Our Dual Identity

By Mark D. Roberts

May 25, 2015

[T]hen the LORD God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.”

Genesis 2:7


Some of my favorite heroes have a dual identity: Clark Kent is Superman; Bruce Wayne is Batman; Peter Parker is Spider-Man. The list goes on and on.

You and I also have a dual identity, though, unlike the comic book heroes, our dual identity isn’t secret. It’s plainly revealed in Scripture, beginning in Genesis 2:7.

The first aspect of our dual identity is the earthly, material one. The NRSV says that “the LORD God formed man from the dust of the ground.” This is an accurate rendering of the Hebrew original, though it misses a crucial play on words. “Man” in Hebrew, is adam (which can mean “humankind,” “male person,” or the name “Adam”). “Ground” is adamah. So God created the man (adam) from the ground (adamah). The earth is not only the place in which we work. It is also a part of us. We belong to the earth. We are made of dust.

Yet this is not the whole story. God not only fashioned us from the earth as a potter makes a pot out of clay. Genesis 2:7 also says that God “breathed into [the man’s] nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.” The word for breath here (neshamah) is reserved in the Bible for God and human beings. In other words, God breathed into the man, not just any old air, but rather God’s own breath, the breath that gives life. The man, though formed from the dust, is also a receptacle of the divine life.

Thus, human beings have an essential material identity and an essential immaterial identity. We are a combination of dust and God’s breath. We are both natural and, in a sense, supernatural.

This is a hard combination to keep together. Throughout history, people have tended to emphasize either our materiality or our immateriality. We can focus so much on our earthiness that we neglect our heavenliness. Or, we can put so much value on our spirituality that we downplay our embodiment. Genesis 2:7, along with the rest of Scripture, teaches us to embrace our dual identity, not to deny or keep secret who we are. Yes, we are from the earth and we belong to it. Yes, we are from God and we belong to him, filled with God’s own breath. In the end, our dual identity reflects our essential unity. We are living beings, formed by God from the earth and filled by God with divine life.


As you think about yourself, where does your emphasis lie? Do you see yourself more as an earthly being or more as one filled with God’s own breath? What difference might it make if you were to embrace your dual identity? How might this change the way you live? The way you work?


Gracious God, thank you for creating us. Thank you for forming us from the earth and giving us work to do on the earth. Thank you for breathing into us your own breath, the breath that gives life. Thank you for our dual identity, and the fact that ultimately we are unified in both aspects of our nature.

Help us, Lord, to understand and live out our full identity. May we contribute wisely and productively to this world. May we do so by the life and strength you give us. May we be fully your people in all we do, living for your purposes and glory. Amen.


Mark D. Roberts

Senior Strategist

Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders,...

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