Let’s take a second to remember where we’ve been over the past few weeks. We’ve talked about the fact that we were created to be human, but that history shows we have tried over and over again to be something else. We pointed to the story of the fall in Genesis 3 as evidence that humans want to be “like God” rather than what we’ve been created for. We looked at the creation story in Genesis 1 and 2 to find a definition of what it means to be human. Finally, we looked at what happens when we reject our humanity and the humanity of others. Now, we’ve got to figure out what’s next. What is to be done about a civilization of humans who refuse to be human? Like the response to any good Sunday school question, the answer is Jesus.
Let’s talk for a second about Philippians. Paul wrote to the church in Philippi to encourage them in the faith and to commend a couple of fellow Gospel workers (Timothy and Epaphroditus). At the beginning of the letter, Paul encourages the Philippians to strive for unity by seeking the welfare of others instead of only looking out for themselves. As an example of this kind of behavior, Paul points to Jesus. Take a look at Philippians 2:5-11:
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Now if we’re paying attention, this passage is breathtaking. The Son of God “empties himself,” becomes a servant, lives as a human, and humbles himself in obedience to God “to the point of death, even death on a cross.” What a dramatic statement of Christ’s love for us! If that’s all we took from this series of articles, it would be more than enough. Despite our rebellion, our desire to live outside of the calling and purpose God has given us, and our consistent dehumanization of ourselves and others, Christ loves us sacrificially!? Praise God and hallelujah! But there’s more…
Think again about that conversation in the Garden between Eve and the serpent. Remember, this wasn’t about getting a bite of an apple. The apple (or whatever it was) is just the physical embodiment of Adam and Eve’s real desire: they wanted to be “like God.” As Eve reached up to pull that fruit, she was literally doing so because she believed that equality with God was a thing to be grasped! Does that phrase sound familiar? Look back at our passage from Philippians, “Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped…” Did you catch that? How wise is God that in order to deal with our rebellion, he sent his son in a direct reversal of that rebellion!? Think about this for a second: Jesus is God the Son. He is God! Through the incarnation, he didn’t just put on a costume. Christ humbled himself to become human and show us the way to live.
Jesus’ life shows us the ultimate way to live into God’s design for humanity. Back in part 2 of this series, we discussed the definition of humanity according to the creation story in Genesis. We talked about how we were meant to be image-bearers of God, responsible for stewarding gifts and resources on earth. We are called to live in right relationship with God and with the people around us. And, we have a unique calling among all creation that is both sacred and practical. We are called to be gardeners and priests.
Jesus fulfilled every aspect of what it means to be human! Was he a gardener and priest? Yes! We know he worked as a carpenter but also saw the sacred in everything he did and everyone he dealt with. Did he have a good relationship with people? Of course! He was the embodiment of love even to the marginalized of society, crossing all boundaries of social and cultural niceties. Did he have a right relationship with God? Without a doubt! We consistently see him defer to the will of the Father (John 5:19, 6:37-40; Luke 22:39-42, etc.) and depend on guidance by the Spirit (Luke 3:21-22, 4:1,14, 18, etc.). Was he an image bearer, unique among creation? Yes! He is God!
Jesus’ life serves as a template and guide for us to see what it looks like to be biblically and fully human. We can see in his life portrayed in the Scriptures a clear picture of how we should deal with our desires to be something other than what we were designed to be. Should we trust in God’s will for us or decide on our own what is best for our lives? Jesus said, “not my will but the Father’s.” Should we lift our needs, desires, and dreams above those of others? Jesus humbled himself and became a servant. Should we dehumanize people because of their race? Jesus loved the woman at the well (John 4:7-30) and proclaimed that his house is a “house of prayer for all nations” (Mark 11:27). Jesus is the ultimate human, showing us what it means to live into God’s good design for us. And, still, there’s more…
Jesus is not just a model, he is also a means. Christ’s life, death, and resurrection enable us to live freely and fully in the way we’ve been called. Romans 6 tells us that “our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin…and having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness” (Romans 6:6-7,18). What a gift! We are free.
This is good news. We don’t have to continue in the exhaustion of trying to be our own God and savior. We don’t have to continue in the toxic pattern of deifying or devaluing ourselves. And we can break the cycle of dehumanizing others which has lead to so much injustice, oppression, and suffering. We are free from all of these chains and freed to be what we were always meant to be…human.