Human Nature


I’ve decided to speak this evening on a subject which should be of interest to all of us, because it’s a subject which is relevant to all of us. It’s sometimes possible to speak in church on a topic and for some people to say to themselves:

That topic is not for me.

They say:

I’m not interested in that subject.

Or they may say:

That subject doesn’t apply to me.

That’s what we might think from time to time, but today’s subject is one that should interest us all, because it’s relevant to all. This evening, you see, I want to speak to you about our human nature. What does it mean to be human? What does it mean to be a person?

But where do we turn to for help to understand what it means to be a human person? I have a book at home with the title, ‘Seven Theories of Human Nature’; and it describes what various great thinkers have said about human nature. So, it starts with the ancient Greek philosopher Plato. What did Plato say about humanity? What did he have to say about what we are and what the purpose of life is? Then there’s a chapter about Karl Marx, the father of communism. So, what did he think about human nature and about the purpose of our existence? Then there’s a chapter on Sigmund Freud, the Austrian who was the founder of psychoanalysis. He wrote many, many books about human nature and the human mind and about the way we think and the way our minds work. So what did he say about this subject? Then there’s a chapter on Jean-Paul Sartre, the French existentialist philosopher who wrote about the human condition. And there’s another chapter on B.F. Skinner, the American behaviourist psychologist who studied human behaviour and how we’re conditioned to behave in certain ways. And the final chapter is about Konrad Lorenz, another Austrian, who studied the behaviour of animals to help him understand how humans work. So, what did he have to say about humanity?

Each chapter of this book is fascinating, because in describing the ideas and theories of each of these great thinkers, the author set out each thinker’s theory of the universe before describing their theory of humanity. And then, each chapter contains a section called ‘Diagnosis’ which describes what each thinker believes is wrong with us. Isn’t that interesting? Each one understands that we’re not the way we’re meant to be and that there’s something fundamentally wrong with humanity which needs to be put right. And so, each chapter also contains a section called ‘Prescription’ which outlines each thinker’s proposed solution to what’s wrong with us. So, they all recognise that there’s something wrong with us; we’re not the way we’re meant to be; and here’s my solution; here’s my proposal for putting things right.

And, of course, over the years, people have turned to these philosophers and scientists, these thinkers, and they’ve turned to their ideas for knowledge and insight and understanding about what it means to be human. And, no doubt, there are many other thinkers we could turn to. But, of course, none of these great thinkers has done what they’re supposed to do and what we’re all supposed to do, because in trying to understand the world and in trying to understand humanity, none of them have turned to the one who created the world and everything in it and who has determined the way things are. In trying to understand humanity, they have come up with their own ideas, based on their own observations, without first turning to God and to what God has revealed to us in his word about the world and everything in it. And that’s the mistake we can all make. We turn to the Bible to learn about God; but we don’t turn to the Bible to learn about ourselves and about humanity. We trust the Bible to tell us about God and salvation; but we trust in this thinker and that thinker, this scientist and that philosopher to tell us about the nature of humanity. But since God is the one who made all things, and since he’s the one who has determined the ways things are, and who has decided what will be, then he’s the one we should always turn to for understanding; and we should turn to his word, because in his word, he not only reveals to us what he himself is like, but he reveals to us what we are like and what he made us to be.

And so, if you were counting when I listed the chapters in that book, you might have noticed that I only mentioned six theories of human nature; and there’s another one which the book describes. But the seventh theory which the book describes isn’t really a theory at all, because it’s the biblical view of humanity, which is not a theory which needs to be tested. It doesn’t need to be tested, but instead we ought to receive it and believe it, because it comes from God, who made all things and who determines all things about the world and about humanity.

And so, let’s turn to God’s word — and in particular to the opening chapters of God’s word — to see what God has revealed to us there about human nature.

Body and Soul

And the first thing we learn about humanity is that God made us with a body and a soul; we are both physical beings and spiritual beings. We have an outward, visible body, but God also made us with an inward, invisible spirit. And we see this clearly in verse 7 of Genesis 2 where it says:

the Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.

So, Adam’s body was formed from the dust of the ground so that he was part of the physical universe around him. Just like all the other creatures God created, Adam was flesh and bone, possessing a physical body. But then God breathed into his nostrils the breath or the spirit of life and he became a living being.

Adam was more than a body, because without this breath or spirit of life, his body was not yet a living being. And if ever you have seen someone die, then you’ll understand the difference, because one moment there’s a living person in front of your eyes, and the next there’s only an empty shell, because the person has died and their spirit has gone from the body. As the writer of Ecclesiastes puts it, when someone dies, ‘the dust returns to the earth… and the spirit returns to God who gave it.’

Well, the Bible uses a number of different words to describe the inward, invisible person. It uses the word ‘spirit’ and it uses the word ‘soul’. So, in the gospels, the Lord tells us not to fear those who can kill the body, but who cannot kill the soul. Rather, he said, fear the one who can destroy both body and soul in hell. So, we consist of body and soul, or body and spirit. The word ‘heart’ is also used to refer to the inward part of our being. So, when God promises to give his people a new heart, he’s promising to renew us inwardly. The word ‘mind’ is also used to refer to our inner being. So, in Jeremiah, God promises to write his laws on our minds as well as on our hearts. In other words, instead of writing his law on stone tablets, as he did in the days of Moses, he’ll write his law in us so that we will keep it.

When God created Adam, he made him with a body and a spirit. We are both physical and spiritual. And that’s important to remember. Throughout the ages, people have often believed that anything physical — including the human body — is evil; and they longed for the time when they would be able to rid themselves of this physical body which is evil and become a pure spirit. In the meantime, they would often deny themselves physical pleasure, because anything physical is evil and corrupting. But this view is completely wrong, because the physical world is not evil, but it’s good, since it came from God, who made it and who, after he finished making the world, pronounced what he had made to be very good. And, of course, we know that our bodies are not evil, because if that were the case, then the Son of God would not have taken to himself a body like ours. And the great hope that God gives to his people is not merely everlasting life in his presence, but it’s the resurrection of our bodies so that we will be with the Lord in body and soul for ever and for ever. Yes, we’re sinners; and sin takes its toll on our bodies as well as on our souls. Nevertheless, the thing that is evil is not our bodies themselves, but the corruption of our bodies due to sin; and we long for the day when our bodies will be glorified and freed from sin forever in the presence of the Lord.

Those who say the physical world is evil are wrong and they’re denying what God has revealed to us in his word when he said that the world he made was very good. And sometimes people are tempted to hate their bodies and even to abuse them and to harm them. This too is wrong, because we’re harming the body which God has given to us for our good and for his glory.

But then, on the other side, there are those who say humans are only bodies and that all there is in the world is what we can see and smell and touch. So, we’re only animals who are conditioned to behave in certain ways. Thoughts and feelings and emotions are only the effect of physical processes in the body. And when we die, and our bodies are laid in the ground, then that’s the end of our existence and there’s nothing more. But that’s not right either, because it’s to deny what God has said in his word about human nature and how we are made up of body and soul. A body alone is lifeless, but God made Adam a living being by giving him the breath or spirit of life. We’re body and soul together; and after we die, our spirits live on and rise to God to made us.

In God’s Image

And that leads me to my second point. Not only did God make us with a body and a soul, but he also made us in his image. And so we read in Genesis 1:

Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’ So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

Being made in God’s image means, among other things, that we were created to be little images or pictures of God on the earth to reflect his glory and to represent him on the earth. In the ancient world, kings would set up around their kingdom images or statutes of themselves to represent them. In the same way, God made us to be little images of him on the earth.

And we’re to represent him by being like him and by doing his will and obeying his laws and commandments which he has revealed to us by writing the requirements of his law on our hearts and by writing his commandments down in his word. He has revealed to us how he wants us to live. And, of course, since he’s the one who made us and who has determined all things, he knows what’s best for us; and he has decided that what’s best for us is to do what he has commanded and to walk in all his ways.

So, we’re to be like him by obeying him. And he will hold every person accountable for what they have done and for how they have obeyed him. We see this even in Genesis 3, because after Adam and Eve took the forbidden fruit, they had to answer to God for what they had done. And so, God has placed us in the world to obey him and to walk in his ways, and just as Adam was accountable to God, so too we will have to give an account of ourselves to the Lord on that day when he will judge the world in righteousness.

This is important to know, because there are many in the world who say that it doesn’t matter what we do and they can live as they please. It’s up to them to decide what is best and what is right and how they will live. ‘I am the measure of all things’, they think; and I will decide how to live my life. ‘I am the measure of all things’, and no one is able to tell me what to do. But no. God has made us in his image to reflect his glory and to do his will and every one is accountable to him for what we have done and everyone is commanded to do his will.

And the last point to make here, before moving on, is that since God made us in his image to reflect his glory and to do his will, our failure to do his will and to reflect his glory on the earth leads to all kinds of sorrow and sadness and unhappiness. There’s the sorrow which our sin causes in the world, when we do not love the people around us the way we should and we end up fighting and arguing with them. But there’s also the unhappiness we feel and the shame we feel because of our guilt. In Psalm 51 — that great psalm of confession which David wrote after he sinned with Bathsheba — David wrote:

Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice.

Under the burden of his guilt and shame, David was joyless and he could feel no gladness and he felt crushed and broken. And that’s how we all feel, when we’ve broken God’s laws. And so, the path to joy and gladness is very often to confess our sins to God and to renew our obedience to him.


Well, let’s move on. Not only did God make us with a body and a soul, but he also made us in his image to do his will. Thirdly, God made us social creatures. After God created Adam, he said that everything he made was very good. But then he noticed something that was not good. He said:

It is not good for the man to be alone.

And so, the Lord made Eve to be a suitable helper for Adam and he and Eve were united together as one flesh.

Whenever we’re born, we’re born into families with parents to love and serve us and where we learn to love and serve the people around us. And throughout our lives, we’re surrounded by people who help us and we’re surrounded by people we’re to help. In his law, God commands us to love him with all our heart and soul and mind and strength. In other words, he expects us to worship him. But he also commands us to love our neighbour as ourselves. And so he expects us not to cut ourselves off from one another, but to live together and to love and serve one another. Some of us love to be in crowds of people and we want to be around as many people as possible; others are overwhelmed by crowds and prefer to mix with one or two people at a time. But whether we like crowds or prefer ones or twos, God made us social beings. And so, it’s not good for us to be on our own and it’s not good for anyone to cut himself or herself off from others, because when God created us, he created us to be social beings.


And when God created us, he created us to be workers. In Genesis 2, after the Lord planted the Garden of Eden for Adam and Eve, we read:

The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.

Sometimes people think that work is a result of the fall. So, before Adam sinned, he was able to live a life of leisure; but after the fall, he was made to work. But that’s not what the Bible says. The Bible is clear that work was a part of Adam’s life before the fall and before he sinned. Work is not an evil to be endured, but it’s a task which God has given us to do for his glory. Furthermore, in the Ten Commandments, the fourth commandment about resting on the Sabbath Day from all our work implies that the other six days of the week are for work. It’s God’s will for us to rest on the Sabbath Day and to use the other days of the week for work, whether that means working in a job for which we’re paid, or working in the home for our family; or using our time and talents for the good of others out in the community and in the church. Furthermore, even if we’re unemployed or retired, there is still work for us to do, because there is more to work than what we’re paid to do by an employer. And even the young people are called to work, because they have the work they do in school or college which must by done for the glory of God; and there are chores to do in the home. When God created Adam, he put him in the Garden of Eden to work it; God has made us to be workers, and by our work we not only find satisfaction in doing a job well, but we’re able to bring honour to the Lord, by doing our best for his glory. —

The Fall

So, there you are. What are we? What does it mean to be human? Well, it means this: God made us with bodies and souls; he made us in his image to do his will; he made us social beings; and he made us to be workers. That’s what Adam was created to be and that’s what all of us were created to be. However, once Adam disobeyed the Lord and fell from the state in which he was created into a state of sin and misery, everything changed. Everything changed.

So, he made us to be workers, but from what God said to Adam and Eve in Genesis 3, we see that because of their sin, work would be from that time on hard and difficult and frustrating. God said to Adam:

Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food….

Whereas once work was easy and satisfying, it would now become hard and difficult, not only for Adam, but for all his descendants. We find it hard; and often we’re lazy and want to avoid it.

God made us social beings, but from what God said to Adam and Eve in Genesis 3, we see that because of their sin, social relationships would be hard and difficult and frustrating. God said to Eve:

Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.

When God refers to her desire here, he’s referring to her desire to rule over her husband. So, the woman wants to rule the man; and the man wants to rule the woman. Instead of loving one another, they’re in conflict with one another. And this applied not only to Adam and Eve, but to all their descendants, and from that time on, we have not loved one another they way we should.

And God made us in his image to do his will, but whenever Adam disobeyed the Lord and ate the forbidden fruit, the image of God in them and in all of their descendants — with the one exception of the Lord Jesus — was broken and distorted so that we’re born sinners and we sin continually against the Lord, so that instead of reflecting his glory on the earth, we dishonour his name by disobeying his commands. And so, if we were to turn over the page in the book of Genesis, we’d read in chapter 6 how the Lord saw how great our wickedness had become on the earth. Instead of reflecting his glory, our lives are filled with shame and sorrow.

And God made us body and soul, but the inner part of our being is corrupted by sin; and our hearts — which should be filled with love and praise to God — are a house of horrors filled with all kinds of monstrous thoughts and wicked desires and sinful inclinations. And when we die, our bodies and souls are separated and our bodies return to the dust from which we were taken.


God made us body and soul, but as a result of Adam’s sin, body and soul are separated by death. God made us in his image to do his will, but as a result of Adam’s sin we continually sin against him. God made us social beings, but as a result of Adam’s sin we no longer love one another the way we should. God made us to be workers, but as a result of Adam’s sin work is now hard and difficult and frustrating and often we try to avoid it.

But instead of leaving his creation like that — spoiled and ruined by the fall — God had a plan to put right what went wrong when Adam and Eve disobeyed him. And as part of his plan he sent his only Son into the world to be the perfect man, who perfectly obeyed God in all things and in our place; and who died in our place to pay for our sins and shortcomings; and who was raised to give us life. And through faith in God’s Son, we’re justified by God which means he pardons all our sins and accepts us as righteous in his sight for the sake of Christ our Saviour. And he adopts us into his family and he fills us with his Spirit who works in us to put right what went wrong when Adam sinned.

And so, the Holy Spirit helps us to be the workers we were created to be. He fills us with zeal for God’s glory so that now when we go out to do our work — and in everything else that we do — we’ll do all things with all our might and for God’s glory.

And he helps us to be the social beings we were created to be and to love our neighbour as ourselves and to be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving one another, just as in Christ God forgave us. And he places us in his church and surrounds us with many new people to love and encourage us.

And he helps us to reflect God’s glory on the earth, because the Holy Spirit works in us to renew us in God’s image so that more and more we’re able to do God’s will and keep his commandments and so reflect his glory on the earth.

And though outwardly we’re wasting away, inwardly we’re being renewed by his Spirit; and though our bodies and souls will be separated by death, we know, we know that the day is coming when Christ the Saviour will come again to raise our dead bodies from their graves and they will be made like his glorious body and we will be with the Lord — in body and in soul — for ever and for ever in that fullness of joy and those pleasures forevermore which God has prepared for his people. And so in the end, God’s purposes for the world and for his people will be fulfilled, when we’re brought into his presence in the new heaven and the new earth to eat from the Tree of Life and live with him forever.

And what we are and what we will be has been revealed to us by God in his word. And so, the person and place to go in order to understand what we are and in order to understand what we’re for and in order to understand how we’re to live is to God and his word.