This post is part of a series of posts on the basics of systematic theology. Why do we need theology, and what are the essential truths to know about each doctrine? All the posts are archived under the category “Theology 101.”
Plato said, “Man is nothing more than a featherless biped.” (So one of his critics — undoubtedly with a smile on his face — once held up a dead, plucked chicken and declared, “behold, Plato’s man.”)
Freud asserted that man “is an underdeveloped child.”
And Mark Twain, evidently unimpressed the world within his eyesight suggested that “God made man at the end of the week when He was tired.”
Most of us would reject all those statements as simplistic, sarcastic, or even silly. But who is man? What are we to think of manhood? The Scriptures have clear answers on that topic.
Man is God’s creation, and he is made in the image and likeness of God (Gen. 1:27). He is not an animal, he is not a victim of his environment, and he is made for God’s glory — to reveal the nature and character of God (1 Cor. 10:31; 2 Cor. 5:9). But because of sin, he seeks to glorify himself (Rom. 1:18ff; 3:23). He constantly attempts to usurp God’s throne.
Moreover, all mankind is under sin because of mankind’s identification with the sin of Adam (Rom. 5:12; Gen. 3). There are two particular truths to understand about the sin of men: all men sin because they are sinners (born with original sin, Eph. 2:1-3) and all men are sinners because they sin (their own sin condemns them, Rom. 3:23).
Further, every man is totally depraved. By that, we simply mean that on his own he cannot do good (Rom. 3:10-18). Everything he does is sin, because nothing he does is for God’s glory (1 Cor. 10:31). Moreover, his heart is deceitfully wicked (Jer. 17:9-10), deceiving even himself. His goal in life is selfishness and only evil continually (Gen. 6:5; Eph. 4:17-19). So when we say a man is depraved, we mean that every aspect of his life is tainted by sin. He is not as sinful as he might be, but nothing in his life is untouched by sin.
And this sin originates within himself. We are tempted to think that our problems our external to us and the solution is internal (e.g., “my problem is cancer or an unfaithful friend or ‘unluckly’ circumstances, but I can fix it myself…”). However, the primary problem of all men is internal (our own sin) and the solution is external (Christ’s death on the cross).
The Scriptures also teach that man is directed by his heart and mind. So his heart is the primary area in need of change. While his activities need transformation, they will only genuinely change as his heart is transformed (Prov. 4:23; Lk. 6:43-45). Unless the internal issues related to his personal sin are addressed, he will never change.