by Alfred T. Overstreet
The Bible teaches that all men originate their own moral depravity. Gen. 6:12, Gen. 8:21, Deut. 32:5, Psalm 14:1-3, Rom. 3:23, Eccl. 7:29. The Bible teaches that men sin and corrupt themselves. In fact, early in mankind's history upon the earth men had become so corrupt that God sent a flood to destroy them.
I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth. Gen. 6:7.
Observe that God was angry with "man whom I have created." Certainly he was not angry with them because of the nature with which he had created them. No, it was because they had corrupted themselves that God was angry with them.
The earth also was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence. And God looked upon the earth and behold it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted his way upon the earth. Gen. 6:11, 12.
To corrupt means to make morally depraved. It means to pervert what is good and upright. It means to make unclean what was once clean. It means to spoil what was once good and unspoiled. The word corrupt always implies a former state that was unspoiled, clean, good, or upright. It is never used to speak of the original created nature of man. It speaks of what man has become because of spoiling or perverting the nature with which he was created.
Moral beings have never needed a sinful nature to make them sin. The first sin ever committed was committed by the devil. He did not have a sinful nature to make him sin. Then, a third of the angels fell. They did not have a sinful nature to make them sin. Then both Adam and Eve sinned. They did not have a sinful nature to make them sin. Then, why should it be thought necessary for men to be born with a sinful nature to account for their sins? The Bible does not teach that men must have a sinful nature in order to sin; it teaches that men sin in spite of a good nature:
Lo, this only have I found, that God hath made man upright; but they have sought out many inventions. Eccl. 7:29
The above Scripture is very clear. God has created men upright, but they have sinned in spite of an upright nature. This truth is taught directly, and by implication, throughout the whole Bible.
Acts 17:29 says, "We are the offspring of God." When the Apostle Paul made this statement, he was addressing heathen sinners. We know, therefore, that this verse applies to all mankind, and not just to those who are Christian believers. What, then, does this verse mean?
1. It means that we are all children of God by creation.
2. It means that, since we are the offspring of God, we are created in his image and likeness. (Advocates of the doctrine of original sin teach that men are no longer created in God's image since Adam sinned. This teaching directly contradicts both the Old and New Testament Scriptures. See Gen. 9:6, I Cor. 11:7, James 3:9.)
3. It means that everything we are and have at birth comes to us from God.
4. It means that, since God is the Creator, the Father, and the Author of all that we are and have at birth, we cannot be born sinners. God has created us, and he does not create sinners. He created us in his image and likeness, which is not sinful. We are his offspring, and his offspring do not come into this world as sinners.
5. It also implies and means that every sinner is the author of his own moral depravity. He becomes a sinner after he reaches the "age of accountability," i.e., after he knows right from wrong and after he "knows to refuse the evil, and choose the good." Isaiah 7:16, Deut. 1:39, Rom. 2:15, Rom. 5:14, Rom. 9:11.
The following texts also show that we are created in the image and likeness of God, and therefore with a good and upright nature:
And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness...So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him. Gen. 1:26, 27
Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man. Gen. 9:6
Man is the image and glory of God. I Cor. 11:7
Therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God.James 3:9
The statements in the last three texts were made after the death of Adam, so they refute the teaching that men after Adam are not created in the image of God. If we believe that these texts teach that God has created us in his image and if we believe that it is impossible for God to create men with sinful natures, then we must believe that these texts are teaching that God has created man upright and that man has sinned in spite of an upright nature, as it declares in Eccl. 7:29.
Rev. 22:16 says, "I am the root and the offspring of David." In this verse Jesus is speaking and says that he is both the Creator and the offspring of David. How foolish it is, then, to maintain that man is born with a sinful nature, for Jesus both created human nature and also partook of human nature when he became a man.
God has created man upright and without sin. He has created man in his own image and likeness with sensibility, intellect, reason, conscience, and free will. Man has all the faculties and powers of moral agency. He knows right from wrong. The law of God is written in his heart. He is free and knows himself to be free and able to obey the law of God. His conscience approves his right conduct and condemns his wrong conduct.
All men, everywhere, have these same moral faculties and powers. A heathen man may be ignorant and primitive, but the law of God is written in his heart. His conscience approves his right conduct and condemns his wrong conduct. He has the same moral consciousness of a standard of right and wrong as any man who knows the Bible:
For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: Which show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the meanwhile accusing or else excusing one another. Rom. 2: 14,15.
All men, everywhere, know themselves to be free and responsible moral agents. They know they are accountable for their deeds. They know this because the moral nature with which God has created them testifies to them of these truths. Some men deny this and claim that man's conscience, his knowledge of right and wrong, and his ideas of responsibility and accountability are not really innate revelations of his nature, but are merely learned and changeable convictions, acquired through reading the Bible, through religious instruction, or through the influence of society and environment.
But in spite of what some men say, the fact remains that all men know intuitively that they are responsible and accountable for their actions. An absolute standard of right and wrong is revealed and apparent to all men. Man's moral agency and his responsibility and accountability are so apparent that he cannot rationally deny them. He can no more deny them than he can deny his existence. This can be shown from the following:
1. Let someone come up to you, and without any provocation, hit you in the face. Would you need to be acquainted with the Bible, or would you need to know that society frowned on such conduct to know that you had been wronged? What man ever needed the Bible or religious instruction to know that it is wrong for someone to forcefully take what is his? Do you need the Bible to know that it is wrong for a person to insult you, lie about you, or abuse you in some way? Could any society convince itself through education that it is really right to hate, lie, steal, and murder or that it is wrong to love and do good to its neighbor? To maintain that hatred, murder, lying, stealing, and every other kind of meanness and injustice are wrong only in the eyes of those who have been taught to frown upon them is sublimely ridiculous.
2. This is because right and wrong are first truths of reason self-evident truths derived or given to us from our nature and relations as moral beings, and not from the philosophy, teaching, or arbitrary will of society. Right and wrong do not even derive from the arbitrary will of God. For if the arbitrary will of God made law right, then God could command any law to be right. He could command: "Thou shalt hate, thou shalt lie, thou shalt steal, thou shalt covet thy neighbor's wife, thou shalt be selfish, and thou shalt seek the misery and unhappiness of thy neighbor." And upon the supposition that God's arbitrary will made law right, it would be right to lie, steal, hate, and do everything possible to make mankind miserable and unhappy. But God's law is declaratory. He has declared to us the law of our nature. He has declared to us the same law of right and wrong that is founded in and revealed to us by our nature, necessities, and relations as moral beings.
3. Jesus recognized that there is a common standard of right and wrong revealed to all men when he gave the Golden Rule: "And whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets." Matt. 7:12 If men did not have a common knowledge of right and wrong revealed to them in and by their nature, they could not obey the Golden Rule because obedience to the Golden Rule depends upon a subjective knowledge, common to all men, of right conduct toward others.
4. The claim that morality is only a changing thing, which is established in each time context by the society in existence, has missed the point. For although it is true that different societies accept or permit things that other societies do not permit, still, man's innate convictions of right and wrong remain the same. What a man or a society will permit and the convictions of conscience are two different things. For instance, a man may himself be a thief and a liar. But does that mean that he has no convictions against stealing or lying? If someone steals from him, will he claim that there is nothing wrong with stealing? What liar ever said, "I see nothing wrong with lying. I love and admire liars. In fact, I just love it when people lie to me." Or what murderer would ever say, "I see nothing wrong with murder; in fact if someone attempted to murder me, I would put up no resistance at all."
5. If there were no common standard of right and wrong revealed to man by his nature, we could have no human government. In fact, human government would be a mere imposition were it not for man's moral nature and would be ridiculous, as ridiculous as a moral government over animals. The very fact that men do have human government shows that men know themselves to be responsible moral agents. It shows that they have innate convictions of right and wrong, and that they have a conscious knowledge of responsibility and accountability.
6. But the fact that human government is judged to be unjust, if it makes arbitrary law or imposes unjust penalty, shows that there is an ultimate standard of right and wrong a law revealed in our nature which all men know and appeal to. For instance, let a judge decide that he wants to sentence a convicted murderer to only one day in jail, and see if society does not rise up as one man to denounce the injustice of the sentence! But what does society appeal to in pronouncing the sentence unjust? Of course, it appeals to that self-evident standard of right and wrong which is revealed to all men in their moral nature. Or let us imagine that all the laws of our land are repealed overnight, and new laws are imposed such as the following: "It is a felony, punishable by life imprisonment to do anything good for your neighbor. All citizens are required by law to seek the misery and hurt of their neighbor. Therefore, all citizens are required to lie, steal, kill, and in other ways abuse their neighbors and seek to deprive them of their rights. In keeping with this new law (which cannot violate any absolute standard of righteousness and justice, since there is no natural law of justice, but all of man's convictions of right and wrong are merely the result of education and environment, and so can be changed at will without infringing upon anyone's rights) all men who have been imprisoned for past crimes will now be set free. (For there is no such thing as a self-evident standard of criminal action, because our convictions of wrong-doing are wholly dependent upon environment and education, and so can be changed at will.) Therefore, any citizen who does right and who does not do wrong will be sentenced to life imprisonment, and those citizens who will devote their lives to being selfish and seeking the misery of others will have the favor of this government."
Now, this supposition is ludicrous. But it would not seem ludicrous at all were it not for the innate knowledge of right and wrong in all men which makes them see it as ludicrous. The very fact that it is so obviously ludicrous to everyone shows that everyone has the same innate knowledge of right and wrong.
7. Language shows that all men have the same innate ideas of justice, right and wrong, and accountability. Words such as sin, wickedness, justice, injustice, right, wrong, good, evil, obligation, accountability, innocence, and guilt are just a few of the words which men use to express innate moral concepts that all men have. Man's language is a mirror of his rational moral nature.
8. Novelists know that all men have the same standard of right and wrong revealed to them in their nature. They do not write different novels for the wicked than they do for the righteous. The reason is that both wicked men and good men have the same standard of right and wrong revealed to them in their nature. It is not necessary for a novelist to write two versions of his novel, one for good men and another for bad men. For to write a novel in which the hero is evil and unjust would offend the conscience of both wicked and good men. The hero of the novel is never described as a bad man. He is always described as a good man, a just man, and a courageous man. And when the reader (even the reader who is wicked and unjust) sees that he is just and fights against evil, he will identify with him and experience satisfaction when he finally triumphs. Wicked men do not identify with the villain because of their irresistible convictions of justice, which by a law of necessity cause them to take sides with righteousness, justice, and goodness. The truth is that all men, whatever their character, have a common awareness of right and wrong. God has written his law in the hearts of all men!
9. All men, without exception, know that doing good to others rather than evil is their obligation. They know that kindness ought to be repaid by gratitude and not by hatred. If a man were to repay a kind deed with a hateful deed, his act would be considered wrong by all men. All men, without exception, know that they are under an obligation to govern their own conduct by the same rules as they think binding upon other men. There is only one adequate explanation of all this: man is a rational moral being created in the image of God, with the law of God written in his heart, and he cannot escape the testimony of that law!
10. The fact that men will deny the wrong they have done shows that they recognize an absolute standard of right and wrong. For instance, a man is accused of lying, cheating, or stealing. If the accusation is true, why does he deny it? It can only be that he recognizes that what he has done is wrong, for he would have no reason to hide or deny what he has done if he did not recognize it to be wrong.
11. The fact that men blame other men for wrongdoing shows that all men have the law of God written in their hearts. For instance, if someone's car is stolen, he would never say, "Oh, I don't blame whoever stole my car. After all, there is nothing wrong with stealing. People just think it's wrong to steal because society has educated them that way." The employee who is cheated out of his wages by his employer doesn't say, "Oh, he hasn't done anything wrong. He just learned a different set of ethics than most of us." All men resent unjust treatment when they are treated unjustly. If anyone abuses them with degrading or filthy language, they will be offended and blame the one who has abused them. And if anyone were to attempt to explain to them that they have not really been wronged and that they just think they have been wronged because of their religious education or environment, they will judge that person a fit candidate for the crazy house. The truth is that all men blame other men for wrongdoing, and this is true even if they know that they themselves are guilty of the same things. A man may be a liar, a thief, and a cheat himself, but he still judges those attributes as wrong in others. Whoever heard of a liar who was happy to be deceived by another liar? What liar would ever say, "I just love and admire liars; they are so noble"?
12. There is no escaping the fact that men have a common awareness of right and wrong and that they have this awareness without ever having read the Bible, and without the shaping or teaching influence of society. Man's knowledge of right and wrong is not the product of society. On the contrary, it is because of man's innate knowledge of right and wrong that an ordered society can and does exist with some degree of cohesion and decency. In fact, it is only man's common awareness of right and wrong, given him in his nature, that keeps society half-way on the track of decency and order. I say "half-way" because, although our moral nature forces irresistible convictions of right and wrong upon us, it cannot force us to do the right. We, as free moral agents, are able to obey or disobey the law of our nature.
13. Man's whole system of human government with its law and its penalty for the broken law is founded and built upon his common awareness of responsibility and accountability. Without this awareness, human government would not and could not exist. Therefore, human government with its laws, penalties, police forces, courts, judges, etc., gives mute testimony to the fact that all men know themselves to be moral agents and fully responsible and accountable for their deeds. Otherwise, moral government would be an imposition and senseless, as senseless as a moral government over the beasts of the field.
Man is created as more than one of the dumb beasts of the field. Man is an intelligent rational spirit. He is created in the image and likeness of God. He is able to know God, commune with him and have fellowship with him. How noble is the nature that God has given man! How glorious are his powers and faculties as a moral being, created in the image and likeness of God! How holy his possibilities and how lofty his position by creation, but how criminally low he has fallen! He has fallen from the glorious position of a child of God to the perverted position of a devil. Man is a child of God by creation, but a child of the devil by choice! "We are his offspring." Acts 17:29. "Ye are gods; and all of you are the children of the most High. But ye shall die like men, and fall like one of the princes." Psalm 82:6, 7. Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do." John 8:44. "He that committeth sin is of the devil." I John 3:8.
The Bible represents man to be just exactly what he knows himself to be and that is why men cannot escape the conviction that the Bible is the Word of God it represents him as being a responsible, rational moral being, with moral faculties and powers which enable him to know and do right, but who has sinned against the light of his nature. It represents him as having resisted his God-given reason, trampled on conscience, and abused free moral agency. In short, it represents man as being under God's just wrath, not for being born with a sinful nature, but for resisting, abusing, and perverting the faculties and powers with which God created him. It should be forever remembered that obedience to God's law is in accord with the moral nature that God has given us, but that disobedience to God's law resists and abuses the moral nature that God has given us.
The Bible doctrine of sin is this: men have been created upright, in the image and likeness of God, with the law of God written in their hearts, with a conscience, with the dazzling light of a rational nature, and with all the faculties and powers of free moral agency. But men have corrupted themselves. They have sinned against their God-given nature, and have come short of the glory of God. "Lo, this only have I found, that God hath made man upright; but they have sought out many inventions." Eccl. 7:29.
Finally, it should be emphasized that sin is never spoken of as a calamity or a misfortune in the Bible. It is spoken of as a crime and rebellion. But there could be no greater calamity or misfortune in heaven or in earth than that of being born sinners! If men were born sinners and could not help but sin, they would never be treated as criminals and rebels against the government of God. Instead, they would be considered of all the creatures of God, the most worthy of pity, sympathy, and compassion. They would be considered supremely unfortunate, and their sin the greatest misfortune and calamity in the universe.
If the sinner really were unfortunate, the Bible would have to be rewritten, because it never speaks of the sinner as unfortunate or worthy of pity, but rather as being wicked and worthy of everlasting punishment. Remember how God judged wicked sinners in the days of Noah. He overthrew them with a flood and sent them quickly down to hell. Gen. 6:5-13. Now, it is absolutely unbelievable that God would do such a thing, if it were true that those sinners were born morally depraved and could not help but commit sin. Look how God judged the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. He rained fire and brimstone out of heaven upon them and sent their wicked inhabitants down into hell. But if the filthy wickedness that was committed in those cities was the result of an inborn moral depravity, how could God possibly have sent them down into hell for their sins? Then, think of the multitudes upon multitudes of heathen who have died in their sins and gone down into hell, without a knowledge of the Gospel. It is incredible beyond imagination that God would send them to hell if they were born sinners and committed sin because of the nature with which they were born! No, the whole Bible would have to be rewritten if the doctrine of original sin were true because it contradicts the letter and the spirit of every page of the Scriptures.
I will call attention to two more passages from the Bible which show that men are created upright, with a good nature, and in the image and likeness of God:
He called them gods unto whom the Word of God came. John 10:35
I have said, ye are gods; and all of you are the children of the most high. But ye shall die like men, and fall like one of the princes. Psalm 82:6, 7
These passages, like the verse that says, "We are the offspring of God," are speaking of all mankind. They show that men are created as gods, that is that they "are made in the image of God" (Gen. 9:6), that they "are the offspring of God" (Acts 17:29), and that they "are the children of the most High" (Psalm 82:6). In showing the exalted state of men as gods, they also show the boundless guilt and ill-desert of men in corrupting themselves and falling from this exalted state. But if men are born into this world as sinners, they have not fallen at all, and there is no way that they can be guilty for their sins. It would be absurd to speak of the boundless guilt and ill-desert of sinners if they were born sinners. But if, as the Bible teaches, we are "the offspring of God," we are "the image and glory of God," we are "gods," and we are "the children of the most High," and we have sinned against the image of God and the nature with which he created us, then we have a true idea of the enormity of our sin, the boundlessness of its guilt, and the greatness of God's mercy toward us in giving his Son to die for our sins.
It is a solemn fact that sinners will be punished for ever and ever in hell. This fact is a fearful illustration of the boundless guilt and ill-desert of sinners. But if it were really true that men were born sinners, they could not be guilty in the least for their sins. They would be unfortunate, yes, but not guilty. However, sin is not a misfortune. It is the greatest outrage in the universe. It is a crime against man's nature and rebellion against the Creator of our nature. God has measured the crime, the outrage, the guilt and the ill-desert of sin by its awful penalty: everlasting punishment in hell's fire!
They have corrupted themselves. Deut. 32:5
All flesh had corrupted his way upon the earth. Gen. 6:12
They are all gone aside, they are all together become filthy; there is none that doeth good, no, not one. Psalm 14:3
The imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth. Gen. 8:21
For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. Rom. 3:23
Lo, this only have I found, that God hath made man upright; but they have sought out many inventions. Eccl. 7:29
Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. Rom. 7:17
For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing. Rom. 7:18
Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. Rom. 7:20
But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. Rom. 7:23
For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh. Rom. 8:3
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