The Nature of Man

By Mike Willis

Socrates’ challenge to “Know thyself!” is as applicable to modern man as it was – to the men of his day. Sometimes in our attention to our own internal problems, we neglect some of the basic doctrines in the Scriptures, such as the Bible doctrine of man. Yet, one’s view of himself is going to affect his moral conduct. Whether consciously or unconsciously, man has a doctrine about himself, The mass media of television is communicating a doctrine of man. In addition to the specials on evolution, such regular series shows as “The Planet of the Apes” teach that man is a product of evolution. According to evolutionary theory, man originated from a one-celled amoeba in an oozy swamp. Since that time, through the operation of chance or the survival of the fittest, man has ascended into what he is today. Some think that man is developing toward some future superman.

Other doctrines of man have emerged, however. The theological liberals and humanists hold this view of man:

“As a return to the Renaissance and to the elements of Greek thought, liberalism stressed the continuity between God and man. In idealistic fashion man was regarded as essentially divine and Innately good. Man’s reason was considered autonomous and accordingly any need of divine revelation was rejected. A Pelgian view of man’s goodness joined forces with an optimistic view of evolutionary progress. Liberalism as a whole was anthropocentric rather than theocentric” (Fred H. Klooster, “The Nature of Man,” Christian Faith and Modern Theology, Carl F. H. Henry, ed., p. 162.-Klooster is writing from a Calvinistic point of view-MW.)

Diametrically opposed to this view of man is the Calvinistic point of view:

“Therefore all of us, who have descended from impure seed, are born infected with the contagion of sin” (Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin, Book II, ch. 1, part 5). “Here I only want to suggest briefly that the whole man is overwhelmed-as a deluge-from head to foot, so that no part is immune from sin and all that proceeds from him is to be imputed to sin” (Ibid., Book II, ch. 1, part 9).

But, what is the Bible doctrine of man? Is man inherently good, morally neutral, or inherently evil? What is man?

A Creation of God

First of all, we must affirm that man is a creation of God. In Gen. 2:7, Moses said, “Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being-NASB.”This fact about man is antithetical to the evolutionary theory and liberal theological view of man. Evolution teaches that man has ascended from lower orders of animals; the Bible teaches that man is a creation of God. Man is not a superior form of animal life merely because he has a greater capacity for adjustment. We did not become such as we are by accident; God created us as we are.

In the Image of God

Secondly, man is created in the image of God. Moses also recorded, “Then God said, `Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’ And God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” (Gen. 1:26, 27). Compare the following statements by Leupold, and Keil and Delitzsch, about the meaning of “image of God”:

“He lists the following items as belonging to the outward side of the divine image: (a) man’s countenance which directs his gaze upwards; (b) a capacity for varying facial expressions; (c) a sense of shame expressing itself in the blush of man; (d) speech. It cannot be denied that all these are physical features which are noticeably absent to all animals. To the inner side of the divine image the same author assigns the following items: (a) on the material side of man’s inner make-up stands immortality; (b) on the intellectual side is self-consciousness, reason . . . ; (c) on the voluntative-moral side is the ability to discern good and evil, the freedom of the will, conscience, and the right use of his moral capacities-the most important of all . . . . To sum up from a slightly different angle we should like to append the thought that the spiritual and inner side of the image of God is, without a doubt, the most important one’ (H. C. Leupold, Exposition of Genesis, Vol. I, pp. 89-90).

“The image of God consists, therefore, in the spiritual personality of man, though not merely in unity of self-consciousness and self-determination, or in the fact that man was created a consciously free Ego; for personality is merely the basis and form of the divine essence. This consists rather in the fact, that the man endowed with free sell-conscious personality possesses, In his spiritual as well as corporeal nature, a creaturely copy of the holiness and blessedness of the divine life” (C. F. Kell and F. DeHtzsch, Bible Commentary on the Old Testament, Vol. I, pp. 63-64).

Although I would not agree totally with either of these comments, they constitute material worth consideration. For example, the fact that man differs p1hysically from other animals might be explainable from the fact that no two kinds of animals are alike. Man possesses some attributes because he is man and not because he is in the image of God. The problem one has in explaining “image of God” is in separating those attributes which man has which distinguish him from other animals from those which constitute the “image of God.” Personally, I would be more inclined to limit the “image of God” to the soul and moral consciousness of man.

Precisely because man is created in the image of God does he have dominion over the habitable earth. Utterly amazed at man’s exalted position in the creation of God, the psalmist said,

“When I consider Thy heavens, the work of Thy fingers,

The moon and the stars, which Thou hast ordained;

What is man, that Thou dost take thought of him?

And the son of man, that Thou dost care for him?

Yet Thou hast made him a little lower than God,

And dost crown him with glory and majesty!

Thou dost make him to rule over the works of Thy hands;

Thou host put all things under his feet,

All sheep and oxen,

And also the beasts of the field,

The birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea,

Whatever passes through the paths of the seas.” (Ps. 8:3-8).

Even after the fall, man still bears the image of God, and is precious in the sight of God. God so loved man who was created in His image that He sent His only begotten Son to die on Calvary for us. One soul is more precious, according to Jesus, than the whole world (Mt. 16:26).

Evil or Good?

But, is man inherently evil or inherently good? This is not an easy question to answer. God created man as he is. Man is a creature subject to temptation. James said, “But each one of us is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lusts. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death” (1:14, 15). Man is composed of body and spirit; the two are at war with each other. I think William Barclay was right when he said,

“The essence of the flesh is this. No army can invade a country from the sea unless it can obtain a bridgehead. Temptation would be powerless to affect men, unless there was some thing already In man to respond to temptation. Sin could gain no foothold in a man’s mind and heart and soul and life unless there was an enemy within the gates who was willing to open the door to sin. The flesh Is exactly the bridgehead through which sin invades the human personality. The flesh is like the enemy within the gates who opens the way to the enemy, who is pressing In through the gates” (Flesh and Spirit, pp. 21-22).

Thus, man is a creature who is tempted by Satan; Satan attacks us through our flesh (i.e. the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life).

Possessing free will, man sometimes chooses to do good and sometimes chooses to do evil. The Calvinistic doctrine which states that “no part (of man-MW) is immune from sin and all that proceeds from him is imputed to sin” is wrong. A person only needs to look at the unconverted Cornelius to see that (Acts 10:1-2). The optimism of theological liberalism forgets that man can, and frequently does, chose to sin. When he violates God’s will in choosing to do evil, he becomes a sinner condemned before God. Like Adam, every man is responsible for his choice to sin; he is not responsible for the sins of others; not even those of Adam (Ezek. 18:20). Here is a description of the man who has sinned:

“And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience” (Eph. 2:1-2).

“Therefore remember, that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called `Uncircumcision’ by the so-called `Circumcision,’ which is performed in the flesh by human hands-remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (Eph. 2:11-12).

“This I say therefore, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hard. ness of their heart; and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality, for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness” (Eph. 4:17-19).

Since all have sinned (Rom. 3:23), all men are sinners condemned to hell.

Redemption of Man

Yet, God has not utterly given man over to Satan. We, by our choices to do evil, deserve hell and its punishments. But God loved us enough to send Jesus to save us (Jn. 3:16). God’s grace has appeared, bringing salvation to all men -(Tit. 2:14). Yet man must choose to accept that gift of God’s grace. When he does obey God, thus accepting the gift of God’s grace, he is redeemed. “But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Eph. 2:13).

What Is Man?

Man is a creation of God who is made in the image of God. Possessing a fleshly body, he is subject to temptation; possessing free will, he frequently succumbs to temptation. When he sins, he is responsible for it and stands condemned before God as a consequence. Nevertheless, through the blood of Christ, God has provided a means of redemption for fallen men. No, man is not the product of evolution. He is the creation of God. But because he has marred the original creation, man needs to become a new creature in Christ (Eph. 4:20-24).

Truth Magazine XIX: 18, pp. 284-285
March 13, 1975