Human nature & Sin

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InSlaveryToChrist

Puritan Board Junior
There is nothing sinful in human nature itself. Yet, we have a sinful human nature. Does not that make every motion of our body (like moving a finger) sinful? Is body part of human nature? What is human nature? What is the relationship between body, mind, soul and heart? What is the difference between an angel person and a human person? How does making man in the image of God affect the functioning of our body? Is sin just using our otherwise innocent body to its own evil ends? So many questions, so much confusion!

How does this all fit to Paul's words in Romans 7: "For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not." Does "flesh" here mean a spiritual flesh or visible flesh?

Please, help me the best way you can.
 

rbcbob

Puritan Board Graduate
This will get you started; from Baker's Dictionary of Theology:

Flesh
The range of meanings borne by this term in the Bible starts from the literal use denoting the material of which the human body is chiefly constructed, but quickly takes on other senses derived from the writers' understanding of the created order and its relation to God. Careful attention to context is needed to catch the precise nuance in any given case.
The Old Testament. Fundamental Data. The Old Testament employs two terms to denote flesh: basar [r'f'B], which occurs 266 times; and seer [rea.v] which occurs 17 times. The two terms are identical in meaning. Their basic reference is to the material substance of which earthly creatures are made. This is true of humans ( Gen 2:21 ; Lev 13:10-11 ; Ezek 37:6 ; Dan 1:15 ; Micah 3:3 ) and animals alike ( Exod 21:28 ), including animal flesh used for food ( Gen 9:2-4 ) and in sacrifice ( 1 Sam 2:13 ; Isa 65:4 ; Hosea 8:13 ).
Extended Senses. What one individual is all kindred individuals will be. Flesh thus comes to denote blood-relationship ( Gen 2:23-24 ; Lev 18:6 ), and beyond that, kinship to all humans, "all flesh" ( Psalm 65:2 ; Isa 40:5 ; 49:26 ). Yet another extension of significance is the use of flesh in reference to the human body as a whole ( Lev 13:13 ; 16:4 ; 2 Kings 6:30 ). While in such uses it can denote a corpse ( 1 Sam 17:44 ; 2 Kings 9:36 ), it more commonly denotes the whole life of the individual viewed from an external perspective so that safety of the flesh is life ( Psalm 16:9 ; Prov 4:20-22 ) and its endangerment a threat to life ( Job 13:14 ; Prov 5:11 ).
Transferred Senses. It is an easy step from flesh as denoting life viewed externally to life viewed more comprehensively. "Flesh" is thus used interchangeably with "soul" and "body, " and credited with the emotions and responses of the whole person ( Psalm 63:1 ; 84:2 ). In some instances it carries the sense of self ( Lev 13:8 ). In short, the human creature is flesh in essence. Implicit in this is the idea that humans do not have flesh, but are flesh. If at times the outer being ("flesh") is distinguished from the inner ("heart" or "soul"), this is not because one is seen as more important than the other, but because both are indispensable for the existence of a whole person. In the Hebrew understanding of a human being there is nothing that is merely physical. As constituted essentially of flesh the human creature stands over against God. By virtue of being God's creation flesh is good, like all other parts of God's creation ( Job 10:8-12 ; Psalm 119:73 ; Isa 45:12 ). At the same time, flesh as dependent on God, and in particular God's spirit ( Gen 2:7 ; 6:3 ; Isa 31:3 ), is frail and transitory ( Psalm 78:39 ; Isa 40:6 ). While at no time is flesh said to be sinful, it is implied that, by virtue of its frailty, flesh is exposed to the onslaught of sin ( Genesis 6:3 Genesis 6:5 Genesis 6:13 ). It is safe to say that all of the New Testament uses of flesh are made from these Old Testament building blocks.
The New Testament. Terms. The Greek word used most commonly in the New Testament to render the Hebrew word for flesh (basar [r'f'B]) is sarx [savrx], which occurs 147 times. Of this total, 91 are found in the Pauline writings, mostly in Romans and Galatians. While the New Testament appropriates the Old Testament foundation, it also builds on it, some writers giving the term their own distinctive twist. From this perspective it is possible to group the New Testament writings into three categories.
Writings Employing Chiefly the Old Testament Usages. In the Synoptic Gospels "flesh" is used only four times (aside from Old Testament quotations in Mark 10:8 ; and Luke 3:6 ). In Matthew 16:17 "flesh and blood" stands for human beings in their wholeness, but especially in their mental and religious aspect. At the same time they stand over against God, the true revealer. Mark 13:20 is a typical use of the Old Testament expression "all flesh." Mark 14:38 has a dualistic ring, but need not do more than contrast the human and the divine as in Isaiah 31:3. In Luke 24:39 the "flesh and bones" of the risen Jesus contrast with the immateriality of ghosts, implying a positive estimate of materiality that again harmonizes with the Old Testament. In Acts there are 3 instances of "flesh" ( Acts 2:17 Acts 2:26 Acts 2:31 ). The first two are Old Testament quotations. In 2:31 "flesh" clearly refers to Jesus in his wholeness, but with the important idea added that in his wholeness he survived death. The Epistle to the Hebrews likewise reflects Old Testament usage. Of its six examples, three are literal in meaning ( 2:14 ; 5:7 ; 12:9 ). The first two, however, use the term to make the significant point that it was "flesh"true human naturethat Christ assumed in his incarnation. In 9:10, 13 the rituals of the old order affect only external purification, leaving the conscience untouched. Jesus, through the spilling of his blood, opened the way into God's presence through the veil, which is interpreted as his flesh ( 10:20 ). Just as it was only when the curtain was torn open that access to the Most Holy Place was possible, so it was only by the tearing of Jesus' flesh in death that access to God's presence was made permanently available. Here, then, flesh stands for Jesus' life in its wholeness: incarnate and surrendered in death. The remaining concentration of instances of flesh in this grouping is found in the First Epistle of Peter, where there are examples (aside from the Old Testament quotation in 1:24 ). First Peter 3:21 echoes the same contrast found in Hebrews 9 between the cleansing of the flesh and the conscience. The remaining examples ( 3:18 ; Hebrews 4:1 Hebrews 4:2 Hebrews 4:6 ) contrast death in the flesh with life in the Spirit in reference both to Christ and the believer. They are best taken to refer to the death and resurrection of Christ, which is reproduced in the life of the believer, bringing death to sin and resurrection to new life. The contrast throughout, then, is between "flesh" understood as earthly existence and "spirit" as life in the Spirit. The adjectival form sarkikos [sarkikov"], "fleshly, " occurs at 2:11 and is probably best understood within the same frame of reference as the examples of the noun.
The Johannine Writings. In the Gospel of John the term occurs thirteen times, seven in 6:51-63. The strictly literal sense is not found, but the extended sense, "all flesh, " occurs at 17:2. In other examples the idea present is that of limitation, in which the flesh or the sphere of the flesh is contrasted with the divine sphere ( 1:13 ; 3:6 ). The flesh is not evil; it simply is not the sphere of salvation, which rather is that of the Spirit. Both of these uses are in line with Old Testament thought. Cognate with these uses, though advancing beyond them, are passages in which flesh denotes mere appearance rather than inner reality. To measure Jesus thus, rather than by the insight of faith, is to be blind to his identity ( 6:63 ; 8:15 ). The obverse of this is that flesh may indeed be the medium of the revelation of God himself. It is against the background of the affirmation of the incarnation that the six examples in 6:51-58 are to be read. The Incarnate One is he who has come from above from whence alone life can come. Therefore to feed on his flesh and blood is to share in his life ( 6:57-58 ). In the Epistles of John the accent falls on confession of Christ's coming in the flesh as decisive for salvation ( 1 John 4:2 ; 2 John 7 ). "The desire of the flesh" ( 1 John 2:16 ) is condemned not because it refers to the material realm, but because it refers to what is earthly and therefore transitory (v. 17).
The Pauline Writings. The uniqueness of these in this regard is sufficiently indicated in that approximately two-thirds of the New Testament occurrences of flesh are found in them, almost half of these in Romans and Galatians. They may be considered in two broad categories.
Uses Akin to the Old Testament. Most of the uses found in the Old Testament are also present in the Pauline literature. There flesh can denote the physical flesh ( 1 Cor 15:39 ; 2 Cor 12:7 ) and, by extension, the human body ( Gal 4:13-14 ), humanity as a whole ( Rom 3:20 ; Gal 2:16 ), human descent ( Rom 1:3 ; 9:3 ), and human relationships ( Rom 4:1 ; 9:3-5 ). By this point the term acquires the transferred sense of that which is frail and provisional ( 1 Cor 1:26 ; Gal 1:16 ; Php 3:3 ). As transient, it is not the sphere of salvation, which is rather the sphere of the Spirit. This does not imply that flesh is evil per se: life "in the flesh" is normal human existence ( Gal 2:20 ), but it is still merely human. This picture accords generally with that of the Old Testament.
Distinctive Pauline Uses. The uniquely Pauline understanding begins from the idea that flesh, as weak, becomes the gateway to sin ( Rom 8:3 ; 2 Cor 12:7 ; Gal 4:14 ). Still more, as the arena in which sin entrenches itself it becomes the instrument of sin ( Rom 6:12-14 ) to the extent that it becomes sinful itself ( Rom 8:3 ), and so an occupying alien power ( Rom 7:17-20 ). The accompanying war Paul describes as a struggle between flesh and Spirit ( Rom 8:5-17 ; Gal 5:16-24 ). The seriousness of the struggle is indicated by the fact that the mind-set of the flesh leads to death ( Rom 8:6 ), and that those living in the flesh cannot please God ( Rom 8:8 ). Accounts of this conflict are most vivid in contexts where Paul is describing the demands of the law on the one hand ( Romans 7:4 Romans 7:7-11 ; Gal 5:2-5 ), and its impotence to enable the believer to meet them on the other ( Rom 8:3 ; Gal 3:10-12 ). Flesh, however, is not intrinsically sinful, and may therefore be the scene of sin's defeat. This it became through Christ's coming and crucifixion in the flesh ( Rom 8:3 ). Those who identify themselves with him by faith likewise crucify the flesh ( Gal 2:20 ; 5:24 ) so being emancipated from the power of sin in the flesh ( Rom 6:14 ; 8:9 ). This reading appears to be confirmed by the Pauline use of the largely parallel term "body." The "body of sin" was done away with at the cross ( Rom 6:6 ). The "body of our humiliation" ( Php 3:21 ), which is weak and still subject to the attack of sin, is the body of the interim. The "body of glory" ( Php 3:21 ), transformed and imperishable ( 1 Corinthians 15:42-44 1 Corinthians 15:50-53 ), is the body of the age to come.
 

py3ak

Unshaven and anonymous
Staff member
When you are in an estate of sin and misery then everything is sin (though omitting some things would be more sinful than not omitting them). But when you are in estate of reconciliation with God, that is no longer true. Listen to Luther, on John 16:9
Thus both salvation and damnation hinge entirely on whether we believe or do not believe. The sentence that closes and denies heaven to all who have refused to accept this faith in Christ has already been pronounced with finality. For this unbelief retains all sin and cannot obtain forgiveness, just as faith delivers from all sin. Hence without this faith everything, including even the best works and life of which man is capable, is and remains sinful and damnable. Good works may be praiseworthy in themselves and commanded by God; but they are vitiated by unbelief and for this reason cannot please God just as all the works and life which spring from the faith of a Christian are pleasing to God. In brief, without Christ all is damned and lost; in Christ all is good and blessed. Therefore even the sin inherited from Adam and still dwelling in flesh and blood does not have to harm or damn us.
 

InSlaveryToChrist

Puritan Board Junior
It's just that I've heard many people say, even on this board, that man can act neutrally/unmorally -- that not all decisions man makes are moral. And usually by neutral/unmoral action they refer to unconscious action. But the mistake and assumption they make, I think, is that they equate consciousness with intentionality. Consciousness means awareness, but intentionality means intention. Consciousness always involves intention, but intentionality not always involves awareness.

I think the best way to illustrate this is the fact that the fallen human heart is constantly full of sinful inclinations/intentions (Genesis 6:5), yet we are not aware of all of them. We have secret sins we know not of. In the same way, it is logical to grant that even the moving of one's finger (even if unconcious!) is sinful, because the presence of sinful intention is always there. Our heart is constantly flooding intentions.

Doesn't that make sense?
 

CharlieJ

Puritan Board Junior
No, it doesn't, unless you're willing to grant that sitting entirely still is the same as bending your finger. That is, the sin is not evoked by movement. I don't think it's healthy or helpful for you to connect the sinfulness that resides in your not-completely-yet-renewed being to specific actions. I am a sinful (yet justified and continually renewed!) person when I walk to my kitchen. I am not sinful by virtue of walking to my kitchen; walking to the kitchen does not in any way increase my sinfulness.

Concentrate on what the Bible calls sin. Don't get trapped in your head; it's scary in there.
 

moral necessity

Puritan Board Junior
Listen to Luther, on John 16:9
Thus both salvation and damnation hinge entirely on whether we believe or do not believe. The sentence that closes and denies heaven to all who have refused to accept this faith in Christ has already been pronounced with finality. For this unbelief retains all sin and cannot obtain forgiveness, just as faith delivers from all sin. Hence without this faith everything, including even the best works and life of which man is capable, is and remains sinful and damnable. Good works may be praiseworthy in themselves and commanded by God; but they are vitiated by unbelief and for this reason cannot please God just as all the works and life which spring from the faith of a Christian are pleasing to God. In brief, without Christ all is damned and lost; in Christ all is good and blessed. Therefore even the sin inherited from Adam and still dwelling in flesh and blood does not have to harm or damn us.

Good quote, Ruben! I think this speaks well to the paradox of how we are freed from sin in Romans 6, yet still in service to it in Romans 7.

Blessings!
 

py3ak

Unshaven and anonymous
Staff member
Concentrate on what the Bible calls sin. Don't get trapped in your head; it's scary in there.

That is very sage advice.

Glad you liked, it Charles. I find Luther on John to be about my favorite Luther.
 

InSlaveryToChrist

Puritan Board Junior
No, it doesn't, unless you're willing to grant that sitting entirely still is the same as bending your finger. That is, the sin is not evoked by movement. I don't think it's healthy or helpful for you to connect the sinfulness that resides in your not-completely-yet-renewed being to specific actions. I am a sinful (yet justified and continually renewed!) person when I walk to my kitchen. I am not sinful by virtue of walking to my kitchen; walking to the kitchen does not in any way increase my sinfulness.

Concentrate on what the Bible calls sin. Don't get trapped in your head; it's scary in there.

No, you're not getting what I'm saying. Read carefully what I said: "even the moving of one's finger (even if unconcious!) is sinful." Note, I did not say, "even the moving of one's finger (even if unconcious!) is sin." That would make a world of difference. I'm saying moving a finger is sinful, not because moving a finger is sin, but because the thoughts and intentions of one's heart associated with the act are continually wicked (Gen 6:5). And this is true not only when one is consciously moving his finger, but also in unconscious state, because, as I mentioned before, intention does not necessarily involve consciousness. Personally, that makes perfect sense to me.
 

py3ak

Unshaven and anonymous
Staff member
That would make a world of difference. I'm saying moving a finger is sinful, not because moving a finger is sin, but because the thoughts and intentions of one's heart associated with the act are continually wicked (Gen 6:5).

But that is not true of the regenerate. Certainly there is wickedness mixed in with everything we do, but if the flesh lusts against the Spirit, it is also true that the Spirit lusts against the flesh.
 

InSlaveryToChrist

Puritan Board Junior
That would make a world of difference. I'm saying moving a finger is sinful, not because moving a finger is sin, but because the thoughts and intentions of one's heart associated with the act are continually wicked (Gen 6:5).

But that is not true of the regenerate. Certainly there is wickedness mixed in with everything we do, but if the flesh lusts against the Spirit, it is also true that the Spirit lusts against the flesh.

But isn't this like saying there are two wills in us (the regenerate) that are contradictory to each other? Wouldn't it be true to say we only have one will which is partially wicked and partially sanctified? That although our thoughts are partially dedicated to God's glory, these same thoughts are sinfully dedicated to our own glory.

My point in all of this is that anything in us is affected by our sinfulness. If there is any good in us, it is tainted by sin. Good and evil [thoughts and intentions] cannot exist separately in us, can they? Isn't that what Total Depravity is all about?
 

py3ak

Unshaven and anonymous
Staff member
Genesis 6:5 doesn't teach that the regenerate have no good thoughts or intentions. Of course we have no perfect thoughts or intentions. But we are sanctified by Christ and we are pleasing in God's eyes - you shouldn't let other considerations expel that fact from consciousness.
 

InSlaveryToChrist

Puritan Board Junior
Genesis 6:5 doesn't teach that the regenerate have no good thoughts or intentions.

So, there were no regenerate people on the earth at that time?

Of course we have no perfect thoughts or intentions.

Do you define the words "good" and "perfect" differently, OR was the point of your previous sentence just that Genesis 6:5 does not explicitly teach what I suggested it to teach?

But we are sanctified by Christ and we are pleasing in God's eyes - you shouldn't let other considerations expel that fact from consciousness.

My point is that we, even in our partially sanctified state, are not in and of ourselves pleasing to God. We are accepted by God solely because of Christ who we receive by faith.
 

py3ak

Unshaven and anonymous
Staff member
Samuel, I think you will find people to be more willing to interact with you if you try to come across as less aggressive, e.g., be more careful about phrasing so it doesn't seem like you are putting words in people's mouths or trying to do a reductio ab absurdum on everything someone says.

Genesis 6:5 describes human nature in sin; it does not mean that Noah's desire to please the Lord, or his obedience in the construction of the ark, were themselves sinful. Paul's consent unto the law that it is good is not an evil intention.
Good and perfect are not the same, in this context anyway. If you will look again into WCF XVI.6,7 I believe you will notice that our good works, which are characterized as "good", are acceptable to God though accompanied with many imperfections. Apparently for Westminster "good" and "perfect" are not always synonymous.

It will never cease to be true that we are accepted because of Christ, not because of ourselves; even when sanctification is completed and we are glorified. We are accepted in the Beloved, always and only; but we are accepted. Our persons being accepted opens the way for our works to be accepted, not as flawless, but as sincere.
 

moral necessity

Puritan Board Junior
Pure water that flows through a dirty faucet will come out dirty. That doesn't negate the fact that it was pure to begin with.

We are like a faucet that runs hot and cold water simultaneously. The Holy Spirit works good intentions into our hearts, which becomes mixed with our sinful intentions. The works of His Spirit that are part of the mixture are pleasing to Him, and the whole package is accepted graciously, yet not for justification.

Blessings!
 

InSlaveryToChrist

Puritan Board Junior
Samuel, I think you will find people to be more willing to interact with you if you try to come across as less aggressive, e.g., be more careful about phrasing so it doesn't seem like you are putting words in people's mouths or trying to do a reductio ab absurdum on everything someone says.

Ruben, I'm sorry and stand corrected.

Genesis 6:5 describes human nature in sin; it does not mean that Noah's desire to please the Lord, or his obedience in the construction of the ark, were themselves sinful. Paul's consent unto the law that it is good is not an evil intention.

If you look at Charles' comment below, it perfectly describes the way I think about the relationship of our sinful and holy intentions, except that I went so far as to imply that they are tainted by sin to begin with, when they aren't.

Good and perfect are not the same, in this context anyway. If you will look again into WCF XVI.6,7 I believe you will notice that our good works, which are characterized as "good", are acceptable to God though accompanied with many imperfections. Apparently for Westminster "good" and "perfect" are not always synonymous.

It will never cease to be true that we are accepted because of Christ, not because of ourselves; even when sanctification is completed and we are glorified. We are accepted in the Beloved, always and only; but we are accepted. Our persons being accepted opens the way for our works to be accepted, not as flawless, but as sincere.

And let me add what Graeme Goldsworthy once said:

"Though good works are important in the Christian life, when it comes to justification, good works are good for nothing. For good works don’t bleed, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins."

For this we will always be dependent on Christ for our justification. Even if we kept the whole law of God perfectly, we would still be unworthy servants, we would only have done our duty (Luke 17:10).

---------- Post added at 02:51 PM ---------- Previous post was at 02:39 PM ----------

Ruben, honestly I don't understand your statement here:

"Our persons being accepted opens the way for our works to be accepted, not as flawless, but as sincere."

I think you meant to say, as the Confession of Faith implies below, that "our sincere works are accepted as flawless." I understand if you've been tired in making your comments.

VI. Yet notwithstanding, the persons of believers being accepted through Christ, their good works also are accepted in him, not as though they were in this life wholly unblamable and unreprovable in God's sight; but that he, looking upon them in his Son, is pleased to accept and reward that which is sincere, although accompanied with many weaknesses and imperfections.
 

py3ak

Unshaven and anonymous
Staff member
No worries, Samuel; I greatly admire your zeal and openness. It sounds like we are pretty close. I don't know if this has ever been a problem for you, but some people tend to become so morbidly fixated on their sinfulness that it does block out our acceptance in Christ, and undercuts their ability to do any good work because it is not perfect. Such a paralyzing state of affairs is certainly to be guarded against, and the danger of it must make us careful in speaking of these matters to remember that where sin abounded grace did much more abound.

I don't think you are reading the Confession quite right, however. We are accepted, and we are accepted with the greatest acceptance that can be. Though our good works are imperfect and flawed, they are also accepted; but since not all of our works survive the fire, I don't think it can be maintained that our good works are accepted as though they were flawless. God accepts what is true, good, and sincere in our works; and what is broken, false, and wrong in them provides no ground of condemnation against us.
 

InSlaveryToChrist

Puritan Board Junior
No worries, Samuel; I greatly admire your zeal and openness. It sounds like we are pretty close. I don't know if this has ever been a problem for you, but some people tend to become so morbidly fixated on their sinfulness that it does block out our acceptance in Christ, and undercuts their ability to do any good work because it is not perfect. Such a paralyzing state of affairs is certainly to be guarded against, and the danger of it must make us careful in speaking of these matters to remember that where sin abounded grace did much more abound.

I also admire your patience towards me. It surely has not been in vain; again, it has borne fruit in me. I do have struggled and still often times struggle with the sinfulness of my own works, making their virtue the basis of my justification and salvation. And yes, it is a "paralyzing state," and there is always a high danger of going to an extreme when the justifying remedy of Christ's virtue and merit is offered to the paralyzed person. Christians are prone to make grace a license to sin.

I don't think you are reading the Confession quite right, however. We are accepted, and we are accepted with the greatest acceptance that can be. Though our good works are imperfect and flawed, they are also accepted; but since not all of our works survive the fire, I don't think it can be maintained that our good works are accepted as though they were flawless. God accepts what is true, good, and sincere in our works; and what is broken, false, and wrong in them provides no ground of condemnation against us.

Ruben, I think I've discussed this same topic with you in the past, and now for the first time I've come to understand the Confession's language clearly. I've always thought that the Confession speaks of God accepting our good works as a whole, when in reality "God accepts what is true, good, and sincere in our works; and what is broken, false, and wrong in them provides no ground of condemnation against us."

There is one question still: Why does God accept what is sincere? Cannot even unbelievers be sincere in their thinking, being blinded by their own sin?
 

py3ak

Unshaven and anonymous
Staff member
Thank you for those kind words, Samuel. It is a privilege to interact with you.

I think the simple key to your question is to remember that acceptance of the person comes first. The good works of believers are only acceptable because their persons were first accepted through Christ. I would imagine that something could be said about the impact of regeneration, of God granting us truth in the inward parts, with regard to the matter of sincerity; but I think the personal acceptance is the more basic point.
 
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