“I’m only human.”

These three words are often offered as an explanation of a wrong we’ve done or a problem we’re battling. We lose our temper with our children or spouse, and a few minutes later regret our actions: “I’m only human.” We continue to fall into a pattern of behaviour that is for us a consistent struggle: “I’m only human.” Sometimes we sound completely resigned and defeated, adding the words, “After all,” as a preface to this little expression.

It seems we have a pretty low view of what it means to be human, to offer our humanity as the reason for all of our mistakes. We might as well say, “Can you really expect anything better out of something as pitiful as me?”

Is this the right way to look at it, though?

In Psalm 73, Asaph speaks of a time when he lost his judgment and turned away from God. Looking back on that attitude, he quite clearly doesn’t say, “I’m only human.” He says, on the contrary, “I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you.” When he sinned, he said he was more like a beast than a person. To turn away from God is to lose something of what it is to be human.

This way of talking shouldn’t come as a surprise to us. When we were created, we were made “in the image of God.” The New Testament speaks of Christ as “the image of the invisible God.” To be truly human is to be Christ-like. He was the one who was perfectly human. The message is clear: If you want to know what humanity truly looks like, look at Jesus.

Our sin makes us less human, not more human. What God has done in Christ is to reclaim us, and begin remaking us according to his image: God’s destiny for his people is “to be conformed to the image of his Son” (Romans 8:29).

What would it mean for each of us to realize that our failures aren’t proof that we’re human, but evidence that we need God’s help, that his work in us is not yet complete? As Paul wrote in Ephesians 4, the goal of our lives is to “attain to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”

What does a true human look like? Like Jesus. To be human is to have great dignity before God. God’s ultimate will for all of us is to restore our broken humanity, and as we stay close to Christ that work continues to take shape in each of our lives.

How about changing our language a little? Next time you find yourself tempted to excuse sinful actions with the words, “I’m only human,” consider a slight correction: “My humanity is a work in progress. I’m still on the way, and God is still at work.”