OceanSide church of Christ

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Ephesians 2:3 - Sinful Nature

Victor M. Eskew


            There are several religious groups that teach that man has an evil, sinful nature.  They say that it has resided in man since he was born.  Those who advocate this have accepted Calvin’s doctrine of “Total Hereditary Depravity.”  Adam’s sin, we are told, corrupted his nature.  That corrupt nature has been passed on to all men who have followed Adam.  At birth, one enters into this world with a sinful nature.  He is totally depraved, inside and out.

            One of the passages used to “prove” this doctrine is Ephesians 2:3.  In this verse, Paul is writing to Gentile Christians.  He reminds them of what their life was like prior to becoming children of God.  “Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.”  Those who advocate total depravity point to the words:  “…and were by nature the children of wrath…”  By nature, they say, we are children of wrath.  By nature, they assert, we are evil and wicked

The key to understanding this phrase is found within the definition of the word “nature.”  Thayer reveals that “nature” means “a mode of feeling or acting which by long habit has become nature.”  The Gentiles were not born with a sinful nature.  As a people, they had engaged in the lusts of the flesh so long, that it became their nature to do evil (See Romans 1:18-32).  By long standing habit, they were the children of wrath.

            We see this word used again in I Corinthians 11:14.  Paul writes:  “Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him?”  If this simply means what comes naturally, Paul would not make sense.  Natural events would cause a man to have long hair.  How, then, does “nature itself teach” that long hair is a shame to a man?  When the word is defined as “long standing habit,” it is easily understood.  In first century society, men wore their hair short.  This had been the practice for many, many years.  If a man failed to cut his hair, his long hair was a shame to him.  Paul’s readers easily understood this long standing habit and could make the application to Paul’s words in I Corinthians.

            The concepts of total depravity and sinful nature are man-made doctrines.  The Bible teaches that man is composed of both a body and a spirit.  Our bodies come from the union of our parents.  Our spirit comes from God.  Zechariah 12:1 states that God “formeth the spirit of man within him.”  Ecclesiastes 12:7 and Hebrews 12:9 also teach that God is responsible for man’s spirit.  Can anyone imagine that God, a pure and holy Being, would place an evil, corrupt, fallen spirit within man at birth?  Surely not!  Babies are born innocent, knowing neither good nor evil (Deut. 1:39).  Yes, God make “man upright; but they have sought out many inventions” (Eccl. 7:29).  As man grows, he develops the ability to distinguish between good and evil.  With that knowledge, he makes a conscious decision to sin.  When that happens, that individual becomes guilty before God (Ezek. 18:20; Rom. 6:23).  That individual stands in need of the salvation found in the gospel of Christ (Rom. 1:16-17).  Babies are no such condition before God.  Jesus said of small children:  “…for of such is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 19:14).