ACST 22. The Social Being

Genesis 1:27 shows that human beings were invested at their creation with an authority and responsibility for the rest of creation by virtue of their being created in God’s image and likeness. The verse is also important because it defines human beings as “male and female.” Here is the foundation for a recognition of human beings as social beings. Human beings are capable of being alone, but are designed at the outset (as Genesis records) to operate in groups.

This fact is essential to the study of the human nature. A theology that merely accents the nature and destiny of the human person as an individual misses much of what the Bible has to say. It is in the context of our relationships with God and with other sentient beings that humans learn what God wants from them. The Bible does not just consist of didactic material, but also provides a great deal of history as a record of human interactions and human-divine interactions. Even much of the didactic material in the Bible consists of instructions on how to live among other human beings.1

Political theorist Hannah Arendt speaks of humanity as having a two-fold origin: “As God’s creature, man has his origin in his Creator, before whom he stands as an individual; as descendant from Adam, man has his origin in his First Parent, which is a common origin ensuring the unity of the human race and accounting for the human person’s social nature.”2

Each of these origins has implications that help us to understand who we are as human beings. The fact that human beings had their origin as a distinct creation of God leads to an awareness that humans are not independent of God. This leads to many implications, among which are human creature-hood, mortality and responsibility (as discussed in chapters 19-21). Likewise, the fact that all human beings trace their origin to that of Adam accents our unity, and leads to an awareness that humans are not independent of each other.

This unity and inter-dependence manifests itself in a diverse number of social contexts in which interpersonal relationships are developed and thrive. The core context for relationship development is the marriage. Moses recounts that in creating Adam God said “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.”3 A great deal of theological information is packed into that short statement.

1. This is the first hint in the Genesis historical account that something is not quite right. It is not yet an account of sin, or of the coming rebellion, or of the subsequent fall (about which we learn in Genesis 3). Instead, it represents the creation as needing completion in order for it to function properly as God intended it. The creation of light on the first day4 needed the help of special lights which were created on the fourth day.5 The creation of an expanse of sky and a planet of water on the second day6 called for air and sea creatures to fill them on the fifth day.7 The creation of the land on the third day8 called for the creation of land animals and humanity on the sixth day.9 So, in Moses’ first creation account, God is said to have created both male and female together.10 In his second account Moses elaborates on the creation of humanity itself, pointing out that Adam was created first, then Eve was added to be a helper to him. These two accounts are both historical. The first highlights how humanity is needed to complete the picture of creation as a whole. The second highlights how Eve was needed to complete the picture of Adam – for Adam to become what God intended of him.

2. God identified the element that was “not good” in Adam. It was not good that Adam – of all the creatures of the earth – was alone. Adam was capable of functioning alone. He had been placed in the garden “to work it and keep it.”11 He was capable of relating to God alone. God gave Adam instructions about what he could eat in the garden, and what he should avoid. God warned Adam not to eat of the forbidden tree in the midst of the garden. Adam apparently understood those instructions and that warning. His relationship with God was intact. We are not told how long Adam existed in this state before Eve was created. We are only told that God decided (or at least declared) that the situation was not good.

3. Adam needed Eve because of the plan of God. The creator wanted humanity to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.”12 Adam could not do that himself. God brought the human relationship of marriage into existence in order to complete what he started in creation. He could have created billions of perfect humans himself and immediately filled the planet. Instead, he chose to complete his masterpiece utilizing those who bore his image. It is also difficult to imagine Adam having dominion over the earth without reproducing himself and sharing that dominion with other humans. So Adam needed Eve in order to fulfill both the reproduction and the dominion mandates.

4. Eve was the proper fit for Adam. She complemented him. Her strengths bolstered his weaknesses. Her weaknesses gave him opportunity to manifest his strengths. Perhaps the story of God’s surgery on Adam suggests this connection between the two:

So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man,
and he slept; then He took one of his ribs and closed up the
flesh at that place. The LORD God fashioned into a woman
the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to
the man. The man said, “This is now bone of my bones, And
flesh of my flesh; She shall be called Woman, Because she was
taken out of Man.” (Genesis 2:21-23 ESV)

What is left of Adam is incomplete. Likewise, Eve was created for a purpose and finds her purpose (at least partly) in the completion of Adam.

The Norm, But Not A Mandate

These texts fall short of mandating that every man must become married in order to fulfill God’s plan for his life. Neither do they say that every woman must be married in order to be in the center of God’s will. The texts do establish that the male and female relationship solemnized by marriage13 was God’s intention for humanity as a whole, in order for the human race to accomplish God’s will and find personal fulfillment in doing so. The Bible speaks of those who have left their houses (or households) because of their commitment to Jesus, and of those who choose to remain unmarried as a sign of their Christian commitment.14 One must avoid giving the impression that an unmarried Christian is somehow missing God’s will. At the same time, Scripture encourages healthy marriages as the norm. Christians are told to “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.”15

Husband and Wife

The Bible affirms heterosexual marriages as part of the original creation mandate16 and always speaks of marriage as a union between males and females.17 Homosexual practice is regarded in the Bible as a sin that needs to be repented of, not as an alternative lifestyle that should be accommodated.18 Homosexual thoughts fall under the category of sexual sin, or works of the flesh, which must be crucified so that believers can walk by the Spirit.19

One reason that the Bible takes a hard line in its promotion of heterosexual marriage alone is that marriage is the core social unit. The social units are horizontal relationships which can help believers better understand and function in our relationship with God. By means of the social units, God teaches us his purposes and values. When the social units work correctly, we learn wisdom and spirituality. When the social units break down, we learn foolishness and depravity.

In view of this, it is not surprising that The Bible has a great deal to say to wives on how they are to relate to their husbands,20 and to husbands on how they are to relate to their wives.21 Both parties are responsible to uphold the relationship while maintaining the dignity and integrity of the marriage. For this reason, the Bible speaks of marriage as an analogy for the relationship between God and his people,22 or between Christ and his church.23 The potential dynamic of mutual love and adoration combined with mutual submission and respect that can be manifested in human marriage serves as a helpful similitude for God’s relationship with his people.


Another social unit that serves as a factory for producing spiritual success or failure is the family. Once again, the Bible takes family relationships very seriously, providing insight and instruction for fathers and mothers24 and sons and daughters.25

The children who learn to respect their parents honor them, while foolish children dishonor and abuse their parents. The parents who take advantage of their children’s loyalty to lead them into sin reap the consequences of the rebellion they encouraged.

Other Communities and Societies

A variety of social units exist which can be used by the Holy Spirit to turn us into the kind of people God wants us to be. Connections with some of these societies are geographically based. Some, however, find these connections by means of identifying with personal interests, goals and associations. Sociologists have long understood the vital ties between voluntary associations with communities and personal well-being.

Benefits Derived from Social Connections

• Recognition of others; feedback from others about ourselves
• Acknowledgement and reciprocation of emotion and feelings
• Provides safety net or social support
• Enhances health and well-being, recovery from illness, longevity
• Expands friendships and creates new social networks
• Connectedness gives life meaning and happiness
• Connections are necessary to meet basic needs of survival
• Connections are the way we learn the rules for living in a particular culture
• Connections link the past and present
• Through connections we identify with others, share ideas, and talents that may benefit larger groups of people

We not only learn from these voluntary associations with communities, but we also have opportunity to minister to others through them. God intended for this to be the case. The second greatest commandment he gave humanity was to love our neighbors as ourselves.27 In fact, a great deal of the Mosaic Law had to do with neighbor relations.28

The Church

Chief among these communities and societies is the Church of Jesus Christ. The Church is not an evolutionary by-product. It is God’s intention for every believer. Chapters 55-60 of this book will explore the nature, purpose, and identity of the Church. At this point it is important to address the Church’s role as a means of producing human beings that function as God intends them to. Acts 9:31 highlights five aspects of the church’s role in making human beings the kind of people God intended: “So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.”

The church should seek peace in all it’s forms, but should also be prepared for persecution. Christ warned that persecution and trouble would never be far from the church.29 But it was the church’s responsibility to seek peace, both politically and culturally.

The Church should promote edification among its members through the operation of spiritual gifts.30 As each member uses the talents and supernatural ministries and manifestations, the whole body is built up, which in turn strengthens every member.

The Church should promote a healthy balance between fear of God and the comfort the Holy Spirit can bring. Fear of God keeps people from taking him for granted, or abusing the privilege of his presence or his name. Church discipline helps to maintain that healthy fear.31 The Comfort the Holy Spirit gives promotes a social atmosphere of peace and courage. Prayer during times when that peace is challenged is an important role for the church.32

The Church should manifest growth due to local witnessing33 and global missions.34 Just as growth is expected in healthy organisms, so it is to be expected in the church, which is described as a body.

The Heavenly Realms

Paul shows that the church plays a very important role in terms of proving God’s wisdom to the spirit beings among us as well:

To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him (Ephesians 3:8-12).

This highlights the important role human beings play in confirming the faithfulness of the elect angels, and condemning the rebellious ones. The context in which we manifest God’s wisdom is our social relationships. Theologians recognize that “to be human means to be a social being. Our existence is always embedded in some wider social reality.”35 That social reality is even more immense than the planet. It reaches to the heavens themselves.


1 Note, for example, how the OT Wisdom literature and Christ’s Sermon on the Mount concern themselves with how to live properly in the context of human societies. Their principles are not abstract, but apply to those who are seeking to skillfully live among other human beings.

2 Stephan Kampowski, Arendt, Augustine, And The New Beginning (Grand Rapids: Wm B. Eerdmans, 2008), 229.

3 Genesis 2:18.

4 Genesis 1:1-5

5 Genesis 1:14-19.

6 Genesis 1:6-8

7 Genesis 1:20-23

8 Genesis 1:9-13.

9 Genesis 1:24-31

10 Genesis 1:26-27.

11 Genesis 2:15.

12 Genesis 1:28.

13 Genesis 2:24.

14 Matt. 19:29; 1 Cor. 7:1-40.

15 Hebrews 13:4.

16 Genesis 2:24.

17 1 Cor. 7, Eph. 5.

18 1 Cor. 6:9; 1 Tim. 1:10.

19 Gal. 5:19-24.

20 Ezekiel 16:45; Amos 4:1; John 4:18; 1 Cor. 11; 14:35; Eph. 5:22-24; Col. 3:18; Titus 2:4-5; 1 Pet. 3:1-6,10.

21 Prov. 5:15; Eccl. 9:9; Ezekiel 18:6,11,15; 22:11; 33:26; Mal. 2:14-15; 1 Cor. 7; Eph. 5:25-28; Col. 3:19; 1 Pet. 3:7.

22 Isaiah 54:6; 61:9; 62:5; Jeremiah 2:2, 32; 3:1,20; Ezekiel 16:1-32; Hosea 1:2; 2:2.

23 John 3:29; Eph. 5:32; Rev. 19:7; 21:2,9; 22:17.

24 Prov. 23:24; 30:11.

25 Exodus 20:12; Prov. 23:25.

26 John G. Bruhn, The Sociology of Human Connections (Las Cruces, New Mexico: Springer, 2005), 10.

27 Leviticus 19:18; Matt. 19:19; 22:39; Mark 12:31.

28 Exodus 20:6; 22:7-15; Leviticus 19:13-18; 25:14-15; Deuteronomy 19:4-12.

29 Matthew 24:9.

30 Acts 13:1; 1 Cor. 14; Eph. 4:11-12.

31 Matthew 18:17.

32 Acts 12:5.

33 Acts 1:8; Eph. 3:10.

34 Acts 11:21.

35 Stanley J. Grenz, Theology for the Community of God (Grand Rapids: Wm B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2000), 425.

The Gospel for the Crucified (Gal. 5:16-26).

Galatians 5:16-26 ESV
But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.

Today’s text is one of the most popular from the book of Galatians. Portions of it are probably read and preached more than any other in the book. But I am glad I did not decide just to jump into this text. I’m glad we have been hanging out in the whole book of Galatians for the past five months. Along the way we have discovered the historical and cultural context in which these words were first applied.

This context is going to help us see more clearly what Paul is saying, and to whom and how it applied in the first century. That knowledge will also help us put the text in practice here in the 21st century.

In summary, that context is this: Paul had been responsible for planting the churches of the Galatian region of the Roman province of Asia Minor. After he went on to plant more churches elsewhere, some false teachers came into those churches and promoted a new way of looking at Christianity. Paul called those false teachers “troublers” and that is exactly what they did – they caused trouble.

They taught that once you come to Christ by faith you then need to add something called “the works of the law” to that faith. Apparently the “works of the law” included circumcision, Jewish dietary restrictions, and strict obedience to the Mosaic laws as interpreted by these teachers.

So let me now venture a definition of the Galatian heresy based on what we have seen so far in Paul’s letter. It appears that the troublers were certain that anyone coming to Christ by faith were going to need some extra help living the life they have committed themselves to. So, they offer this advice: “if you want to live the Christian life, and please God, and succeed at being a believer, you need to add these “works of the law.” They are the secret ingredient that will help you produce the godly character you know God expects.

If you go to the average Christian bookstore you will find lots of books that claim to have the secret of living the Christian life. It is something we all want. That real desire in Christians is something the troublers were exploiting.

But there was a problem with that philosophy. It wasn’t working. It is apparent from verse 26 that the Galatian heresy was producing a bunch of people who could not even get along with each other, much less witness to their neighbours about Christ. The ones who seemed to be following the works of the law were becoming conceited about it. Proverbs 16:18 says “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.”

The ones who didn’t have their act together envied those who looked like they did, and everybody was making everyone else miserable. You didn’t want to plan your next conference at Galatia. It was not the place anyone wanted to be.

So what went wrong: Paul had another word he used for the “works of the law” He calls them “the works of the flesh” (19). And he says in Galatians 5:17 “the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other (NIV says they are in conflict with each other), to keep you from doing the things you want to do.”

So he was telling them that there was a war going on inside of them. Every time they decided to do something good in their own power, their sinful nature turned it into something evil. Every Christian has this war going on inside him.

So, no matter who you are, whether you are saved or not, whether you have been raised in a Christian home or not, whether you are home schooled or not, whether you went to Bible college or not… If you are trying to live the Christian life in your own strength you are going to produce the works of the flesh (19-21).

This is serious, because the only way the world is going to know that we Christians have found the Answer in Christ is that we manifest the fruit of the Spirit. If we are operating out of the flesh, we will produce what the flesh produces. That is not a good résumé.

The solution is what Paul commanded the Galatians to do here. If you remember from last week, Paul had told the Galatians that they were on self-destruct mode. He said “But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.” The NIV translates this well, because it picks up the continuous aspect: “If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.”

So Paul’s solution (in verse 16) is for them to walk by the Spirit. That means letting the Holy Spirit be the controlling power in their motivations, and the deciding influence in their actions. That is being led by the Spirit (18), which is passive.

It being passive makes it harder for us because it involves letting the Holy Spirit take control and do what God wants to do in our lives, not what we want to do, and it means doing what God wants to do in his way, not our way.

But that is the only way we are going to produce the Spirit’s fruit, instead of our own fruit. Jesus said “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples” (John 15:8). He also said “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (15:5 ).

That reinforces the idea that Paul is getting across to the Galatians. Fruit bearing is passive: God wants to grow the fruit on us.

The zillion dollar question is “how?” How do we stop operating out of the flesh, and passively allow God to change us so that we manifest the fruit of the spirit instead of the works of the flesh? We have to understand that the Christian life is just that. It is a life, not just a decision. Lots of people make a decision to invite Christ into their lives and then never cultivate that life. They keep on living out of the flesh; they never walk by the Spirit. Those people are not saved, because their decision for Christ was not a repentance.

True repentance is what Paul described here, and the reason why the Galatians were having the problems that they were having is that they had missed true repentance. In verse 24 he says “those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”

Paul had experienced that true repentance. He said in Galatians 2:20 “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” That’s the kind of life he is calling on the Galatians to live.

But again, the question is “how?” Once we have truly repented of living life our way, and submitted to the Holy Spirit, how do we know that the desires and passions we now have are coming from the Holy Spirit, and not our flesh?

One clue is the question Paul asked in Galatians 3:5 “Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith?” Here Paul reveals how God chooses to work. Through his word he motivates us to do his will. But how is that different than what the Judaizers were saying? The difference is the one who initiates the change.

LORD, we want to know more about how to live the life where the Holy Spirit has control, and produces the fruit of the Spirit. Teach us how to live lives that have been crucified, surrendered completely to your will and your control. Teach us to hear your word and respond to it in faith. Forgive us for trying to live the Christian life in our own strength, under our own power, and by our own planning. Use us Oh Lord. Bear fruit from our branches. In the name of Jesus, who is the Vine. Amen

ACST 21. The Mortal Being

The early chapters of Genesis have proven to be very helpful as a guide to understanding human nature. They have shown that human beings are creatures, like the animals, but that human beings were intended to be more than that. They were created in God’s image and likeness, which implies a special authority from God and responsibility to him. God tested this responsibility in the Garden of Eden by planting two special trees in Eden: the tree of life (which, if eaten would have granted Adam and Eve immediate immortality), and the tree of knowing good and evil.

Of these two trees, only the latter was prohibited. The first humans were allowed to eat of all the other trees, including the tree of life. If our ancestors had simply made the correct decision, they would have remained alive forever, along with all their descendants.

Instead, they were deceived to believe that it was the other tree that actually held promise. Satan had told them “For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5). That statement was the truth, but it implied a lie: that the tree offered immunity from death. Instead “being like God” merely meant having experienced both good and evil. God had known both the good of his original creation and the evil of Satan’s rebellion. Taking of the tree of knowing good and evil would cause humans to experience evil personally – thus wreck the purity of Eden, and human intimacy with their creator.

God’s response to that sin led to a further consequence: human mortality. The persons of the Triune One speak among themselves and say …

“Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good
and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of
the tree of life and eat, and live forever-” therefore the
LORD God sent him out from the Garden of Eden to work
the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man,
and at the east of the Garden of Eden he placed the cherubim
and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way
to the tree of life. (Genesis 3:22-24)

Before the fall, human beings had the potential to become immortal. They had the potential to become something more than what they were. As a consequence of the rebellion in Eden, this opportunity was taken away.

God wanted human beings to be immortal. He still does. He wants to establish a relationship with us that will bring glory and joy to both parties forever. Yet God cannot endure unrighteousness forever. Until a solution can be found that will undo the Eden rebellion, God cannot grant immortality to human beings. He was thus forced by his own nature to banish us from paradise.

So, although intended for immortality, human beings are now reduced to the same nature as the animals God has placed us over. The ancient scientist Solomon recognized this:

I said in my heart with regard to the children of man that
God is testing them that they may see that they themselves
are but beasts. For what happens to the children of man
and what happens to the beasts is the same; as one dies,
so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and man
has no advantage over the beasts, for all is vanity. All go
to one place. All are from the dust, and to dust all return.
(Ecclesiastes 3:18-20).

This is the bad news the Bible gives us, which serves as the backdrop for the good news of eternal life available through Christ.

Advent Christians proclaim Christ, and his second coming as the time when God is going to grant immortality to the saved and undo the Edenic curse. But Advent Christians have also championed the truth of this bad news: that all humanity is mortal and subject to real death. We feel that it is dishonoring God’s word to say that humans are both mortal and immortal at the same time.1 We also feel that it is inconsistent evangelism to claim that Jesus offers eternal life and then teach people that they already have eternal life.

Conditional Immortality

So, instead of teaching people that immortality is innate (that is, that all human beings are born with it), we teach that it is conditional. God offers eternal life to those who put their faith in Christ: those are the conditions. One of the first post-apostolic writers to express conditionalism was Theophilus of Antioch:

God did not create humanity as either mortal or immortal, but, …
with the capacity for them both. If humanity inclined towards
those things which relate to immortality by keeping the command-
ments of God, then it would receive immortality as a reward from
God… On the other hand, if humanity should incline towards those
things which relate to death by disobeying God, then humanity
would be the cause of its own death.2

When a certain man came to Jesus once, asking “what good deed must I do to have eternal life?”3 – Jesus did not challenge his theological inference that eternal life is something that must be obtained. If immortality were innate, then Jesus should have stopped the man and pointed that out. Instead, Jesus agreed with the man that he needed eternal life, and then challenged the man to follow him – that he might get what he was asking for.4

The Gospel is all about how God offers us what we do not have on the basis of his grace, through the atoning death of Christ. Christ’s death has met the conditions. Following Christ is the solution to the curse of Eden. A conditionalist is someone who does not trust in her own innate ability to live forever, but trusts in Christ’s completed work on the cross, and looks forward to the day when Christ will make her immortal.

Conferred Immortality

Advent Christians take death seriously, and that leads to our special appreciation of the gift of immortality. We understand the awful consequences that are the result of sin entering God’s creation, and that makes us appreciate Christ all the more. When we read Romans 6:23, it makes perfect sense as it is: “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” But if a person believes that immortality is not conferred as a gift, but is an innate possession, they have to supply some interpretation for Romans 6:23 to fit their view. It then reads “For the wages of sin is death (but only death of the body, because the real person is the soul and it cannot die), but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (except that eternal life is actually a right we have by birth, so Christ does not give it).”

William Newton Clarke complained that conditionalists “argue from the silence of scripture regarding the natural immortality of man, and from the uniform association of ‘eternal life’ with Christ.”5 He was exactly right – although it is hardly reason for complaint. Scripture is silent on the natural immortality of humans because it rejects the notion. Eternal life is either conferred upon the faithful or it is innate by reason of creation. There is no logic that allows for both, or any scripture that proves both.

Future Immortality

Advent Christians have never argued against the concept of human immortality. We simply insist that that great gift will be given to humans at the appropriate time. It has not been the possession of all humans from birth. Instead, it will be given to some humans at the return of Christ. Speaking of that return, Paul says that it will happen “in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality” (1 Corinthians 15:52-53 NIV).

That glorious day will be the beginning of “the times of restoration of all things, which God has spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began.”6 The fact that raising the dead is first on Christ’s list when he returns should be an encouragement to us. It should enable us to face the death of our loved ones (or even our own eventual death) with courage, knowing that although death is real, it is only temporary.

Life Only In Christ

The doctrine of human mortality is Christocentric, not anthropocentric.7 It reveals Christ as the giver of life, not just the one who can “get you to heaven.” John states the options bluntly: “Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.”8 The Bible is about Jesus Christ. The Old Testament pointed forward to him, the New Testament points back to him. Human mortality is the need which only Christ could meet. Paul says that God “saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.”9

Over against this clear teaching from the Bible on human mortality is the persistent mistaken notion that humans are born with immortal souls or spirits that consciously survive the death of their bodies. This view sees the references to death in the scripture as usually referring to this physical death, and therefore irrelevant on the subject of the soul’s survival. The view thus confirms both mortality and immortality at the same time. Any scriptural evidence in favor of human mortality can immediately be dismissed as not pertinent, since it (in the innate immortality view) always refers to the material aspect of human existence, and not the spiritual.

Scriptures that Clash with the Innate Immortality Tradition

This view reflects the same Greek dualism mentioned in chapter 20.10 It is a worldview that is read into scripture, rather than being a part of it. It has become embedded in Christianity the way many other non-biblical traditions have. By taking a closer look at doctrines taught in scripture, the clashes between those doctrines and the innate immortality tradition become more evident.

1 Timothy 6:16

In chapter 15 we noted that scripture teaches that God “alone has immortality” (1 Timothy 6:16). The innate immortality view denies this, although its proponents do exercise a great deal of verbal gymnastics to try to affirm it.11 At issue, then, is not simply the doctrine of human nature, but the doctrine of God’s nature as well. To claim immortality for sinful humanity is to deny it as an exclusive attribute of God. But when the first humans sinned, God said that they “must not be allowed to … live forever.”12 Their sin had not only affected their relationship with God (resulting in banishment from his presence in Eden), but it changed them. They had been immortable (capable of becoming immortal by eating of the tree of life). Now they were simply mortal.

Some argue that the term “immortality,” when it refers to God, has a different meaning than when it refers to all other beings. They argue that “the meaning of ‘immortality’ in the Bible largely depends on its context.”13 They see this as adequate justification for ignoring the contradiction found in the traditional doctrine of the immortal soul, and affirming both the exclusive immortality of God and the universal immortality of humanity as dependent upon him. Conditionalists see this as double-speak. While it is true that all words depend on their context for meaning, there is nowhere in the context of 1 Timothy 6:16 that redefines the term or assumes a distinction between how it is used by Paul there, compared to how he or other biblical authors use it elsewhere.

Genesis 2:17

This is precisely what God (with tears in his eyes) warned Adam and Eve would happen if they disobey his Edenic prohibition. He said “but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”14 That phrase “you shall surely die” is a combination of two forms of the same verb. The word mot is the infinitive absolute of the verb “to die” and refers to the state of mortality was humanity’s fate after the rebellion in Eden. From the moment they ate of the tree, humanity became a dying race. The second word is the imperfect tense of the same verb. The word tamut refers to the eventual and inevitable death that would come to each member of the race as a result of the fall. Together these two forms of a verb reflect a Hebrew idiom that accentuates the certainty of an action. Thus the translations render the phrase “you will surely die.” The innate immortality doctrine turns this into an empty threat since it claims that the real essence of a human person never dies.

Romans 5:12

Paul tells us that “When Adam sinned, sin entered the world. Adam’s sin brought death, so death spread to everyone, for everyone sinned.”15 Sin and death have been a matched set in human experience ever since that initial sin in Eden. It is not merely the body which sins, but the whole person. That is why we need a Savior, not just someone who can raise us from the dead. Christ is both. He can restore our inner beings as well as raise our bodies. Both have been affected by sin; the wages of that sin is death to both, and the gift of God is eternal life for both.16

John 3:16

The Bible speaks of a coming day of judgment when all those who are not redeemed by Christ’s blood will totally perish in the fires of Gehenna hell.17 When the Bible speaks of believers being saved, it usually refers to this event. In other words, to perish is not simply to die. To perish is to utterly die. It refers to the ultimate, permanent death in Gehenna, not to the temporary death at the end of this life. So when Jesus told Nicodemus that “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” he was speaking of the two ultimate fates of mankind. To perish is to be ultimately destroyed. To have eternal life is to escape that destruction. Many texts point out the same distinction.18 The innate immortality doctrine blurs that distinction because it insists that no human being ultimately perishes. Thus all human beings ultimately have eternal life.

The innate immortality view distorts a crucial and essential doctrine of the Christian faith: the purpose of Christ’s death on the cross. According to the Bible, Christ’s death was to protect us from ultimate destruction, not to get our souls to heaven when our bodies die.

1 Corinthians 15:22-23

The Bible is also explicit on the issue of just when believers will gain the gift of immortality. It did not happen at our birth, and it will not happen at our death. Believers will be made alive at the return of Christ. Paul says “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.” Paul compares two events in history. The first event was the fall of humanity in the garden of Eden. As a result of that event, human nature became a fatal condition. The second event is the return of Christ to this earth.

The analogy Paul uses to describe the resurrection is a crop harvest. Each resurrection is a stage in the harvest. Since Christ is the Firstfruits, he was resurrected first. This took place three days after his death. The second stage of the harvest includes “those who belong to Christ” when he comes. This is the believers’ resurrection. Paul does not speak of Christ restoring souls with their risen bodies. Instead he speaks of the whole person being “made alive.” This is when the promise of eternal life will be fulfilled for us.

The doctrine of innate immortality also subverts this plain teaching of scripture. According to that view, no human being ever dies, so none will ever need to be made alive. The concept of the resurrection takes a back seat to the more immediate idea of conscious survival of death. It makes the return of Christ less crucial, and rather anticlimactic.


The consequences of original sin in the Garden of Eden include the mortality of all human beings, which makes homo sapiens no different from the animals in terms of mortality and eventual death. This dark reality is the backdrop upon which the
brilliant light of eternal life offered by Christ emerges in scripture. In contrast, the tradition of innate immortality dilutes the teachings of scripture. Believing that one is already immortal by nature can make one less appreciative of the nature of God, the influence of sin, the purpose of Christ’s death on the cross, and the reason for his second coming.

Defending Human Mortality

A number of scripture texts should be studied in order to get a comprehensive understanding of the issue of human mortality. These texts include those which define human (and other) beings as mortal compared with God (who alone is immortal). They also include those texts which have been used by proponents of the innate immortality to defend that tradition. Rather than deal with all these passages in a summary fashion here, a number of excursuses will be inserted after this chapter, each dealing with an individual text or topic relevant to the issue of human mortality.


1 William West explores this contradiction in Resurrection And Immortality (Xulon Press, 2006), 77.

2 Theophilus of Antioch, ad Autolycum (shortly after 180 AD) quoted in Alister E. McGrath, ed. The Christian Theology Reader (Malden Mass: Blackwell Publishing, 2007), 646.

3 Matthew 19:16.

4 Matthew 19:21.

5 William Newton Clarke, An Outline of Christian Theology (BiblioBazaar, LLC, 2009), 452.

6 Acts 3:21 NKJV.

7 Viewing mortality as an anthropocentric issue places too much emphasis on humans as created rather than humans as redeemed. Conditionalists argue that viewing mortality as an anthropocentric issue distracts believers from seeing the connection between human need for resurrection life and the solution for that problem offered in the atonement.

8 1 John 5:12.

9 2 Timothy 1:9-10.

10 Page 148.

11 Page 104.

12 Genesis 3:22 NIV.

13 Christopher W. Morgan, Robert A. Peterson, Hell Under Fire (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004), 206. These authors discredit the conditionalist argument for exclusive immortality of God because they are seeking to defend the traditional concept of hell as the perpetual torture of immortal human souls.

14 Genesis 2:17.

15 Romans 5:12 NLT.

16 Romans 6:23.

17 Malachi 4:1; Matthew 5:22,29,30; 10:28; 18:9; 23:33; Mark 9:43,45,47; Luke 12:5.

18 See also John 4:14; 5:21; 10:28; 17:2.

ACST 20. The Ruling Being

God invested human beings with a special authority over and responsibility for the rest of his creation:

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “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.” (Genesis 1:26-28).

In this text, Moses reveals that special authority and responsibility in several ways:
First, he says that God created human beings “in his image.” The word for image that Moses used is tselem. This word has a particularly important background in Ancient Near Eastern politics. It is in that context that we learn of “powerful kings in the ancient world” who “placed their tselem (statues of themselves) to represent their sovereignty in territories where they were not present.”1 Moses, being trained in the courts of Pharaoh in Egypt, would have been fully aware of the political implications of that word. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he chose that word to describe the status of human beings.

Some of the implications seen in the use of tselem as a description of humanity are as follows:

1. As already seen from Genesis 2:7, human beings are created beings. Their status as tselem does not change that fact. Individuals loyal to the king were fully aware that the tselem represented the king, but the statues did not have the same nature as the king. No subject of a king in the Ancient Near East would have ever suggested that the tselem was “flesh and blood” like the king. The tselem was a mere representation.

2. As a representation, the tselem was to be honored and revered. This honor was appropriate because the tselem was representing the king – to whom the honor and reverence was rightly due. When the tselem was a mere object, that honor and reverence was obviously limited. When the king had biological tsalmim (that is, sons or grandsons), they were to be treated with the same deference as the king himself – because they represented him. In Genesis Adam and Eve were recognized by the other creatures as special representatives of God.

3. Biological tsalmim were also expected to take on special responsibilities that went along with representing their father or grandfather. They were princes, and were given territories where they were to reign as representatives of the king. In Genesis, the Garden of Eden was to be tended by Adam and Eve.

The second way that Moses reveals that special authority and responsibility humans have been given at creation is the use of the word “likeness.” This word can imply a physical resemblance. It is not clear that the word is being used in that way by Moses. Instead, it appears to be used here as a parallel and synonym to tselem. When the two words are used together, they are an example of hendiadys, where two words are used for the same idea. Hebrew is a language that uses parallels constantly. Even in English we often use hendiadys, as in the phrase “nice and warm” to describe the day.

The third way that Moses reveals that special authority and responsibility humans have been given at creation is the use of the word dominion. This word implies that the other creatures of God’s creation will require someone to supervise their lives – to make decisions for them. Moses specifically mentioned in the text the fish, birds, and land animals, but he said it in such a way as to imply that their habitats are also included as humanity’s responsibility.

A fourth significant word is subdue, which is similar to the idea of having dominion, except that the object is different. Humans were to have dominion over the other creatures, but they were to subdue the earth. Eventually this mandate would produce in human beings all the branches of knowledge now encapsulated by the broad term science. In our endeavor to subdue the earth, we had the need to understand it. This became particularly important after the fall, which turned the earth into something analogous of a wild animal, which, if not tamed, would turn against us.

Along with the mental drive to know our environment, these two commands (have dominion over the inhabitants of the earth, and subdue the earth itself) imply the drive to protect and cultivate the environment as well. It is unfortunate that modern science has ignored this implication. The damage godless human beings have done to a planet we had the responsibility to protect is an indictment upon us. It is not a coincidence that nations who have largely abandoned God for atheism and agnosticism and secularism have led the way in the raping of the planet, irresponsibly gutting its natural resources while poisoning its ecological systems.

It is tragic that some of this irresponsibility has been shared with nations who have a Judeo-Christian background, and thus should have known better. Ironically, some have actually appealed to these same texts as somehow approving of irresponsible use of the earth’s resources. Also, some who believe that Jesus will have no use for this planet after his second coming have appealed to that belief as justification for a hands-off approach to environmental issues. After all, if “it’s all going to burn anyway” why conserve or protect the environment?2

Questions like this reveal a pragmatic approach to ethics. They show an attitude that is more interested in what one can get away with than what one should do out of principle. They also reflect the same kind of dualism that the ancient Greeks infected Western civilization with. The Greeks drew a line in the universe between the physical, material world and the noumenal, spiritual world. They viewed the material world as evil and eternally insignificant.3 Only the world of the mind and spirit was important because only it is real and permanent.

The worldview reflected in the first chapters of Genesis is not like that. The cosmos was not presented as a throw-away wrapper, from which only humanity (or merely the souls of humans) was to be protected and preserved. The cosmos is the sphere of responsibility and authority from within which humanity was to exercise its due place. There is no hint in the Genesis account that human beings are given the planet to do with it whatever they will. Instead, numerous specific commands (and later prohibitions) from God reflect the fact that the earth is important to him, and must be treated fairly. God placed limits on the sovereignty of humanity over the creation. That was entirely consistent with the notion of tselem.

Three more commands found in this passage of Genesis are important and helpful in defining the extent to which humans have been given authority over the planet. The three are practically synonymous as well – so this appears to be an example of hendiatrys. Adam and Eve are told to “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.”
This mandate to procreate has never been ignored by humanity as a whole.

There have been times, however, when people have struggled with the ramifications of overpopulation, and rightfully so, because the responsibility to manage the planet includes making sure its resources are protected and preserved. Even humans do not have approval for decisions that would endanger the survival of the world as a whole. So, even within the mandates from God in Genesis there is indication that rightfully ruling the planet will require a balance between preserving the human species and preserving the habitat of humanity and all the other species and resources it contains.

God made a covenant with Adam – a covenant which he never rescinded. Human government is responsible to him to continue to meet the stipulations of that covenant. When Christ returns, he will take his place as king of kings and lord of lords.4 One of the functions of the millennial kingdom which he will set up is the restoration of this planet. It will be an undoing of all the damage done to the world by man under the influence of demonic powers. The result of this reign will be a planet that reflects its initial goodness, and brings glory to its Creator.

The Bible also tells us that believers who serve Christ now will reign with him then.5 At least part of what that means is that we will share in the task of restoring this earth to its original intended glory. Our reign will have purpose, and that purpose will reflect back on the original intended purpose of humanity at creation. Eternity promises to be more of the same, but the millennium is important because before we can take on the task of serving and worshipping Christ in the rest of the universe, we must participate in the undoing of sin’s effects upon our original charge: planet earth.6

Christians have a role in promoting two things as part of our present-day fulfillment of the creation mandates. First, we have an obligation to continue to fill the earth with people who reflect God’s glory. That is more than biological reproduction. It means evangelism, and preserving the means by which we can continue to evangelize. Isaiah predicts a time when “the earth will be filled with people who know the LORD.”7 This vision of our future is as much prescription as description.

Second, we have an obligation to continue to preserve and protect the earth from the various things that endanger it. Christians should be vocal and persistent in environmental efforts. They should support laws which restrict the abuse of the land, and laws which protect the species which inhabit it. They should support farmers who choose to grow food that is healthy and toxin free. They should also support the grocers who stock their products. They should also support politicians who make the environment a key theme in their policies.

Too often churches totally ignore the environmental issues that are clearly put forth in the creation mandates. Christians often complain about the state’s interference when local governments restrict them for environmental reasons. But such activities are legitimate for government, and should be encouraged by the church. With the power to rule comes the responsibility to protect that which we rule.

This is one of the many areas where the Church should cooperate with the State. Each should reinforce the other’s efforts in promoting a healthy environment for the good of all citizens. In the fight for a decent world to live in, if Christians choose to “sit this one out” it sends the message that this is not a serious matter to God.

Such indifference ultimately reflects negatively on God’s glory. Thankfully, many protestant denominations are starting to take this responsibility seriously.8 Such efforts will help restore the reputations of both God and his people, because the world has been led to believe that neither cares about the planet God created.

A word of caution is due, however. The mandates in Genesis did not require that human beings be merely passive, in fear that we upset some God-given balance in nature. God did not command the earth to rule over us. Instead, he invited his ultimate creation (humanity) to share with him in the management and support of everything they see. This challenge to rule is a tremendous one. Homo Sapiens has taken up that challenge and has continued to learn more and more of this tremendous complicated universe God has placed us in. We continue to adapt this world to meet our needs and wishes. Yet – as we learned in Babel – there are limits to our nature.

There are limits to which our Creator will not allow us to go. Humans can become godly, but they cannot become deity. We are limited by our nature, which includes the fact that our time on this earth is limited by our mortality. It is this limit that we will explore more fully in the next chapter.


1 James M. Childs, Greed: Economics and Ethics in Conflict (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2000), 25.

2 Matthew T. Dickerson, David O’Hara, Narnia and the Fields of Arbol: The Environmental Vision of C.S. Lewis (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2009), 142.

3 Nikolaĭ Berdiaev, Spirit and Reality (Sophia Perennis et Universalis, 2009), 75.

4 Rev. 19:16.

5 Rev. 20:6

6 For more information on the millennium, see chapter 62, “The Kingdoms,” and chapter 65, “The Reign.”

7 Isaiah 11:9 NLT.

8 See Robert Booth Fowler, The Greening Of Protestant Thought (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1995), 16.

The Gospel for the Free (Gal. 5:1-15)

Galatians 5:1-15 ESV

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. 2 Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. 3 I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. 4 You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. 5 For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. 6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love. 7 You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? 8 This persuasion is not from him who calls you. 9 A little leaven leavens the whole lump. 10 I have confidence in the Lord that you will take no other view than mine, and the one who is troubling you will bear the penalty, whoever he is. 11 But if I, brothers, still preach circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been removed. 12 I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves! 13 For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14 For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.

We have been examining the book of Galatians for several months now. Today we begin the fifth month, and the fifth chapter. Paul was very angry when he wrote Galatians. He was angry because he had planted the churches in the Galatian region by preaching the gospel of grace, and, after he left, some troublers came into those churches and started preaching a different gospel.

The troublers considered their teaching sort of a “gospel plus.” But Paul recognized that it was a “gospel minus.” They considered their teaching a way of taking Christianity to the next level, but Paul considered it a rejection of the gospel, and a return to a yoke of slavery.

Up until this point Paul has been expressing his exasperation with the Galatians for having been deceived and going along with this substitute gospel. And he has been arguing the case against the Judaizer heresy by showing that it opposes what he taught them, and it doesn’t fit with what the Bible says about salvation – Old Testament or New.

Up until this point Paul hasn’t been making many demands, but that changes here. In the space of one verse he gives two commands (a positive one and a negative one). It is as if he is saying, “alright now, it’s time for you to make your choice.” The Gospel forces us to make a choice.

But he doesn’t want to leave it at that, because he’s afraid that the Galatians would make the wrong choice. He has to convince them that if he is right, and salvation is by grace alone, then there is no other option. Choosing to go along with the Judaizers is choosing to be lost, not saved at all. There is no such thing as a legalistic Christian.

So what Paul does in this section of chapter 5 is put the two choices on the board, so to speak. He compares them so that the Galatians can actually see what they are choosing. In verse 1 he says it’s a choice between freedom and slavery. In verse 2 the choice is Christ or circumcision. In verse 4 the choice is grace or law.

In verse 7 he says it’s a choice between keeping on running and being hindered. False doctrine had created a stumbling block which prevented the Galatians from living the Christian life.

In verse 9 the choice is purity or contamination. Paul says some leaven has gotten into their lump, and it has contaminated the whole thing.

In verse 11 the choice has affected how they see the cross of Christ. If it is the only means of getting right with God, it is an honour. But if I can do something to gain merit for myself or redeem myself, the cross is an offense.

What is the means of sanctification? It is either the Holy Spirit (v.5), or the Flesh (v.13).

In verse 7 he says it’s a choice between keeping on running and being hindered. False doctrine had created a stumbling block which prevented the Galatians from living the Christian life.

In verse 9 the choice is purity or contamination. Paul says some leaven has gotten into their lump, and it has contaminated the whole thing.

In verse 11 the choice has affected how they see the cross of Christ. If it is the only means of getting right with God, it is an honour. But if I can do something to gain merit for myself or redeem myself, the cross is an offense.

What is the means of sanctification? It is either the Holy Spirit (v.5), or the Flesh (v.13).

What are the results of submitting to slavery. We can see that in what Paul said about the Galatians here.

First, slavery leads to disorder. Paul said that the troublers had unsettled the Galatians (12).

Second, slavery is defection. Paul said that the Galatians had fallen from grace (4). They had professed faith, but failed to persevere in it.

Third, slavery leads to disobedience. The Galatians were no longer obeying the truth (7). Ironically, when you choose to make obedience the basis of your “Christian” life, you can no longer obey God. The basis of the Christian life is faith.
Fourth, slavery leads to spiritual decapitation. Christ is the head of his body. Choosing slavery severs you from Christ (4).

Fifth, slavery makes Christ a disadvantage. What Christ has done for us is the only advantage a Christian has. To live by works is to make Christ’s death work against you! That’s why Paul told the Galatians that if they let themselves be circumcised, Christ would be no advantage to them (2).

Sixth, slavery is like taking your life on a spiritual detour. The Galatians were offered freedom, but then started using that freedom as an opportunity for the flesh (13).

Seventh, slavery creates enormous debt. Paul said that making that choice leads to an obligation to keep the whole law (3).

Finally, slavery leads to devouring. The Galatians had already begun biting and devouring one another (15). If you define yourself by what you do, you will compare yourself with others, and criticize and complain about them. It is not a pretty image, but it is accurate.

Now let’s look again at what Paul said in verse 1, and we will focus first on that positive command “stand firm.” Someone who is standing firm is ready for the storms of life, because she has a solid foundation under her. She does not have to rescue herself. All she has to do is put her faith in the foundation under her, and she will be alright.

So Paul is telling the Galatians, “Oh, foolish Galatians! I gave you the right foundation. Stand firm in it!”

What does standing in freedom look like? Paul had told the Corinthians “faith, hope, and love abide” (1 Corinthians 13:13). To abide is to remain, to stand firm. A person who is trusting in God and not himself for his salvation is going to manifest these three character traits.

We see that here in Galatians 5. Instead of by works the believer is to live by faith (5), he will produce works, but that will be faith working (6).
Instead of despairing because he cannot do it all himself, the believer eagerly waits for the hope of righteousness (5).

Instead of biting and devouring others, the believer serves others through love (13). Love is his means of demonstrating his faith (6). And love actually helps him do what his slave counterpart cannot do: fulfill the law (14).

LORD, we are challenged by what we have read and studied today. We confess to you that – all too often we have tried to live the Christian life on our own terms, to fulfill the law the best way we know how. We know that is wrong. Only one person could fulfill your law.

But we also know that he did. By his sinless life and sacrificial death Christ bought our freedom. We are free! We ask you today to help us to stand firm in that freedom. Help us not to get entangled in any kind of bondage. Enable us to live by faith, to wait eagerly for our hope, and to manifest our faith by serving one another through love. In Jesus’ name. Amen