Human Nature in Its Fourfold State
We’ve mentioned before that in this series we want to talk about the relationship between nature, Scripture, and culture. Nature refers to God’s design and purpose embedded in the creatures that he has made, the built-in tendencies and trajectories that make us what we are as human beings. Scripture refers to the declarations, promises, and commands of God in the Bible. Culture is the expression and application of nature (and in our case, also of Scripture) in a particular time and place. For many of us, the category of nature is still a bit confusing, so I thought I’d take this exhortation to describe four stages or states of human nature.
Human Nature’s Fourfold State
First, there is our original nature. This is what we have by virtue of God’s creating us as his image-bearers. Our original nature is good, and directs to the purposes for which we were made. But because of the Fall and the entrance of sin, we never encounter our original nature directly. Instead, we have to deal with our corrupted nature. This is human nature as it has been distorted by human sin and decay and death. This is what Paul refers to when he says that we are “by nature children of wrath.” Our corrupt nature means that the original tendencies and trajectories of our original nature have been derailed and disordered. They veer from their true purpose, and in doing so, become unnatural.
But, the fact that our nature is corrupted doesn’t mean that it’s abolished. Nature is a stubborn thing, and even though it has been corrupted, we can still recognize God’s imprint and handiwork despite the sin that mars us. For example, God intended masculine strength to be directed toward subduing the earth, exercising dominion, and providing and protecting those under a man’s care. But sin twists masculine strength, either by leaving it idle and useless, or by making it tyrannical and oppressive. The strength is still there; our original nature is present, but it’s been corrupted. Similarly, God intended women to provide counsel and wisdom as they assist men in fulfilling God’s mission. By their presence and their words, women were to influence and inspire men to complete God’s task. But sin twists feminine counsel and influence, by attempting to sap men of their strength, or by encouraging them to act in ways that are contrary to God’s law. The influence is still there; the original nature is present, but it’s been corrupted. And this means that, whenever we witness an act of our corrupt nature, we should ask, “What part of our original nature is under there? What good is being twisted by human brokenness and rebellion?” Beneath our corruptions lies God’s original design.
But we can’t return to that original design on our own. That’s what the gospel is for. The Spirit of God works through the preaching of his word to overcome our corruption and renew our nature. Now, in Christ, we have a redeemed nature. Aspects of our corruption still remain; we are still “in the flesh.” But we are not dominated by our sin and corruption as we were. Grace has changed us and begun a restoration project. This restoration project is incomplete in this life. But it is the down payment of our future inheritance, when God fully and finally transforms us. This is glorified nature, when the whole person, body and mind, is entirely delivered from sin and death and decay, and we finally attain God’s original purposes for human beings.
Original nature. Corrupted nature. Redeemed nature. Glorified nature. What should we do with this knowledge in the present moment? The word of God addresses us as human beings. God’s external, authoritative word reminds us of our original nature; it clarifies God’s original design for us. It also crucifies and corrects our corrupted nature, reordering us to God’s purposes. God’s word renews and strengthens our redeemed nature, so that we may resist the pull of temptation and sin, and walk by the Spirit. And God’s word promises and points us to our glorified nature.
This reminds us of our need to confess our sins, so let’s seek the Lord’s mercy together now.
Prayer of Confession
Our Father and God, our weekly confession is designed to recalibrate our nature. We set aside time to reckon with the reality of how you’ve made us, and how we’ve gone astray, and how you’ve redeemed us in Christ, and what you’ve promised us in the future. We confess that we have strayed from your ways like lost sheep. We have followed too much the desires of our own corrupt hearts. We have done what we shouldn’t, and not done what we should. We have gratified our fleshly desires, and suppressed the desires that come from your Spirit. We have indulged what remains of our corrupt nature, and there is no health in us. We confess, O God, that these are great evils. Have mercy upon us, and forgive us our trespasses. Draw near to us and cleanse us from our sin. We know that if we in the church regard sin in our own midst, our prayers will be ineffectual, so we confess our individual sins to you now.
Father, we thank you for the mercy you give us in Christ. Assure us of that mercy now so that we might boldly approach your throne with loud singing. Cleanse our consciences that your word might take root in our hearts. Receive us in Jesus’s name that we might eat and drink with him. And then send us from this place, free to love and sacrifice and announce the good news of Jesus. In whose name we pray, Amen.