Christianity and Human Nature

We began a home study of Hebrews this week.  Eight friends showed up to join in.  One, Don, is a master at asking the unanswerable question.  This week it was, “Do you see any improvement in human nature as a result of being Christian?”  So, how would you respond?  I’ll tell you what I said. “No.”
If by human nature we mean that we have the innate capacity to grow toward holy perfection and, by virtue of being Christian, have made some progress in the last two thousand years, then I don’t think so.  I cannot see that our nature, our essence so to speak, has changed at all.  In our nature as individual members of the species we are just as good and evil as we ever have been, and I believe there is plenty of each.  But in Christ we have been freed from enslavement to our nature and are given the opportunity to begin experiencing something of the nature of the perfection of Christ that has been poured upon us.  It probably could be poured into us but I think we are reluctant to let that happen, and so we restrict the pouring to a few drips at a time, at least that’s been my own experience.
If anything about our nature has experienced any change it is only because it has been transformed, at least in some small part, by Christ’s nature that is in us.
I am very much aware of those who claim to have been slain by the Holy Spirit, baptized into the Spirit, in lives totally transformed by Christ, but I have seen little evidence of that in the everyday lives of those whom I know personally.  Therefore, I’m with James and more than a bit suspicious.  
On the other hand I do think that society has made significant moral strides, and that Christian faith and doctrine has had a lot to do with that.  Moreover, two thousand years of Christian thinkers who have deeply probed the lessons of scripture have guided many followers of Jesus toward lives that are more consistent with his teachings. Yet it remains that fulfillment of holy perfection is not something that we can achieve in our personal lives or social history.
So what then is the role of the Christian in society?  It seems to me that role is to be agents of God’s grace in a world that needs that grace and truly does benefit from it.  I’d be interested to read what you have to say.
By the way, knowing Don, I suspect that his next question will be, “Do you have to be a Christian to receive the grace of God poured upon you or in you?”  My answer would be no, but it’s still the grace of God in Christ and through Christ that is at work.

24 thoughts on “Christianity and Human Nature”

  1. Regarding the transformation of our essential nature,the scriptures point to the Holy Spirit as the agent but man is enjoined to co-operate.If there be no transformation,the truth of 'born again' would be a mere joke.The parable of way-side people partaking of a feast shows that a man who was not properly dressed was cast out into darkness.Using the support of the Holy Spirit, we must strive to change our nature.If a person claims to have had anointment but remains as bad as ever, then he is at fault, not God.The autonomy Eve claimed is as yet annulled.We cannot wait for God to break down resistance and transform us against our willingness.

  2. Dear M.,Perhaps you would be willing to explain what you believe is meant by born again and how you interpret the parable of the ill clad wedding feast guest. As for striving to change our nature, is it our nature we strive to change or our behavior? As for Eve's autonomy, please explain. It appears to me that you are struggling with the issue of the limits of human freedom so maybe you would like to say more about that.CP

  3. If I may, I would suggest that the world in relation to its total population and the part that calls itself Christian is possibly less Christian than it was 100 years ago.Im not sure that there have been many improvements at all in post modern western civilization when we speak of closeness to God.Steve

  4. Woodcutter,I've never been all that convinced that Christianity in the past was anything more than superficial, but perhaps i'm wrong about that. As for closeness to God, I agree. But society, as a whole, has made strides in following where Jesus has led a little bit more. We no longer tolerate slavery. We no longer believe it's OK to acquire land by conquest. We recognize the immorality of ethnic cleansing, prejudices of all kinds, and issues of economic and social justice even if we are slow to do anything about them. It's slow progress, but progress just the same. In other words, I can see our behavior changing even if I cannot see change in our human nature in and of itself. I guess that makes me a pessimistic optimist, or maybe the other way round.CP

  5. Thanks for the response! I do not think that pointing out a reality is being pessimistic. I live in Canada as you may have figured out, up here we are a bit more socialist in nature and having worked with the poor I cannot say that handing out welfare checks is constructive. In the old days if someone was in need he would he would be given a task to do to earn money (or more likely food), if a house burned to the ground the community would rise up to assist. I do not see these types of activities happening so much in this suburban age.

  6. Woodcutter,Having spent some vacation time in NS I have certain image into which the ukelele does not fit. But I checked your site and love your playing.CP

  7. The sentence,\”The autonomy Eve claimed is as yet annulled\”should read,\”The autonomy Eve claimed is not yet annulled.\”I regret the error.Eve ,by transgressing,rejected the governance of God.She opted for the exercise of freewill.Since that moment,humanity has had to bear responsibility for its choices and actions.This is what I mean to be autonomy.If it were not so, the feast parable in Matthews22:11-13 need not show the host as rebuking the ill-clad guest.The guest should bear responsibility for negligence.Therefore, character change is, in part,the fruit of our own effort.At least, we must earnestly desire to change.The Spirit of God would assist the process.To be 'born again'means to me to receive a different nature by the power of the Holy Spirit.Without this,behaviour cannot show genuine holiness.Nature remaining vile, 'holy' behaviour would be hypocrisy.(I am willing to learn.)

  8. Very interesting conversation starter. I would say that I fit more into your optimistic pessimist description. I am optimistic that the world will be moved, though in a lurching, resistant way, to the kingdom vision of the Teacher, I don't think it will be the Christian Church as we know it today that will aid in it's getting there.I do think the teachings of the Rabbi Joshua of Nazareth are the focal point of the change, but if they are examined only through the lens of the philosophies of past theologians and their cultural histories left unexamined, then we are in danger of only progressing as far their historical point. I would agree with my whole heart that the role of a Christian is to be the living Grace of God in this world, knowing that we are free from the stain of the world around us, meaning we can work as God's Grace to all without fear of condemnation or of maintaining purity laws, it is only in our judgment of others that we will be judged, but that is for another conversation, perhaps.As to Don's presupposed question, Do you have to be a Christian? How arrogant to think the Holy Spirit of God is owned by any particular group. The machinations of man will not stop God's word from being made flesh and being in this world. If those of us who call ourselves followers of the Teacher will not do the work, well God will call to another outside of the tent, just as it has always been.

  9. B,Call to another outside the tent. I like that. There are a couple of prophets who were inside the tent, but they were not well tolerated by the others in there with them. Most everyone else from one end to the other was from outside the tent. So why do we have so much trouble with that?CP

  10. \”So why do we have so much trouble with that?\”It is easier to be like a god than to be a servant of God in our mortal life? Being right is easier than being open? being universal is easier than being catholic? or Protecting what we know is easier than faith in what is unknowable? I don't know but I bet fear, power and control have a lot to do with it.

  11. Dear Woodcutter, we can progress beyond the historical point which decided self-governance.Neither Time nor the productiviy of man froze at that moment.The only consequence was that we became responsible for actions.We had to eschew evil and do good because we had gained Knowledge of good and evil.Innocence had departed.By refusing to help the Spirit regenerate our nature,we crusify the Christ again.

  12. This is fun…I don't even know where to begin.I feel that the reality of human nature is a simple fact. Human nature is changed thru illumination of wisdom and transferred person to person. I'd like to know what this panel believes GRACE really looks like in the day to day life. As I've come to live it out toward self and others it really is acceptance with love – and it is SIMPLE. Seeing yourself in others and allowing them to see you in them. We are all the same. And furthermore there is a simple thread of this love in every single exposition of Jesus' message. \”Love one another as I have loved you and they'll know you are mine. or Love your neighbor as you love yourself.\” As for these things I don't see a great deal of day to day loving like this, but I recognize it must begin with me – so that's where I start the day.Also, I recently read that third world countries are bumfuzzled by the \”low self esteem\”. The key piece to loving your neighbor – if you love yourself RIGHTLY, you'll be more emphatic to loving others in this same way. In my personal work and work with women I find that this is the BREAKING DOWN of the fundamental transfer of grace. Quite simply I believe we don't give it to others because we don't give it to ourselves.Upon entering the place I am in now – as opposed to a very hurt woman when first attending church that the church is missing this key, very fundamental piece of SELF. That we are in fact creations of the creator and to be treasured and adored – in self nurturing way first and out of that breeds the grace and love to others.I had this little twinge come up for me when I read the comment about \”EVE\”. It makes me really, really sad when we put the whole deal on her – The Mother of All. There was another involved. Let's not forget they were a pair. Adam and Eve and equally yoked to the situation and consequence. Personally I think it is situations such as this that provide us the way to grace – debate and dialogue if you will. Sharing our REAL thoughts/feelings and allowing them to expand among ourselves. Thanks CP for your blog and this option.I am curious on your thoughts – examples of what grace really looks like person to person…I know Jesus' example was PHENOMINAL – He freed the man from \”Legions\” – How much value he placed on this man to do this…AMAZING, and then The Samaritan Woman at the well – understanding the social aspects of how RADICAL this was just gives me chills.

  13. Hi Jennifer,First a comment about Eve. There was a strand of early Christian theology that sought to locate the origin of human sin, and, in an age dominated by Greek thinking where women were a little suspect anyway, they decided that Eve was the culprit. Some elements of that continue to this day in a few literalist/fundamentalist traditions. As for grace, in one sense it is the capacity of God to shower us with blessings in spite of our sin, and to both judge and forgive our sin at the same time. Grace cannot be earned but only received, and God seems to be quite extravagant with it.At least that is my take on it, and I confess to being heavily influenced by Niebuhr and Nouwen on this subject.CP

  14. Well said CP, I was sitting here wondering how to respond to Jennifer's question.. for now I will say \”you said it\”. I might add that most men are weak when it comes to the charms of the fairer sex.

  15. How do you see God using man in day to day life as ambassadors of His extravagant grace? Also, How do you see man stifling this? I like to ask questions…I hope you don't mind!

  16. Yikes Jen! You're as bad as my friend Don. The problem that I run into is that so many Christians have come to think of being agents of God's blessings in day to day life has something to do with beating one about the head and shoulders with a bible and demanding to know if they are saved.Let's start with this; Jesus said that the first commandment was to love God with all our being, and that the second one was like it, to love our neighbors as ourselves. On these two, he said, hangs everything else. So how to do that?Jesus gave us a clue when he gave a new commandment that we should love one another as he has loved us. Not much of a clue is it? However, at least in liturgical churches, we spend six months every year probing scripture for gospel stories that help us understand what it was that Jesus said and did that demonstrates how he loved others. We are, in a sense, participating with the disciples sitting at Jesus feet learning from him what it is we will need to do when we are on our own, except that Jesus said we would never be entirely on our own. This year we will be looking into Luke more than any other gospel, and our six month probing will start after Pentecost and not end until Advent.Having said that, I think that Henri Nouwen's book \”Bread for the Journey\” is the best practical guide I have found.PS In my years of ministry I have had some people proclaim that I have been the very symbol of God's presence in their lives, and others who have let it be known that I am an insensitive twit who hasn't got a clue about God, Jesus or grace. That's life.

  17. You are on Year C then? I have a The Book of Common Prayer and since deciding to observe Lent for the first time, I've been wondering which year everyone is on…now I know. It seems so fundamentally simple – Love one another as I have loved you.Love your neighbor as you love yourself.Why do you feel we don't do this? Why don't we do these fundamental things? I believe Jesus even told the pharisee that asked Him about what are the most important commandments and Jesus said if you do these 2 things YOU WILL LIVE. What do you think he meant by YOU WILL LIVE? I'll check out this book from the library.Thank you.

  18. Remember Jennifer there are many types of love. Unfortunately in the English of the post modern world we have to use other words to describe it correctly. In todays world it is all to often associated with a feeling. True love or real love does not need a mushy feeling to be present. So loving our neighbors can take on many forms.. including simply just thinking of them in your prayers, of course actions are also part of this. Having said all of this it still may be hard to witness this in action. And… the question might be asked \”who are our neighbors?\” In this highly mobile society it is sometimes hard to know this aside from the obvious. In older times it was more obvious.Your blogging neighbor Steve.

  19. For me, I'm not going to research whether the word love is agape or philo in these passages…I know there is pertinence to this, but for the sake of my questions, I'm really talking about delivering ourselves to the real work of LOVE. There is a scriptural directive given by Jesus in Luke 10:25-37 that gives a definition of \”neighbor\” in parable form. I've realized that I NEED to do what I can do. Sometimes that means all I can do is pray, or give a small donation, or cook a meal, but there is always SOMETHING I can do. The real key to it for me is being available.For myself there is a feeling involved, a compassionate awareness – that is what studying Jesus has been teaching me lately, and this compassionate awareness creates within itself ACTION…I simply just cannot sit on it, I just cannot.

  20. Jennifer,I've been thinking about your question about grace. A friend has written an excellent, not yet published, commentary on Luke's story of the woman who was a sinner, the pharisee and Jesus. I think it is one of the best expositions on grace that I have read. Wish I could send it to you but it has to wait for publication. In essence, grace was exhibited, and thus described, when Jesus received the intimacy of her touch while recognizing her sins in an act of reconciling love. That was grace epitomized. At the same time, Jesus invited the pharisee to participate with him as an agent of grace, but the pharisee was unable to understand, given his deeply rooted beliefs about sin, justice and social mores.CP

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