What makes a Christian a Christian? In other words, what are the core fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith? In this writer’s estimation, there are eight primary doctrines that constitute one under the umbrella of Christianity. In the article “Essential Doctrines: The Doctrine of God’s Existence,” it was shown that the acceptance of God’s existence is at the root of the Christian faith. This article builds upon that premise. It must be accepted that God is transcendent (greater than the human and natural world). Also, it must be accepted that God is immanent (personally involved with the human and natural world).
In this article, it will be demonstrated that the fallen nature of humanity (sin) is an essential doctrine of the Christian faith. This doctrine holds two separate elements: the understanding of humanity made “imagio dei,” and that humanity has been separated from God by its sinful nature. So, there is good news and bad news entailed within this doctrine.
What is the Doctrine?
This doctrine contains two parts: one that humanity is made “imagio dei, and the other that humanity has fallen from God’s standards.
Humanity Made “Imagio Dei”
Before we get to the bad news, let’s first examine the good news. The good news is that this writer and you the reader have been made “imagio dei” (in the image of God). The Bible states,
“Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:26-27, NIV).
What does it mean to be made in the “image of God”? This has brought forth great theological debate. The Pulpit Commentary states,
“The early Fathers were of opinion that the words were expressive of separate ideas: image, of the body, which by reason of its beauty, intelligent aspect, and erect stature was an adumbration of God; likeness, of the soul, or the intellectual and moral nature. According to Augustine image had reference to the cognitio veritatis; likeness to amor virtutis. Irenæus, Clement, and Origen saw in the first man nature as originally created, and in the second what that nature might become through personal ethical conflict, or through the influence of grace” (Spence-Jones 1909, 30).
Another opinion is concerning the “imagio dei” is given by K. A. Matthews,
“During this latter half of our century the dominant interpretation, though not new (e.g., Chrysostom), has become the “functional” one, that the “image” is humanity’s divinely ordained role to rule over the lower orders (1:26, 28). Often related to this interpretation is the idea of “royal” administration: mankind is God’s “image” representing him on earth as his royal vice-regent. This is connected, either vaguely or closely, with Mesopotamian and Egyptian sacral kingship, where the king was either perceived as divine himself or, once removed, the divinely elected representative of the god(s) before the people” (K. A. Matthews 1996, 166).
In this writer’s opinion, although Matthews would disagree, humanity’s “imagio dei” is the ability for a human being to have a relationship with God. It is the spiritual component that makes one in the image of God. However, other interpretations could be correct in the sense that the “image” could represent mankind’s ability to rule over the earthly sphere.
For the purpose of this article, it is not necessary to identify what the “imagio dei” is as much as that humans possess the “imagio dei.” There are two great insights that come from this knowledge. First, it is important because one realizes that every human being has worth and value. The Bible shows that God loves each and every person and that God shows no partiality. Paul proclaimed, “For God does not show favoritism” (Romans 2:11, NIV). Paul also writes, “But from those who were of high reputation (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)—well, those who were of reputation contributed nothing to me” (Galatians 2:6, NASB). Second, the importance of this function and doctrine is found in the problem that exists between God and humanity.
Separation of Humanity from God
Human separation from God involves a classic, and displeasing, theological term called “sin.” Sin is the translated word for hamartia in Greek. Hamartia literally means “missing the mark.” It was a term that was used of an archer who missed the target. A modern illustration could be used of an American football field-goal kicker. Imagine you are watching the Super Bowl, and the field-goal kicker representing your favorite team is about to kick the ball in order for your team to win the championship. He steps forward and kicks the ball. You watch with your breath held and your fingers crossed that the ball will go between the goal posts. However, to your and the kicker’s horror, the ball falls slightly to the right of the targeted goal post. Your team loses the game because the kicker missed the mark. This is the definition of sin.
Sin originated with the first time in human history where humanity missed the mark that God has set for them. Genesis chapter 3 records the first moment of rebellion. Adam and Eve ate a particular fruit from the garden that God had specifically told them not to eat. I do not believe there was magical power in the fruit. As far as the serpent, any esteemed interpreter of the Bible realizes that the serpent is a symbol for Satan. However, sin taints anything holy. The moment sin enters, one cannot any longer be considered untainted by sin. The first sin infiltrated humanity for all time. For this reason, there had to be an action from God’s part to re-declare a human being “holy” or “righteous” (i.e. “without sin”).
Why Should a Person Believe the Doctrine?
Two observations can be made in regards to why a person should believe in the doctrines presented.
First, any rational human being realizes that there is something special about humanity. No other animal can do the things that human beings do. Humans have discovered many wondrous things about the universe around them. Humans are able to care for the world in a way that no other creature can. One does not observe polar bears seeking to save the seals. Neither does one find lions campaigning to save the Bengal tigers. The fact that humans have an elevated importance is illustrated in the fact that even atheists like Thomas Nagel in his book Mind and Cosmos: Why the Neo-Darwinist Conception of Nature is almost Certainly False are realizing the great evidence that is mounting for the consciousness (soul) of human beings. Add this with the mounting evidence of near-death experiences and you have a compelling case for the soul of humanity which lives beyond physical death. In addition, this grants us the notion that all individuals have great worth because of carrying the “imagio dei.”
Second, any rational human being will find that something is wrong with humanity. One does not have to become a deep philosopher to realize that there is something wrong with the human condition. Why is it so easy to do what is wrong and so difficult to do what is right? Why is it that things that are so bad pleases the human senses so well? The answer lies at the conundrum of humanity’s separation from God. For us to know something is morally good requires for there to exist a good, moral lawgiver. If you leave humanity to their own whims and fancies without restraint, one will find a society that justifies hideous, self-gratifying, self-pleasing, power-driven, consuming, actions that vitiate, berate, deprive, divest and deteriorate others. Pol Pot, Hitler, Stalin, Caligula, Idi Amin, Nero, and many other dictators of the past serve as reminders of how depraved humanity is…and can become.
Why is the Doctrine Essential?
Quite simply; before a disease can be cured, the disease must be diagnosed. Heaven forbid, but if the reader should ever come down with a serious illness, the reader would desire to know what the disease is so that the disease can be treated. As a pastor, I have noticed that one of the most frustrating medical issues that one may face is when a person, or the person’s loved one, faces a condition in which the medical authorities have troubles diagnosing. More than one person has stated, “I would feel much better when I knew what it was that I was facing.” Just as an alcoholic must first admit that he/she has a problem before being treated, it is critical that a person understands his/her need for God before he/she can become a Christian. As one will find as this treatment of essential doctrines continues, the slavery to sin finds it solution in Jesus Christ.
Mathews, K. A. Genesis 1-11:26, vol. 1A, The New American Commentary. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1996.
Scripture identified as (NASB) comes from the New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update. LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995.
Scripture identified as (NIV) comes from The New International Version. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011.
Spence-Jones, H. D. M. ed., Genesis, The Pulpit Commentary. London; New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1909.