Ten Key Questions About Life
This study is dedicated to developing a Biblical world view by "girding up" or sharpening our minds with ten key questions about life. These are: What is man?; What is the real meaning of life?; How am I to make moral choices?; What is truth?; What is love and where can it be found?; Why is there suffering and how can we live with it?; What is death?; What hope is there for the human race?; What is real?; Is there any hope in fighting evil and injustice?
What Is Man?
What Is The Meaning Of Life?
How Are We To Make Moral Choices?
Is It Possible To Know The Truth About Ourselves And The Universe?
What Is Love And Where Can It Be Found?
Why Is There Suffering And How Can We Live With It?
What Is Death And How Are We To Face It?
What Hope Is There For The Human Race?
What Is Real?
Can Evil Be Defeated?
What Is Man?
by: Allan Turner
In Psalm 8:4 the psalmist asks, “What is man?” Unfortunately, modern man does not know what or who he is. Relativism, a reflection of evolutionary thought, has concluded there is no such thing as “human nature.” According to this “vain philosophy” (Colossians 2:8), there is no ideal pattern for humanness. There is no model after which man was made and for which he must strive. Everything is relative because what man is today will be different tomorrow. Man is in the process of evolving into something else. Just what that something else will be is not yet known, although there are a great many speculations. What is known, according to relativism, is that there are many variables that will influence the further development of man's evolution. Consequently, pseudo-science (the “science falsely so-called” of I Timothy 6:20), considers itself free to construct man as it pleases, while, at the same time, an individual is free to live any “life-style” he chooses.
The Christian rejects such vain reasoning. Instead, the Christian realizes there is indeed an ideal pattern for humanness, a model for which he is to strive. This pattern or model is centered in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus was the perfect man; consequently, walking in His footsteps, man will come the closest to being what he was created to be. But, we are jumping ahead of the story.
What Is Man Made Of?
In order to understand what man is, it will be necessary to understand what man is made of. In asking, “What is man made of?,” we will not be inquiring as to the various chemical elements that make up man. Neither will we be concerned with the various parts that make up man, such as muscles and bones. Rather, we are thinking in terms of two basic components: matter and spirit. With these two components in mind, we understand there are three different choices: (1) man is matter only, (2) man is spirit only, or (3) man is both matter (or body) and spirit. In terms of the various world views, there are those today who would defend all three positions. The secular humanists, personified in general evolutionists, would take the first position: man is matter only. Eastern mystics would take the second position: man is spirit only. Christians, of course, along with others, would take the third position: man is both body and spirit. As we are not trying to develop either a materialistic or pantheistic world view, we now turn our attention to what the Bible says about man.
In the Bible, there are several different terms used to describe the physical or materialistic nature of man. Among these are sheath, outer man, body, and flesh. Before proceeding any further, something needs to be said about the word flesh. “Flesh” is an often misunderstood word that just as frequently leads to some serious consequences. The apostle Paul often used “flesh” to refer to the “old sinful self” or “sinful way of life” (Romans 8:1-13; Galatians 5:16-21). When used in this sense, “flesh” is not equivalent to “body,” although in other places this word does mean man's body (Romans 2:28; Galatians 4:13). The point we wish to make at this juncture is that man is body.
In addition to the material outer man, there is a spiritual nature that makes up the inner man. Other terms used to express this spiritual nature are heart, spirit, and soul. Although “soul” can be used to refer to something other than man's spiritual nature (namely, the “whole of man” or “animal life”), when used to refer to man's spiritual nature, it is synonymous with man's “spirit” (I Samuel 18:1; Job 14:22; Matthew 10:28; Acts 2:25-31). Man, therefore, is spirit.
Body And Spirit
Actually, then, what man is (that is, the “real man”) is a combination of both material (body) and spiritual (soul) elements. In Daniel 7:15, the prophet said, “I Daniel was grieved in my spirit in the midst of my body [sheath], and the visions of my head bothered me.” In Ecclesiastes 12:7, speaking of physical death, it was said, “Then shall the dust [the body] return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.” In developing a Biblical world view, it would be a serious mistake not to understand that man is both body and soul. Man is not a spirit that has a body; on the contrary, man is spirit and man is body. Both body and spirit are the “real man.” In other words, man is as genuinely body as he is spirit. Therefore, the body and spirit are not, as some think, natural enemies; instead, both body and spirit make up the unity that is man.
False Concepts About Man
Some have difficulty with the “real man” as he is presented in God's Word. In large part, this is due to the false teachings about the nature of man that have circulated for aeons. In fact, many are convinced, quite erroneously, that the picture of man painted in the New Testament is nothing other than a re-hashed composite of Platonic and Aristotelian dualism. This is a significant mistake, and although it is true that the New Testament was written mostly in the Greek language, it must never be interpreted in light of Greek philosophies. This is understood by Paul's defense directed against the philosophers of Athens recorded in Acts 17. The apostle demonstrated to these Greeks his familiarity with their poets. This is further demonstrated by his apparent quote of Menander (I Corinthians 15:33) and Epimenides (Titus 1:12).
The concept, “For in Him we live, and move, and have our being” (Acts 17:28), as originally expressed by Aratus, the Stoic poet, and others, was pantheistic; but Paul expanded upon it to teach the real truth revealed by the one true Giver and Sustainer of life. All the learning of the Greeks had failed them in that they were unable to discover and adequately know the Supreme Intelligence of the Universe. The apostle identified all their philosophical efforts as “ignorance,” and called upon them all to repent toward the one and only true God. Thus, one can be confident that the truths taught in God's Word are not warmed over Platonism or any other man-made “ism.”
Nevertheless, too many have tried to make a connection between the dual nature of man and the pagan philosophical construct of dualism. In essence, the doctrine of dualism says that all that exists is to be divided into that which is good or bad. In pagan mythology, Greek philosophy, and Gnosticism, good and evil are usually either different manifestations of the same source, or they can be traced to some common source. For example, in Manichaeism, reported to be one of the most widely influential religions of the ancient world, creation begins with two coeternal, independent principles: Light and Darkness, Good and Evil, God and Matter. Within such a cosmology (that is, an explanation of the origin and general structure of the universe), that which is material is identified as being evil, and that which is spiritual is understood to be good. Unfortunately, it is this Manichaean cosmology, or one very similar, that is factored into many people's understanding of the Biblical teaching on the dual nature of man. Again, we repeat, this is a serious mistake!
Augustine, before his conversion to Catholicism, was an adherent of Manichaeism. As a matter of fact, some believe his false and ominous “doctrine of original sin” had it roots in Manichaean dualism. When material reality is, in itself, looked upon as something negative or evil, this has a profound influence upon all religion and morality. Within such a system, evil has a metaphysical footing rather than an ethical one. What this means is that with dualism evil is no longer a free will choice. Under such a system, sin is blamed on this finite, mortal, material existence (i.e., “I'm only human!”). Dualism distorts the picture of man's true nature, and one cannot help but see how this kind of think provides fertile soil for the Calvinistic doctrine that man is, by his very nature, born totally depraved and has no true free will. Is it any wonder then that the apostle Paul wrote: “Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ” (Colossians 2:8)?
Both Body And Soul Are Good
In Genesis 1:31 the Bible tells us, “And God saw every thing that He made, and, behold, it was very good.” We need to let the full implication of this passage sink in. The truth revealed in this passage thoroughly demolishes dualism. God, the Almighty Creator, views His creation, which consists of matter, and pronounces it good. But to be more precise, He doesn't just call His creation “good,” He calls it “very good.” Therefore, it is absolutely irrefutable that man's spiritual nature (his soul) and his material nature (his body) are good in the sight of God. Consequently, we know that when Adam and Eve sinned they sinned not because they had to (namely, their spirits were housed in sinful flesh) but because they chose to (namely, they exercised their God-given free wills).
Sin And Its Effect
Because man is as genuinely body as he is spirit, sin has an effect on the entire man, body and soul. We will expand on this in a moment, but first let us notice that the Lord told Adam, “But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” (Genesis 2:17). On the day that Adam and Eve sinned, they died spiritually (that is, they became estranged from God). In addition, the “wages of sin,” which Romans 6:23 says “is death,” began to be drawn on, and man the living creature became man the dying creature. No longer would man be allowed to partake of the tree of life and live forever (see Genesis 3:22-24). Instead, the Lord said, “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return” (Genesis 3:19). Although many today, including some Christians, think otherwise, physical death is not “normal.” Many think it is because the Scriptures say that “in Adam all die” (I Corinthians 15:22) or “it is appointed unto man once to die, but after this the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). This, of course, is the way things are today, but it is certainly not normal in that it is not the way God wanted things to be.
Many today believe that not only does man inherit Adam's original sin, but his depraved nature as well. Although this is not taught in the Bible, the Bible does teach that we do in fact inherit something from the father and mother of all living—namely, the consequences of their sins. Actually, there are many consequences of their sins, but there is only one that is of immediate concern to us in this study—namely, the discontinuation of man's access to the tree of life. Without access to the tree of life, man does not live forever; and if man does not live forever, he, by definition, must die.
What this all means is that little babies die not because they have inherited Adam's sin, as many incorrectly believe, but because they have inherited, along with the rest of the human race, the consequences of Adam's sin—namely, death due to the removal of the tree of life. Further, Jesus taught that one must become as a little child in order to enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 18:2-4). The Lord's teaching in this passage would be meaningless if children were, in fact, totally depraved. In this regard, it is important to consider the apostle Paul's statement, “For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died” in Romans 7:9. We believe Paul was writing of the time when he was a child, having not reached the age of accountability, and was, therefore, spiritually alive apart from the law of Moses. In verses 10 and 11 we learn that he died spiritually because he did not keep the commandments.
It seems clear then that from Adam man inherits a consequence (physical death), not a depraved nature (spiritual death). It seems just as clear that physical death is not “normal.” Death is, in fact, identified in the Bible as an enemy (I Corinthians 15:26) that causes the “unity” that is man to be divided (James 2:26).
Made In The Image Of God
As Bible believers, we understand ourselves to be unique with regard to all creation in that we are made “in the image of God” (Genesis 1:26,27). But what does this mean? Well, we know that God is a spirit being (John 4:24), and that we are His offspring (Acts 17:28,29). Consequently, our uniqueness does not seem to relate directly to our physical bodies, but to our spiritual natures. In other words, man possesses the divine imprint in his spirit, not in his flesh. Is there more to this than we have sometimes thought? In his interesting little book, His Truth, Jack Cottrell notes: “Personhood is the essence of spiritual existence. Spiritual beings are personal beings. This is what makes us like God. God is spirit; we are spirit. God is personal; we are personal.” He goes on to point out: “As persons we have the capacity for interpersonal relationships not only with one another but with God himself. This is God's supreme design for man; this is why God made us in His image. Only when we are in a right personal relationship with God are we fulfilling our purpose as human beings.” In other words, the whole duty of man is to love God and keep His commandments (Ecclesiastes 12:13). When we do this, we are not only in a proper relationship with God, but we are also in a right relationship with our fellow man (Matthew 22:36-40).
What Are The Implications?
What are the ramifications of such a doctrine? Because every man and woman is made in the image of God, every man and woman possesses inherent dignity, meaning, and worth. Any self-respect or self-esteem that a man or woman possesses, in order to be correct, must be firmly grounded in this truth.
Furthermore, this doctrine teaches us that we must have a unique respect for human life. Human life, created in the image of God, is of more value that animal life. Only human life is protected by God's prohibition against murder (Exodus 20:13; Matthew 19:18; I John 3:15). The fact that man is made in God's image makes murder wrong and capital punishment right (Genesis 9:6).
This doctrine teaches us that we must have a genuine yearning to reach the lost for Christ. When someone dies unsaved, it means another person made in the image of God is going to spend an eternity in hell. Is there any greater tragedy?
Let's spend the rest of our time summing up some of the things we have learned. Man is both body and spirit. Body and spirit are not natural enemies as some have believed, both make up the “real man.” A man dies spiritually (i.e., is separated from God) when he sins; man sins when he violates the law of God (I John 3:4); he violates the law by exercising a choice God has given him; “Choice” implies a God-given free moral agency; and lastly, free moral agency makes a man personally responsible for his own sinfulness. Those who seek to blame their sinful situation on heredity are like those recorded in Ezekiel 18:1, who said: “The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge.” Although Calvinists will deny it, this passage addresses itself to anyone who places the responsibility for his sin anywhere except squarely on the shoulders of the one doing the sinning. Although Adam's sin set in motion circumstances that apparently make sin easier, and although satan and his agents are actively engaged in trying to destroy man spiritually, the truth of the matter is this: Each man bears his own guilt. Now, it is true that this guilt may involve another and influence another, but it is still personal guilt!
Sin has had an effect on the whole man, both body and soul. Although spiritual death is experienced when one becomes alienated from God by sinful conduct, physical death is experienced by every person because ever since Adam's sin, man has not had access to the tree of life. Romans 5:12 teaches that physical death entered into the world and spread to all men as a result of the sin of one man, Adam. Physical death is a consequence of Adam's sin that has passed to all his posterity. According to the Bible, death is the “last enemy” to be defeated by Christ through the final resurrection (I Corinthians 15:26,27).
Finally, salvation involves the whole man, both body and soul (Romans 8:23). “Behold I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed—in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: Death is swallowed up in victory. O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory? The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord” (I Corinthians 15:51-58).