Question: "What does it mean to be human?"
Answer: God has made humans different from all other created beings. Humans have a physical body and a spiritual component: a soul and/or spirit. Part of this immaterial aspect is the possession of intellect, emotion, and a will. Human beings are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). Human beings are different from angels, which have no physical body, and animals, which do not reflect the imago dei.
There are various unbiblical views of what it means to be human. Classic Gnosticism, for example, takes the view that mankind is primarily a pure, spiritual entity shackled by an unwieldy, corrupt body. Other views, such as naturalism, see mankind as a wildly complex, physical machine with no spirit at all—any feelings, thoughts, or inspirations we experience are solely the byproduct of chemical reactions within our brains. Neither of these extremes has any biblical support.
To be human means to bear the image of God. We are not divine, but we reflect divinity. God has a mind, emotions, and volition. As image-bearers, we, too, have intellect, emotions, and a will. We possess creativity, inventing, fabricating, synthesizing, making music, and creating all types of artwork. We possess the gift of language, relating thoughts from one self-aware mind to another, learning thousands of words and coining new words when we need them. We are driven to name and classify the animals, just like our father Adam did (Genesis 2:19– 20). Because we are created in the image of God, we have a basic dignity and inherent significance.
To be human means to have a purpose. God’s stated assignment to Adam and Eve was to “be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground” (Genesis 1:28). We still fulfill this purpose when we domesticate animals, use natural resources, shape nature, and carve out an existence even in the harshest environments. But we are more than tenders of the planet. Our purpose includes knowing God and having a relationship with Him. Our highest purpose is to glorify God: “All things have been created through [the Son] and for him” (Colossians 1:16).
To be human is to have needs. Only God is self-sustaining and self-sufficient. We have needs of body, soul, and spirit. Our bodies must receive food, drink, and rest in order to survive. Our souls must have fellowship with others, outlets for creativity, and times of mental, emotional, and aesthetic stimulation in order to maintain health. Our spirits must feed on the Word of God and have a relationship with Christ (Luke 4:4; John 6:35). Anyone who denies his or her needs in any of these three areas is refusing to acknowledge part of his or her humanity.
To be human means to be morally responsible. We have the ability to discern what is right and wrong. Our father Adam had a free will and was held responsible for the moral choice he made to obey or disobey His Creator; unfortunately, he chose to disobey God (Genesis 2:16–17). All humanity shares the same moral responsibility, and we are all under the same moral imperative to obey God. “The righteousness of the righteous will be credited to them, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against them” (Ezekiel 18:20).
To be human means to be sinful, at least for now. Unfortunately, we are all sinners (Romans 3:23; 5:12). We have broken God’s laws and gone our own way instead (Isaiah 53:6; 1 John 3:4). Our sin has separated us from our Creator and caused us to be spiritually dead (Ephesians 2:1–10). We are enslaved to sin, unable to free ourselves from the havoc it wreaks (Romans 6:23). Without intervention, we are condemned to an eternity apart from God (John 3:16–18). To the praise and glory of God, we do not have to remain in this condition. There is redemption available in Jesus Christ. Because of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, our sins can be forgiven, and we can be restored into relationship with God (John 3:16–18; Ephesians 2:8–9). To be human means to be loved by God and given the chance to become children of God (John 1:12; 3:16).
The Bible says that the Son of God took on human flesh and became the Son of Man as well. Jesus Christ came from heaven, lived a sinless life, died on the cross as a sacrifice for our sin, and then rose again to life. All who put their faith in Christ are given His righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21). We are made new (2 Corinthians 5:17), and the Holy Spirit indwells us (Ephesians 1:13–14). It is the death and resurrection of Christ that makes all the difference to humanity.
In the end, to be human is not enough. Humanity is corrupted by sin and faces the sure judgment of God. Only the redeemed human will see God and live with Him forever. Only those in Christ will experience a removal of the corruption and the wiping away of every tear. “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again” (John 3:3).