Christmas! A time of great joy and peace! As it should be! “Joy to the world, the Lord has come, let earth receive her king!” But not everyone experiences joy at Christmas! I have found in ministry over several decades that it can be, for many people, a time of deep sadness, intense emotional pain and a feeling of isolation. It can be a time when we see the best of humans as they take the time to get together as families, expressing love to family members and becoming more friendly to those around them. Some would say that we see the best of human nature at such a time as Christmas. Yet for some people it is a time when they are forced to deal with memories of experiences of the worst of human nature.
One of the articles I wrote on this blogsite way back in 2012 is being looked at more frequently in the last couple of years. I have some idea of why that is so. It was No. 089 titled, “Humans. Basically Good? Or Prone To Evil? Mark 7:20-23.” As we see so much evil taking place in the world around us we are forced to wonder why it is that humans can be so unloving towards their fellow humans. So inhumane! Are humans basically good or do they have an inbuilt bias towards evil? The above-mentioned article gives many clues towards an answer.
Jesus’ View Of Human Nature
Let’s start with Jesus’ view of human nature, recognising He is the Creator of humankind. As the eternal Son of God He knows what took place at the fall of humankind and the disastrous results for humankind and the world that ensued. He is the One who came at that first Christmas to become a human so that He could live as a human and ultimately die as a human for humans. When He was asked what it was that defiled a person He replied, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. 21 For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, 22 coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. 23 All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” Mark 7:20-23.
Every human has that propensity to do evil as well as doing what outwardly seems to be excellent and ‘good.’ We need to remember that behind every human action is a motivation. Sometimes motivations can be pure and loving and kind seeking the best interests of the other person. Sometimes seemingly good actions or attitudes may have a different motivation, based more on what one can gain by the action rather than what one can contribute willingly and selflessly to the other person!
St Paul’s View Of Human Nature
St Paul in Romans chapter 1 wrote of what happened when humans turned away from God in rebellion at the Fall. Humans became involved in idolatry, sexual impropriety and many other forms of sin. He described such behaviour in verses 29-32, “They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.” In other words, they broke God’s requirements for living as His creatures in his world. Note how many of the Ten Commandments are broken in the list above.
Paul also put it clearly when he wrote of the difference between the new Spirit nature given to humans at conversion [their new birth] and the nature they inherited as humans. He wrote of the characteristics of the old flesh nature as being “the works of the flesh,” in this way, “Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” Galatians 5:19-21. In other words the outworking of our fallen nature can result in any or all of these sinful manifestations. As I mentioned in that article No 089 above, even believers who have been born again of the new nature by the Holy Spirit can allow the old nature tendencies to be manifest in their lives at any time.
What denominations believe about our fallen nature!
The old flesh nature never leaves the believer. The Anglican Church 39 Articles of Religion state in Article 9 [which is titled, “Of original or Birth sin”] “Man … is of his own nature inclined to evil. … This infection of nature doth remain in those who are regenerate (born again). The Presbyterian Westminster Confession article [V] agrees, “This corruption of nature, during this life, doth remain in those that are regenerated.” It means this proneness to do evil is characteristic of all people. All born-again people still possess this old nature with its bias towards evil and can give way to it unless they are careful. That’s why they are to sow to the Spirit and not to the flesh (the old nature). Gal 6:8 “For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.”
What that means in practice
It means that any human can commit sin at any time. St Paul warned about that in 1 Cor 10:11-12 where having shown that the people of God in the Old Testament initially followed God, later many departed from their trust in God, “Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. 12 Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” Paul uses the failure of the Old Testament people of God, to warn that presumption can sometimes over-ride an ongoing confidence in God. It is when you think you are strong in your own resources and certainly beyond temptation, then you can fall.
- The businessman talking things over deeply with his secretary feels she “understands him” more than his wife does. He begins to spend more time with her. An affair begins. He never thought he was capable of being unfaithful. But he was human. With a fallen nature.
- The Treasurer of a group is meticulous with his handling of finances. But one day he makes a mistake. No one notices. Later he is a bit short of money and makes the same “mistake”. A pattern begins. A meticulous treasurer with a developing flaw. Human. With a fallen nature.
- The empathetic counsellor feels deeply for the woman he is counselling who has been neglected and sometimes abused by an inattentive husband. He gets too close, in his attempt to help her. Two marriages come to an end. Human. With a fallen nature.
One could give many examples one has come across personally where a person with the highest set of morals was tempted and suddenly fell. They did not “take heed” lest they fall. They were human. With a fallen nature. But all of them were accountable to God. They couldn’t say, “I did the wrong thing, but that is who I am! I have a fallen nature!” That is why I often sin!” That is excusing one’s sin, not repenting of it! Repentance means saying to God, “Lord, I confess what I did was wrong in Your sight. Please forgive me and give me the grace never to do it again!” When we realise how much God hates sin, we would want to be honest in confessing it to Him, and utterly sincere in asking Him to empower us by His Spirit to have victories, rather than ongoing defeats, in that area of our lives!
Dangerous Human “Solutions’ To Complex Problems
One of the problems regularly reported on in the news these days is that of domestic violence. There are some who feel they know the reason for it and also an answer to it. The reason for violence as they see it, is “toxic masculinity” or “patriarchy”. Males are the problem! So putting down men or building up antagonism towards men or trying to exclude men, becomes their answer to the problem. In the process they build up a tendency for females they influence, to see all men as evil and never to be trusted.
However they fail to recognise that the females of the species can be violent as well. Violence is not confined to the males of the species. It is not masculinity as such but the fact that all humans both male and female have a fallen nature that is prone to sin. Any human being can begin to entertain angry, hurtful or even murderous thoughts when under great pressure by another person or persons or in challenging circumstances. How males and females respond to such situations may differ but the negative response is not just due to some external factor. Rather they have been tempted from within as James indicated about temptation in his epistle, “ Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. 14 But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. 15 Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” James 1:13-15. Anyone, at any time, can begin to follow the dictates of their fallen nature. As Jesus said, these wrong attitudes and behaviour come from within, not just from an external influence, though the words or actions of others may help to trigger off a negative or inappropriate response!
A “Walking Civil War?”
It is the testimony of most believers that there is a tension within them as they seek to live sincerely for the Lord. Paul expressed it thus, “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. 21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. 22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, 23 but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” Romans 7:19-24. One writer many decades ago described the believer as being a “walking civil war!” In the words of Paul in Gal 5:17, “For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.”
Having read those words, one could wonder if there could be any victories in life. But Paul continues on in a triumphant note, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. 8:1 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.” Romans 7:25- 8:2. Not only are believers set free from condemnation. They are also set free to live victoriously in the power of the Holy Spirit, having ongoing victories over their fallen flesh nature [that still remains within them.]
What has this got to do with Christmas? Everything! If Jesus had not come at that first Christmas there would be no forgiveness of sin, no eternal life to be enjoyed and no victory over the power of sin. But His coming at Christmas led to forgiveness and eternal life becoming available to those who trusted in His sacrifice for them on the cross. His resurrection and ascension and His sitting down at the right hand of God meant that He could send His Holy Spirit to indwell His people, to enable them to live in the power of His Spirit and to have victory over the dictates of their lower flesh nature. As new creatures in Christ, they would be able to obey the promptings of the indwelling Holy Spirit to live lives of genuine love expressed in sacrificial service to others.
The bad news is all about the inability of humans to live as they should.]
The GOOD NEWS [the Gospel] is that when Christ came at Christmas He set into motion the plan and purpose of God [through His death, resurrection and ascension] to set His people free to live and love as they should! Praise God for our Redeemer whom Paul described as the One “who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” Titus 2:14.
Good news to receive with thanksgiving! Good works to flow from hearts filled with thanksgiving to God , as Paul expressed it, “Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!” 2 Cor 9:15.
The best Christmas gift that could ever be given! CHRIST HIMSELF! To be received by faith!