What Makes Humanity Distinct?
January 21, 2024

What Makes Humanity Distinct?

Passage: Genesis 1:26-31

Exploring the Truths of Scripture

Over the last couple weeks, we’ve been walking through Genesis, the first book of the Bible. So far, we’ve seen that Genesis reveals several truths about who God is. And tonight, we’re going to see that God also reveals here several key truths about who we are as human beings. Who or what is humanity?

So if you have your Bibles, turn with me to Genesis, Chapter 1. I’ll be reading verses 26-31. But before I read the text, please pray with me:


We're Distinct from God and Other Created Things

If we don’t understand who God is, and why he made us, we won’t understand what it really means to be human, what a human being is, or what it is that human beings are supposed to do. Our society is confused about what it means to be human today. On the one hand, you have those who would claim that the universe exploded into existence by chance, and that human beings are an accidental byproduct of this event. And if that’s true, human life has no real purpose or worth, but we’re all just a group of highly-developed worms.

On the other hand, you have a different group of people that acknowledge that there’s something fantastically special – maybe even spiritual – about the human race. And so these people are convinced that humanity is the most-wise, most-powerful, most-worthy being in the universe – that no one can challenge what we do or say, because you and I are the Supreme masters of our own lives.

You’ll notice, both of these viewpoints leave God out of the picture, but they lead to two opposite kinds of results. If we adopt the first viewpoint, then there’s no meaningful difference between people and bacteria. If we adopt the second viewpoint, then there’s no difference between being human and being divine. But the Bible clearly teaches that humanity is distinct – distinct both from all other created things, and also distinct from the one who created us.

So let me point out three ways from the text that humanity is distinct.

Humanity Has a Distinct Design

So kids, if you’re taking notes, here’s my first point: Humanity has a distinct design. Go ahead and write it down. Humanity has a distinct design. And this is just a fancy way of saying that God has made people with a differentness and beauty that other created things don’t have.

Made in God's Image

Look at Genesis 1:26. God is saying here “Let us make mankind in our image, after our likeness.” And jump down to verse 27, and you’ll see this is exactly what God does: “So God created the man in his own image, in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them.”

Notice, none of the other beings or things created in these six days are made in the image of God. God creates plants, each according to its kind. God creates birds and fish according to their kinds. And God creates land animals according to their kinds. But nothing else in the universe is given the same status and honor as human beings. We have been made in God’s image. The One and Only God, the Supreme Power, the Eternal Divinity enthroned in heaven – he has made us to bear his likeness.

Do you realize how remarkable this is? Imagine – you and I, we could just as easily have been created to be dogs, or rocks, or lowly globs of bacterial slime. We could just as easily have not been created at all! We could have remained nonexistent nothings and nobodies. Yet God brought people into existence to be something – and not just to be something, but to be the Capstone and Climax of his World. God made you and I in his own image – to resemble him and be like him.

What Does It Mean to Bear God's Likeness?

But this likely raises a question. In what sense are we made to be like God? What does it mean that we’re created after God’s own likeness?

Well, let’s start by clarifying – we aren’t made to look like God physically. God doesn’t have a physical body. The Bible is clear that God is Spirit (John 4:24), that God is invisible (Colossians 1:15). So being made in God’s likeness refers to something else – something internal rather than external.

Genesis 1 here doesn’t straightforwardly list how humans have been made to resemble God. But we can recognize two general ways that we were created to resemble God.

First, we were made to resemble God in our capabilities. We have self-awareness. We have language. We think in categories of good and bad, right and wrong. We can appreciate beauty. We can think logically. We were created with unique capabilities that resemble God’s capabilities. And in general, people still bear God’s likeness in these ways.

Second, we were made to be like God in our character. We were made to display the same sort of unwavering fidelity and kindness and justice that God has. The problem is that the human race has rebelled against God, and as a result the God-likeness we once had in our character has been damaged and defiled. As a result, for pretty much all of human history, the human race has failed to carry out one of its most basic roles. We have failed to bear God’s image.

Renewing God's Image in Fallen Humanity

But the New Testament tells us that Jesus Christ has done everything that’s necessary to cleanse us of our defilement, and to restore in us the true likeness of God. Colossians 1:15 acknowledges that Jesus Christ is “the image of the invisible God,” and when we trust in Jesus, we are transformed and ushered into a new life of Christlikeness. This is why Ephesians 4:24 tells us “to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” Colossians 3:10 likewise tells us, “put on the new self which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.” In Christ, we’re being re-made to bear God’s image in righteousness, holiness, and knowledge, just as we were created to do.

God's Design for Human Sexuality

But now I want to point out one more feature of God’s distinct design for humanity: “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them.” You’ll notice here that God makes a distinction between these two – between male and female. God has created them to have real differences. He calls them to different roles. And there are no additional categories given here for human gender and/or sexuality beyond male and female.

This may not be a popular statement today, but this “male and female” understanding of humanity has been assumed by virtually every civilization and empire in the history of the world. Male and female are the categories revealed to us by God himself. Male and female is simple and easy to understand. Male and female are normatively able to unite and bear children. Male and female are specially equipped to establish a steady homelife, which is crucial for a stable, flourishing society.

God’s design of male and female is good for us – for all of us, as a human race. Seeking something contrary to God’s design can’t truly satisfy. It won’t bring inward peace. It doesn’t help yourself, or others.

Humanity Has a Distinct Domain

It may seem to some people that this male-female distinction is oppressive – that God is trying to limit human freedom and happiness. But I want you to notice here in the text that nothing could be further from the truth. You’ll see in verse 28, that God gives humanity a distinct domain. This is my second point – humanity has a distinct domain. And the domain God gives isn’t one of slavery or suffering. It’s a domain of blessedness.

Verse 28: “And God blessed them.” And this is how God blesses them – God says, “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.” In other words, God gives two blissful, blessed instructions: Number 1: Fill the earth, and Number 2: exercise dominion over the earth.

Do these things sound oppressive or restrictive? Just stop and think about what God is saying here for a moment. God isn’t aiming to reduce or eliminate people – he says be fruitful and multiply. God has not made the world to have mastery over us, but has made us to have mastery over the world. God is very clearly pro-human-flourishing. God’s ways aren’t against our well-being, but they are for our good.

Raising children and working to oversee parts of God’s creation – these two things aren’t always easy, especially in a world affected by sin. But they are still good. And God has designed us to be specifically suited for these tasks. As male and female, humanity can be fruitful and multiply. As people designed in God’s image, we were made to exercise dominion and subdue the earth with godly goodness and wisdom. It shouldn’t be surprising that there are few things under the sun which are more rewarding for mankind than to raise a family and to enjoy the fruits of your hard work. This is the distinct domain God has created for us.

Humanity Has a Distinct Dependence

Now finally, in verse 29-30, I want to point out one more thing that makes humanity distinct – specifically, that humanity has a distinct dependence. Humanity is distinct from God in that we depend on God, but God does not depend on us.

In verse 29, God declares that he has provided humanity with a food source – “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 in verse 30, God indicates the same thing for the animals. We, along with the animals, must not forget that we are creatures. If our bodies run out of food, water, and oxygen – or if our bodies aren’t kept within a relatively small range of temperatures – we’re in trouble. We are needy beings. We depend on God. God depends on no one.

Some of the other ancient civilizations at that time had a much different view of things. In their creation accounts, they claimed that God had created the human race to be slaves – why? So that the slaves could grow food to feed God. These false religions blurred the distinction between God and mankind. They wrongly charged God with being as helpless and needy as human beings, and in addition to this they wrongly charged God with being a bitter and vengeful slavemaster over humanity.

But here in Genesis 1, we see that God has no need of food. We aren’t the ones who are employed to bring food to God. He’s the one who enjoys to give food to us, his creatures. When God looks upon our creaturely needs and limitations, we see here that God is both able and willing to provide out of the abundance of his kindness.

And though the human race has fallen into corruption and darkness, and we’re now vastly more needy and more dependent, God still hasn’t abandoned us. But into our moral bankruptcy – into our spiritual deadness – God has sent Jesus to give us life. We continue to depend on God for life, breath, and everything – and we always will. This is part of what it means for God to be God, and for us to be his creatures.

So as we consider who God has made us to be, and how God has called us to relate to him, let’s close our time in prayer.