Various ideas have been expressed to explain human nature. Some believe it evolves, that it is plastic and changing, capable of unlimited amelioration or upward improvement. They believe that human nature is essentially good. Others are convinced that it is the result of natural selection, or the result of environment and experience, or the product of innate drives that conflict with the requirements of social living. Still others are persuaded that it originates from the struggle to fulfill a hierarchy of human needs, or the result of a struggle between good and evil.
All these views fail to consider what the Bible reveals about man’s nature. What we can say is that because of human nature this world is a very dangerous place in which to live. Thermo-nuclear war threatens. Violence persists. Crime, famine, drought, and disease all continue to plague mankind. There is much unhappiness everywhere. The question we need to ask is: How did the world get this way?
The Bible describes present world conditions.
This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away. (2 Tim. 3:1-5)
In John’s epistle we read: “And we know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness” (1 John 5:19). The Apostle Paul referred to the earth as “this present evil world” (Gal 1:4). This is what he wrote about mankind: “There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one” (Rom. 3:11-12). What Paul wrote flies in the face of many who cannot believe human nature is as bad as it really is. Instead, they think that given enough time man will solve his problems. But the Bible is blunt. Because men, in general, refuse to accept what God says about the nature of man, we read: ” . . . This is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19). In brief, man is not subject to the Law of God (Rom. 8:7), and apart from obeying that law he will never be able to solve the problems that persist on this planet.
Human Nature Described
The Bible does not portray human nature in a good light. In Ecclesiastes we find: “Lo, this only have I found, that God hath made man upright; but they have sought out many inventions” (Eccl.7:29). Man basically wants to be good, but wants to be good in his own way. He does not realize that there is only one thing that can truly make man good-the power of the Spirit of God. Apart from that Spirit, the works of the flesh rule. “Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God” (Gal. 5:19-21). Jesus had a very good reason for saying: ” . . . That which cometh out of the man, that defileth the man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, Thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and defile the man” (Mark 7:20-23).
Men always seem to be bent on wrongdoing.
And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient; Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, Without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful: Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them. (Rom. 1:28-32)
When did this utter disregard for God start? What is its origin? And why do men continue to refuse to obey God?
The Origin of Human Nature
The earlier portions of the Bible record the barest historical facts. We read of man’s creation in Genesis One. After the Creation, the Bible records: “And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day” (Gen. 1:31). Man was created on the sixth day. Up to this point there is no indication that he manifested any disregard for his Creator. Then along came Satan. He deceived Eve, and she disobeyed God. Adam followed his wife’s example (Gen 3:1-6). Then something happened. The attitude that Adam and Eve had manifested toward God changed. Instead of regarding God as the loving Creator, they now viewed Him with fear, no longer welcoming His presence (Gen. 3:8). What caused this change of mind?
The view of most professing Christians is that man “fell.” That is, man was created in a state of perfection or near perfection, not subject to death, but by the fall he came under the death penalty. Salvation, therefore, restores man to the status he had held before the fall. Strange as it may seem, there is not one Bible text that says man fell, or even implies that he fell. Rather, the Bible states that Adam transgressed or sinned (Rom. 5:14, 17). “Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law” (1 John 3:4). Did Adam disobey a law? Yes, indeed! “Because the law worketh wrath: for where no law is, there is no transgression” (Rom. 4:15). Adam sinned.
An alternate view adopted by some is that when Adam and Eve were compelled to make a choice, they took upon themselves to decide what was right and wrong. By disobeying God, the spirit and attitude of rebellion entered their minds. But this evil was not a part of their nature; it came from Satan. The original man, therefore, was not created with a corrupt nature, but was perfectly able to choose good or evil. Satan imposed upon man this evil bent, which we call human nature. This nature includes vanity, lust, greed, envy, jealousy, competition, strife, rebellion against authority, resentment, and hatred. Since Satan is the present God of this world (2 Cor. 4:4), this nature is said not to be inherited or passed on by heredity, but is acquired from him. Because Satan broadcasts this attitude in the air to all of mankind (Eph. 2:2), he is the real source of what we call human nature. This influence begins from earliest childhood and is absorbed until it becomes habitual, or natural, in every human being.
To support this viewpoint, 2 Corinthians 11:2-3 is quoted. “For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ” (2 Cor. 11:2-3). The argument is that the Corinthians did not have by heredity the evil attitude we call human nature, as Satan could beguile them with a wrong spirit. This “proof” contradicts the earlier statement that men are imbued with the evil attitude of human nature from early childhood. The Corinthians were adults, and surely if they were imbued with Satan’s nature early in life, they could not be free of it when Paul wrote them. What Paul was addressing in this text is the “simplicity” that is in Christ Jesus. According to A Greek-English Lexicon by W. F. Arndt and F. W. Gingrich, page 85, the word “simplicity” means sincere devotion to Christ. Paul’s concern in 2 Corinthians 11:2-3 was that the Corinthians would lose their devotion and dedication to Christ. He was not addressing human nature.
While it is true that Adam and Eve made a choice, what has been overlooked is that Eve was deceived into making the wrong choice. Adam simply followed along. There is no indication that either of them made a deliberate decision to rebel against God. Would God, therefore, be fair to allow Satan to imbue Adam and Eve, as well as all mankind, with his nature when deception was the cause of their transgression? This view actually depicts Satan as being equal to or more powerful than God because if the spirit of Satan controls mankind, he is able to thwart God’s purpose. Also, this viewpoint relieves man of the responsibility for his own actions since Satan is the primary source of all man’s evil. A much more reasonable explanation is that Adam and Eve were created with the potential to do evil, but this did not manifest itself until after they disobeyed. As a result mankind was cut off from God and left to his own devices (Gen. 3:22-24).
The idea that Satan is the source of corrupt human nature is not new. In fact, it goes back to a time period at least a hundred years before the time of Christ.
Consider this statement on Ephesians 2:3 from the IVP Bible Background Commentary:
Many Jewish people sought to explain all sin as the direct result of demonic activity (cf. especially the “spirit of error” in the Dead Sea Scrolls). Paul does not see sin as always directly inspired by demons but thinks that the world is pervaded with the devil’s less direct influence (including in racial division – 1:21-23); one is not delivered from this influence by one’s Israelite ancestry but (vv. 4-6) through faith in Jesus. (IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament copyright (C) 1993 by Craig S. Keener published by Intervarsity Press.)
What does this statement tell us? It tells us that the origin of the belief that Satan is responsible for man’s nature is found as early as 100 BC in the writings of the Qumram sect, generally regarded to be Essenes. Essenes were Gnostic in their beliefs. Anyone who understands Gnosticism is aware that this was the source of many heretical beliefs the Church struggled against in the centuries immediately following its establishment. The belief did not completely die when the Essenes disappeared. A British monk by the name of Pelagius, who lived in the latter part of the fourth century and early part of the fifth century after Christ, advocated this belief. Palagius taught that every man, far from being born with a corrupt nature, begins life practically where Adam began it, perfectly capable choosing good or evil. The fact is: The belief that man was not created with a corrupt nature, and that Satan is responsible for the evil that exists in man’s behavior was an occult belief of Jewish Gnostics. It is not of biblical origin, as the Bible gives no indication that human nature originated from Satan.
If anything, the Bible indicates otherwise. While Satan does indeed tempt man, here is what the Apostle James wrote: “Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man: But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death” (Jas.1:13-15). In brief, Satan is not cited as the responsible agent for man’s behavior. Consider the idea that man’s nature is not inherited and that it is acquired from Satan in early childhood. Children remember little until they reach three or four years of age. Here is what the Bible states about human nature. “The wicked are estranged from the womb: they go astray as soon as they be born, speaking lies” (Ps. 58:3). “Yea, thou heardest not; yea, thou knewest not; yea, from that time that thine ear was not opened: for I knew that thou wouldest deal very treacherously, and wast called a transgressor from the womb” (Isa. 48:8).
The Apostle John did not attribute the evil in the world to Satan. He attributed it to man. He said: “For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world” (1 John 2:16). Human nature is the drive behind these destructive tendencies. There is no indication that Satan is the cause. Some find it difficult that God could create man with an evil potential, yet Isaiah wrote: “I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things” (Isa. 45:7).
What Is the Purpose of Human Nature?
Centuries ago God said: “O that there were such an heart in them, that they would fear me, and keep all my commandments always, that it might be well with them, and with their children for ever!” (Deut. 5:29). Has human nature changed? Of course not! Else how can we explain all the evil and sin that presently exists in the world? Paul spoke of this innate weakness of the flesh, its inability to always do what is always right. “I speak after the manner of men because of the infirmity of your flesh: for as ye have yielded your members servants to uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity; even so now yield your members servants to righteousness unto holiness” (Rom. 6:19). Through the power of God the situation can change. “But if the wicked will turn from all his sins that he hath committed, and keep all my statutes, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall surely live, he shall not die. All his transgressions that he hath committed, they shall not be mentioned unto him: in his righteousness that he hath done he shall live” (Ezek. 18:21-22).
God promises: “To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne” (Rev. 3:21). The need to overcome the pulls of the flesh can be understood in the light of understanding character. Many define character as how you really are as opposed to what people think you are. In a sense this is true, but lacks a definition of character. Character can best be defined as the ability to recognize right from wrong, and to always choose the right in opposition to the wrong. This requires knowledge of right and wrong, and the power to do the right. As free moral agents we have been given the right to freely choose, but we have never been given the right to define right and wrong. God has already done that. This was defined when man was created. Though deceived, when Adam and Eve sinned they freely made the wrong choice. Neither human nature nor Satan force us to sin, but they may incite a desire to sin. The choice, however, is ours.
God is in the process of creating perfect character within each of us. If He wanted us to be automatons, He would not have made us free moral agents. As such we must build character-to always choose the right in opposition to the wrong. This is where overcoming enters in. If we did not have the pull of human nature, what would we have to overcome? Holy, righteous character means doing right even when desiring to do wrong. To attribute all the evil within us to Satan frees us from the responsibility of sin. Yet, the Bible holds us individually accountable, not Satan, for what we do. “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad” (2 Cor. 5:10). Overcoming is a life-long process.
Where Does Satan Fit In?
At one time Satan bore great responsibility under God. The prophet Ezekiel described his office. This description could not apply to any man.
Son of man, take up a lamentation upon the king of Tyrus, and say unto him, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Thou sealest up the sum, full of wisdom, and perfect in beauty. Thou hast been in Eden the garden of God; every precious stone was thy covering, the sardius, topaz, and the diamond, the beryl, the onyx, and the jasper, the sapphire, the emerald, and the carbuncle, and gold: the workmanship of thy tabrets and of thy pipes was prepared in thee in the day that thou wast created. Thou art the anointed cherub that covereth; and I have set thee so: thou wast upon the holy mountain of God; thou hast walked up and down in the midst of the stones of fire. Thou wast perfect in thy ways from the day that thou wast created, till iniquity was found in thee. (Ezek. 28:12-15)
Satan was not satisfied with his responsibility. He wanted to be like God.
How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations! For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north: I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High. (Isa. 14:12-14)
As a consequence Satan was cast out of heaven. He was the one who “fell,” not Adam and Eve. Jesus said: ” . . . I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven” (Luke 10:18). When Satan rebelled against God, one-third of the angels followed him (Rev. 12:4). These are the demons so often encountered in the Bible accounts. Satan is the present god of this world. “But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them” (2 Cor. 4:3-4). Satan has blinded and deceived the nations. “And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him” (Rev. 12:9). He has not yet been removed from office, and will not be removed until Christ returns. “And I saw an angel come down from heaven, having the key of the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years” (Rev. 20:1-2).
Earlier in this article, the IVP Background Commentary was quoted. The statement was that the Apostle Paul did not always see sin as directly inspired by demons, but thought that the world is pervaded with the devil’s less direct influence. (See page four under the quote from the IVP Bible Background Commentary). In Paul’s writings, as well as one gospel account, Satan is called the “Tempter” (1 Thess. 3:5, Matt. 4:3). He is able to exercise a strong influence over this world, but the Bible does not state that human nature came from Satan. Certainly, he is instrumental in many of the evils done on this earth, but men have always had the option of free choice. What Satan does is to play upon the weaknesses and pulls of the flesh, and to incite men to give in to these evil lusts and desires. This is why the Bible says we must struggle and overcome Satan (Eph. 6:11, 1 Pet. 5:8, 1 John 2:13-14; 5:18). This is all part of the character building process. “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: Whom resist stedfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world” (1 Pet. 5:8-9).
The Bible repeatedly emphasizes God’s part in creating man as he is. To repeat: Nothing is stated that Satan was instrumental in placing his nature in man. The most sound explanation is that man was given the potential to do evil, and once cut off from God, that evil nature ran its course. So terrible was it that shortly before the Flood, the Bible states: “And GOD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually . . . . The earth also was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence. And God looked upon the earth, and, behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted his way upon the earth” (Gen. 6:5, 11-12).
Notice what the prophet Isaiah asked: “O LORD, why hast thou made us to err from thy ways, and hardened our heart from thy fear?” (Isa. 63:17). Many refused to believe that Jesus was the Christ as Isaiah had prophesied: “Therefore they could not believe, because that Esaias said again, He [God] hath blinded their eyes, and hardened their heart; that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them.” Compare Isaiah 6:9-10 with John 12:39-40). Satan has been used for this purpose, but only by God’s permission. God is the One responsible.
The Psalmist wrote: “With my whole heart have I sought thee: O let me not wander from thy commandments” (Ps. 119:10). “Incline my heart unto thy testimonies, and not to covetousness” (v. 36). “Incline not my heart to any evil thing, to practise wicked works with men that work iniquity . . . ” (Ps. 141:4). Satan is never brought into consideration; it is man’s nature that creates the problem.
To summarize: While all of God’s original creation was good, the earth was soon devastated by an unprecedented degree of evil and sin. Because of it the pre-Flood world had to be destroyed. Satan and his demons, no doubt, played a part, but they could not have done so if man did not have the potential to sin. There is no indication from the Scriptures that Satan placed his nature in man, or that human nature is Satan’s nature. Adam and Eve made the wrong choice, and mankind was given up to all the human inclinations we now witness.
We read: “And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient” (Rom. 1:28). Here was the consequence: “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned” (Rom. 5:12). The death penalty passed upon all men because all men have sinned. “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23).
Those called to the knowledge of the Truth must resist the pulls of the flesh and the influence of Satan and his demons. If Satan is so powerful that he brought about the overthrow of many who have fallen away, then he is more powerful than God and is able to thwart His purpose. But man is a free moral agent, able to make choices. He can allow himself to be deceived and overthrown, or he can prevent it. The Bible admonishes: “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (Jas. 4:7). God gives us the power. Those willing to obey Him receive the Holy Spirit. “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind” (2 Tim. 1:7).
The doctrine that man was born without an evil potential, and that Satan has imparted his nature to him is not new. It goes back at least to the 100 BC period. This Gnostic doctrine, embraced by the Essenes and recorded in the Dead Sea Scrolls, shows this idea was popular in this fringe Jewish religion. More than likely it was preserved in Jewish Cabalism-a medieval and modern system of Jewish theosophy, mysticism, and magic. The doctrine should be recognized for what it is and rejected as heretical. It has no place in true Christian dogma.