The Nature of Man

For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Romans 7:19 (NIV)

One of the stories that captured my imagination as a child was Deacon Brodie’s secret life: Deacon Brodie lived in Edinburgh in the mid 18th century. He was the son of a prosperous cabinet maker and a deacon of the masons’ guild as well as a city Councillor. But behind his mask of virtue was a man with many dark secrets. By day he was a respectable businessman but by night he was a gambler and vicious thief. Over an eighteen-year period he successfully robbed the city bank and broke into countless buildings. No one knew, not even his two mistresses and five children. They didn’t even know about each other, for no hint of suspicion ever fell on him.

It couldn’t last for ever. He finally bungled a robbery attempt on the headquarters of the Scottish Customs and Excise and was put on trial in the same courtroom where, only a few months before, he had sat as a juryman. The evidence was damning and proof of his double identity was revealed. Brodie was sentenced to death on October 1, 1788, and died on the Edinburgh gallows.

Nearly a century later, the writer Robert Louis Stevenson wrote a play based on Brodie’s exploits and entitled it, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. In this well known story Stevenson rationalizes the way in which the evil inherent in man took its hold on the good Deacon Brodie. He promotes the idea of a primitive duality in man and explains in the play that “man is not truly one, but truly two.”

As a Bible believing Christian I have to disagree with Stevenson because the Scriptures teach that man is not a primitive duality but a single created being, i.e., man is truly one – a materialized unitary being.

Now that’s not to say that man’s nature can be reduced to a single principle. Far from it. Man, as created by God and in the image of God, is a complex being composed of a body, an intellect, emotions, and a spirit/soul. But these components should not be dealt with independently. They must be viewed as a composite whole.

One way to understand this concept is by drawing an analogy with a chemical compound. In a chemical compound the atoms of the elements involved enter into new combinations to form molecules. The characteristics or qualities of the molecules are unlike those of which they are composed. Table salt is a good example. It’s a compound of sodium chloride. Yet one cannot detect the qualities of either sodium or chlorine in it, i.e., the distinctive characteristics of the original elements (including the poisonous nature of chlorine) have been subjugated to the compound. Likewise, the spiritual, intellectual, emotional and physical qualities of man are not entirely distinct. They’ve been subjugated to the compound which is only dissolvable at death, then, at the resurrection of the body the compound will again be formed, with the spirit/soul once more becoming inseparably attached to a body.

But to get back to our point of departure, no one part of man can be the exclusive seat of evil or good. We can’t be part Dr. Jekyll and part Mr. Hyde. All of us are unitary beings. We’re simultaneously Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

So how does this affect us?

Firstly, any attempt to understand, bring counsel, or deal with man’s condition in any way apart from seeing man as a composite whole, is doomed to failure. Man has to be treated as a unity. His spiritual condition cannot be dealt with independently of his physical, emotional or intellectual condition, and his physical, emotional or intellectual condition cannot be dealt with independently of his spiritual condition.

Secondly, the gospel is about redeeming the whole of whom we are. Sin infects all of what a human is. We therefore need to be saved from our sin. You can’t do this yourself. Which is why Jesus in His incarnation became fully man. That’s not to say that Christ was a sinner. No sin was found in Him. He was also fully God. As such, when He took the sins of the world on Himself at the Cross of Calvary, He accomplished what no other could ever do, the atonement of sins for everyone who would turn to Him and seek forgiveness. Thus depending on your response to the gospel you’re either a sinner, or a sinner who’s been saved by the grace of God.

Thirdly, righteousness does not consist of enslaving one part of human nature to another. Nor is sanctification a piecemeal operation. To grow in maturity you must be transformed in your entire being. For if you only have religion in your mind you’ll become stuck up, if it only touches your emotions you’ll shrivel up or blow up, and if it’s only skin deep you’ll simply be dressed up. But when the Word impacts you as a whole person, you’ll grow up.

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