Essential Christian Beliefs

By Stephen Solomon White

Chapter 2


Man's First Estate

(1) The Creation of Man. We turn to the book of Genesis to find out about man's first estate. "And God said, Let us make man in our own image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him: male and female created he them" (Genesis 1:26, 27). "And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul" (Genesis 2:7). These are the most significant words ever penned about man. They make God the source of man, and the method which He used was that of creation. They imply that man came into being; that is, he has not been the effect of God's activity from all eternity. These verses in Genesis also carry with them the thought of the unity of the human race. All peoples have a common ancestry. God created Adam and Eve and then commanded them to "Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth" (Genesis 1:28).

When was man created? This cannot be answered exactly. One chronological scheme would place man's beginning about four thousand years before the coming of Christ. Another view would fix it as more than five thousand years before Christ. We cannot be absolutely sure as to either of these claims. One reason this is the case is the fact that there is uncertainty as to just how the Bible reckons genealogies. For instance, a person may be spoken of as a son of another person when he is in reality a grandson or even a great-grandson. It was a custom in those times to speak of descendants as sons, whether they were far-off or near-at-hand in kinship. Thus, while we cannot solve this problem exactly, we are convinced that it is not necessary to assume an exceedingly long period of time since the creation of man. Some scientists do this, as they hold, in order to account for certain population and linguistic developments. This need not be done, for six to eight thousand years or even less would provide a sufficient number of years for these developments.

(2) The image of God. Another striking fact about man's creation is that he was made in the image of God. This was not the case with anything else. Man stands in a peculiar relation to God, he bears a definite likeness to his maker. Of what does this image consist? Man is not like God in that he has a body. God has no body. He is pure spirit. Someone has well said that whatever is considered highest in man will always be looked upon as the image of God in man. If one looks upon intelligence as the highest in man, he will think of that as the image of God. If he thinks that free-will stands in this place, he will make it the image of God. Undoubtedly this image of God in man does consist to some extent in both of these characteristics -- his superior intelligence and his free-will. Along with these features of human personality, we must also mention man's holiness. He was created holy, and this attribute was a part of the image of God in him. To say that man was created in the image of God is just another way of declaring that he is more than an animal. Man does partake of some physical and psychical characteristics which are similar to those which animals possess. But he who puts him in the same class with animals because of this ignores that which is most important in man. The qualities of personality which differentiated man from all of the rest of God's creation -- his superior intelligence, his free-will, and his holiness -- were far more significant than the likeness which he bore to any other part of God's creation. To state the same truth in still another way is to say that God, who is a person, created man a person like Himself. A person has been defined as a creature that is capable of "initiative, purposive action, and ethical ideals." [7] Like God, man is capable of acting consciously toward an end, and is aware of the fact that there is a right and wrong between which he can and must choose. In his first estate, man had the closest of fellowship with God. As we have already seen, he was a holy person and, therefore, there was nothing to separate him from a holy God. He walked and talked with God, and there was no fear before sin came. Truly it was fellowship divine, and there was nothing within or without to disturb, as long as Adam and Eve were in the Garden of Eden. This was and is the normal life for a being who was made by a holy God and for companionship with this God.

(3) The creation of the body. The human body, like the human soul or personality, was a creation of God. Genesis 2:7 declares that the Lord formed man out of the dust of the earth. Thus God gave to man a physical form. As the handiwork of God, the human body is an intricate and marvelous mechanism. The Psalmist praises God for the fact that he is fearfully and wonderfully made. This is true with reference to the human body as well as to the soul. Man's body is a system of interrelated parts, parts which are almost inconceivably numerous and interdependent. There are mechanical, chemical, and nerve interconnections which are just beginning to be explored by physiologists and psychologists. One authority writes thus of the chemical co-ordinations: "The chemistry of the human body is just beginning to be understood in all of its enormous complexity. Latter-day discoveries of the importance to life of the different vitamins, of the maintenance of proper alkaline balance, of the necessity of supplying minute amounts of calcium, iodine, and so on, when certain glandular organs are defective -- these and many other examples of insight are giving us some realization of how astonishingly subtle are the chemical interrelations of the milieu interne. The human being is an organism balanced chemically upon a knife edge. Let this equilibrium be ever so slightly disturbed, and the result may be fatal. Should he escape death, he may bear the marks of a misshapen skeleton, he may be an idiot charge upon the community, or he may be a permanent hospital patient with fits of depression giving away to maniac excitement and over-activity." [8] Truly God has wrought well in His creation of the human body.

(4) The body as the home of the soul or inner man. The body was not created for its own sake, it was created to become the home of the soul. As the home of the soul, it was to be used by the soul, that is, become the soul's instrument. Just as the musician plays the piano or violin or harp, so the soul makes music upon the body, the instrument of the soul. This subordinate position of the body was at least suggested by Paul when he declared that he kept his body under. Jesus also clearly subscribed to this truth when He commanded us to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. If we would do this, food and raiment and shelter for the body would be provided.

It is through the body that man has dealings with the physical universe into which he has been thrust and of which he has been made. This physical universe includes not only things but also the bodies of animals and of persons. The senses of sight and hearing, as well as the other senses, are the physical means whereby we pass from ourselves to the physical world about us and vice versa. This important role of the body is well described by Doctor Curtis: "Whatever the body may be in its final entity, we now have to do with it merely as the fixed instrument of man's objective life. Without the body man would be a person; but without the body man could not be a social person. The philosophical significance of the body is that it is the machinery of personal expression. By means of this body a person breaks isolation, and goes out, and gets a community.

"Further, man's body is not only social, but also racial in its significance. The human body is the racial nexus. It connects the individual human person with his race. A man is not granted what I may call a generic body -- a body to enable him to have social intercourse with any person and every person who may live somewhere in the outer spaces of the universe of God. No, he is granted the body of a man, a special body which nicely and precisely enables him to get at men." [9]

(5) The physical universe. Like the body, the physical universe -- with which the body links man -- was created by God. This creation of the physical universe is outlined in the first chapter of Genesis, beginning with the first verse. This signifies that the physical universe did not just happen. Neither did it create itself nor was it brought into existence by some impersonal force or power. God made it! The body is the servant of the soul, and the physical universe is to be dominated by man. God placed man over all of His other creation (as that creation is described in the first and second chapters of Genesis) and called on man to have dominion (Genesis 1:28). Man's great battle has been in connection with his ever increasing conquest of nature. He is gradually uncovering nature's microscopic and telescopic features and is, thereby, enabling himself either to control or better adjust himself to it.

(6) Divine providence. The Bible not only teaches that God is the creator of man and the physical universe, but it also teaches that He sustains them. They depend upon Him for their continued existence as well as their beginning. Daniel charged the sinful king thus: "And the God in whose hand thy breath is and whose are all thy ways hast thou not glorified" (Daniel 5:23). Paul, in his sermon on Mars' Hill, affirms that we are the offspring of God. However, he does not stop with this. He insists that we live and move and have our being in God (Acts 17:22-31). Divine providence grows out of or is based upon this truth as to divine sustenance. God not only has a general plan which He is working out, but He also "takes notice of everything, and is strictly indifferent to no item of reality."

Man's Fall

The account of the fall is given in the third chapter of Genesis. Man ate the forbidden fruit and thus failed himself and God. It is not necessary to go into details; the chief fact to keep in mind is that man did not meet the test as he should. The test was inevitable, since man was a free moral agent. Sooner or later every creature that possesses the power of free choice must make a decision for himself as to right and wrong. Please bear in mind the fact that the decision must be made by the individual himself. Adam and Eve attempted to shift the responsibility for their sin, but they did not succeed. In the last analysis, no person or circumstance outside of the individual is ever to blame for the individual's sin.

Adam was created with a holy nature, as we have indicated earlier in this chapter. A holy nature can be bestowed. However, a holy character can only be achieved. The holiness with which God had endowed Adam, a moral and spiritual possession, could not become his, in the fullest sense, until he chose it Holiness was God's greatest gift to man. In making this gift, God bestowed upon man the very heart of His own personality. Instead of thanking God for it and then making it his own by the choice of righteousness, man refused to keep it. By breaking God's one commandment, man said to God in effect: "No, thank you, I do not want holiness, this something which constitutes the very center of your personality, the best that you have." What a tragic decision!

How can a holy person sin? This question is not easy to answer, but there are some truths which will throw light upon it. There are only two personal capacities which are essential to the possibility of sin. These are as follows: freedom in the power of choice, and natural appetites which are in themselves perfectly legitimate. This is clearly implied in James' description of the development of sin -- "But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin when it is finished bringeth forth death" (James 1:14,15). Every man is tempted when he is drawn away of his own lust or strong desire. James describes temptation which results in sin, without any mention of the devil or carnality.

Adam and Eve were holy and yet they sinned. Of course the devil was there and aggravated the situation, but they could have sinned even without his presence and subtle deceptions. The presence of carnality in the heart and of the devil in the environment makes it more difficult to overcome temptation; but there can be temptation and sin without the presence of either of them. The devil was eternally bad, or else he fell from a state of holiness. Both Scripture and reason seem to substantiate the latter theory. If this be the case, he sinned without the presence of either carnality within or the devil without. The devil, in his original state, had natural appetites which in themselves were legitimate, but he chose to satisfy one of them illegitimately and sinned. This is exactly what Adam and Eve did, except that they had an external factor of evil in the person of the devil. The pressure which the devil brought upon them only intensified the situation and made it easier for them to sin, that is, to satisfy their appetite illegitimately.

Man as a free moral agent was created with limitless capacities for weal or woe. He could choose the right and ascend to heaven, or choose the wrong and descend to hell. Heaven high or hell low were the alternatives which he confronted. When one decides for holiness, he at the same time decides for its consequences, and the same is true as to sin. Adam and Eve chose sin and woe, and the human race today is in a woeful condition. We are reaping what we as a race sowed; and the individual will reap what he as an individual sows -- either of heaven or of hell.

Man's Present State

(1) Man is born in sin. It is important for us to recognize the fact that man is a fallen being. An inadequate view of sin results in an inadequate view of the moral law, the person of Christ, and the fundamental doctrines of salvation. Therefore, let us remember that man has lost the original state of holiness which he possessed. The image of God in him has been seriously marred by sin. That this is true, that is, that there is something radically wrong with the human family, no one who lives today and thinks at all can deny.

Not only does experience confirm the fact that man is a fallen being, but the Bible clearly teaches it. "The Lord looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, and seek God. They are all gone aside, they are altogether become filthy: there is none that doeth good, no, not one" (Psalm 14:2,3). This passage from the Old Testament certainly teaches that all men are sinners. Let us place beside it the outstanding scripture on this subject from the New Testament. "Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned: (For until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless, death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam's transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come. . . .)" (Romans 5:12-14. "For that all have sinned;" this is an ever-recurring note in the New Testament.

Man is born in sin. Sin is universal. Both experience and the Bible witness to this truth. The Bible also connects this condition of man with Adam's sin. The passage quoted above from Romans states this. "Wherefore, as by one man sin entered the world." When Adam fell, man became a sinner by nature. This sinful state is called by various names, such as, inherited, inbred, or original sin, or total depravity. This racial bent to sin must be differentiated from acts of sin which arise in connection with the individual's own choices.

(2) The nature of the carnal mind or inherited sin explained. What is this inherited sin? In 1937, Dr. H. P. Sloan, who was then Editor of the New York Christian Advocate, had this to say about it in answering a question on perfect love: "Wesley regarded depravity as an active principle, just as he did also righteousness; only the two were utterly opposite. The analogy would be that of health, and, as opposed to it, any one of the diseases which are due to micro-organisms.

"Curtis recognized but one active principle, a God inspired and dominated righteousness. Sin was for him not an active principle, but a negation -- the absence of righteousness. The analogy is heat and cold, where cold is just the absence of heat." [10] (Olin Alfred Curtis was Professor of Systematic Theology, at Drew Theological Seminary, during the time that Doctor Sloan was a pupil there.) Here Doctor Sloan sets forth Wesley's view of depravity as over against that of Curtis. (Doctor Sloan agrees with Curtis, as he states elsewhere in the article from which I have quoted.) The modern Holiness Movement and the Church of the Nazarene follow Wesley rather than Curtis. Depravity is more than a negative principle for us, a mere lack. It is a positive principle, a positive badness. On the other hand, the Church of the Nazarene does not go to the other extreme from Curtis' view and make depravity an entity or personality, an evil person that lives in the heart of the unsanctified. Depravity or original sin is more than a negative principle and less than an entity or personality.

A word must be added as to the phrase "total depravity." The phrase is all right if properly understood. In so far as it emphasizes the terrible character of the principle of sin within man, it does not miss the mark. Depravity is devilish or satanic in nature. It is all bad and all who have it have within that which is hellish. However, if it means that those who have it are entirely bad, it is misleading. Sometimes people take you to mean just this when you say that man is totally depraved. But in truth no one has reached this state except the man who has crossed the deadline. He is all bad. There is nothing left in him to which God can appeal. On the other hand, the man who is born in sin still has a sense of right and wrong, still has a capacity for God, and on occasion can do that which is in itself good. The image of God in him has been marred, but not completely destroyed. Nevertheless, we may continue to describe fallen man as totally depraved if we mean by such a phrase that every part of his nature has felt the effects of sin or that he is in such a condition that he cannot save himself. He is helplessly but not hopelessly lost. Only the man who has crossed the deadline is both helplessly and hopelessly lost; and this is not the natural state of any man.

(3) Body is not sinful. Another point at which the effects of sin are carried too far is in connection with the body. There are those within the ranks of the Christian Church who hold that the body is sinful in itself. On this ground, then, they claim that we cannot be sanctified or freed from sin until death, that is, until we are loosed from this sinful body. This view harks back to Plato, the great Greek thinker. Matter for him was set over against idea or form; and the latter was good, while the former was evil. Matter resisted or stood in opposition to the good. This teaching is in accord with Plato's philosophy, but does it harmonize with Paul's theology? There are many authorities on Pauline theology who answer this question in the negative. Stevens and Bruce fully discuss Paul's theology as to the flesh. The Greek word which is translated flesh is used in more than one sense by Paul, according to them, but it never carries with it the thought that the flesh as mere matter is inherently evil (Romans 7 and 8). Another very recent authority makes this significant statement: "The Bible knows nothing of a good mind and an evil body," the Greek view of man. [11] The body of a man, like his inner self or soul or personality, was created good; and when he fell he did so because he chose as he should not have. His fall was not due to a sinful body, and it did not result in a body which is inherently evil.

There are other arguments for the fact that the body is not in itself evil. Paul does not hesitate to speak of the body as the temple of the Holy Spirit (I Corinthians 6:19). How could it ever be the temple of the Holy Spirit if it is by nature sinful? It surely could not be. Once we get the man who lives in the body cleansed from all sin, the Holy Spirit will come in in all of His fullness and make the body where the man dwells His abiding place. Further, Christ came in the flesh. He had a body. How could the holy Christ have inhabited an unholy body? "There can be no doubt that Paul held that Christ possessed a real human body and that He was sinless." [12]

The Bible teaching is substantiated by reason. The human body is nothing more than a complicated form of matter, and mere matter could not in itself be sinful. A chair could not sin or be sinful. It might be an instrument used by a sinner, but it could not be a sinner. The same is true of a finger or a foot -- any part or all of the human body together (Romans 6:13).

Nevertheless, just as surely as we deny the assertion that the body is sinful in itself, just so surely do we insist that the body has been marred by sin. Sin has left its mark on the human body. Infirmity and disease beset us on every hand. Even those who are sanctified make mistakes because their thinking has to function through a brain which has upon it the scars of sin.

The physical universe, like the body, bears the marks of sin. Nature, as has been said, is a "limping king." Man's sin has left its blight upon the physical universe, as well as upon his body.

Man is by nature sinful, he lives in a body which has been broken down by sin; and the physical universe which surrounds him and of which he is a part because of his body, is shot through and through with the effects of sin. It is no wonder, then, that the society which he is striving to build is far from ideal.

(4) The general problems of sin and suffering. The next general division of this book will be "Christ." There we shall study the person and work of Christ. We shall learn about God's wonderful plan for lifting man out of the terrible predicament into which he brought himself through sin. Before proceeding to this section, we shall, however, briefly discuss the general problem of sin and suffering. In spite of God's provision through Christ, there is and will continue to be much sin and suffering, both here and hereafter. Why, then, did God create man? How may we, in the light of man's sin and its consequences, justify the ways of God to man?

Sin is often called by the theologian, "moral evil," and suffering "natural evil." It is rather easy to believe that God did not will sin. He, as a holy being, could not be the creator of sin. On the other hand, suffering is often looked upon as a natural part of life. The very fact that it is called natural evil suggests this. Nevertheless, God is no more responsible for suffering than He is for sin, in the final and ultimate sense. Sin is the result of the will of other moral beings than God; and suffering is the direct or indirect consequence of sin. If this world were free from sin, there would be no suffering.

While we are sure that God did not will sin and suffering, we are just as sure that He did will the possibility of sin and thereby the possibility of suffering. When God created man a free moral agent He created the possibility of sin. A free moral agent always has before him the possibility of choosing wrong. To put it in another way, God had to will the possibility of sin and suffering if He willed the possibility of righteousness and happiness. We must remember that there are some things that God cannot do. He cannot do the contradictory. He cannot create a man free and yet not free at the same time. He had to will the possibility of a Judas if He willed the possibility of a Paul. God faced the same situation that a parent would face if he were told that he would have to choose between having two sons -- one of whom would be a modern Nero and the other a modern Paul -- or no son. God either had to create both the possibility of good and bad men, or else He had to create no man. God chose the former alternative.

God created the possibility of sin and knew when He did it that man would make it a reality. Nevertheless, He will somehow overrule the sin which He made possible. He will be able through His infinite wisdom and power to make the end achieved more glorious as a whole than it would have been if sin had not entered the universe. This will not be attained because of sin, but in spite of it. We cannot adequately explain this fact; but we can give some hints as to how it may be understood. God is supremely interested in a universe which is personal and moral. In such a universe, goodness that is chosen is far superior to goodness that is mechanical (if there can be such goodness) or goodness that is bestowed. And one good man, one man who has chosen to be like God, will develop into a being of much greater worth than one who has chosen against God and started on the road toward degeneration and unmanliness. The final outcome will be a society of holy persons who will control the universe. Those who have failed to co-operate with God in this great undertaking will not be annihilated but through their own choices will have become ineffective in the universe as a whole. What will have been achieved will be infinitely superior to a universe without any free finite persons.

What about suffering, which is, as we have already indicated, always the direct or the indirect result of sin? This much at least can be said about it -- it can always be made a blessing if we take the right attitude toward it. Every disaster can be made to praise God if men will co-operate. "All things work together for good to them that love God, to them that are the called according to his purpose" (Roman 8:28). There must be faith. When it happens, we cannot always see how a specific instance of suffering is to be for our good. However, if we take the proper attitude toward it and wait, we shall often be able to understand here. But if we do not come to understand here, we shall see the light in the world which is to come. "Some day we'll understand." Here is the place where we must choose between comfort and character. Character, in a world where there is sin, can be developed only through choices and suffering. This is just another way 'of saying that holiness is more important than happiness. In an ideal world, they would be exactly proportional to each other, but not so in the sort of world in which we live -- a world where there is sin or what has been crippled by sin.


7 Richardson, G. W., Creative Controversies in Christianity, Fleming Revell Company, 1938, p.110.

8 Dashiell, J. F., Fundamentals of General Psychology, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1937. Used by permission.

9 Curtis, O. A., The Christian Faith, Eaton and Mains, 1905, p.139. Used by permission of  Abingdon-Cokesbury Press.

10 Sloan H. P., The Christian Advocate, N.Y., Vol. 112, No. 6, p. 17. Used by permission.

11 Niebuhr, Reinhold, The Nature and Destiny of Man, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1941, Vol. I, p.7. Used by permission.

12 Stevens, G. B., The Theology of the New Testament, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1937, p.340. Used by permission.