A Theological Perspective on Essence & Performance

In today’s world, some would argue that our human value is based upon function or performance. For example, assertions are made that the unborn child developing in her mother’s womb is not truly human or considered to be a person until certain prescribed physical and/or cognitive functions can be performed. Similarly, at the end of life, human worth qualifiers are placed upon the aged widow suggesting that she no longer has meaningful life because she cannot perform simple daily tasks. There are many such examples.

Whether it be the unborn, the aged, the disabled or a host of others – human value or worth is often erroneously framed within the context of physical bodily performance or function. Rather than this performance-based criterion for human significance, I propose that the teaching of Scripture recognizes essence as the foundation for human value. Let’s consider five key points:

  1. The I AM of Scripture has created us in his image (Gen. 1:26-27; Ex. 3:14). Jesus proclaims about himself, “before Abraham was born, I am” (John 8:58). The Father and the Son declare themselves as “I AM,” essence (“being”) and if we are created in their likeness, we too identify with their essence (“being”). Our human significance is founded upon the premise that “I am,” I have “being” (essence), I exist. In the incarnation, Jesus fully identifies with our humanity, including developing from a baby to a full-grown adult; he identifies with every stage of our human physical existence, including each gestational stage of development. Just as Jesus identifies with us from our earliest beginning, we likewise identify with His image from the moment of our conception. We are fearfully and wonderfully made and bearers of his image (Ps. 139: 13-16). We are created partakers of essence (“being”) so that we might function accordingly.
  2. We share God’s image with our neighbors. This knowledge should prompt me to treat my neighbor in an honorable way. Jesus calls us to this practice as he adds an addendum to the greatest commandment: “And love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:36-40). Throughout the Scriptures we are admonished to follow this command as we forgive, serve and demonstrate the grace of God to those around us. This demonstration of grace includes care for the physical needs and well-being of our neighbor (Matt. 25:31-46; Lk. 10:25-37; James 2:14-17). Likewise, we are to exhibit self-control with our own body and to refrain from inappropriate treatment of our neighbor’s body (1Thess. 4:3-8). These tenets of Scripture rest upon the foundation that God has created humanity as his image bearers. Consequently, what we “do” (performance) is based upon who we “are” (essence).
  3. Our physical bodies are likened to a temple. Our bodies are a place of residence for the Holy Spirit for those who call upon Jesus as Lord (2 Cor. 6:19-20). Within our bodies, we share the same Holy Spirit who was poured forth into Jesus’ disciples on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2). The same Holy Spirit who emboldened Peter to powerfully preach the first sermon of the Christian Church also lives in us. The Holy Spirit empowers our witness (Acts 1:8) and seals our identity in Christ (Rom. 8:16). Yes, our physical bodies are but “clay pots,” but we house “a priceless treasure” (2 Cor. 4:7) and by his presence we cry out “Abba, Father” (Rom. 8:15).
  4. The indwelling of the Spirit of God provides motivation. The fact that God the Spirit indwells our bodies should motivate us towards healthy self-care. We are to maintain our physical well-being to the best of our ability as an offering unto the Lord – a living and holy sacrifice (Rom. 12:1). Caring for our physical bodies with respect and personal discipline can be an expression of worship because of who we are (essence) and to Whom we belong. We therefore conduct ourselves in a manner that demonstrates our gratitude for the body he has entrusted to our care.
  5. We live in our current physical body temporarily. Our flesh is perishable and we long to be permanently changed to immortality in accordance with God’s design and intention (1 Cor. 15:51-58). One day, in the twinkling of an eye, we will all be changed. The physical realities we now encounter will subside. There will be no more death, mourning, crying or pain – all such things will pass away. Everything will be made new (Rev. 21:4-5). We long for this final and complete transformation, but in the meantime, we serve our Lord through who we are (essence) and consequently, by what we do (performance), all to the glory of his name with hearts of gratitude.


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Physical contributor: Dave Lewis, associate professor/head women’s soccer coach, Huntington University.
Executive editor: Russ Gunsalus
Curator of content: Dave Higle