Contending for the faith | Making Disciples | Equipping the Saints for Ministry

by Rayola Kelley

Q: I am confused about what we actually inherited from Adam. I have heard we have inherited a sin nature. What is your take of this matter? 

A: You are not the first one who asked me this question. I can certainly understand your confusion about this matter, because I have struggled with it. The only way I could resolve it in my mind was to consider what constitutes nature. Are we sinners by nature, or has sin affected another aspect of our humanity that can be passed down through each generation?

            The word “nature” points to the essence or makeup of something. As you study the concept of nature, you realize that it actually identifies someone or something. For example, water is identified by its makeup, that of two molecules of hydrogen and one molecule of oxygen. No matter how you break it down, water will always be water. Therefore, what do we need to understand about man in relationship to his nature?

            We know that man has a nature that identifies him, but if he is a sinner by nature, then this means his major point of identification is that of sin. Since God cannot tolerate sin, this puts man in a precarious position. In fact, how can there be any hope for him because you cannot change one’s nature? Clearly, the Bible talks about man becoming a new creation or creature (2 Corinthians 5:17). However, if his nature cannot be changed, then how can man be changed into a new creation?

            Let’s once again consider water. Water is always water, but it can come in different forms such as ice, liquid and fog. Clearly, in each form water is being expressed in different ways. Therefore, what has changed about water? You still break it down, and it is still water by nature.

            What has changed is not the nature of water, but the disposition of it. Disposition has to do with prevailing tendency, mood, or inclination. Tendencies have to do with circumstances or environment. Within a certain environment, tendencies will adjust and moods will change, making the source, substance or person inclined to respond or react according to the present state of being. For example, if the weather is moist and cold enough, water becomes ice. If cold hits water that has a warmer temperature, it becomes fog. In each instance, water is still water, but it is expressing itself according to the environment. 

            As you consider nature in regards to people, you realize that it will express itself according to the disposition or state that a person is in. For God, He is in a state of holiness. Therefore, the attributes of His nature will express that holiness according to the situation. Because of sin, God expressed His holiness through His love by sending His only begotten Son.

            What can we conclude by these simple facts? Is man a sinner by nature or is he human by nature? Is sin a matter of disposition or state, or is it a trait of man? As I studied these questions I realized that sin is a state in which man operates. This state is a product of tendencies that justify sin, moods that express the essence of sin (rebellion), and inclinations that give way to the darkness of sin. Therefore, my conclusion is that man is not a sinner by nature, rather sin is part of his present disposition or inward environment.

            This brings me to the deduction that man is in a fallen state or condition. The fallen state of man is death due to Adam’s sin. This state of death is what has been passed down to each man. The Bible makes reference to this very fact (Romans 5:12). In this state of death, man has no inclination towards God, no tendency towards life or truth, and is void of a temperament that is able to express itself in godliness (Romans 3:10-18). In fact, man has a selfish disposition that expresses itself in pride, rebellion and idolatry. Once a person’s state or inward environment is changed by the born again experience, he or she will possess a new heart that is inclined towards God and a new spirit that will place him or her in a state that produces life, thereby, changing his or her tendencies and moods in regards to God and his or her present life (Ezekiel 36:26-27; John 3:3, 5).

            What will a new creation’s disposition become an expression of? The Bible tells us to let the mind or disposition of Christ be in us (Philippians 2:5). The new disposition will be the expression of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthian 3:18; Galatians 2:20). As we study the concepts of nature and disposition, we will realize that nature represents what man is, but disposition represents what man will become as far as how he will express himself. Such expression will come down to the state that man is operating within, that of death due to sin, or life due to the Spirit of God. This state will determine the disposition of man. Disposition will determine how man will express himself to those around him. Either the traits of his nature will be under the influence of sin and death or they will be under the influence of the Spirit of life that is found in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:2).

            I do not know if this answers your question. After all, there is much history behind the teaching that man is a sinner by nature. But, there are inconsistencies in this conclusion. Man’s nature cannot be changed, but his disposition in which he expresses himself can be renewed or regenerated by changing the state in which he operates.