Lesson 4 Understanding Man

“WHAT IS MAN, THAT THOU ART MINDFUL OF HIM?” asks the Psalmist (Psalm 8:4). Our bodies come from the dust and return to dust (Genesis 3:19). What are we? Why are we significant? What is our purpose in life? The answers to such questions will profoundly affect our outlook and the way we live.

Man’s Origin

Many have suggested that man is simply one of many life forms that came into existence in the universe by accident. They say he is but a “higher animal,” the “pinnacle of evolution;” he has a passing life that has no lasting significance. Men have responded to this theory by living as mere animals, by selfishly grasping for every pleasure at hand and by living in despair while awaiting entry into nothingness.

Others have a mystical view that life is a kind of cosmic wheel, endlessly revolving. They say that life always existed in some form. Man appears, dies, merges into a kind of “nothingness” and then is “reincarnated” in some other form. There is no explanation for origin, no directing intelligence, no personal God.

Contrast these two systems of belief. Which seems the more intelligent?

Belief in Origin by Chance Belief in Supreme Creator

1. Originally there was nothing. Matter of energy came into existence uncaused, then formed entire planetary systems, all by chance.

1. God created the universe, including the earth, man, animals, sea life, birds and other creatures. (Genesis 1:1; Genesis 2:25; John 1:3; Colossians 1:16; Hebrews 11:3.)

2. Life began spontaneously in various planetary systems. It developed from simple to more complex forms by mindless direction. There was no designer or intelligence behind it.

2. God, the Supreme Intelligence, is the source of design, order and laws. He is the source of all life. Man is His special creation made in His Spiritual image and likeness.

3. Man evolved from an ancient ancestor similar to the apes. He is an animal without any spiritual nature, a biological accident in space, with no purpose, no future.

3. All mankind has descended from the original human beings created by God, described in Genesis 1-2. Men differ from animals in their capacity to spiritually know and worship God, in having articulate speech and written communication, in having a soul and spirit that will never cease to exist.

The Bible says, “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth … God created man” (Genesis 1:1, 27). “It is He that hath made us, and not we ourselves” (Psalm 100:3). We were known to God prior to our birth (Psalm 139:13-16). Why did He make us? It was for His own pleasure (Colossians 1:16; Revelation 4:11). He was the Potter and we were the clay (Romans 9:20-21). What is our purpose here? We are created to glorify God (Romans 1:21; Psalm 86:9, 12; Matthew 5:16). Yet man has refused to worship and serve his Creator (Romans 1:25). He has sought instead to live for self.

Man’s Nature

Man is made in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:26; Genesis 5:1; Genesis 9:6). This means “shadow” or “resemblance.” Since God is a Spirit, the resemblance is not physical but spiritual (Ephesians 4:24; Colossians 3:10). This is the chief aspect of the uniqueness of man. Man has a material aspect called the body, which in many respects is like the bodies of other creatures in its functions. Yet this is merely the “tent” or “earthly house” in which he lives (2 Corinthians 5:1-4; 2 Peter 1:13-14). More significantly, he has a soul and a spirit, together forming his triune being (1 Thessalonians 5:23). Distinguishing the soul from the spirit is difficult (Hebrews 4:12).

The body has to do with sensory contact with our surroundings. It is therefore called the seat of

world-consciousness. The soul is the center of emotion, reason and decision (Psalm 13:2; Psalm 42:5). It is the seat of

self-consciousness. The spirit has to do with our ability to know God and the things which pertain to the spiritual realm. It is the seat of

God-consciousness (Romans 8:16). Even a person who does not know God has a spirit (James 2:26).

The inner being of man is sometimes called the “heart” (Deuteronomy 29:4; Psalm 40:8, 10, 12; Proverbs 14:10; Isaiah 44:18). Desires, perceptions and inner attitudes are seen as coming from this source. Conscience, as we know by common reference, is a sensitivity to what is right or wrong, good or evil (Romans 2:15; Hebrews 5:14). It speaks to our sense of duty or responsibility, as well as to our moral sense. We often say, “let your conscience be your guide.” Certainly it is wise never to violate conscience even if it is weak or oversensitive (1 Corinthians 8:10). Yet a conscience may be good (Acts 23:1; 1 Timothy 1:5, 19; Hebrews 13:18) or it may be evil (1 Timothy 4:2; Hebrews 10:22). It may be pure (1 Timothy 3:9; 2 Timothy 1:3) or it may be defiled (Titus 1:15). It should be kept without offense (Acts 24:16).

Man’s Choosing

The need to decide a matter, to cast one’s lot, especially in the realm of the moral and the spiritual, is the most serious duty of man’s conscience. It can and will affect our eternal destiny. God has clearly given man the right to choose and has made it the basis of righteous judgment (Deuteronomy 30:15, 19; Joshua 24:15; Revelation 20:12-13). Man enjoys choosing, but does not like to bear the consequences of bad choices. He blames God, parents, society, various institutions and the passing of events in order to shift responsibility from himself even while continuing to make evil choices.

Some religious systems teach that man is a moral robot designed by a God who determines everything and gives him no real chance to choose. But there is no ground for that teaching. God appeals to man to choose, and says that if he turns away from Him, he is without excuse (Romans 1:20).

Man’s Fall

Thoughtful people have realized for thousands of years that something has gone wrong with man. Even certain types of animals show an ability to live in harmony and cooperation among their own kind. Why does man kill, hate, act brutally, let others starve and die? Why is selfishness and misconduct evident in the smallest children, without anyone teaching them these things? Why do children have to be taught to do good, while it is unnecessary to teach them to do evil? Theories about environment, parental habits, psychological forces, political and social systems have all been proposed. Yet no one has been able to prove their propositions or successfully change the nature of man by their theories.

The Scripture tells us what has gone wrong. The first human beings had an ideal environment and made the improper choice of disobeying God (Genesis 3). It was at this point that sin entered into the world (Romans 5:12-19), and with it a chain of dire consequences. Judgment was swift because man was plainly guilty (Genesis 3:16-24). It resulted in the loss of that perfect environment, and the certainty of physical death, pain and difficulty for man and his descendants down to the present day. It has been called the Fall of Man. The consequences of this fall are detailed for us in Genesis 6:5; Genesis 8:21; Psalm 12:1-3; Romans 3:10-23 and other passages.

The continuing effects are seen in man’s nature even today. Sin has clouded his spiritual understanding (Ephesians 4:18; 1 Corinthians 2:14), given him a deceitful heart (Jeremiah 17:9) and defiled his flesh and spirit alike (Ephesians 2:3). The Bible attributes all human conflicts, sorrows and evil to one source—sin—and says that it permeates the very nature of man. It also states that it has affected the entire creation in a physical sense, from thorns in the botanical creation to violence in the animal kingdom.

Man’s Responsibility

Man is responsible to a loving and caring God. God greatly values man (Matthew 10:31) and counts him worthy of the greatest sacrifice (John 3:16). This loving concern is seen in the attitude of Jesus as He wept over a city which had rejected Him (Luke 19:41). He was willing to save them, but the inhabitants refused (Luke 13:34).

Man is not independent and self-governing (autonomous), although he sometimes thinks and acts this way. He came from the hand of a Creator and Sustainer on Whom he is dependent for even a breath (Isaiah 42:5). Man must some day face his Creator and give account (Romans 14:12; Hebrews 9:27). Two alternatives are stated in John 3:36 and 1 John 5:12. Man must choose.

Study Guide Understanding Man

It is important to know the nature of our humanity: where we came from, why we exist and what is the cause of our problems.

1. Man’s origin is (select one)

a. through evolution from lower forms of life.

b. a mystery which we cannot understand.

c. from the creating hand of God.

d. part of a cycle of existence, without beginning.

2. We exist (select one)

a. to fulfill our personal destiny.

b. to develop our own potential.

c. to enjoy life the best we can.

d. solely to glorify God.

3. What is the function or activity in man of the following:

a. the body:

b. the soul:

c. the spirit:

4. What is the meaning to you of the likeness mentioned in Genesis 1:26 and Genesis 5:1? In what way are we like Him?

5. What evidence do you see in the world to support the teaching of the Bible that man is a sinner by nature and choice?

6. The free will of man or his ability to choose:

a. is an illusion because God’s purposes overrule.

b. is so limited that he is not really responsible.

c. gives man the right to choose to love and obey God.

d. is made impossible because of difficult circumstances.

7. Paraphrase (rewrite in your own words) Psalm 139:14-16.

8. How do the following verses indicate that God has given man a right to choose and has made it the basis of righteous judgment (Deuteronomy 30:15, 19; Joshua 24:15; Revelation 20:12-13)?


What do you say? Summarize in your own words what you feel your own personal responsibility to God is. How can God get pleasure and glory out of your life?


What do others say? Contact at least three people this week and ask them the following questions. You may wish to say something like the following:

“I’m involved in a Bible Survey here in (name city). Could you help me by sharing your opinion on three important questions? (1) Where did man come from? (2) For what purpose does man exist? (3) What do you feel is your number one purpose in life? Thank you so much for your help. Would you like for me to mail/e-mail you a copy of the survey results? Thank you.”

Record their names and addresses on the 3x5 cards provided by the class leader. Record the answers on the back, indicating if survey results are desired. Then return the three cards next class meeting. Results of the survey will be tabulated by the class leader and mailed to each person indicating an interest.