1. Human Nature
What makes someone human? This question starts us on the journey toward understanding our identity in Christ. We are called to Christ as human beings, so we must understand the fundamental purpose of human beings. This session explores God’s purpose in creating humankind. What binds us all together?
In future sessions, we’ll discuss aspects of our identity that are “earthly.” Our earthly identity includes those traits that all of humankind—both believers and nonbelievers—possess. After that, we’ll examine aspects of our identity that are entirely “heavenly” —characteristics we have because we’ve trusted in Christ.
For now, though, what do we share in common as human beings?
- Individual Aim: To identify universal characteristics of human nature from chapters 1–2 of the book of Genesis.
- Group Aim: To gain a greater understanding of human nature and its effects on human experiences.
Complete Biblical Exercise: Genesis 1–2 beginning on page 20.
Read Session 1: Human Nature.
Read the first two chapters of Genesis. Also, read “A Method for the Biblical Exercises” beginning on page 17.
Observation — “What Do I See?”
1. Who are the persons (including God) in the passage? What is the condition of those persons?
2. What are they saying or doing? (Look especially for statements or actions that are emphasized, repeated, related, alike, unalike, or true to life.)
3. When did this take place?
4. Where did this take place?
5. Why did it happen?
- What changed between the beginning and the end of chapter 1?
- What changed between the beginning and the end of chapter 2?
Interpretation Phase 1 — “What Did It Mean Then?”
1. Coming to Terms —Are there any words in the passage that youdon’t understand? Write down anything you found confusing about the passage.
2. Finding Where It Fits—What clues does the Bible give about the meaning of this passage?
- Immediate Context (the passage being studied)
- Remote Context (passages that come before and after the one being studied)
3. Getting into Their Sandals—An Exercise in Imagination (Focus on Genesis 2 for this exercise.)
- How did it look?
- How did it sound?
- How did it smell?
- How did it feel?
- How did it taste?
Interpretation Phase 2 — “What Does It Mean Now?”
1. What is the timeless truth in the passage? In one or two sentences, write down what you learned about God from Genesis 1–2.
2. How does that truth work today?
Application — “What Can I Do to Make This Truth Real?”
1. What can I do to make this truth real for myself?
2. For my family?
3. For my friends?
4. For the people who live near me?
5. For the rest of the world?
“What am I doing here?” For those who believe in the one God of the Bible, the answer is found in the book of Genesis. Its first two chapters describe how God made humans and their world. Debates about the process by which God made the universe can become heated. However, the main topic of the chapters is God’s purpose in creating the world. The central figures are God and the human species. What we want to focus on in this session is the fundamental purpose of human beings. This session is not intended to address evolutionism and creationism. Rather, it centers on identifying God’s purpose for creating humankind.
Genesis 1 describes creation in a pattern involving two purposes: ruling and multiplying. God created the sun, moon, and stars to rule impersonally over the earth. He created the animals to multiply on the earth. Humans, however, were created to both multiply and rule over creation. Obviously, our form of ruling over the earth is different from that of the sun, moon, and stars. Genesis 2 further explains that distinction by narrowing the lens to the creation of Adam and Eve.
This chapter adds a new element to the creation of humans: relationship. The heavenly bodies rule over the earth without personal relationships.
They have no sense of personhood. However, God gives to humankind the capacity of relationship, both with the Creator and with one another. Relationship involves the abilities to reason and to communicate through language.
After making these observations, we must interpret the passage’s meaning. First, from God’s actions in these chapters, what do we learn about Him?
- God is a God of order. (Creation is a process.)
- God is eternal. (As Creator He preexists all that is created.)
- God is omnipotent (all-powerful).
- God is sovereign. (He holds absolute authority.)
- God is relational. (He created humans to be in relationship with Him and with each other.)
- God creates with purpose (sun and moon to rule, birds and fish to multiply, mankind to multiply and rule).
- God alone is God—there is no other. (He is the Creator; no other god precedes Him.)
- Next, what do we learn about ourselves?
- We are significant (made by God, made in His image, highest of earthly creatures).
- We are created to rule the earth, not to be ruled by it. (We have work to do; we have purpose; we have responsibility.)
- We were created to be dependent upon the earth (given plants to eat).
- We are dependent upon God. (He gave us life; He gives us food to stay alive.)
What are the implications for us? First, every human has a broad purpose from the Creator God. We all share this universal aspect of our identity: We are to multiply and rule relationally. God intentionally created Adam with a relational nature. God saw Adam alone and said, “It is not good” (Genesis 2:18). Because we all share this relational nature, we must be designed to work together. Each person was not given his or her own “earth” to govern. Instead, we are all designed to rule, but to rule together as peers. No human has a right to rule in an absolute manner over any other. Hierarchy among human beings may be necessary for a purpose and even ordained by God in a particular context (such as parental authority over children and governing officials over citizens), but there is no indication in Genesis or elsewhere that one person has absolute authority over another. There is no class of humans that is above or below the others.
Second, God is in the business of bringing order out of chaos. From the formless mass He created an ordered universe. Likewise, part of the image of God in us is to bring order out of chaos. Rulers make judgments about what should be done. They choose between options on moral bases. The heavenly bodies are animated by fixed laws of nature. But humans are able to make choices based on moral judgment. They are not completely at the mercy of their environment but can order and change their environment.
Third, God made “male” and “female” in His own image. Humans were created to be an image or visible expression of God’s nature. Obviously, God’s image in humankind is limited. It’s not a replication of Him, like some sort of clone. Rather, men and women were created to display on earth a physically present image of its Creator. And because both Adam and Eve were created with this image, it’s clear that men and women both were designed to glorify their Creator.
So we see three aspects of human nature:
- Humankind was created to have a shared purpose of ruling over the earth in cooperation with one another and mutual submission to God’s authority (see Genesis 1:26-28).
- Humankind was created to order our own lives and the earth in accordance with moral imperatives (see Genesis 2:15-17). God designed humans to live in obedience to His commands.
- Humankind was created to reflect the Creator’s nature and glory (see Genesis 1:27; Exodus 34:29-35).
Human identity is grounded in God’s design: We are to be mutually submissive to God’s authority, rule over our lives and the earth with moral judgment, and display His image to the physical world. This insight gives Christians a distinctive view of the dignity of all human beings. Regardless of our circumstances, our lives have purpose. Our purpose depends not on what we do (for instance, our jobs) but on how we do what we do, as we will see in “Session 2: Roles.”
Read Session 2: Roles.
Read Life Inventory: Introduction on page 89.
Complete the Life Inventory: Roles exercise beginning on page 91.
Related Topics: Man (Anthropology)