“I’m Only Human…”

Posted: April 19, 2013 in Theology and Faith
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You may have heard or even said something like this yourself, “To err is human.”  Essentially, we mean to say that messing up is just part of what it means to be human.  After all, who hasn’t ever messed up?  It seems natural, for this reason, to dismiss sin and shortcomings by statements like: “Well, they’re only human.” 

            When we say something like this, we are communicating two things.  First, what we intend to say is that we all make mistakes and that we are often times so wrapped up in our world’s way of doing things that we often don’t make these mistakes intentionally.  They just seem to come from us naturally.  One need only watch young children for a short time to see how destructive we can be… if only that got better with age!

            However, what we also communicate is something that may be unintended and quite harmful.  By saying these phrases we equate being sinful with also being human.  There’s a major problem here!  Jesus was human… does this then mean that Jesus was sinful?  Scripture tells us that Jesus was not sinful.  If that’s the case, then perhaps we need to re-think what it means to be human!  For, it is in Jesus that we see the fullness of humanity and the fullness of humanity’s purpose!

            This has some major implications.  First, our way of life is not the measurement of true humanity!  Only Jesus shows us what true humanity looks like: the Cross.  Being truly human looks like sacrificing our lives for the sake of others, living out in tangible ways God’s love by loving others, and serving others as a means of serving God.  Saint Irenaeus suggests that the Incarnation (Jesus becoming flesh) was intended from the very beginning, not a result of our sin!  This means that humanity’s purpose has always been fellowship with God.  This should significantly change how we think about Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.

            Secondly, salvation is not so that we can stamp our tickets into heaven.  We are not simply saved from something but to something.  We are not merely saved from our sins but saved so that we might once again be joined to God!  In fact, Jesus calls us to pray that God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven.  There is a sense where heaven is joined with earth as a restoration of relationship with the Creator.  Salvation is a call to embody, to live out, God’s Kingdom here and now… not simply in the future.  This challenges every allegiance that we claim… no person can serve two masters.

            Third, Jesus’ humanity connects all of us.  Jesus did not come to only save some.  Jesus did not come to die for my personal sins alone.  Rather, salvation is about relationship and connects us with each other.  Salvation is the means by which we are grafted into the Church, the community of believers, of which Jesus is the Head (meaning “source”, not necessarily meaning “status, position, or power”).  As such, there is no salvation outside of the Church.  Life in Christ necessarily means life together… it’s not just “Jesus and Me.”  Perhaps we should make it a habit to sing our songs of praise by replacing “me” and “I” with “we” and “us.” 

            Fourth, to be human does not mean that we are forever enslaved to sin.  Actually, to be truly human is to be living in right relationship (righteousness) with God, others, and creation.  To be living entrapped to sin is to be living as something less than human, something less than God intended.  Now, John Wesley is helpful here, reminding us that even in entire sanctification we can still sin.  However, he talks about two types of sin.  There is sin that is intentional disobedience and there is sin that is unintentional.  There is a difference between knowing we are sinning versus becoming aware later that we have sinned.  But, both require that we continually repent, seek forgiveness, and ask God to continue to reveal to us the way that we are not living in Love.  And, it is only in Love that we are formed once again into the likeness of Christ, into the capacity for living empowered by the Spirit rather than enslaved to sin.  To be human is to experience freedom in Christ; it is being empowered and free to love as God loves.

            Many of these problems stem from where we begin in our thinking about sin, Jesus, the Cross, and other elements of the Christian story.  Most of us probably begin with Genesis 3 (Adam and Eve eating the fruit from the tree) and read everything else in light of that story.  By starting there, we begin to ask “what’s the problem” and use it as a lens to read everything else.  We start with the problem and think that the rest of the story is the solution.  And, when we begin there, it’s hard to see anything good in the physical Creation.  This is really problematic, especially when we consider that Jesus came “in the flesh.”  If anything says that this Creation is “good,” it is the fact that Jesus entered into that very Creation. 

            Let me suggest a possible way of reading the story anew.  Begin with Genesis 1, not Genesis 3.  Starting with Genesis 1 does not begin with trying to answer the “why” question.  Rather, it begins by highlighting the purpose of Creation.  We don’t begin with the problem but the purpose.  All of a sudden, we have a very different lens with which to read and understand what God is doing throughout the rest of Scripture.  God isn’t merely trying to “fix the problem.”  Instead, God is working to bring and mature Creation to its intended purpose: fellowship!  In Jesus the fullness of God and the fullness of humanity dwell together so that God might become accustomed to living with us and we might become accustomed to living with God.  That is quite a purpose!

  1. dylon85 says:

    The Wesleyan nuance is important. There is certainly room for repentance even when the Spirit is present. The optimism of the holiness movement sometimes downplayed this big time.

    • levicjones says:

      Definitely. Unfortunately, the optimism of the holiness movement, while good in one sense, opens us up for legalism in another sense. Holiness without repentance tends to be legalistic, harsh, and rigid… thus, ironically, we forget about grace.

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