The Heart of It All: Humanity

August 21, 2012

by Peter Amsterdam

Why Humans?

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(For an introduction and explanation regarding this series overall, please see The Heart of It All: Introduction.)

In these articles about humanity, we have seen that God created unique beings on this earth—beings that were made in His image and likeness. We’ve seen that human beings have many similarities to God: they have a spirit, are personal, have rational minds, free will, and creativity. God intimately breathed life into us. Humans were made a little lower than the angels, and were given dominion over the earth. We are certainly a special creation, as shown not only by how uniquely God made us but also by the fact that He sent His Son to die for us so that we can be reconciled to Him and live with Him forever.

When thinking about humans being made in God’s image, we can understand King David’s awe when he said, I praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are Your works; my soul knows it very well.[1]

As we are rational beings, one question that naturally arises in the mind of man is why God made such unique beings as humans. Why were we created, and what is our purpose?

Scripture doesn’t say much about why God created humans, but what it says is as simple as it is profound. It says that God created humankind for His glory.

Glorifying God

Everyone who is called by My name, whom I created for My glory, whom I formed and made.[2]

That simple statement tells us that our lives are meant to glorify God.

The Westminster Catechism puts it this way:

Question: What is the chief end of man?

Answer: Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.

J. I. Packer offers the following commentary on the preceding quotation:

We must recognize that He is at the heart of things and that we exist for His glory; that is to say, we exist for Him, not He for us. And it is only as we set ourselves to glorify Him as the one who supremely matters that we are going to enter into the joy and fulfillment which being a Christian brings.[3]

In his Catechism of the Church of Geneva, John Calvin wrote:

Master: What is the chief end of human life?

Scholar: To know God by whom men were created.

Master: What reason have you for saying so?

Scholar: Because He created us and placed us in this world to be glorified in us. And it is indeed right that our life, of which Himself is the beginning, should be devoted to His glory.

In referring to God’s final creation of humankind, Dietrich Bonhoeffer expresses the purpose of this creative act:

Humankind is here the final work of God’s self-glorification. The world is created for God, for God’s honor alone, and humankind is the most precious receptacle, the very mirror of the Creator. It is totally for the sake of God’s glory and honor as Creator that everything comes to pass.[4]

What does it mean to glorify God?

To begin with, there are two general ways in which the word glory is used in the Bible. One is in regard to God’s intrinsic glory, which is the bright light which surrounds His presence as He manifests Himself in His creation. This is used as an outward expression of His excellence.[5]

J. Rodman Williams expressed it this way:

What then is the glory of God? Perhaps the best answer is that the divine glory is the radiant splendor and awesome majesty of God Himself … the effulgence [radiating brilliant light] of splendor and majesty that shines through in every aspect of God’s being and action … In regards to God’s being, the glory of God is like an aureole [aura or atmosphere of splendor] emanating from and surrounding Him.[6]

This light is expressed in both the Old and New Testaments.

Bless the Lord, O my soul! O Lord my God, You are very great! You are clothed with splendor and majesty, covering Yourself with light as with a garment, stretching out the heavens like a tent.[7]

The sun shall be no more your light by day, nor for brightness shall the moon give you light; but the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory. Your sun shall no more go down, nor your moon withdraw itself; for the Lord will be your everlasting light.[8]

The cherubim lifted up their wings and mounted up from the earth before my eyes as they went out, with the wheels beside them. And they stood at the entrance of the east gate of the house of the Lord, and the glory of the God of Israel was over them.[9]

An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear.[10]

Jesus took with Him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And He was transfigured before them, and His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became white as light.[11]

The city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb.[12]

This light of God’s glory is glory that belongs to God alone.

My glory I will not give to another.[13]

Two Meanings of Glory

The main Hebrew words translated as glory in the Old Testament mean honor, abundance, dignity, worth, reverence, to shine, to flash forth light, majesty, splendor, and beauty.

In the New Testament, the main word translated as glory in reference to God is doxa, which means splendor, brightness, magnificence, excellence, preeminence, dignity, majesty, a thing belonging to God, the kingly majesty which belongs to Him as supreme ruler, majesty in the sense of the absolute perfection of the deity, the absolute perfect inward or personal excellency of Christ, a most glorious condition, a most exalted state.

These terms and meanings above are the words Scripture uses to describe the wonder of God’s glory.

The second general way glory is used means honor or excellent reputation.[14] When used in this way, it isn’t speaking about God’s intrinsic glory, but rather describes the honor which should be given to God. It’s in this sense that glory is used when speaking of humans being created to glorify God.

The Word says that whatever we do, we should do it to the glory of God. It also instructs us to glorify God in our body and in our spirit.

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.[15]

You were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.[16]

The human essence consists of the material and immaterial, which together make up the complete person. When Scripture tells us that we should glorify God in body and spirit, it can be seen as guidance to glorify Him with all of our being—both inner and outer, physically and spiritually—in all that we do and are. It means that the actions of our life, our interactions with others, as well as all aspects of our inner or spiritual life and self, should glorify Him.

What are some of the ways we can do this?

Glorifying God in our Inner Lives

In our inner lives we can be deeply aware of God and all that He is and has done. We can remember His attributes, His power, and His love. We can look at the incredible creation and its beauty and magnificence. We can deeply appreciate the goodness He has shown to all people and recognize that He loves each person. We can be in awe of the grace and mercy He has bestowed upon us through salvation. We can rejoice that we are adopted into His family through Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross. We can be profoundly humbled that the Holy Spirit dwells within us.

We can understand that He is personal and has created us to be personal as well and thus able to have a relationship with Him. We can consistently nurture and strengthen that relationship. We can love Him, express our gratitude, communicate with Him in prayer, and listen to Him through the various ways in which He communicates with us.

We can praise Him. The Hebrew and Greek words translated as praise are, by their definitions, essentially telling us to give God the praise which is demanded by His qualities, deeds, and attributes; bless, adore; give thanksgiving, appreciation, and commendation. We can regularly express our admiration, gratitude, awe, appreciation, and love, as we come before Him in humility realizing what an awesome, wonderful, and loving God He is.

We can realize that God has told us about Himself through His Word—that He’s Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He’s told us what He’s like, what He’s done, how to be reconciled with Him, how to receive Him, how to have His Spirit dwell in us. Through His Word He’s shown us how to know and love Him, how to trust Him, what pleases Him. He’s expressed His love, His faithfulness, His care for us. We can therefore know Him, love Him, rely on Him, and confidently believe in, trust, and obey His Word.

In our inner lives, in our spirits, we can glorify God by always remembering that He is God, and what that means.—That He is the Supreme Being who has made us, who knows everything about us and everything else; and who, as majestic as He is, loves us and wants to have a personal relationship with us. When Jesus was asked what was the most important commandment, or looked at in different words, what is the most important thing that humans are supposed to do in our lives, He said:

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.[17]

We are to love God, and thus glorify Him, from within our inward being, with our soul/spirit, with our rational minds, and with all that is within us.

As Bible commentator Matthew Henry wrote:

We must love God with all our hearts, must look upon Him as the best of beings, in Himself most amiable, and infinitely perfect and excellent; as One whom we lie under the greatest obligations to, both in gratitude and interest.

J. I. Packer in referring to our glorifying God says:

The to-and-fro of seeing glory in God and giving glory to God is the true fulfillment of human nature at its heart, and it brings supreme joy to man just as it does to God (Zephaniah 3:1417).[18]

Glorifying God in our Actions

In our outer life we can glorify God in our actions.

We glorify Him when we follow what His Word tells us to do, when we live in accordance with it, and put biblical principles into everyday action.

Because we are personal beings who have a relationship with God, we can also follow Him by seeking His direction in prayer and doing those things He shows us. Each of us is different, and the Lord can give guidance that is specific to our life. We show Him honor when we ask Him to lead us and when we follow His leading by faith.

We bring glory to God when we live our lives in a manner which reflects God’s love and the principles of His Word. His Word instructs us to let our lights shine before others, so that they can see what we do and how we live, feel God’s love, and glorify Him because of it. Our godly interactions with others, our living in alignment with the instructions and principles of His Word, are seen by others and can affect them for good.

We also glorify the Lord before others when we witness, when we tell our personal testimony, when we speak of how He has worked in our lives and hearts, when we give out literature or teach or by any means inform people about God and His love for them.

We glorify Him when we help those in need, the widows and orphans, the needy, the poor—when we give of ourselves in any way that reflects God’s love and concern for others.

When we pray and ask Him for help for ourselves or others, when we claim His promises and stand on them, when we seek His guidance, we are giving Him glory. We are acknowledging our belief in His care and concern for us, in the truth of His Word, and in the dependability of His promises. We acknowledge our need and declare, through our prayers, that we trust that He will both hear and answer them. When we confess our sins to Him, we honor Him by acknowledging that we have done wrong and are in need of His forgiveness.

We glorify God when we love our neighbors as we love ourselves;[19] when we do to others as we’d have them do to us;[20] when we love in deed and in truth;[21] and when we love, obey, and revere God and do the things He says, for this is the whole duty of man.[22]

All life activities, too, must be pursued with the aim of giving God homage, honor, and pleasure, which is glory-giving on the practical level (1 Corinthians 10:31).[23]

When we understand that God created us to glorify Him, it should help us to do our best to live in a manner which brings Him glory. Living a God-glorifying life, however, isn’t a one-way street, with all the benefits going to Him. There are blessings received in this life and in the life to come for those who live to glorify Him.

You make known to me the path of life; in Your presence there is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.[24]

The one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.[25]

Blessed is everyone who fears the Lord, who walks in His ways! You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands; you shall be blessed, and it shall be well with you.[26]

Your Father who sees in secret will reward you.[27]

I [Jesus] came that they may have life and have it abundantly.[28]

Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with Him for a thousand years.[29]

As Christians who understand that the Lord desires us to live lives which glorify Him, which will be blessed by Him and will bless others, we have the opportunity to fulfill the purpose of our Creator in this life, and to live with Him forever in joy and happiness, always being able to give Him the glory He deserves.

Worthy are You, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for You created all things, and by Your will they existed and were created.[30]

[1] Psalm 139:14.

[2] Isaiah 43:7.

[3] An Interview with J. I. Packer, Founders Ministries.

[4] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, Vol. 3, Creation and Fall (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1997), p. 72.

[5] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: InterVarsity Press, 2000), p. 221.

[6] J. Rodman Williams, Renewal Theology, Systematic Theology from a Charismatic Perspective, Vol. 1 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), p. 180.

[7] Psalm 104:1–2.

[8] Isaiah 60:19–20.

[9] Ezekiel 10:19.

[10] Luke 2:9.

[11] Matthew 17:1–2.

[12] Revelation 21:23.

[13] Isaiah 48:11.

[14] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: InterVarsity Press, 2000), p. 200.

[15] 1 Corinthians 10:31.

[16] 1 Corinthians 6:20 NKJV.

[17] Mark 12:30.

[18] J. I. Packer, Glory, from the book Concise Theology (Carol Stream: Tyndale House Publishers, 1993), p. 59.

[19] [Jesus] said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind, This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:37–40).

[20] Whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 7:12).

As you wish that others would do to you, do so to them (Luke 6:31).

[21] Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth (1 John 3:18).

[22] The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man (Ecclesiastes 12:13).

[23] J. I. Packer, Glory, from the book Concise Theology (Carol Stream: Tyndale House Publishers, 1993), p. 60.

[24] Psalm 16:11.

[25] James 1:25.

[26] Psalm 128:1–2.

[27] Matthew 6:6.

[28] John 10:10.

[29] Revelation 20:6.

[30] Revelation 4:11.