Good News & Bad News About Human Identity
by Rick Shrader
There are some things about which the Bible speaks clearly and one of those is the makeup of human beings. Yet it is amazing how far away from the plain language of the Bible our society has moved within one generation. In my youth it was risky enough to refer to homosexuals or lesbians rather than men and women. We would not even say the word sex in public and terms such as bi-sexual were a strange anomaly. Now we learn that “sex” only refers to biology but “gender” refers to however a person (I think we can still use that term with some certainty) feels about one’s identification in the world of anything-goes identities. In the 80s the acronym LGB (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual) became popular in an attempt to lessen the embarrassment of the categories. In the 90s it became LGBT, adding Transgender to the list, and now Q is added, obviously referring to queer or sometimes questioning. On a website that offered a list of terms now used, the title had LGBTQ+ because it listed over 50 gender identities, any of which a person may claim as one’s own and for which one may also rightly claim to be slandered. Today one may claim androgyny, binary, cisgender, pansexual, transgender, and even two-spirit gender! In our schools and public places, any offense given to someone who claims one of these, could end in accusations and even lawsuits.
Is all of this important? Well, I think it is and that it may partly determine how the government looks at the church, and sooner than we think. In a Weekly Standard article, writer Jonathan Last titled his article on this subject, “You Will Be Assimilated.” He summarized the growing problem this way,
All of which is a very long way of saying that whatever the Supreme Court rules in the coming weeks in Obergefell v. Hodges, the same-sex marriage campaign is far from over. It hasn’t even reached the point of consolidating its gains. Rather, it is still in its aggressive expansion phase. Next up on the docket are transgender rights . . . and polyamory. Then the push to bring religious organizations—schools, charities, and para-church groups—to heel will intensify. Already, Catholic Charities has been driven out of adoption and foster care in places like Illinois, Massachusetts, and the District of Columbia because that organization doesn’t place children in same-sex households. (Tellingly, this rebuff has been deemed not a regrettable by-product of the gay-marriage movement, but a victory for it. The goal is not live-and-let-live.) then will come the big fight over breaking the churches themselves. And if you think that the same-sex marriage movement will stop short of trying to force churches to perform gay weddings, then you haven’t been paying attention.1
As I write this article, the Supreme Court has ruled that gay marriage must be legally recognized in all fifty states. But my purpose is not to delve any further into this sad underworld of our society. Rather, I want to give the good news of what God has created, allowed, redeemed, and proclaimed. Only Christianity has a message of redemption. It describes the world realistically and offers the only solution to fallen human beings who are trapped in their own sin. To understand this, one has to believe that the Bible is indeed God’s Word, a revelation from Him to us, and an infallible record of what God has to say to our situation in any age and culture. In this revelation there is much good news and also some bad news.
Good News! We are made in God’s image.
Francis Schaeffer once said, “Man, made in the image of God, cannot live as though he is nothing.”2 Of all the things God created, human beings are the zenith. Only of human beings did God say that they are created in His very image. “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness . . . So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them” (Gen. 1:26-27). Even though God created Adam first from the dust of the ground, and created Eve second from the side of Adam, the Scripture declares that both are made equally in the image of God. We may share life with the other creatures of God, yet none but mankind are given this unique and favorable position. G. Campbell Morgan once wrote, “There was life in the plant, and life in the lower animals, but when God inbreathed to man the Breath of lives, He bestowed a life in which lay the elements of light. In man, creation first looked back into the face of God, and knew Him.”3
In creation language there is only one race and that is the human race. There are only two sexes, or genders, and that is male and female. Jesus said, “Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female. For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh” (Matt. 19:4-5). Because there are only two sexes, male and female, marriage, says the Lord, can only be between a man and a woman. Every other kind of “marriage” is fornication.
Bad news! We are sinners.
The Bible makes no mistake about the existence of Adam and Eve, and neither is it unclear that our first parents sinned. Having been warned of the consequences of their disobedience by God, regardless, they ate of that which was forbidden, “and the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked” (Gen. 3:7). Millard Erickson wrote,
If we choose to investigate the Bible’s depiction of man, we find that man today is actually in an abnormal condition. The real human is not what we now find in human society. The real human is the being that came from the hand of God, unspoiled by sin and the fall. In every real sense, the only true human beings were Adam and Eve before the fall, and Jesus. All others are twisted, distorted, corrupted samples of humanity.4
But the Bible tells us something deeper, more personal than the fact that our first parents sinned: we sinned with them! They were the head of the human race, and we sinned also as part of that race. Therefore we are born sinners. “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Rom. 5:12, NKJV). L.S. Chafer wrote, “No other human being than Adam has ever become a sinner by sinning. All others were born sinners. Distinction is made at this point between sin as an evil act and sin as an evil nature. By a sinful act Adam acquired a sinful nature, whereas all members of his family are born with that nature.”5
Our whole human race has substantive guilt, i.e., since we received our nature from our parents, both physical and spiritual, material and immaterial, and they from their parents all the way back to Adam and Eve, we were actually present in them when they sinned, and we sinned with them. Sin was imputed to the entire race at the moment of that sin, our “original sin.” In addition, we have inherited sin passed down through the generations in the sin nature accumulated from all of our ancestors.
What a contradiction we are! Created in God’s image but so marred by the fall and past generations of sin that we are hardly recognizable. “When they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things. Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonor their own bodies between themselves: who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshiped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen” (Rom. 1:21-23). Blaise Pascal described us, “What a freak then is man! How novel, how monstrous, how chaotic, how paradoxical, how prodigious! Judge of all things, feeble earthworm, repository of truth; sink of doubt and error, glory and refuse of the universe.”6
Good news! God loved us.
The reason why John 3:16 is the most well-known verse in the Bible is because it speaks such an obvious truth—if God does not love us, we are without hope. But God does love us! “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” The apostle Paul pointed out that this love came to us, not because we were lovely, but while we were unlovely. “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). What love is this? God loving the unlovely? Yes! The word agape is a word virtually unique to the New Testament. It is not a human love of give and take, but an all-giving love. “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10). God did not need anything in return from us in order to love us. He just loved us. And since He loved the whole world of sinners, any may come to Him without price and without worth, and find divine forgiveness. C.S. Lewis wrote,
I call this a Divine humility because it is a poor thing to strike our colours to God when the ship is going down under us; a poor thing to come to Him as a last resort, to offer up ‘our own’ when it is no longer worth keeping. If God were proud He would hardly have us on such terms: but He is not proud, He stoops to conquer, He will have us even though we have shown that we prefer everything else to Him, and come to Him because there is ‘nothing better’ now to be had.7
“How could God like the sinful, foul, stinking world? How could he embrace and kiss it? He would have to turn from it in revulsion. But he could and he did love it, comprehending all its sin and foulness, purposing to cleanse it and, thus cleansed, to take it to his bosom.”8 Praise God for His great love wherewith He loved us!
Bad news! We cannot recover ourselves.
Human beings, in their sinful condition, find it a difficult thing to accept the unconditional love of God. Surely there is something in us that God sees as acceptable and therefore loves us. We want to give something to God first, something of value, so that God will say, “Ah, this person has something I can accept.” But this is not the case. Though God loves us because of what He did in creating us in His own image, yet because of our own sin there is nothing left in us that can merit salvation. God must love us in spite of our moral bankruptcy. And morally bankrupt we are!
The devil’s lie is that sinful human beings can work hard enough and finally produce enough “good works” that will make them acceptable to God, or at least enough to outweigh their bad works. All false religions are built on this premise. But the fundamental error is that man is basically good enough, or that man has more good than bad in him, or that man, being God’s creation, is all that is necessary for him to one day stand before a holy God and be accepted and not rejected. But man is fallen. He is sinful. Even his good intentions have selfish and evil roots.
The law of God, whether we mean the law of Moses written in the Old Testament, or we mean every moral or “natural” law that God has revealed, has proven that man is unable to produce righteousness that will redeem his soul. In fact Paul states, “Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin” (Rom. 3:19-20). So Paul can conclude, “There is none righteous, no not one” (Rom. 3:10), and “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). There is a “curse” that comes with the keeping of law for salvation. “Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them” (Gal. 3:10). Or, as James so aptly put it, “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all” (James 2:10). But since the Bible plainly shows that no one is without sin, we are therefore all condemned.
Good News! Jesus Christ provides a way for God’s love to save us.
John Newton’s beloved song, Amazing Grace, is so popular even among those who know nothing of that grace, because it seems to say that grace accepts “a wretch like me” simply because God loves me. This, God cannot and does not do. On the one hand God does not accept us just as we are. In that case there would be no need for Jesus to die for us on the cross and resurrect victorious over sin and death. God cannot accept us without our sin being forgiven. But on the other hand we do come just as we are. when we sing “Just As I Am” we mean that we must come to God with no righteousness of our own, with no good works for salvation. We come to God as sinners and undone, needing to be clothed in the righteousness of the sinless Christ. The old song, Rock of Ages, has it,
“Nothing in my hand I bring,
simply to Thy cross I cling;
Naked, come to Thee for dress;
helpless, look to Thee for rest;
Foul, I to the fountain fly,
Wash me, Savior, or I die.”
In a strange way, the good news is that we are all sinners. Paul concludes in Romans 3 that, happily, “there is no difference: For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:22b-23). That is, it is a good thing that we are not saved by law keeping because then it would be unfair. Some might make it and some might not. But since the fact is that all have sinned, and that salvation cannot come to sinners, God has made salvation by grace through faith, “Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:24). You can be saved because, even though you are a sinner, God allows you to come by faith, not by your worthless works.
But one more thing needs to be said here, and Paul makes this plain as well. Jesus Christ died for you and rose again. God accepts Jesus Christ and all who attach themselves to Him by faith. He doesn’t save you by your righteousness, but by the righteousness of Christ. If God merely excused your sin then He would be unrighteous. So Paul concludes, “To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus. Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? Of works? Nay; but by the law of faith” (Rom. 3:26-27). Faith in Christ leaves me nothing with which to boast, except the righteousness of Christ.
And So . . .
We human beings cannot act or boast as if we set our own rules of right and wrong. Outside of Jesus Christ we will choose wrong because that is our nature. And we will be condemned for it. But in Jesus Christ, in His righteousness alone, we can be sinners saved by grace.
- Jonathan V. Last, “You Will Be Assimilated,” The Weekly Standard, June 22, 2015.
- Francis Schaeffer, Escape From Reason (Downer’s Grove: IVP, 1968) 53.
- G.C. Morgan, Understanding the Holy Spirit (AMG, 1995) 40.
- Millard Erickson, Christian Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1991) 496.
- L.S. Chafer, Systematic Theology, vol. II (Dallas: Dallas Seminary Press, 1969) 217.
- Blaise Pascal, Pensees (London: Penguin Books, 1966) 64.
- C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain, (New York: MacMillan, 1962) 97.
- R.C.H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. John’s Gospel (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1961) 259.