A professor friend of mine regularly asks his classes to write down the first thing that comes to mind when he says the word humanity.
You try it. What comes to mind?
Using the same exercise, I have found the overwhelming response to this question is primarily negative. People say things like: sinful, broken, or messy. It’s super cheery.
How you answer that question speaks to what you believe about humanity. There are two common thoughts in this discussion:
The first is that you and I are born with what we need to please God; we just need to try harder. You and I know what we should do; we’re just lazy. God knows what He’s given us, and we’re struggling to get it together, so He’s disappointed with us. Again.
The second is we (with a good-intentioned humility) view ourselves as irreversibly broken, unable to do good, unlovable creatures. It is true that Adam and Eve (and you and I) were affected by sin in every faculty. This is described in the doctrine of total depravity. Many well-meaning people over-apply this doctrine and live thinking it honors God to hate yourself. This makes us distrust that we can be loved “because there is nothing good in us,” and the natural by-product is that we distance ourselves from God in our walk with Him.
When we believe this to be the core truth about ourselves, we view humanity from Genesis 3 instead of Genesis 1. Rather than hearing “very good,” which was God’s perspective on humanity before sin entered the picture, we look at ourselves (and others) as being only very broken. Yes, we’re broken. The fall of man is real, and we live under its effects all day long. But this is simply not the whole picture.
If you’ve spent time in church, you’ve probably heard time and again that “all our righteous acts are like filthy rags” (Isa. 64:6 NIV), and none of them can earn God’s favor. This is true. Outside of Christ, there is nothing in us that reconciles us to God. The problem is when we think we are filthy rags. Instead of recognizing the impact of sin on our thoughts, emotions, and desires, we identify as our thoughts, emotions, and desires. Shame turns conviction over our actions into condemnation over our person.
Instead of recognizing the impact of sin on our thoughts, emotions, and desires, we identify as our thoughts, emotions, and desires.
If I believe that God sees me as irreparable and unlovable, I am trusting myself to tell me how God views me, which affects all of life. When we listen to the accusation that we are filthy rags, we ignore the arc of the entire Bible that points to our triune God who made humanity in His image, loves them—loves us—and has a plan to restore us. When the first descriptor we consider about people is sinful instead of loved, we reinforce accusations of shame and unworthiness (that are not from God) and find ourselves trying to earn acceptance with God when it has been given to us in Jesus.
If you are in Christ, the Bible says you are not just “sinner”; you are saint, and God has plans to make you “very good” again. The Bible also says your shame is taken away forever (Rom. 8). You’re united to Christ and cannot be snatched from Him. The Holy Spirit is in you. Satan will accuse you, cast doubt on God’s character, on God’s work in your life, and promise you actually can provide for yourself. It’s the same move he made in the garden, and if you don’t pay attention, these attacks will steal your hope.
We readily believe that no habit or act can earn us favor with God, but when we’re stressed or shamed, our default move is to try harder at being good. We act on a deep suspicion that God is not as good as He says He is. If we let God define who He is, we resist the urge to make Him into the image of people who have failed us. This makes all the difference, clearing the obstacles to love and rooting ourselves in God’s reality.
Life with God is not merely about saving you from the punishment or presence of sin. Life with God is about being reconciled to your Maker and becoming a certain type of person who desires to dwell in God’s presence, demonstrate His care over creation, and image His beauty to the world.
Christian, you are invited in as a beloved child.
God is who He says He is, and what He says about you is true. He really is not just omnipotent but good, and you are not just sin-stricken but loved. Only when you believe this whole picture of both God and you can you start growing in spiritual maturity.
He really is not just omnipotent but good, and you are not just sin-stricken but loved.
And when you hear the lies start rolling in, remind yourself of this: if God the Father hated you, the person, He wouldn’t have sent His Son to save you, His Son wouldn’t have volunteered to do the job, and His Spirit wouldn’t dare indwell you. But He did, and He did, and He did. Indeed, God hates your sin. He hates what you’re infected with, and He’s committed to pulling it out of you. Because He loves you, the person, who is made in His image. He is more committed than you could ever know to transform you back into the picture of what it once looked like to be human without the cancer of sin. And that’s a gloriously good picture.
Take some time now to thank God for His generosity to you and the fact that He is not just good for you but good to you—and He is kind.
Editor’s Note: This article is an excerpt from Mason King’s new book, A Short Guide to Spiritual Disciplines: How to Become a Healthy Christian.
Jonathan T. Pennington, The Sermon on the Mount and Human Flourishing: A Theological Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2018), 292–93.
 Michael Reeves, “The Trinity: The Secret to Joyful Christianity,” Union School of Theology, accessed August 12, 2022, https://www.uniontheology.org/resources/doctrine/god/the-trinity- the-secret-to-joyful-christianity.
 Pennington, The Sermon on the Mount and Human Flourishing, 293 n. 8.