What does it mean to be a new human?
The Bible is full of all kinds of spiritual beings popping up throughout its pages. You’ve got God, of course, along with the heavenly host, a divine council of spiritual beings including angels, cherubim, and even a mysterious figure called the Angel of the Lord. There are also glimpses of God’s cosmic enemies, including a dark figure sometimes called the satan. The last character we need to focus on might be an unexpected one:
What’s the connection between you and spiritual beings? It boils down to this: In his life, death, and resurrection, Jesus opened a way for us to become a new kind of human. The new life he brings restores humanity’s original calling to inhabit heaven and earth, to rule God’s creation with Him, and to live forever—just like the other spiritual beings we’ve looked at in this series.
To think about becoming a new humanity might be unfamiliar for a lot of people, so we decided to set aside some space to respond to a few common questions.
Question #1: I’ve heard The Bible Project refer to Adam as “the human” and to Jesus as “the new human.” What is going on there? How are Adam and Jesus alike and different?
The Bible is a tale of two humanities. Paul talks about death entering the world through Adam (Hebrew adam, meaning “human”) and Jesus freeing humanity from the consequences of Adam’s choice. In the beginning, Adam was a royal representative of the human race, a “spiritual” being from the start. God planned to partner with humanity to rule his creation. Adam forfeited this role when he decided to define good and evil for himself. The choice was catching—it spread to all his descendants. In Jesus, the second Adam, grace is also catching.
The gospel writers were attempting to get their readers to track with the same idea. They insert striking similarities and differences between Adam and Jesus. Take for instance Jesus' temptation in the wilderness:
- The immediate difference is obvious: Adam fails his temptation and Jesus overcomes the tempter.
- Jesus is “driven out” into the wilderness by the Spirit of God, just as Adam and Eve were driven out of the garden. Jesus is not exiled for any sin of his own but to confront the very powers of evil that tempted the first humans.
- In Genesis 3, the serpent persuades Adam and Eve to take the fruit because is it could “make them wise.” Jesus, however, is already full of God’s wisdom and brings it to bear against his adversary by quoting from the words of the book of Deuteronomy.
The parallels continue, but the point is this: Jesus, the true royal representative, obeyed God. And in his obedience, he began to undo the wreckage of Adam’s choice and end the dominion of death that reigned since Adam. Jesus gave life and the reign of righteousness as a free gift to any who enter into his new way of being human.
Question #2: Becoming the new humanity is about becoming more like Jesus, right? But when I have heard the phrase “becoming like Jesus” it always has to do with being moral and doing the right thing. Are you saying it is about something different?
Jesus has opened up a new way to be human—his way. In a sense, the new way is the old way. In Jesus, we see humanity as it was always supposed to be—a reflection of God’s divine goodness and power, his image on earth.
So, yes, becoming like Jesus is about morality and living a transformed life, but that transformation can’t simply be reduced to morality. Behavior is the fruit of the transformation, not the tree itself. This isn’t to downplay moral change—lives lived differently and society transformed is exactly the impact the power of Jesus is bringing about in his people.
The consequence of this transformation is inevitably moral beauty, but the idea of the “image of God” is so much richer than just doing the right thing. It means ruling creation in partnership with God, embodying more and more of his divine power and wisdom, confronting the powers of evil that oppose God’s rule, and protecting and ordering God’s beautiful creation. What could this look like in daily life? Planting a garden, teaching a little one, encouraging a friend, starting a business, even going to the moon!
Question #3: I get it now—Jesus wants to transform us into "new humans." However, when I look around, there still seems to be so much of "old humanity" around. How do I live with the tension of "new humanity" and "old humanity?"
The Bible and our everyday experience agree: Something is going wrong with the world. But the Bible also insists that because God is committed to his creation and his people, something is also going right.
Jesus was no stranger to pain and evil. Though he was without sin, he still felt temptation, experienced the weakness of his human body, and had moments when he was angry, afraid, and grieved. He was still opposed by the powers of evil—even to death.
Despite those challenges, he was still exercising his rule during his time on earth. He confronted the evil powers, pushing back against their disastrous rebellion. He healed people, fed them, taught them, dealing with and correcting the effects of sin on everyone he met. Everywhere he went, he brought people into a new way to be human, bringing about God’s rule and restoring God’s image in the people who drew near to him.
It is no different with us. We meet the same challenges and are undergoing the same transformation that Jesus was accomplishing. We still feel and face sin and evil within and outside ourselves. We grieve and are broken for the brokenness around us. But, just as with Jesus, we bear God’s image and can bring his rule to bear everywhere we go. That’s the whole idea.
One day, the change will be completed once and for all—but that doesn't mean it isn't already happening. If you are a follower of Jesus, you have a major part to play! The people of God suffer and struggle to put the world right, God's glory is displayed, and the world is transformed—just as it was with Jesus.
Andy Patton is on staff at L'Abri Fellowship in England and is the co-editor of Three Things Newsletter. He holds an M. A. in theology from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and, if there was such a thing as a card-carrying Bible nerd, he would hold one of those too.