Which of the world’s scholars can answer this age-old question? The meaning of human life eludes the brightest minds but comes to those who believe the Bible.
The 20th century saw the detonation of a knowledge bomb, and the explosion has been felt ever since.
But for all the information that became available, what source gives a satisfying answer to the question, What is man? What is humanity’s potential and purpose?
There are certainly ideas out there, and no shortage of them, for that matter. But honestly ask yourself, Do any of these ideas even begin to quench my thirst for the knowledge of who I am and what I am?
Understanding man requires we first understand God
The account of creation in Genesis is familiar to many of us, but hidden in this beloved record of history is the first of many hints that there is more to man than what meets the eye.
Interestingly, one clue is found in the fourth word of the Bible, “God,” which appears over 30 times in the first chapter of Genesis alone. It’s translated from the Hebrew Elohim, a word with a plural ending. The concept of God being a plurality is clearly found with the creation of man. “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness,” not “Let Me make man in My image” (Genesis 1:26, emphasis added throughout).
In fact, when we connect this scripture to the apostle John’s opening words in his Gospel, we learn that the “Us” in Genesis refers to two distinct personalities—whom John calls “the Word” and “God” (John 1:1). They were coexistent—both present at creation, both God.
John clarifies Their identities a few verses into his account: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father” (verse 14). In other words, the Word became the Son—Jesus Christ—and the other personality was the Father.
In their titles—Son and Father—we learn something important about God.
God, it turns out, is a family.
Why God created humanity
Understanding God as a family—the divine family—is at the heart of the gospel message and the answer to the question, What is man?
The pages of the Bible tell us that God the Father’s unalterable will is to expand the divine family through human beings.
Few grasp this grand and breathtaking reality—God is going to build His family by changing man from physical to spiritual.Man is the way God makes His plan possible, as we will see.
His work can be summarized by this powerful statement from the book of Hebrews: “For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings” (Hebrews 2:10).
Man’s identity is intimately tied to God’s purpose for creating us. But how will this process be accomplished?
God did not finish man’s creation
But while the similarities between man and God abound, so do the differences. Chief among those differences is the fact that we are made of flesh and blood. Man is mortal, and does not have immortal life in him. God, on the other hand, is Spirit (John 4:24), immortal and eternal.
It’s not that mankind was the product of some kind of failed experiment. God knew what He was doing when He took the dust of the ground to create man as an image of Himself.
It was an act that the apostle Paul came to realize had profound implications: “The spiritual is not first, but the natural, and afterward the spiritual” (1 Corinthians 15:46).
That is to say, man is only the first stage in a two-part process of creation. God’s intention has always been that man eventually transcend the human family and become part of the God family—go from having a physical nature to having a spiritual one.
Far from being an end point, the creation described in Genesis is just the beginning of an ongoing operation. It is an operation that, when completed, will see mankind become fully like His Creator instead of only partially like Him (1 John 3:2).
Job actually hints at this mind-boggling truth. “If a man dies, shall he live again?” Job asked God (Job 14:14). “All the days of my hard service I will wait, till my change comes. You shall call, and I will answer You; You shall desire the work of Your hands” (verse 15).
The Creator is still creating. The “work of [His] hands” refers to those He is preparing to welcome into His divine family. The “change” that they, and Job, are awaiting is the transformation of the “natural body”—the physical one—into a “spiritual body” in a resurrection to eternal life (1 Corinthians 15:44).
Few grasp this grand and breathtaking reality—God is going to build His family by changing man from physical to spiritual.
The only One at this point to have personally seen the end of this process is Jesus Christ, who is called “the firstborn among many brethren” (Romans 8:29). He was the pioneer, the trailblazer. Through His death and resurrection, He modeled the way that mankind will one day enter into the divine family.
How will God complete man’s creation?
Man is incomplete, awaiting a change. But the change from physical to spiritual, from temporary to eternal, must first be preceded by another kind of change.
God’s family is a close-knit group. An essential requirement for entering the God family is oneness with Him—being in unity with God. Notice what Jesus prayed to the Father concerning His followers: “That they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us” (John 17:21).
In other words, Jesus wants His followers to have the same mind, the same worldview, the same approach to life. He wants us to have the same character that He and the Father have. God will not grant someone the change in the resurrection, unless he or she first undergoes a change of character (John 17:21; Romans 12:2). This is the second part of man’s creation.
However, when it comes to character, unconverted man is like a smeared canvas with dark strokes and errant lines. Man’s character is wicked, 180 degrees different from his Creator’s (Colossians 3:1-10).
If God were to leave mankind alone in the arena of character building, failure would be a foregone conclusion. So, God initiates the second stage of man’s creation by granting His Spirit to him.
Pentecost and the gift of the Holy Spirit
The apostle Peter proclaimed this second stage of man’s creation on the momentous Feast of Pentecost. To those who were “cut to the heart” by recognizing their sins and lack of godly character, he said:
“Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38).
This gift is the essential missing piece that allows us to become like God.
Becoming “a new creation”
The Holy Spirit is God’s power, the guiding force that helps an individual develop God’s very mind and character (1 Corinthians 2:13-16). When an individual receives the Spirit, he or she becomes “a new creation” in Christ—a unique project that God commits to finishing (2 Corinthians 5:17; Philippians 1:6).
The receipt of the Holy Spirit guarantees the resurrection—the change from physical to spiritual—so long as the one in whom God’s character is being developed continually yields to Him (Ephesians 1:13-18; Colossians 1:21-23).
For more information on whether salvation is guaranteed, see our online article “Once Saved, Are You Always Saved?”
Yield to the Master Potter
Notice what Isaiah said: “But now, O LORD, You are our Father; we are the clay, and You our potter; and all we are the work of Your hand” (Isaiah 64:8). Notice as well: “Shall the clay say to him who forms it, ‘What are you making?’ or shall your handiwork say, ‘He has no hands’?” (Isaiah 45:9).
In other words, man will fail this stage of his creation if he resists the transformation God is facilitating through His Spirit. God is the sculptor, fashioning and molding our character until it resembles His own, as we desire and submit.
We are not born with the kind of character needed to be in God’s family. Character is not predetermined. Character involves our choosing, our willingness to be led by God’s Spirit in the face of pressure or temptation.
Only after this second stage of testing, refining and finishing will God allow someone to become a part of His family.
An answer only few realize
What is man? The answer is elusive to many because they do not consult the Creator’s book of answers—the Bible. The satisfying answer to the age-old question is that humanity is part of God’s ongoing creation to bring more children into His family.
It’s not something God has chosen to do by fiat, but through a cooperative process that involves humans that are being led by the power of His Spirit.
The hopeful and inspiring vision of the end of that creation is what we Christians today should cling to as we wait for our change.