Christian Living

No Mere Mortals: Understanding Myself through Biblical Lenses

In my first article in this series, I showed some different approaches taken in response to the contemporary question, Have I the right to be who I am?

The deep question, however, is the older question: Who am I? In this article I will outline the four biblical lenses necessary to make sense of who we are.

Lens 1: We are wondrously created—as male and female in God’s image

The first thing the Bible tells us is right there in its opening chapter, in Genesis 1:27:

So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.

Of all the many creatures God has made, only human beings have been created in his image. And that not only means that we have been designed to represent his person and reflect his character, but that he is our Father and we are his children. As American Old Testament scholar Catherine McDowell puts it, “to be created in God’s image is to be God’s kin”.[1]

That’s the reality that lies behind David’s declaration in Psalm 8: God has made us only a little less than himself and crowned us with glory and honour. It also explains why God is so intimately involved in the forming of our bodies, knitting us together in our mother’s wombs (as Psalm 139 tells us).

So, we are extraordinary beings, with extraordinary dignity and an extraordinary destiny. We are embodied images of the living God. It’s why CS Lewis once said: “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal”.[2]

And please notice that both male and female are in God’s image. This means that men and women are equally glorious and equally godlike.

Now, of course, that doesn’t mean that the difference between sexes are insignificant, nor does it mean that unless a woman can be just as “not pregnant” as a man, she can never be equal with a man (as some abortionists have claimed).

No, the sexes, for all their many commonalities and our shared humanity, have some ineradicable and wonderful differences. And those differences matter. For without them we would neither reflect God’s image fully, nor be able to fulfil our God-given function.

But the key thing we are shown through this first biblical lens is that, regardless of our age, race or sex (or any other ability or capacity), all human beings have been wondrously created in God’s image. There are no degrees in the image of God.

Lens 2. We are pervasively fallen—and so in need of radical redemption

The second biblical lens, however, shows us that we are not now what we once were. Due to the disobedience of our first parents, sin entered the world and, like a virus, has infected everyone and everything. As Rosaria Butterfield writes: “Through Adam, we inherit what is called the twofold problem of sin: guilt and corruption”.[3] The result is that every human person is thoroughly fallen and in desperate need of redemption.

This is why our world is full of turmoil and our lives full of tension. It’s why things go wrong in every conceivable way and in every conceivable direction. We are constantly prone to physical, mental and relational breakdown. But at the heart of it all, and ultimately responsible for it all, is universal moral breakdown: “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23).

And yet, the tragic reality of our fallenness has not erased the truth of our createdness. Indeed, despite our captivity to sin, we remain images of God. But like a cracked mirror, we reflect God in a very distorted way. Like a corrupt official, we represent him in a highly defective way and like a defiant child, we relate to him in a deeply dishonouring way.

We are very confusing creatures: wonderful and terrible at the same time. Crowned with glory and honour, and yet also deceitful and depraved. For, as Russian author and political dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn put it, “the line separating good and evil cuts” not between the races, the classes or the sexes (as modern identity politics would have it) but “through the heart of every human being”.[4]

Lens 3: We are mercifully redeemed—and now in the process of restoration

Mercifully, that is not the end of your story or mine. The astonishing words of the apostle Paul in Ephesians 2:1-5 tell us that though we were condemned, we are now acquitted; though we were enslaved, we are now liberated; though we were dead, we are now alive.

That’s the miracle that God brings about as he takes what Jesus did for us in his living, dying and rising, and by his Spirit makes it a reality in us. For as the Spirit brings us to faith in the work of Christ, so he unites us to the person of Christ. And, as a consequence, everything that is true of Jesus becomes true of us.

No wonder Paul elsewhere says: “If anyone is in Christ, they are a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come” (2 Cor 5:17).

That’s a fact, whether or not it’s a feeling. It’s our new God-given identity. And because it’s a reality, we are now called to live differently.

The lyrics of the following song by Helen Kromer illustrate the point:[5]

1. Im nothing, Im nobody, no-one,
but someone made something of me;
He took on my flesh and he walked in my bones
And he saw all the grief that I see.

2. He knew what I know of tormentors,
This haunting and howling within;
The blood that can spill and the bones that can break
And the flesh with the nails driven in.

3. He hung on the cross as a creature;
Wearing my sin spattered clothes;
And the pride in my flesh died with him when he died
And my raiment was new when he rose.

4. This clothing I wear with a difference –
Its flesh that the king entered in!
And hes put there his love, and his almighty law
And it never can be what its been.

5. Im nothing, Im nobody, no-one,
Im something in Christ whos in me;
And Ill put on his flesh and Ill walk in his bones
And a part of his body Ill be!

That song says almost everything that I’d want to say about what it means to find our identity in Christ, except for one dimension which it leaves out—and to see it, we need the fourth and final biblical lens.

Lens 4: We will be gloriously resurrected—transformed and perfected forever

In Philippians 3:21, Paul tells us that when Jesus comes again God will “transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like [Jesus’] glorious body”. This doesn’t mean that he’ll make your female body into a male body, but that he’ll make your perishable body into an imperishable body.

How do I know that? Because that’s precisely what he says in 1 Corinthians 15:51-53:

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 imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality.

So, yes, we will be changed. Hallelujah! We all need a major upgrade. But we won’t be changed from men and women into something else. Rather we’ll be changed from mortal, perishable men and women into immortal, imperishable men and women.

Listen to how British theologian Matthew Mason teases out the implications:

This body, given to me by my Creator according to his original purpose, including its biological sex and the personal gender identity that entails, is the body that will rise on the last day – transformed, powerful, immortal, and glorious beyond my imagining.[6]

The picture that emerges as we seek to understand ourselves in the light of Scripture has a range of implications for our lives and our culture. Look out for the final instalment in this series where we’ll discuss four practical outworkings of what we see through these lenses, and how they help us address a number of contemporary dilemmas. 

[1] Catherine McDowell, “In the Image of God He Created Them: How Genesis 1:26–27 Defines the Divine-Human Relationship and Why It Matters,” in The Image of God in an Image Driven Age: Explorations in Theological Anthropology, ed. Beth Felker Jones and Jeffrey W. Barbeau (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2016), p 30.

[2] CS Lewis, The Weight of Glory (New York: HarperOne, 2001), p 46.

[3] Rosaria Butterfield, Openness Unhindered: Further Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert on Sexual Identity and Union with Christ (Pittsburgh: Crown & Covenant, 2015), p 42.

[4] Aleksandr I Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago, 1918-1956: An Experiment in Literary Investigation I-II, trans. Thomas P. Whitney (New York: Harper & Row, 1974), p 168.

[5] Helen Kromer, “I’m nothing, I’m nobody, no one,” in Frederick Silver and Helen Cromer, For Heaven’s Sake (New York: Williamson Music, 1963).

[6] Matthew Mason, “The Wounded It Heals: Gender Dysphoria and the Resurrection of the Body,” in Beauty, Order, and Mystery: A Christian Vision of Human Sexuality, ed. Gerald Hiestand and Todd Wilson (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2017), p 143.