Does man have a sinful nature, a slave of sin?
Calvinism (1)teaches under “total depravity” that man commits sin because of being a “slave of sin“(Rom. 6:20); that humans have a “sinful nature“, thus, bent towards evil and hard pressed to do “good works”. Are these teachings true?
Looking back about 10 years ago, a pediatrician, staring at an innocent and cuddly newborn, asked me, pointing at the baby, “Can you really classify this as having a “sinful nature”? Having a newborn just come out of the womb, can we really say that he/she is “naturally sinful”, a “slave of sin”? These questions were followed by a long pause on my part. It made me think as this teaching of “total depravity” has been ingrained in me for a long time as factual truth and never did I challenge it as to its veracity.
Following the Berean principle (2) it dawned on me about the narrative in Genesis. What was the state of Adam at creation? Was he created with a “sinful nature“? It appears that the Bible begs to differ as, after all God has created, Gen. 1:31 states:
“And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good.”
Notice that God created all, including man, “very good“. …does not have a sinful nature, but “good-natured”.
Moreover, man was shown not only his responsibility and function in the garden of Eden, but also what is right and what is wrong, providing the ability to decide and choose rightly or wrongly.
Gen. 2:15-17 “And the LORD God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it. And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat:But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the daythat thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.”
The task was to “dress and keep it” and that the right thing to do was to eat out of “every tree of the garden” except to eat out of the “tree of knowledge of good and evil” which was in the midst of the garden. He was created “very good” and with guidance as to his responsibility and the concept of what is good and evil.
In the same vein, if there is any man that God deemed not only “very good” but “perfect (pious) in his eyes“, it is this man Job. Interesting description of this man, coming from the Creator:
Job 1:1 “…was perfect and upright, and one that feared God, and eschewed evil.”
Job 1:8…”my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil?
Job was blessed by God but afterwards all were taken away. Yet, his response to adversity was spot on, as in :
Job 1:22 “In all this Job sinned not, nor charged God foolishly.
Better than Job was the man-Jesus, who described himself and Paul called “anthropos-Jesus” (Matthew 20:27-28; I Tim. 2:5) and described as:
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet he did not sin.
Such a high priest truly befits us–One who is holy, innocent, undefiled, set apart from sinners, and exalted above the heavens.
Indeed man was created “very good” and with the capacity to choose to do “good or evil”.
One can argue that man, a non-spirit-composed being, was created with that capacity to choose between good and evil. But, what about spirit-composed beings. The Scripture speaks about the creation of spirit-composed angels, therefore, it is clear that they have not existed from all eternity (Nehemiah 9:6; Psalm 148:2,5). Colossians 1:16-17 explains:
“For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created by Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.”
This brings us to a spirit-composed created being, Lucifer. He was a covering cherub, created perfect in many ways and in beauty until iniquity was found in him and was called Satan, as in Ezekiel 28:11-15. He chose wrongly.
Clearly, whether the created being is matter-composed like humans or spirit-composed like angels, the narrative is consistent regarding ability to choose between good or evil. We are not robots programmed to sin. Otherwise, without this freedom to choose, why do we have to be blamed for whatever wrong choice we make? No wonder, because of this wrong teaching about our sinful nature, some people blame God for our wrong choices.
Verses in support of total depravity
Going back to how this teaching came about, here are verses considered to find basis for the concept:
Mark 7:21-23 “For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”
(Notice, that the preceding verses merely directs us to where evil thoughts come from, i.e., the origin is from within, out of a person’s heart, from inside. Mechanistically, the voluntary nervous system has to think before taking an action. These verses should not necessarily translate to “sinful nature or slave of sin”.)
“The heart is more deceitful than all else And is desperately sick; Who can understand it?”
(This suggests that man indeed is “deceitful”. One can not read what is in the mind of humans. No one can “divine” the motive of man’s action. So, we have to be careful about reckless assumption. Again, this verse should not necessarily translate to “sinful nature or slave of sin.)
As it is written:“There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one. Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips: Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness: Their feet are swift to shed blood: Destruction and misery are in their ways: And the way of peace have they not known: There is no fear of God before their eyes.
( These verses re-emphasize the narrative teaching that even at our very best, “no one is righteous”. Our very “own good works” are as “filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6) and could not come to the level God requires. Even the man Job who was “perfect” as God described him, was not perfect enough. God requires the “fruits of the Holy Spirit” that can only come after, not before, the Holy Spirit dwells in the person. The Holy Spirit of power was given toJesus by the Father after he resurrected him from death, 3 days and 3 nights in the tomb. This narrative does not invalidate the fact that we were created “perfect” though still incomplete as we need this infusion of the Holy Spirit).
Romans 6:20-21 New International Version (NIV)
When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death!
( These verses described those who are “slaves to sin”, meaning those continuing to commit sinful acts, thereby resulting in death. Yes, doomed to die. Not that we are unwittingly but instead consciously sinning)
In SUMMARY, the interpretation of this teaching of “total depravity” should be re-evaluated and the biblical verses from which it emanated may need to be taken into there proper context. Being “slave to sin” should not be taught as a powerful force or propensity to sin but rather as a “capacity” (genetic or otherwise) to do so as a choice one has to make. That being said, this can be an acceptable interpretation as another option is to “flee from sin“. We are not robots with “sinful nature” as to be unable to choose other than what we are programmed to do. If definition of “sinful nature” is taught as a “capacity” to do evil, or “totally depraved” because we are doomed to die because of Adam’s sin, then this is tenable. For we are not made to do to evil no matter what. Instead, we were created “very good” with a capacity to choose between evil and good. The “pull of the flesh” is a temptation, albeit in certain inherited disease may possibly be a genetic predisposition, but not an automatic reflex to act and do evil. Although there maybe a “bent” to do evil, there is also a cautionary option to do otherwise, which is intrinsic in man, even to those who are non-Christians or atheist/agnostic for that matter. As in Genesis, we were given a choice, ”
“This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.”
Turn away from evil and do good.(Psalms 34:15, 37:17).
Man was created “good” but incomplete. It was created as such, “on hope” for the coming Messiah, who will give us the power of the Holy Spirit, to complete us, as in:
Ps. 39:8 – “And now, Lord, for what do I wait? You are my only hope.”
Ps. 71:14 – “I will always hope in you and add to all your praise.”
Ps. 39:8 – “And now, Lord, for what do I wait? You are my only hope.”
Is. 40:31 – “They that hope in the Lord will renew their strength.”
Rm. 15:13 – “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
Ps. 31:24 – “Be strong and take heart, all who hope in the Lord
Ps. 130:5 – “I wait for the Lord, my soul waits and I hope for his word.”
Rm. 5:3-5 – “Not only that, but we even boast of our afflictions, knowing that affliction produces endurance, and endurance, proven character, and proven character, hope, and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us”.
Col. 1:26-27 – “But now it has been manifested to his holy ones, to whom God chose to make known the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; it is Christ in you, the hope for glory.”
Eph. 4:4 – “You were also called to the one hope of your call.”
1 Thess. 1:2-3 – “We give thanks to God always for all of you, remembering you in our prayers, unceasingly calling to mind your work of faith and labor of love and endurance in hope of our Lord Jesus Christ, before our God and Father.”
Our own good works will not (3) suffice God. They have to be “fruits of the Holy Spirit”. It needs guidance of the Holy Spirit which became available to us only after Jesus received it from the Father after his resurrection. It became generally available at Pentecost of that year. Without Jesus, we are indeed doomed.
May God continually guide us to the truth behind the facts.
1. Calvinism and Arminianism …A Commentary. Retrieved 1/19/2018 at
2. In Search of the Truth Retrieved 2/20/2018 at https://fact-s.net/2018/01/29/in-search-of-the-truth/
3. Human Nature: Inherently Good or Evil? Ethics of the Fathers 1:7 Retrieved 3/9/18 http://www.aish.com/sp/pg/48892107.html