3. Proper man
As we turn the early pages of biblical revelation, two striking images of man quickly emerge. The first portrays him as the most noble of all God’s creatures, created ‘in [God’s] image, in [his] likeness’ (Genesis 1:26).
His place in the universe is unique. Not only is he God’s special representative on earth, but something of what God is like can be discerned — both in what he is and in what he does.
This likeness to God is seen supremely in the way he uses his God-given attributes to promote harmony between himself and his Creator, between himself and his neighbour, and between himself and nature.
Since God also seems to have put him on some sort of probation (cf. Genesis 2:16-17), it is reasonable to suppose that even greater blessings were in prospect.
The Bible, however, also presents another picture — a tragic one. Man is no longer what he was. Something has been lost.
He has not entirely forfeited his original privilege and powers; something of that image remains. Nevertheless, it has been seriously damaged. The powers remain, but they now follow the inclinations of man’s perverted and self-centred heart.
As a consequence, he is out of harmony with God, his neighbour, and the world in which he lives.
He claims to have great freedoms, but they are the freedoms of a fish out of water. Outside the environment for which he was made, man struggles for life on the brink of death.
Christ our hope
Not only is he no longer what he once was, but a constant sense of dissatisfaction reminds him that in his present state he can never attain that for which he was made.
So, can man be restored to his former glory? Dare we hope that some transcendent plan anticipated this tragedy and intends to do something about it? Could this same plan even lift man higher than he was before?
Thankfully, all the above questions can be answered in the affirmative. God himself has furnished us with the perfect grounds for such hope.
The Bible informs us that in the person of Jesus Christ, God has purposefully entered this world to rescue and restore the fallen. Indeed, Jesus Christ is presented to us as the only hope both for mankind and the world that he has made.
In what ways does he become our hope?
The proper man
Firstly, he becomes our hope by becoming a man. Or perhaps we ought to say he became the man.
There is much about the incarnation that will always remain a mystery, and this ought not to surprise us. Even Charles Wesley’s poetic skills struggle, albeit beautifully, with the thought of ‘Our God contracted to a span, incomprehensibly made man’.
And part of this glorious mystery is that, though one with us, Jesus Christ is also unique among us. The New Testament does not blush to describe him as ‘the image of the invisible God’ and ‘the exact representation of his being’ (Colossians 1:15; Hebrews 1:3).
Here is one who is not merely as man originally was in Adam, but as he was destined through perfect obedience to become in Christ.
To use Martin Luther’s designation, he was ‘the Proper Man’. He lived out his incarnate life as the first man ought to have done — in perfect harmony with God, his neighbour, and nature. All our hopes of being ‘proper men’ are bound up exclusively with him.
A sacrifice for sins
Secondly, he becomes our hope by laying down his life as a sacrifice for the sins of his people. As the head of a new humanity, he not only lived for us, but died for us: ‘In my place condemned he stood; sealed my pardon with his blood’.
This too is part of the plan. It is certainly no afterthought. If man is to be rescued, then Christ’s perfect life must culminate in a sacrificial death. And with detailed precision, God has consistently revealed in his Word that he intended to save in this way.
Concerning Jesus Christ, another hymn-writer has correctly observed that, ‘He died that we might be forgiven’. But salvation is not simply about forgiveness. It is also about renewal.
From our perspective, the whole process of salvation begins with regeneration and conversion. The new life of God — resurrection life — is implanted in the soul by the Holy Spirit.
Simultaneously, the ‘new creature’ turns to God in repentance and faith. But this is not all. Every day of our lives we are going through a process of being ‘changed from one degree of glory to another’ (2 Corinthians 3:18).
Within this process we are learning to love God ‘with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength’; we are also beginning to ‘love our neighbour as ourselves’.
This does not simply mean that we love our friends with a greater intensity, but that we begin to love even our enemies.
Another great consequence of this process is that we begin again to discover our proper place in the universe. We are no longer mainly exploiters, but stewards of all that God has made and placed under our care. We are not, of course, totally new; but we are genuinely new.
Moreover, no matter what his present circumstances may be, the Christian always knows that a bright future lies before him. A time is coming when we shall enjoy (to quote Isaac Watts) ‘more blessings than our father lost’.
The great culmination of God’s saving process is to make us ‘like Christ’ — enjoying the blessings of ‘a new heaven and a new earth in which righteousness dwells’ (2 Peter 3:13).
It is true that God has revealed very little of the detail, but at least part of the wonder can be anticipated. Just imagine — the fullest possible range will be given to all our God-given capacities, and this without the possibility of sin.
Man will be truly man, properly related to God, his fellows, and the universe. It will be Paradise Regained, only better!
But just as no greater glory for man can be envisaged, so nothing can be worse than to be denied this glorious fulfilment. We know that there is more to hell than simply loss — but the frustration of never attaining that for which we were created is surely part of it.
Therefore, in proclaiming the gospel, it is our solemn responsibility to remind men and women not only of man’s origin and fallen state, but also of the glory that awaits those who rediscover their true identity through faith in Jesus Christ, the Proper Man