus forbade attitudes and actions towards humans that denied the sanctity of human life. All humans – because they are humans - are to be treated with respect and dignity.
PART FOUR: THE REDEMPTION FACTOR
From the Redemption Factor we learn of the immeasurable love that God has for human beings. God so loved … that he gave his only Son [John 3:16]; God has demonstrated his love for us, in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us [Romans 5:8]; God showed his love to us by sending his only Son into the world so that through him we can live [1 John 4:9].
Human beings are the objects of God's love … a love that defies description and which is beyond measure.
‘I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge …‘ [Ephesians 3:18,18].
This human being with whom I relate is loved by the Almighty God. Immediately we understand this, it puts a boundary around our treatment of him/her. God loves him. God loves her.
From the Redemption Factor we also learn that the death of Jesus Christ, by which we are redeemed, regenerated and reconciled to God, endows the human person with enormous value or preciousness in the eyes of God, even if that person has not embraced this incredible gift. For those who have received this gift the significance is immense, the endowed value magnified, the preciousness as immeasurable as God’s love, and we all do well to think hard and long about this significance and value: that my human neighbour belongs to God, and is precious to God, not only by virtue of creation, and creation in the image of God, but also by virtue of the death of Christ – by virtue of salvation.
The human being who is a Christian, is redeemed by God, bought back to be his very own, by the death of his beloved Son. Who am I that I can use, misuse or abuse a human being who is that precious to God?
In addition to this immeasurable value bestowed by the death of Christ, the Redemption Factor also, by demonstrating foundational life principles of grace and forgiveness, establishes a well-defined boundary around our attitudes, speech and actions towards our neighbours.
If we deny the Creation Factor we rob ourselves of:
Our value and dignity as humans
Our human uniqueness
Our human meaning and purpose.
This is because, as RC Sproul points out, our human dignity is never intrinsic, but always and only extrinsic – a derived dignity, a derived sanctity.
‘I believe people do have dignity. But – this is my point – they do not have intrinsic dignity.
‘What is intrinsic dignity? Intrinsic dignity is that which is eternally built into the very nature of the entity itself. We do not have that, and I am going to tell you why. And, at the same time, I am going to try to explain why I believe that people do have dignity. …
‘ … when God created the universe, he assigned a glory to the stars, and a glory to the moon, and a glory to the sun, and a glory to the man, and a glory to the woman. If we look carefully at the meaning of that word glory (kabod in the Old Testament, doxa in the New Testament) we see that its root meaning is “heaviness”. This is the foundational concept from which the Latin term, dignitas, from which we get our word dignity, is derived. When we talk about human dignity, we are saying that human beings have dignity, value or significance because there is something weighty about them.
‘ … God … says that there is a weightiness to being human, because he assigns value, significance, or weight to human life. You and I do not have intrinsic dignity. There is only One who possesses that eternal weight of glory in himself, One alone who is intrinsically kabod. Nevertheless, on the very first page of our Bibles, this uniquely glorious God says, “I’ll make a man in my own image. I’ll stoop down to the dirt, form it, and breathe a bit of my life into it.” So God did. That worthless bit of dust, which had no intrinsic dignity belonging to itself whatsoever, became – the Scriptures tell us – “a living being.” That lifeless bit of mud began to move, throb, think, choose, act, care and love – all because God stamped it with himself.
‘Our dignity is extrinsic. It is derived, dependent, contingent. Yet is very, very real.’
From The Christian and the Sanctity of Life by R.C. Sproul, in Transforming our World, Ed. James M Boice.
We also rob ourselves of all constant grounds for ethical and moral absolutes.
‘If man is not made in the image of God, nothing then stands in the way of inhumanity. There is no good reason why mankind should be perceived as special. Human life is cheapened. We can see this in many of the major issues being debated today: abortion, infanticide, euthanasia, the increase of child abuse and violence of all kinds, pornography (and its particular kinds of violence as evidenced in sadomasochism), the routine torture of political prisoners in many parts of the world, the crime explosion, and the random violence which surrounds us.
‘In communist countries, where materialism and humanistic thinking have been dominant for over several generations, a low view of people has been standard for years. This is apparent not only in the early legislation about abortion but also in the thousands of political prisoners who have been systematically oppressed, tortured, and killed as part of the very fabric of communism. Now, however, as humanism dominates the West, we have a low view of mankind in the West as well.' [p290-291 Whatever Happened to the Human Race?]
If we deny the Incarnation Factor we are left without this divine demonstration and affirmation of human life.
If we deny the Redemption Factor we lose sight of the immense and overwhelming love God has for human beings and how infinitely precious human beings are to God. We are also robbed of this supreme model of self-denial and self-sacrifice for the good and for the life of the other.
All that remains is the reality of the Sin Factor – with a perception of ‘normal’ human life that is twisted and tortured, where the norm is a dog-eat-dog struggle for survival, in which human life is expendable, without meaning and without purpose.