Tabletalk Subscription
You have {{ remainingArticles }} free {{ counterWords }} remaining.You've accessed all your free articles.
Unlock the Archives for Free

Request your free, three-month trial to Tabletalk magazine. You’ll receive the print issue monthly and gain immediate digital access to decades of archives. This trial is risk-free. No credit card required.

Try Tabletalk Now

Already receive Tabletalk magazine every month?

Verify your email address to gain unlimited access.

{{ error }}Need help?

Christian writers sometimes note that doctrine and ethics go together. But while every area of theology has moral implications, the doctrine of man (anthropology) has especially powerful ramifications for the moral life. Who we are is inseparable from how we ought to live. Furthermore, how God calls us to act corresponds to the human nature He bestowed on us.

Such claims challenge the way that many people think about Christian ethics. Even many Christians are tempted to view God’s law as a bunch of rules that God has imposed on us that keep us from enjoying a lot of fun, pleasure, and profit. But God’s law isn’t arbitrary. It commands what it does for good reasons. God’s law not only reflects His own holy and righteous nature but also reflects our own nature. His moral will corresponds to the way He created us and the purposes He made us to achieve. This means that God’s law is hardly a straitjacket constraining us from enjoyable things. God’s law is genuinely good for us.

Of course, in a sinful world we’ll often have to suffer for being faithful to our Lord. But living by God’s law fits His design in making us and thus brings a true satisfaction even in the midst of life’s trials and losses. Living contrary to God’s law can leave human beings only profoundly unhappy and unsatisfied, because such a life works at cross-purposes to how God created us to live. A bird can’t find satisfaction trying to live as a horse does, and a horse can’t find satisfaction trying to live as a fish does. So it is with human beings who try to live contrary to the divine law that perfectly fits their nature and destiny.

Let’s consider these things concretely by reflecting on four important and controversial areas of human morality: work, sex and gender, race, and the value of human life.


Whether we labor inside or outside the home, whether our vocations earn income or not, work often consumes a great deal of our time. We might think of this merely in terms of necessity—so many bills to pay, mouths to feed, and diapers to change. Or we might think of it in terms of our moral duty to be industrious and avoid laziness, as Scripture often reminds us (e.g., Prov. 6:6–11; 1 Thess. 4:11–12; 2 Thess. 3:6–12). Necessity and moral duty are indeed legitimate motivations for work, but there’s something even more fundamental. From the beginning, God created human beings to be working creatures. Working hard corresponds to the nature God gave us.

One of the striking things about Genesis 1 is that it describes God as a worker. He calls all things into existence, puts them in proper order, names them, and gives them things to do. He’s no lazy, indulgent despot but a busy and productive laborer. Thus, it’s no surprise that when He created humans in His own image and likeness, He immediately gave them work to do: to exercise dominion over the other creatures, to be fruitful and multiply, and to fill and subdue the earth (Gen. 1:26, 28). To be human is to bear God’s image, and to bear God’s image entails a call to productive labor. God’s law commands us to work because that is a genuinely human thing to do.

The recent sex and gender revolution is both rebellion against God’s law and a grand denial of reality. Dividing people into distinct races is a human invention that defies the reality of human nature.

This explains why people who stop working for one reason or another often feel deep loss and disorientation. Those who become disabled and leave the workforce often struggle with depression. Many people who eagerly anticipate retirement begin to feel a lack of meaning in life shortly after they leave their jobs. A sense of purposelessness can strike devoted homemakers when their children grow up and leave the house. A life without work can look so attractive from a distance, in the midst of busyness and stress, but the reality turns out to be hollow.

The world has had to confront these realities in disquieting ways during the past few years as COVID-19 and government restrictions disrupted economic life. Many jobs disappeared, and others became unusually dangerous and stressful. Government checks and online streaming services proved to be poor substitutes for productive vocations. It’s little coincidence that mental health problems and drug abuse have risen dramatically. We now hear, even after the lifting of most pandemic restrictions, that the overall workforce participation rate hasn’t recovered. Especially troubling is that many prime working-age males seem to have dropped out of the workforce altogether.

These aren’t just economic or public policy issues but matters that get to the core of our human existence. God commanded us to work because He gave us a nature that longs to work. When people won’t or can’t labor, the collateral damage is bound to be great.

sex and gender

When Christians reflect on their growing alienation from the cultural mainstream in Western societies, issues of sex and gender are rarely far from their minds. Sometimes Christians may wonder whether upholding traditional views is really worth all the ridicule and marginalization that comes with it. But sex and gender really are important, and one of the primary reasons is that human nature is at stake. The recent sex and gender revolution is both rebellion against God’s law and a grand denial of reality—the reality of the way God created us.

“From the beginning,” Jesus once noted, God “made them male and female” (Matt. 19:4). Jesus said this when introducing His most extensive teaching about marriage recorded in the Gospels (19:4–12; see Mark 10:1–12). He provided more than just an Old Testament proof-text for the permanence of marriage and immorality of divorce under most circumstances. He also indicated that God’s law for sex and marriage is grounded in the creation order. God expects marriages to be lasting, faithful, procreative, and heterosexual because of the way He made us. The first thing Scripture tells us about ourselves is that God created us in His image and likeness (Gen. 1:26). The second thing it says is that we image bearers are male and female (v. 27). All human beings are image bearers, yet there are two (and only two) ways to be an image bearer: as a man or as a woman. This fundamental distinction shapes our lives in all sorts of ways, both obvious and mysterious, but Genesis 2 highlights perhaps the most important way: God created the woman in a way that was perfectly “fit” (2:18) for the man so that they could be joined in marriage, a permanent and sexually fruitful “one flesh” relationship (vv. 22–24). Only a relationship of one male and one female could possibly be this.

Such considerations are crucial to emphasize when training the next generation. Our children and young adults face great pressure to reject or at least relax the church’s teaching about sex. How important it is for them to know that God hasn’t imposed rigid rules on us to suppress our desires and keep us miserable. Instead, His law on sexuality shows us how to be most truly human. It describes the one way that we can express our sexual desires without the guilt, regret, and resentment that other ways often bring. Eating too much, drinking too much, and outbursts of anger can feel exhilarating, but they end up making the person (and often others) feel miserable. It’s no different with sex and gender. To choose or create one’s own gender may give a temporarily satisfying sense of power and freedom. To indulge sexual desires outside a marriage relationship may provide momentary pleasure. But such things can never satisfy, since they fight against our human nature that we can’t actually change.


Race obviously joins sex and gender among the most contentious issues in contemporary culture. In this case, however, Christians don’t find themselves so out of sync with the cultural mainstream, at least in general. When our broader culture proclaims its opposition to racism, Christians can gladly join, and they can also express deep regret for the church’s failings in this regard. Yet race is another moral issue that is deeply connected to human nature. Reflecting on it through a Christian anthropological lens promises to bring additional insight.

At one level, Christian anthropology provides a rather clear and obvious objection to racism: God created every human being in His image and likeness. To despise another person for the color of his skin or to subjugate a fellow human because of her ancestry is to ignore this profound fact of our existence and to insult the One whose image they bear. However cleverly rationalized, racism can never escape this devastating objection. Many non-Christians condemn racism on the grounds of universal human dignity, but Christians have the most profound reasons for doing so.

Yet Christian anthropology demands a deeper analysis. Scripture indicates not only that all humans bear God’s image but also that all humans belong to the same line. God made all people from “one blood” (as a literal translation of Acts 17:26 would read), united in birth under one covenant head, the first Adam, and possessing only one hope of salvation under another covenant head, the last Adam (Rom. 5:12–19; 1 Cor. 15:21–22, 45–49). We share a common nature, and thus, according to Scripture, there is truly only one human race. Scripture acknowledges that groups of humans have united together as peoples or nations (e.g., Egyptians, Hittites, Assyrians, Babylonians), but it never describes people as belonging to different “races” in the modern sense. To put it bluntly, Scripture knows nothing of a “white” race, a “black” race, or the like.

It’s worth noting that contemporary genetic science comes to exactly the same conclusion. As scientists examine and compare the genetic makeup of people around the world and also study the genetic remains of many who lived long before us, they reject the idea that humanity is divided into a small number of biologically distinct races. We are a single race far too interrelated for that to be true.

Dividing people into distinct races is a human invention that defies the reality of human nature, whether viewed theologically or scientifically. Dividing people by race is akin to inventing genders other than male and female. How best to heal the wounds and right the wrongs that centuries of racism have inflicted is a difficult and controversial matter. It’s understandable that Christians sometimes come to different conclusions on the details. But a Christian anthropology suggests that our ultimate goal should be a society and especially a church in which we no longer speak or deal with each other as though we belong to different races.

the value of human life

All the issues examined thus far are important, but more important than them all, or at least the most basic, is the value of human life. We do innumerable wrongs to each other every day, of varying degrees of severity. But no wrong is so serious, so devastating, so final as killing a fellow human being. It’s fitting that we conclude our anthropological study of the moral life by reflecting on this issue.

As I write this, most of the world is appalled by reports and images coming from Ukraine. I and surely many readers of this article have never had to live in the midst of a war. That is a great blessing, but it can give a false sense of reality. Our fallen world is a violent place. Sin is so profound that people take each other’s lives, often in wanton and brazen ways. Murder, especially in warfare, not only snuffs out individual lives but also devastates families, communities, economies, and the environment.

God doesn’t simply preserve our present life through His common grace in the Noahic covenant, but He also grants us everlasting life through the blood of the new covenant.

As with our previous topics, Genesis 1 already tells us much of what we need to know. God made “man” in His image, “male and female” (Gen. 1:26–27). All people thus possess the most profound dignity imaginable. To assault any human being is to assault the likeness of God Himself. Genesis 9:6 adds something subtle and important to this. After the great flood, which God imposed because of violence (see 6:11), God made a covenant with Noah, and the whole world for the rest of history, to preserve and govern all things (8:21–9:17). As part of this covenant, God declared: “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image” (9:6). According to this formula, each person’s blood is equally valuable. Whoever sheds the blood of any other person unlawfully ought to pay with his own blood. It doesn’t matter whether the perpetrator is a king and the victim a servant, or vice versa. Human blood is human blood, and the murder of anyone demands just retribution. The lives of even the weakest and most overlooked must be defended. Here the evil of abortion comes especially to light. No one is more vulnerable than the unborn, and the justice of Genesis 9:6 extends to them as well.

The context of Genesis 9:6 is worth noting for another related issue. In verse 5, God says that He Himself will avenge human bloodshed. But verse 6 then states that God has appointed humans to be His instruments for administering justice. The fact that God would entrust this great task to (fallen) humans is yet another testimony to our inherent dignity. But it also reminds us that valuing human life implies that we should support legal systems, just (defensive) warfare, and other things that protect people from violence and punish wrongdoers. To bear God’s image entails a call to exercise dominion (1:26), and in a fallen world this requires promoting justice in the face of evil.

One final matter demands attention, and it’s the most important of all. We’ve been considering various purposes for which God made us, but the greatest was to attain everlasting blessedness in fellowship with Him. God made us to rule not just this present world but also the world to come (Heb. 2:5). Although we failed miserably to attain that goal, God has sent His Son into our low condition to suffer for us, that we might one day join Him in the glory of the new creation (vv. 5–10). God doesn’t simply preserve our present life through His common grace in the Noahic covenant, but He also grants us everlasting life through the blood of the new covenant. This means that as valuable as our present life is, we Christians dare not consider it the most important thing. We deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Jesus (Matt. 16:24). We are “faithful unto death,” knowing that Christ gives us “the crown of life” (Rev. 2:10). No Christian anthropology is complete without exalting this, our highest destiny. Let us indeed “take hold of that which is truly life” (1 Tim. 6:19).

Man as Covenant Breaker and Restored Image...

“Judge Not”

Keep Reading The Doctrine of Man

From the September 2022 Issue
Sep 2022 Issue