Can you prove that man is not a fallen creature? Sure, say many Christians. For starters, they say, here you are:
Man sins despite his upright nature – Eccl. 7:29
He is created in Gods image Gen. 9:6, I Cor. 11:7, James 3:9
Every sinner, they say, is the author of his own moral depravity. He becomes a sinner after he reaches the age of accountability Isaiah 7:16, Deut. 1:39, Rom. 2:15, Rom. 5:14, Rom. 9:11. And surely this verse clinches the fistful of previous verses: “Gods law is written in our hearts” (Rom. 2: 14,15).
There you are: man has a good nature and only becomes bad when he reaches the age of rotten reason, for as we read in Romans 9:11 – “though they (Jacob and Esau) were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls.”
Don’t you see that if Jacob and Esau had not done anything bad – how could they, they hadn’t yet been born? – this surely means that they couldn’t have been bad (in their nature) before they became accountable (reached the age of reason – 7 years old?). If this is true, it must also mean that before they became accountable they also couldn’t have been good (in their nature); they were morally neuter(ed), which of course implies that the image of God that they were had no good in it. We know, of course, that as Adam and Eve before the Fall did not know the difference between good and evil and was only to know the distinction after eating of the tree of good and evil:
“And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:16-17 ESV).
Before the Fall, Adam and Eve – in their ignorance of the distinction between good and evil (of what it meant to be naked, as an example of this ignorance) – were a image of God What does the Bible mean by man being created in the image, in the likeness of God? What is certain – if we accept that God is Spirit (of course, when the Word was made flesh,the picture changes) – is that man is composite of spirit and flesh, while God is pure Spirit. What is important is that Genesis 1:26 does not specify what it means by man as the “image of God.” If, however, we examine the rest of scripture, the following human attributes emerge, which man shares with God: creativity, power to reason, power to make decisions, moral conscience and personal relationships. These are called the communicable attributes of God. The attributes that God does not share with man are God’s incommunicable attributes, for example, his omniscience (all-knowing), omnipotence (all-powerful) and eternality (no beginning), immutability (unchanging). (What does “man is the image of God” mean?).
When Adam and Eve disobeyed God, sin shattered the image of God, and ever since crackpots abound. If this is so, what do we make of this biblical verse (quoted at the beginning), which many Christians use as proof against the doctrine of the radical corruption of man’s nature, namely “Man sins despite his upright nature?(Eccl. 7:29). Here is the King James Version: “Lo, this only have I found, that God hath made man upright; but they have sought out many inventions.” KJV
In the above verse, the Hebrew word for “man” is ADAM אָדָם, and the Hebrew word for “upright” is YASHAR יָשָׁר “straight
עָשָׂה הָאֱלֹהִים אֶת־הָאָדָם יָשָׁר וְהֵמָּה בִקְשׁוּ חִשְּׁבֹנֹות רַבִּֽים׃ …
(…asah ha-elohim et ha-adam yashar ve-heima vikshoo chishvonot rabim).
[the ch in chishvonot has the Scottish guttural sound as in “loch”]
The meaning is not that all descendents of Adam (the first man) are upright, but that Adam alone was upright until his progeny (following his fatal act of disobedience) sought out and continue to seek out many schemes/inventions.
So when we read “… in the image of God made he man” and “With it (the tongue) we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God (James 3:9), the “image/likeness” here is indeed of God, but – this is crucial for an understanding of the plan of redemption – it is a broken. What is the Gospel if not God’s plan to 1. restore the original image of Adam before he fell,and much more, namely, to make of this restored image (among those he has predestined from every nation and tongue according to his purpose) a royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:9) that God has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places (Ephesians 1:3)
“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:9).
“In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Ephesians 1:11)
So, to maintain that because a child below the age of accountability has a pure nature (and using as support that he is an image of God) is inimical to the Gospel because it denies (as Judaism does) “Original sin,” and thus I denies the fall of all human beings, who because of the fall, have been born with a corrupted nature, or damaged image of God. In such a view, Romans 9 cannot be understood. Neither can all the other verses be understood that state clearly that the will of man plays no role in salvation except to accept what Christ has already given him (by making him free by raising him from spiritual death.
Once you deny the Fall of all humans in Adam, you have made the journey to Arminianism (man makes the final decision about his salvation) certain. You’re also well on the road to universalism (“Love wins.” Everybody including the devil goes to heaven. Yet there are many Arminians who do believe in the “radical corruption” caused by the Fall. They have a more difficult time reconciling their corrupt nature (it does not want to seek God) and their “free will” (that might want to seek God).
What does sin “nature” mean? Lewis Johnson explains (I have transcribed this from one of his mp3 messages):
“One of the reasons why people have such a shallow view of sin is because they have not been taught to think rightly about sin. If you ask a man whether he is a sinner, he understands you to mean that he is a great flagrant outbreaking transgressor against the principles of morality that are found in the Bible. If you tell him that he is a great sinner in the sight of God, he thinks you are accusing him of being a blasphemer or a perjurer or a thief, an adulterer or a murderer. But without any of these forms of outbreaking forms of sin there may be a deep and damning hatred of the word of God in that man’s heart.”
But we must go deeper. Why do we hate the word of God? Because of unbelief. Every sin is a failure to respond to the word of God. This is clear in the Tanach (Older Testament) as it is clear in the Newer Testament, where God’s word is manifested through another (single) man, the second (and last Adam), Jesus the Christ, or if you prefer the Hebrew, Yeshua HaMashiach.
In much of Judaism, sin is no more than making a mistake, or missing the mark. Many Christians are not any closer than Jews to the mark when it comes to the seriousness of sin; for example, Helmut Thielicke (and Philip Yancey, who quotes Thielicke approvingly in his “What is so amazing about Grace,” Zondervan, 1997, p. 175):
“When Jesus loved a guilt-laden person and helped him, he saw in him an erring child of God. He saw in him a human being whom his Father loved and grieved over because he was going wrong. He saw him as God originally designed and meant him to be, and therefore he saw through the surface layer of grime and dirt to the real man underneath” (Helmut Thielicke, “Christ and the meaning of life,” Grand Rapids, Baker, 1975, p. 41).
An important question to address in the above paragraph is: “What is the attitude of a “guilt-laden” person toward God. Does it follow that if you feel guilt that you feel more than mere remorse, that you feel repentance? I don’t think so. “Guilt” is the human condition; but, so is pride. Guilt – except in rare conditions such as psychopathy – begets remorse: “I feel (really and honestly bad about this or that”. But repentance is a different mental state altogether, namely, its about longing for forgiveness and falling on your knees before a holy God and pleading for forgiveness. “Woe is me, for I am undone” (Isaiah, 6:5).
When Thielicke speaks of a “person”, and the “man underneath”, he seems to be talking about anybody who feels guilt, which is the whole human race (except possibly psychopaths, and even there we are not sure what they feel); and there lies the problem with Thielicke’s portrait of sinful man.
Thielicke’s Jesus and Thielicke’s human being are not the Jesus and human being described in the Bible. The Bible says the opposite: Jesus did not see “through the surface layer of grime and dirt to the real man underneath,” because the real man underneath was not only superficially grimy, he was filthy. The “real man” of the Bible is totally depraved in his very nature. Everything in the Bible glorifies God and abases man. God saves men and women not because deep down they are good, but in spite of the fact that deep down they are evil. He chooses to save them – for one reason only: because He wants to. The natural man despises such a God. Many professing Christians do so as well. But that is the God of the Bible. God floods the whole Bible – but not everyone -with mercy, and “I will show mercy to whom I will” (Romans 9:15), and its got nothing to do with you or me. (Why do you call me good).
The upshot is that every one has a shot nature, and,therefore no one is upright – right up there – to merit God’s mercy. All are condemned. Here’s a hard one: God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy.
And the LORD said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the LORD, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. (Exodus 33:19).
John 6:44 “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.”
Whoever the Father draws, therefore, will be raised without fail, and thus this does not depend on the will of man but on God. Once saved (born again) always saved. You can only be born again once.
As many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: 13 Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.
To emphasise his point John repeats the idea using the parallel of “flesh” and “man.” So John (the Holy Spirit through John) wants to spell it out. Unless God brings light, all you’ll get out of this spell is a smell.
The above two texts from John are not rocket science. This is also true of most of the Bible. The crucial thing is that these two texts are, among others such as Romans 9, pivotal texts around which the whole salvation process rotates. Those who are born again are not born as a result of a decision they make. There is, of course, mystery here, but only in the sense of mysterium “secret.” What the Bible says is clear; why it says what it does is often not clear. But that should also be perfectly understandable ’cause that’s the nature of being human; an imperfect nature – from conception, born in sin, yet wonderfully and fearfully made.
Arminians (God is knocking and knocking at everybody’s door asking them whether they want him) think that only an evil God would “destroy” our free will. But God doesn’t destroy one’s ability to do what one wants. The issue is that what man wants is not God (of the Bible). The objection is that God chooses to save some and not others. It’s not fair. But!
“What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid. For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. So then it is not of him that willeth nor of him that runneth, (will and run mean the same. Here again as in John 1:13, there is reiteration for emphasis) but of God that sheweth mercy… hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth.”
“Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will? Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour?
What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction: And that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory.”
Th Arminian will never (wills never to) accept that anybody could be a “vessel fitted for destruction.” so he tries – which requires a massive mental contortion – to wriggle out of this one. Here’s the nub of the issue:
All vessels, without exception, are – because they are radically corrupt – fit for destruction, but some, through God’s mercy, are shown the riches of his glory. Others, in contrast, are “fitted” (that is, left in their state of corruption) for destruction. Romans 9 is clear and thus we do not require much mental energy to understand it. Is it easy or difficult to understand? What is difficult is not the plain words on the page but why God would act so “arbitrarily.” If, though, you ask why God would act in a such an “arbitrary” way, you’re merely using the form of a question to express what you have already decided to be the answer, namely, “God acts in an arbitrary way.”
What about other verses in the Bible that seem to contradict “it’s not he who wills…runs?”
I suggest that with the solid foundation of “it’s not he who wills” and other verses such as the two verses from John above (on the non-role of the human will in salvation) it is not hard to understand (with the renewed mind) how other parts of the Bible are able to harmonise with these pivotal “it’s not he who wills” verses; for example:
“14 How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15 And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” -Rom 10:8-15.
The above tells us that God’s means for achieving his ends is send, preach, hear, call on God. The above does not tell us that those who call on God among all those who hear are enabled to do so because God chose them (first) and thus made them free. “I chose you, you didn’t choose me (first).” This freedom is not the freedom (will) of man/the flesh, of an unregenerate heart, but of the heart that has been “splashed” (as you vividly described it) with eternal life.
There is far less “mystery” in God’s word when studied with a regenerated mind. Much in the Apostle Paul, because he was teaching, relied on meticulous thought, that is, theology. Without theology (which relies much on our brains (hence “ology”), you may end up with, “give me less doctrine and more Jesus,” less noggin and more snoggin’.