EPHESIANS 2:3e (part two)
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Ephesians 2:3e “. . .who were by nature. . .”
Due to Adam’s sin, each person is born with a loss of original righteousness and with an inability to reclaim it by merit. John Gill, prominent Baptist pastor and theologian of the 1700s, saw significance in the number of different names Scripture uses to describe man’s sin nature. Depravity is not trivial. It exerts extensive influence within us.
Our nature contains “sin that dwelleth in” us (RM 7:17). Its chief product is sin, a lack of conformity to the will of God. This sin is indwelling, not coming and going, not a visitor now and then, but an inhabitant which abides in every person, including saints, till physical death.
Our nature is a “body of sin” (RM 6:6b), an aggregate containing parts and members, a crawling mass of evil. “Body” expresses our sin nature as having means to express itself and wherewithal to bully us around.
Our sin nature is “the law of sin” (RM 7:23). Having force, power, and authority, our nature seeks to reign as a king, yea, as a dictator. Unless grace overcomes it, our sin nature tyrannizes us till death.
Man’s nature is called the “flesh” (RM 7:18), because it is carnal and corrupt, contrary to God’s Spirit, opposed to the principles of grace. In it dwells no good thing. Our sin nature is the “old man” (RM 6:6a), as old as every man in whom it dwells. As the first nature to inhabit every person, our “old man” begrudges the entrance of another nature.
Obviously, the doctrine of original sin is one of our foremost theological studies. It is also a most practical study, for it affects our understanding of government, society, religion, families, and individuals.
To understand government aright, one must acknowledge the doctrine of original sin, for the former is God’s way of helping us deal with the latter. God’s image, though marred, is still upon man. God left enough decency in us whereby we can be respectable citizens and good neighbors. Men have ample scruples and morals to live together in community.
People know how to be good to one another (LK 6:33), and are capable of noble deeds (LK 11:13). Nevertheless, our sin natures are so strong that if left to ourselves, chaos results. Thus, to control our baser instincts, and to accommodate for what we truly are, God instituted governments.
One reason for the success of our government in the United States has been the fact our founding fathers had a realistic view of sinful human nature. This was not the case in the French Revolution. It was based on the goodness of man and resulted in a bloodbath which continued until the iron fist of Napoleon brought order out of the chaos.
Communism expounded man’s goodness. Marx saw the source of evil, not in man, but in socioeconomic forces. Russia was purged of these “evil forces,” and trust was placed in man’s nature. As a result, Farmers plowed only beside roads the inspectors travelled. The system collapsed.
America’s founding fathers understood the evil nature of men. “If men were angels, no government would be necessary” (Madison, Federalist Paper Number 51). Why have government at all? “Because the passions of men will not conform to the dictates of reason and justice, without constraint” (Hamilton, Fed. Paper No. 15). Men “are ambitious, vindictive and rapacious” (Hamilton, Fed. Paper No. 6). “The latent causes of faction are thus sown in the nature of man” (Madison, Fed. Paper No. 10). Our forefathers believed government could not eliminate the cause of this problem, and thus had to deal only with its effects (Madison, Fed. Paper No. 10).
The role of government was to control not only the governed, but also to control itself (Madison, Fed. Paper No. 51). No one could be sure good men would always be in leadership, thus a government had to be built to protect the people when bad men take the helm. Checks and balances were built into our system. Human authority was diluted in such a way that no one individual could ever amass total control or wield absolute authority.
Power was diffused through many units of government–national, state, county, city. This was wise, for it emulated the practice of God Himself. At Babel, to divide centers of authority, and thus slow the progress of evil, God separated man into cultures and languages. The principle is clear, if corruption takes over in one area, it has a chance to be checked elsewhere.
The doctrine of original sin influences one’s attitude toward society. A proper understanding of man is the hope for ending racism. The Ku Klux Klan and Skinheads have to go. They are as wrong as Hell itself in claiming the superiority of one race over another. This is ridiculous, not only because we are all descended from one man, Adam, and from another, Noah, but also because we are all born with a sin nature. All are depraved. All men are equal at the foot of the cross. Calvary is the leveller of mankind.
To end sexism, understand the doctrine of original sin. Are males better than females? No. In fact, if I voiced my views of men, women would give me a standing ovation. All are equally undone apart from Jesus.
We must understand original sin to deal aright with the ills of society. If man is deemed innately good or even neutral, then all we have to do to improve man’s lot is to deal with his environment. This has been the leading secular philosophy in the United States for the past sixty years.
Man’s problems are usually analyzed in terms of education, housing, and economic betterment. These are important, but constitute only one-third of the equation of evil. We do need to deal with “the world,” but must also take into account Satan and human nature. By now our culture should be seeing that dealing with the environment is not the total answer.
If man’s only need were a perfect environment, Adam would not have sinned. He fell in Paradise. Also, if “the world” is our whole problem, we have no legitimate answer to the question, “Who taught Cain to murder?” The world gives our lusts an outlet and often encourages them, but evil tendencies and desires are all inside a person to begin with.
If we blame only society for crimes, ultimately no one is held responsible, and anarchy results. America is presently tottering dangerously close to this suicidal cliff. “The common thread running through all secular ideologies has been the focus on external forces as the sources of evil” (Dennis Prager). Society at large refuses to accept the truth that evil emanates from within human beings. We want to believe evil comes from outside us.
Thus, a murderer is not evil, he is sick, suffering from a disease received from a poor environment. A rapist is not evil, he is sick, mentally unnerved by forces at work around him. The result of such thinking is that no one is to blame for anything. Such thinking will destroy a society.
We need to avoid this error. God left enough of His image in man for him to be able to control himself in society. Man can live within the limits of imposed law and be responsible for his actions. No matter how bad the environment, ultimately choices are made in a person’s own psyche. Each individual is accountable for what he or she does.
The doctrine of original sin influences one’s attitude toward religion. Thomas Aquinas (1227-1274), the dominant theologian in Roman Catholic history, believed depravity did not affect man’s reasoning ability. Adam’s sin hurt other aspects of humanity, but the ability to reason was left intact. Aquinas’ error paved the way for thinking one could become so astute in knowledge that he could actually become infallible. The Reformers rejected this fantasy in toto. Every part of man–mind, emotions, heart, will–is tainted by the Fall. None nears infallibility. We absolutely trust only those whom the Holy Spirit protected from error while writing Scripture.
Total and absolute rejection of any belief in depravity has led some to believe religion can be dispensed with altogether. To some, man is not only good, but also self-sufficient. Humanist Manifesto I, signed in 1933 by, among others, John Dewey and the father of Vice President Mondale, sent out the call, “Religion must formulate its hopes and plans in the light of the scientific spirit and method.” God was set aside. “Man is at last becoming aware that he alone is responsible for the realization of the world of his dreams, that he has within himself the power for its achievement.”
In 1973, Humanist Manifesto II was written because the atrocities of Nazism proved Manifesto I “far too optimistic.” Manifesto II said “faith in the prayer-hearing God. . .is an unproved and outmoded faith.” The wise use of technology will “provide humankind with unparalleled opportunity for achieving an abundant and meaningful life.” “We find insufficient evidence for belief in the existence of a supernatural; it is either meaningless or irrelevant to the question of the survival and fulfillment of the human race.” “We can discover no divine purpose or providence for the human species. While there is much that we do not know, humans are responsible for what we are or will become. No deity will save us; we must save ourselves.” Signers of Manifesto II included Isaac Asimov, science fiction writer; Alan Guttmacher, President of Planned Parenthood; Lester Mondale, brother of Vice-President Mondale; B. F. Skinner, Harvard Professor of Psychology; Betty Friedan, Founder, National Organization of Women.
Man is God, and science is the only true religion. I think many in our culture are awakening to the foolishness of this position. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, professor of psychology at the University of Chicago, says scientists “must learn humility and be ready to see our conclusions as temporary and open to challenge.” After World War II, he says, the scientific community became overly optimistic that science and technology had the power to “liberate human beings from the mental shackles that old-fashioned religion, political ideology and morality had imposed.” But, he says, they missed “an important aspect of human psychology that earlier religious approaches had recognized: that left to its own devices. . .human consciousness is typically in a state of chaos and conflict. . . .The human psyche is by nature more disordered” than some optimistic scientists would have it (U.S. News and World Report, 12-23-91, p. 64).
The doctrine of original sin influences one’s attitude toward the family. Many parents unwisely deem it wrong to try to influence a young child’s religious outlook. Some foolishly say, “Let the child grow up neutral. When he is old enough, then let him choose.”
The problem with this attitude is, babies are not born neutral. We begin in a deep pit. A child’s mind is not neutral. If not cultivated to grow flowers and fruit, it will grow weeds. “The imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth” (GN 8:21). “The wicked are estranged from the womb: they go astray as soon as they be born, speaking lies” (PS 58:3).
Teach the children. At the first sign of lying, correct them. At the first sign of selfishness, teach them to share. At the first sign of rebellion, corral them. My children got one swing apiece at their mother. Neither took a second swipe. In an atmosphere of love, we must teach, correct, encourage, and spank our children, helping them place acceptable parameters around their sin natures. How young do you start? As soon as sin begins to reveal itself. I tip my hat to the Catholics on this issue. They understand the importance of early training. They have a saying, “Give us a child until he is five, and he will be a Catholic all his life.”
The doctrine of original sin influences one’s attitude toward individuals. It helps us see ourselves aright by causing us to see our need for God. One reason the world hates the doctrine of original sin is because self-sufficient man hates to diagnose a disease for which he holds no cure.
The Church, though, views this doctrine as the gateway to help. It is the starting point for the cure every person desperately needs. Once we admit our problem is within us, we can let go and let God begin to do what He alone can do. Liberation begins in accurately diagnosing our problem.
As long as one blames parents, friends, or other elements of “the world” only, he is a slave to these factors. These influences are important, but need to be put in their proper place. They are secondary considerations, not primary. For instance, your primary problem is not what your parents did to you, but the response you allowed your sin nature to make to them. You reacted with bitterness and anger, not love and forgiveness.
Once I realize the ultimate problem is in me, I have control over my situation. I can then reach out for help. Man’s only hope is God; and God’s only cure is applied within the individual. One must recognize sin within, repent of it, and receive Jesus as Lord.
Paul himself illustrated man’s inability to deal with the sin nature. Before conversion, Paul was moral, but this was not enough to make him right with God. Paul demonstrated how Satan uses the sin nature to build up pride and keep one from sensing a need for God. Paul was educated, a scholar trained in the schools, well versed in law, and taught by Gamaliel, the premier teacher of his day. Education of the mind cannot foster enlightenment of the soul or eradicate the sin nature. Paul was sincere, zealous for God, but sincerity cannot overcome the sin nature. One can as easily be sincerely wrong as sincerely right. Paul was religious, a regular attender of worship who worked ceaselessly for his denomination. He was religious, but not redeemed, and had to let God do a regenerating work in his life.