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Systematic Theology 2. 2 of 12 in a series on Humanity, Sin, and the Identity of Christ.

September 10, 2017

Systematic Theology 2
(2 of 12 in a series on Humanity, Sin, and the Identity of Christ)

One of the things we mentioned last week is that the Bible actually provides for us a story line of history. We know where history began and where it’s going. The Bible’s story line has been summed up along four points: Creation – Fall – Redemption – New Creation.

Therefore, when we look at the doctrine of humanity – or what the Bible tells us about who we are as humans – I want us to start at the beginning, in creation.

We find the creation account in Genesis 1-2. The way it seems to work is that Genesis 1:1-2:3 is a general account of all creation. However, beginning in Genesis 2:4, we have a second part of the book beginning in which the author narrows the lens and focuses the reader on one particular area of creation as a dominant theme, namely, humanity. It’s as if humanity is lifted out of the creation account, held up, and emphasized so that we might understand that the storyline is going to revolve around humanity (as opposed to birds or plants, for example).

I also want to note that the Bible presents the creation of humanity as a historical reality. Some have suggested that Adam was not a real person. However, the rest of the Bible treats him so. His descendants down to Noah are listed in chapter 5, so that he is clearly the father of the human race, and Luke also traces Jesus’ genealogy back to Adam. Therefore, we have no more reason to doubt Adam’s historicity than we do that of Jesus. So, with that said, what does the creation account teach us about humanity? I want to note a few things.

Humanity is unique in creation and the crowning work of creation

There are numerous elements in the creation account that show that humanity is unique in creation and God’s crowning work among all of creation. Let me note a few:

1. The textual layout.

I’ve already noted this, but starting in 2:4 and going forward, Moses centers the creation narrative to focus on one element within creation, namely, humanity.

2. The space and detail given to humanity (as opposed to other created things) is great.

In God’s previous acts of creation, he had spoken and things came to be. But with humanity, God actions are more immediate. He gets his hands dirty, if you will. We read in Genesis 1:26-30, “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’ So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.’ And God said, ‘Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.’ And it was so.”

Now, the space dedicated to the creation of mankind alone says something is different here, but we can also see a number of unique elements. I’ll name a couple:

3. Humanity alone is created in the image and likeness of God.

We’re going to talk about this next week in more detail, so I don’t want to spend much time on it here. But I will note that mankind is creation in the image of the Triune God, unlike any other element in creation.

4. Humanity is created to exercise dominion over creation, to be over creation.

Man simply isn’t on par with the rest of creation. He is over it. He is given dominion, and the mere naming of the animals (2:20) shows Adam’s authority over the earth.

Now, this also means that man is to be treated with dignity in a way that the rest of creation isn’t. It is simply unbiblical to think of animals or plants as being equal to man. Man is given plants to eat. And after the flood, in Genesis 9:3, the Lord says, “Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you.” So, the animals are ours to eat.

But humanity is different than everything else. You simply cannot murder another human being because they are created (as opposed to all else in creation) in the very image of God. In Genesis 9:6, the Lord upholds the dignity of man by requiring the death sentence for one who murders another, saying, “Whoever sheds the blood of a man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.”

Now, let’s bring this in to our present day. We know that abortions are common and euthanasia is on the rise, but these are sinful actions the Bible speaks against. We simply do not have the right to murder another human being. They cannot be looked at as our property. Christians must be standing on the side of life in such matters. And it also means that there is a responsibility for individual Christians to care for unwanted children, orphans, widows, the sick, and the elderly. We simply don’t want our defense of life to ring hollow by our unwillingness to honor the dignity of mankind by caring for our fellow man who is easily discarded, unwanted, and under the threat of death.

Humanity is made to be dependent on God and responsible for our actions

Let me take the first part of this first. Though mankind is unique among creation and the crowning work of God’s creation, we are still created. And because we are the creature and not the Creator, we are made to be dependent on God. Of course that is obvious in our physical life. Apart from God enabling our heart to beat, lungs to breath, etc., we simply would die. Thus, Paul declares in Acts 17:24-25 and 28, “The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. … For, 'In him we live and move and have our being'; as even some of your own poets have said, 'For we are indeed his offspring.’” Also, we read in Colossians 1:17 that Christ is before all things and “in him all things hold together,” which necessarily includes our bodies. Therefore, we are utterly dependent on God for life.

But I want to note that this also means that we are dependent on God for our understanding. What I mean by that is that we are not made to think of the world outside of what God has told us. Let me give you an example of what I mean by that. When the serpent approached Eve in the garden, his goal was to get her to consider herself able to understand the world and make judgments of what is good and what is evil apart from what God had revealed to her. You see, as soon as the serpent began to question Eve, she should have recognized that she must be submissive to God’s word that had been given to her and her husband. Her first misstep into sin was that ever-so-brief moment when she thought she could rightly understand the world without regard to God’s revelation. And that sin has been repeated throughout history.

One of the times when this was strongly heralded by man in our pride was during the Enlightenment. As opposed to submitted our reason to the Bible, the Enlightenment saw that as man acting in immaturity. So, Kant writes, for example,

Enlightenment is man’s emergence from his self-imposed immaturity. Immaturity is the inability to use one’s understanding without the guidance of another. This immaturity is self-imposed when its cause lies not in lack of understanding but in lack of resolve and courage to use it without guidance from another. Sapere Aude! [dare to know] “Have courage to use your own understanding!” –that is the motto of enlightenment.

But he couldn’t be more wrong. Man is not made to try to think independently of God’s revelation. Maturity is most clearly seen when we recognize who we are, who God is, and bow the knee in submission to him. To argue that maturity is found in man trying to reason without submitting to God’s word is like calling a dog “mature” because it chooses to jump off the top of a house, thinking it can fly. So, we’re made to live in dependence on God and his revelation.

However, we’re also given commands and treated as responsible creatures. Though dependent on God, we were able to rebel against God, and indeed did so. And therefore, we were punished. Dependence doesn’t eliminate our responsibility. In fact, God will hold us responsible for not recognizing our dependency on him, should we fail to do so.

We should also note that:

God made a unity to the human race

All of humanity came from one man – Adam. We see this in Genesis 1 and following, and Paul reiterates it in Acts 17:26, saying, “And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place.”

Now, there is something to our development of culture or ethnicity among peoples, but “race” may not be the best way to talk about this. What this means, biologically speaking, is that Adam and Eve’s gene pool was so rich as to be able to produce all the variety that we find in our world concerning height, build, skin color, eye color, hair color, etc. For this reason, the idea of looking down on a person for skin color (as has been done in American history), not treating another human being as equal to oneself, is as arbitrary as deciding all people with blonde hair are lesser. We are merely (and senselessly) choosing one genetic difference to focus on. As Christians, we should be leading the way in representing a heart that hates racism.

Creation points mankind to the kind of relationship we’re to have with the Lord – “rest”

The idea of “rest” becomes a big theme throughout the storyline of the Bible. At the end of the days of creation, we read this in Genesis 2:2-3, “And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.”

Now, there is something interesting about this day. If you go back and look at all the other days of creation, you find a repeated pattern. We see it, for example, at the end of 1:31, “And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.” You see, the seventh day was not simply like the other six days. It did not have a recorded ending. And I think it’s because this state of “rest” is actually descriptive of the kind of relationship that man was to have with God that was lost because of sin. This state of rest is seen as God’s people dwell in goodness, in God’s good world, with God as their king, and without sin. And I say that because of how this theme is developed throughout the rest of the Bible’s storyline.

First, we all know that this state of rest did not last long. In Genesis 3, Adam and Eve sinned, and this state of rest was disrupted and lost. And, it’s fair to say that the story of redemption is a story of how we might return to this rest. How do we get back to a state of living under God’s rule, rightly exercising the role God has given us, in God’s world, without our enemies being a thorn in our side?

When God sets up the Sabbath command and promises to bring the people into their land, these become shadows and types of this hoped for reality. Therefore, when the people in Numbers 13-14 fail to enter the land, they are described as failing to enter God’s rest. Thus, David writes in Psalm 95:7-11, ““Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, on the day of testing in the wilderness, where your fathers put me to the test and saw my works for forty years. Therefore I was provoked with that generation and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart; they have not known my ways.’ As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest.”

But someone might say, “Yeah, but Joshua led them into the land and they did achieve rest.” So we read in Joshua 21:43-45 – “Thus the LORD gave to Israel all the land that he swore to give to their fathers. And they took possession of it, and they settled there. And the LORD gave them rest on every side just as he had sworn to their fathers. Not one of all their enemies had withstood them, for the LORD had given all their enemies into their hands. Not one word of all the good promises that the LORD had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass”

However, the author of Hebrews argues that Joshua did not lead them into God’s true rest. If he had, David wouldn’t be talking about rest so long afterward in Psalm 95. The author of Hebrews writes, “For he has somewhere spoken of the seventh day in this way: ‘And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.’ And again in this passage he said, ‘They shall not enter my rest.” Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, again he appoints a certain day, ‘Today,’ saying through David so long afterward in the words already quoted, ‘Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.’ For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on. So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from him. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience” (4:4-11).

And this rest is both achieved in a sense when we come to Christ, which is why Jesus declares, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30). This isn’t Jesus just coming into the Near East in the first century and thinking, “Man, everyone sure is tired.” He’s picking up on this state of relationship with God that is first pictured on the seventh day in the garden, a rest that was forfeited with the fall.

This is why the author of Hebrews pleads with these early believers to continue to trust in Christ so that they might enter this promised rest. He starts in 4:1, saying, “Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it.” Then, after making his argument for how rest develops through the canon, he writes in 4:11, “Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.”

What we were made for and longing for as God’s people is to walk in perfect harmony with God, dwelling in and reigning over his perfect world, without sin and within enemies, bringing perfect glory and honor to our Lord. And that will one day be the reality for every human who places his or her faith in the crucified and risen Lord.

So, let us fight sin, believe, persevere, and take this message of hope to the nations. Amen.