Article 14 - The Creation and Fall of Man and His Incapability of Doing What is Truly Good
THE CREATION AND FALL OF MAN AND HIS INCAPABILITY OF DOING WHAT IS TRULY GOOD
We believe that God created man of dust from the ground and He made and formed him after His own image and likeness, good, righteous, and holy. His will could conform to the will of God in every respect. But, when man was in this high position, he did not appreciate it nor did he value his excellency. He gave ear to the words of the devil and wilfully subjected himself to sin and consequently to death and the curse. For he transgressed the commandment of life which he had received; by his sin he broke away from God, who was his true life; he corrupted his whole nature. By all this he made himself liable to physical and spiritual death.
Since man became wicked and perverse, corrupt in all his ways, he has lost all his excellent gifts which he had once received from God. He has nothing left but some small traces, which are sufficient to make man inexcusable. For whatever light is in us has changed into darkness, as Scripture teaches us, The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it (John 1:5); where the apostle John calls mankind darkness.
Therefore we reject all teaching contrary to this concerning the free will of man, since man is but a slave to sin (John 8:34) and no one can receive anything except what is given him from heaven (John 3:27). For who dares to boast that he of himself can do any good, when Christ says: No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him (John 6:44)? Who will glory in his own will, when he understands that the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God (Romans 8:7)? Who can speak of his knowledge, since the unspiritual man does not receive the gifts of the Spirit of God (1 Corinthians 2:14)? In short, who dares to claim anything, when he realizes that we are not competent of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but that our competence is from God (2 Corinthians 3:5)? Therefore what the apostle says must justly remain sure and firm: God is at work in you both to will and to work for His good pleasure (Philippians 2:13). For there is no understanding nor will conformable to the understanding and will of God unless Christ has brought it about; as He teaches us: Apart from Me you can do nothing (John 15:5).
WHO IS MAN?
Article 14 revolves around the creature Man. A very large proportion of the human race today is unsure of who man is, where man comes from or what man’s purpose is. In the western world, riddled as it is with the teaching of evolution, man is seen as just an accident, a product of chance – and hence without purpose or meaning. Similarly, since there is no Creator who stipulates in absolute terms what one may or may not do, there are no rights and wrongs. The result is that people can destroy themselves (drug abuse, homosexuality) and each other (abortion, euthanasia) without fear of legal repercussions.
TO BE MAN IS TO BE IMAGE OF GOD
In this context the modern Christian listens to the Word of God, and repeats after God what God tells us about the human race. Mankind (like the rest of the world) is not the chance product of evolution, but is instead the crowning work of God’s creation. After God had created all the world in six days, when the stage was prepared for the climax of His works, God fashioned a unique being, one with a unique purpose and therefore with unique gifts and abilities. God consulted within Himself, and determined to “make man in our image, according to our likeness” (Genesis 1:26). The reason for making this image-of-God was so that this creature might “have dominion over the fish of the sea” God had completed on the day before, and “over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth….” God turned His intent into action; “so God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” We are to take note here of the fact that God speaks of creating man as male and female in the context of creating man in His own image. Though God created two genders, both the man and the woman are equally created in the image of God, and both have dominion over God’s world.
TO IMAGE GOD IS TO ACT LIKE GOD
To be made in the image of God does not mean that mankind looks like God. Rather, the point of the expression ‘image of God’ means that man acts as God would act. Man is God’s representative. The earth God created cannot see God, for God is in heaven. God, however, desires that the creatures He made should be able to see something of what God is like. God the Creator governs the world He fashioned, and does so with care, goodness, love, holiness, justice, etc. The people God created in His image are to have dominion over God’s world, are to govern it with the same care, goodness, love, holiness, justice, etc, that characterizes God’s governance. As image of God people are to reflect in their conduct what God is like. One could compare this to the office of Governor General, the Queen’s representative in Commonwealth countries, whose role it is not to look like the Queen but rather to portray her care, compassion, authority, etc. This means that irrespective of gender, race, age, gifts or capacities, every person has been made to image God so that in turn other creatures –including other people and even angels (1 Corinthians 4:9) see what God is like and praise Him.
Man is to image God in the way he rules over the creatures. Man is to have dominion in the same way as God would have dominion. Not only are the creatures on earth for man, but man is also on earth for the creatures, to have dominion over them. This is clearly pointed out in Psalm 8. On close observation of God’s creation, David is struck by man’s comparative insignificance and he says to God, “When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have ordained, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you visit him?” (vss 3,4). Man is but small and insignificant in comparison to God’s created world in which he lives. But see now what God has made man to be: “For You have made him a little lower than God1, and you have crowned him with glory and honor” (vs 5). God has made man distinctly different from all creatures, and has placed him in a class near to God, just a little lower than God; 9 in a scale of 1 to 10! David goes on to laud the noble task that God has given man: “You have made him to have dominion over the works of Your hands; You have put all things under his feet, all sheep and oxen – even the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea that pass through the paths of the seas. O LORD, our Lord, how excellent is Your name in all the earth!” (vss 6-9). To give man such a high calling in His creation; what a privilege!
1 As the preferred translation reads, contrary to the NKJV.
THE EFFECTS OF THE FALL INTO SIN ON MAN’S ABILITY TO IMAGE GOD
Before the Fall into sin, people imaged God accurately. When we fell into sin (and so deserted God’s ‘side’ in favour of Satan’s; we did not become pigs or plants; we remained people, and our task to image God remained also. However, we lost our ability to image God. When we fell into sin we became dead, as we read in Ephesians 2:1, “And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins.” Dead is what we became with the fall, depraved, sinful. So Solomon, at the dedication of the completed Temple, could confess “there is no one who does not sin” (1 Kings 8:46). David admits the same in Psalm 130: “If You, LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?” (vs 3). Solomon and David echo what God Himself said when He looked down on earth in the days of Noah, before the Flood: “... And indeed it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth” (Genesis 6:12). It is clear from Scripture that sin touched everyone. See also Psalm 14.
How evil has man become? “Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5). Here the depth of man’s depravity is described in very strong language; superlative after superlative is required to expose it for what it is. Not only are man’s actions, thoughts and words totally and continually evil, but the whole intent and every individual intent behind man’s actions, thoughts and words is only and continually evil. This does not only describe man at a certain stage in the course of his life, but it characterizes fallen man from the day of his birth to the day of his death. In response to Noah’s burnt offering after the Flood, “... the LORD said in His heart, “I will never again curse the ground for man’s sake, although the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth” (Genesis 8:21). The imagination: the driving force behind man’s thoughts is evil for the whole duration of man’s life. In Romans 8:7 we read that “ ... the carnal mind is enmity against God.” Man is not just indifferent to God, but he is an enemy of God, he hates God.
Scripture certainly uses powerful language to describe the extent of man’s depravity. What’s more, what Scripture says concerning the extent of man’s depravity applies to every individual. Paul leaves no room for the notion that some people are less sinful than others; he insists that all are equally and totally depraved. Are Jews better than Greeks? Are we better than anyone else? Says Paul most emphatically in Romans 3:9, “Not at all.” Jews and Greeks are equally guilty of sin. Paul then quotes a most condemning list of Old Testament texts, which in no uncertain terms testify to the universality and depth of man’s depravity. “As it is written: “There is none righteous, no, not one; There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside; they have together become unprofitable; There is none who does good, no, not one” (Romans 3:10-12).
Nor Paul does not stop here. Not only must all people admit to the fact of being depraved, but all people must also admit the great depth of their depravity. Says Paul: all people are to admit that “their throat is an open tomb; with their tongues they have practiced deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips; whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; destruction and misery are in their ways; and the way of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Romans 3:13-18). So deeply has man fallen that all he can do is speak evil, deceive, lie, threaten, curse, hurt, kill, destroy. Man totally lost any regard for God, and his actions and thoughts reflected this.
Where does that leave me? What kind of a person can I say that I am? The ‘word picture’ Paul painted of sinful man is a picture of myself. In Paradise I was able to image God perfectly – but I fell into sin, and consequently I became sinful, depraved, dead. I had been created to image God, to reflect His characteristics. Yet all that I can do is demonstrate unrighteousness, unholiness, unfaithfulness, foolishness, hatred; the exact opposite of God’s characteristics. Instead of imaging God I now reflect what the devil is like! How deep was my fall from the noble and glorious position God created me to fill! (The fall is not partial, but from glorious top to absolute bottom.)
How evil am I? Am I able to kill my own child? Am I capable of selling my own brother to foreign slave dealers? Do I have it in me to betray my parents and hand them over to death? Would I hand over a perfect man to the authorities? We’d like to answer such questions with an emphatic ‘NO’! Yet Scripture does not permit that answer. The Lord is condemning in His evaluation of the human race: “every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5). Because people are so terribly depraved, ten sons of Jacob sold their own flesh and blood, brother Joseph, to Midianite traders (Genesis 37:28). The Jews, God’s chosen people, were honored in their day to have a perfect man in their midst, and yet with one voice they called out to crucify Him (Matthew 27:22, 23). God made man noble, but man fell as low as he could possibly fall, rendering himself capable of doing the most atrocious deeds. Says Article 14, “... he transgressed the commandment of life which he had received; ... he corrupted his whole nature. ... Since man became wicked and perverse, corrupt in all his ways, he has lost all his excellent gifts which he had once received from God.”
FALLEN MAN REDEEMED BY CHRIST
But here is displayed the glorious marvel of redemption! Though I willfully threw away the ability to image God and made myself totally depraved, God sent Christ to the Cross for me (see Figure 14.4, Point 1). In so doing, God reached down into the gutter to pull me out. The great depth into which God had to reach spells out all the more the great extent of God’s mercy and kindness in saving a wretched sinner like me.
God sent Christ: true man. As true man Christ is also the image of God. As Scripture says: “ ... Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4). Likewise, Colossians 1:15 states concerning Christ, “He is the image of the invisible God.” As perfect man, Christ images perfectly what God is like. Philip once asked Jesus, “Lord, show us the Father,” to which Jesus replied, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:8,9). Jesus, without sin, as perfect as we were in Paradise, reflected God perfectly in His words and deeds during His time on earth. Christ never lied, but rather showed God to be a God of truth. He never hated in a way different from the way God hates. He never coveted, thus reflecting God to be a God who shows care to, and supplies for, His children. Christ imaged God’s holiness and God’s righteousness; Christ imaged God totally, reflecting all of God’s characteristics perfectly (Figure 14.4, Point 2).
REDEEMED MAN REGENERATED BY THE HOLY SPIRIT
In paying for sin by His sacrifice on the cross, Christ took the elect from Satan’s side and brought them back to God’s side: justification (Figure 14.4, Point 3). However, were it not for the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, redeemed man would have remained dead, paralyzed in sin. As Lord’s Day 3.8 states, man is so corrupt and only capable of evil “unless (he is) regenerated by the Spirit of God.” God gave the Spirit to recreate man, to transform man so that he might once again be the image of God, just as God had created man to be in the beginning.
To the believers in the Church at Corinth, Paul writes that they “are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Corinthians 3:18). The recreating work of the Holy Spirit is also mentioned in Paul’s letter to the Colossians, “Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him” (3:9,10). The ‘new man’ or recreated man has been recreated according to a ‘pattern,’ a ‘mould,’ namely, the image of God. Paul mentions the concept again in his letter to the Ephesians, “ ... that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in righteousness and true holiness” (4:24). Recreated man is enabled to show something of God’s righteousness and holiness in his thoughts, words and actions. So Lord’s Day 32.86 can summarize Scripture in this way: “Christ, having redeemed us by His blood, also renews us by His Holy Spirit to be His image.”
Yet recreated man is not enabled to image God perfectly again. In the text quoted above from 2 Corinthians 3:18, Paul had spoken of “being transformed”. This means to say that the Spirit’s work of regeneration is not an instantaneous action complete in one hit, but is an ongoing process in the course of man’s life. Lord’s Day 33.88,89, in describing what conversion and the dying of the old nature means, explains it in terms of more and more hating and fleeing from sin. It is not until the final day that we shall be totally restored to the image of God.
Meanwhile, we are enabled to image God again. Thanks to the powerful renewing work of the Holy Spirit, sinners are able to produce the fruit of the Spirit: “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22,23). By exuding such qualities in the dirt and dust of daily living, we show to others something of what God is like. So, by imaging God in our daily living we in effect evangelize. That is: evangelism does not simply mean that one speaks of Christ at an opportune moment (though life does present such opportunities and one should make use of them), but rather evangelism is all about reflecting God through my attitudes, words and deeds. It means always to live Christ, reflecting in my life what He is like. The Ten Commandments serve as a guide in this respect. Since God’s characteristics are pointed up in them, a life of obedience to them will reflect God’s characteristics and will image God.
Since I am allowed to be a child of God, I am allowed also to have again the task God gave to all mankind in the beginning, namely, to have dominion over God’s world. In my work I am ruling over God’s world, and I am reflecting what God is like. Awareness of this privilege determines why I work and how I work. I am no accident, am not here by chance, just filling in time and earning a crust; I am here by God’s will, to image Him!
MAN DOES NOT HAVE A FREE WILL
DeBres repeated after God that man is “wicked and perverse, corrupt in all his ways.” Consistent with that confession, deBres also rejected “all teaching contrary to this concerning the free will of man, since man is but a slave to sin and no one can receive anything except what is given him from heaven.”
Before the Fall, Adam (and in him all mankind) did have a free will to do good or evil. He could choose to stay with God or could rebel against God and join Satan. With the Fall, Adam (and so we all) chose to rebel against God and join Satan. Was Adam after the fall (and in him the whole human race) now free to rebel against Satan and revert back to God’s side? The texts quoted above about the radical extent of our depravity dictate that the answer is No. Persons spiritually “dead in sin” (Ephesians 2:1) are not able to revert to God’s side – simply because the dead can do nothing.
Yet within the realm of Satan’s domain, sinful humans still had the freedom to choose what to do on a Friday evening or what vocation to follow or which tool to purchase. By way of analogy, consider a car on a hill without brakes. The descent is inevitable (on this point there is no free will); all one can do is steer to the left or the right (on this point the driver can exercise his will). Once Adam (and so we all) chose for Satan, Adam had lost the free will to choose for God. Given our depraved nature, we can only make choices that please Satan.
In His plan of salvation, God sent Christ to bring the elect from Satan’s side back to God’s side. Those who have been returned to God’s side, however, do not receive a free will again. Sin remains within them, and so the saved are totally dependent on God to do any good. Man can decide to sin, can even decide to obey Satan, but God in His grace holds on to His elect and brings them back to Himself. The good that God’s redeemed children do is not the result of their free will to do good, but is purely the result of God’s work in them. As a redeemed child of God it is my duty to do good and so I try, but I have only the Lord to thank, and not myself, for what He enables me to do in service to Him. Paul puts it this way, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12,13).
Points for Discussion:
- What is meant by the phrase “image of God”? What does it not mean?
- What does Evolution say about the identity and task of man? What effect follows for practices as abortion and euthanasia?
- Explain the effects of the fall into sin on the notion of “image of God”.
- Are you able to sell your brother to a slave dealer? (See Genesis 37:28). Explain why you answer as you do.
- How does the renewing work of the Holy Spirit affect the notion of “image of God”? At your work today, did you observe others reflecting something of what God is like? Do you think others saw from you something of what God is like? What specific sort of conduct would image God to your observers?
- Paul relates in Ephesians 4:25-5:7 what a regenerated person looks like. How much place does the conduct Paul discourages in these verses have in your life? In your family’s life? In your church’s life? What can you do to encourage in yourself, your family, your church a manner of living that reflects the fruit of the Spirit described in these verses?
- Discuss what a free will is. Does a person on Satan’s side have a free will? Does one regenerated by the Holy Spirit have a free will?