What Do Adventists Believe About the Sinful Nature of Humanity?
Seventh-day Adventists believe that humanity was created perfect and that, at our very core, we crave this kind of perfection and unity with God. But unfortunately, the Bible teaches that we chose to be wise in our own eyes and disobey God, which led to a natural tendency to be sinful, evil, and selfish.
But beyond this, Adventists also believe that God has provided a way to restore us to the perfection we were created for. A way through which we can experience victory over sinful tendencies in this life and be forever free from sin in the future.
This post will go over what the Bible teaches about:
- The corrupt nature of humanity
- How human nature became sinful
- The effects of sin
- Whether we can improve ourselves
- The hope God offers us
- How to overcome sin today
Adventists have summarized this biblical teaching on their website as follows:
“Man and woman were made in the image of God with individuality, the power and freedom to think and to do. Though created free beings, each is an indivisible unity of body, mind, and spirit, dependent upon God for life and breath and all else.
When our first parents disobeyed God, they denied their dependence upon Him and fell from their high position. The image of God in them was marred and they became subject to death.
Their descendants share this fallen nature and its consequences. They are born with weaknesses and tendencies to evil.
But God in Christ reconciled the world to Himself and by His Spirit restores in penitent mortals the image of their Maker. Created for the glory of God, they are called to love Him and one another, and to care for their environment.”
Let’s begin with a look at what having a sinful nature means.
The Bible teaches that human nature is basically corrupt
Are people as bad as the Bible claims? What about the good people and the good things they do? How can anyone deny this?
There’s no question that human beings are very capable of good deeds, kindness, extreme selflessness, and generosity. Some people are truly considerate, compassionate, and caring.
But that’s not what the doctrine of human sinfulness is about.
Instead, it deals with the basic nature of all people—and that nature is corrupt.
It is corrupted by sin—which is the breaking of God’s law that calls us to love Him and others (1 John 3:4; Mark 12:30–31). Because of sin, we are naturally selfish, the opposite of love.
Even the worst people can have good traits and, at times, do good things. Yet no matter who they are or how good they appear, their nature is corrupt. Every person is a victim of the disease of sin and has been since the Garden of Eden (more on that later).
Adventists draw this doctrine from the Bible. The following are some verses that support it:
- “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23, NKJV).
- “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned” (Romans 5:12, NKJV).
- “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9, NKJV).
- “For there is not a just man on earth who does good and does not sin” (Ecclesiastes 7:20, NKJV).
These are a few of the many Bible texts that address the sinful nature of humanity. The Bible also contains many examples of this tendency. In fact, you can find just as many (if not more) examples of people being sinful in the Bible as of people being righteous.
Also, when we take a look at world history or just the news today, what do we find? Over and over, we encounter examples of just how bad humanity can be.
No, not everyone is committing horrific, tragic crimes that affect thousands of people at a time. And that’s not what the Bible teaches.
What it does teach is that everyone has sinful tendencies. Tendencies toward selfishness in the forms of greed, anger, lust, hatred, prejudice, gluttony, and so on.
People might not always act on those tendencies, but even if they don’t, the tendencies are still there. They are in all of fallen humanity—with no exceptions (Isaiah 64:6).
However, it’s important to note that we are not sinful because we have these tendencies. Rather, sin is the result of acting on those tendencies. On our own, we are powerless to resist those tendencies, but Jesus gives us the power to choose and overcome them.
How did human nature—though created perfect by God—become sinful?
The Bible teaches that God originally made humans perfect and in His own image:
“So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” (Genesis 1:27, NKJV).
Therefore, human beings didn’t originally have any sinful tendencies or hints of evil. They were perfect beings created by a perfect God and living in a perfect environment.
As Scripture says:
“His work is perfect; for all His ways are just; a God of truth and without injustice; righteous and upright is He” (Deuteronomy 32:4, NKJV).
Also, when God finished His work of creation, He said that it was “very good” (Genesis 1:31, NKJV).
So, what happened?
The crucial issue here is understanding that these perfect humans, Adam and Eve, were also created as free beings who were capable of both love and selfishness.
Think about it like this:
Say you’re a dog lover, and you have a dog named Max. Though you love Max, he still comes with risks, right? He might bite, get sick, or have an accident on the carpet.
Now, you can avoid all of these risks by getting a robot dog that would never bite, get sick, or have accidents in the house.
However, could you really love a robot dog more than your own real dog?
Probably not. It just wouldn’t be the same.
What’s great about real live dogs, even if they aren’t perfect, are their little dog personalities. We lovingly and patiently train them, and in return, we know they actually care about us as their “people.”
This idea may help us understand why God created humans as free moral beings.
Just like you’d prefer your dog Max over the robot dog who cannot love, God also wanted beings who could love. Beings who could have real, authentic relationships. Beings who have the capacity to receive love as well as give it.
And to do that, God had to make them free. Truly free. And true freedom involves risks.
In order to be able to choose God, they had to actually have things to choose between.
Unfortunately, Adam and Eve abused God’s freedom-giving love. They chose to follow their own desires, brought about by Satan’s first temptation. They chose to “be like God” in terms of “knowing both good and evil” (Genesis 3:4–5, NKJV).
That’s how sin came into a world that was originally created perfect. And as a result, humans were greatly impacted and damaged.
They got the exact results of the choice they made—to know both good and evil. That’s the kind of world we live in today, where we can see humanity do great good as well as great evil. And we constantly have to choose between those two forces.
What were the effects of sin?
The effects of sin entering the world were felt both by humanity and nature in general. Let’s look at how both were impacted.
Effects of sin on humanity
In the book of Genesis, the story of the fall of Adam and Eve reveals that the impact of sin was immediate and devastating. And it got worse as time went on.
When Adam and Eve were first created, the Bible specifically says they were naked but not ashamed (Genesis 2:25). This reveals just how innocent they were.
But after the Fall—after they blatantly disobeyed God as free moral beings—what was the first thing to happen?
“Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves” (Genesis 3:7, NKJV).
Immediately, they felt ashamed of themselves and their nakedness. And this led them to hide from God in fear (Genesis 3:8–10).
Then, their relationship with one another began showing cracks too. Adam blamed Eve for the unfortunate incident and, by extension, blamed God for giving him Eve (Genesis 3:11–12).
But as bad as it seemed already, the downward spin didn’t stop there. Things got worse, fast.
One of Adam and Eve’s children even murdered his sibling (Genesis 4:8). And from then on, there has been no end to the moral decline of the human race.
The Bible says eventually, “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, NKJV).
Many centuries later, the apostle Paul wrote about the nature of humanity:
“There is none righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:10, NKJV).
And the Psalmist even says that we are born in sin (Psalm 51:5).
Given the history of the past few centuries—war after war, slavery, the Holocaust, terrorism, the gap between the rich and the poor, crime, and so forth—things have not gotten any better.
While humanity attempts to solve some problems of evil as our race advances, sin just finds new ways to corrupt.
Ultimately, all these evils come down to one thing: the sinful nature of humanity. In our natural state, we don’t tend towards God’s ways and His ideal for man, but away from it to sin and evil (1 Corinthians 2:14).
And every time we sin, succumbing to our selfish nature, we can expect that there will be consequences.
Effects of sin on the natural world
Yes, bad people do bad things to other people. But how do we explain “natural evils” like famines, diseases, floods, earthquakes, and other disasters?
Adventists attribute these things to sin, as well.
As stated in Genesis, God created this world as a “very good” place, which meant that it certainly didn’t contain those natural evils. However, after the entrance of sin, even the natural world was negatively impacted.
Dr. John Fowler, an Adventist scholar, put it like this:
“The moment that Adam and Eve sinned, evil resulted in both the physical and moral worlds…. Since that moment, vast changes have taken place in the physical world.”1
The Bible talks about some of the physical changes to the planet that resulted from sin:
- The arrival of thorns and thistles (Genesis 3:17, 19)
- The curse on the ground after Cain’s sin (Genesis 4:12)
- The aftermath of the flood (Genesis 7:12)
All of creation suffers from what sin has caused. Paul wrote that “the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption…. For we know that the whole creation groans and labors” (Romans 8:21–22, NKJV).
But the greatest physical change that came to the world after sin was death, which didn’t exist until then.
It’s hard to imagine how different a world without death must have been from the world we live in today.
Has the nature of humanity improved in recent years?
At various times, especially in the past half a millennium, people—Christians and non-Christians alike—have seen the terrible things humans do to one another and have tried on a massive scale to improve the world. But ultimately, their efforts have been futile.
This leaves us with the question, Can we change ourselves for the better?
Some believed that, yes, we could change ourselves for the better.
In the 1600s, the Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment began to take hold in Europe. As people started to shed many of the superstitions of the past, science and technology promised great things for the future.
Science, technology, logic, and reason were already beginning to make life easier.
But they haven’t made human nature any better.
Even in some cases, technology only furthered the expression of evil. Like the invention of the guillotine, which was supposed to make capital punishment more humane, and the invention of chemical and biological warfare.
Scientific progress can be a wonderful thing…but sin adapts as well. The same evils committed with sticks and rocks are now committed with machines, weapons, and chemicals.
Even Albert Einstein, who was perhaps feeling guilty about how his science helped create the bombs that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki, lamented:
“Our entire much-praised technological progress, and civilization generally, could be compared to an axe in the hand of a pathological criminal.”2
Or as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. famously said:
“Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have guided missiles and misguided men.”3
None of this should be surprising.
Looking forward to the end of time, Jesus did not depict a world progressing toward utopia before His return. On the contrary, He warned:
“And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom” (Matthew 24:6–7, NKJV).
The apostle Paul doesn’t paint a picture of a humanity that has morally progressed as time has gone on, either:
“But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power” (2 Timothy 3:1–5, NKJV).
And it all comes down to sinful human nature. Regardless of the state of the world, the governments, the technology, humans will always find new ways to be self-serving at the expense of others.
If this is our nature, what hope do we have?
The good news is that God loves us, despite our sinful nature and our choices to sin. And He had a plan in place—even before humans chose to sin—to save us from sin’s power and consequences.
He loves us so much that Jesus came to this world and died, taking the penalty of sin we deserved. He did the most selfless thing He could do: give His life for those He loves.
This text can’t be quoted enough:
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16, NKJV).
That text could also be read as, “For God so loved sinful, fallen humanity that He sent His own Son…”
And that’s what the gospel is all about. It’s what God has done to save us, despite us being who we are:
“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8, NKJV).
Notice, it didn’t say that Christ waited until we were good people or until we stopped sinning, and then He died for us. No, when we were still sinners, Christ died for us because that makes it possible for Him to eventually destroy sin without destroying us in the process.
The Bible also says that Jesus Christ was “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:8, NKJV).
Before the foundation of the world? How far back that goes, we don’t know. But one thing is certain—it goes back long before we existed, which means that, long before we existed, God had a plan in place to meet the crisis of sin when it came. And that plan was centered around Jesus, the second person of the Godhead, dying for us.
The death and resurrection of Jesus, which is central to the plan of salvation, is God’s way of remedying sin sickness forever.
How can we live in that hope and overcome sin today?
Jesus set us an example of victory over sin. By following His example and depending on the power of God, human beings no longer have to be slaves to their sinful tendencies. The Bible assures of this numerous times, including in the following passage:
“Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4, NKJV).4
In the new covenant, God promises to put His “laws in [our] mind and write them on [our] hearts” (Hebrews 8:10, NKJV).
In other words, God promises us a new nature with the power we need to obey His law. He will even write that law in our hearts, which is why Adventists believe in victory over sin now. We believe that through the power of Christ in us, we can overcome every selfish tendency and temptation (2 Corinthians 5:17; Colossians 3:1–8).
It doesn’t mean we’ll never sin again, but it means we’re allowing the Holy Spirit to work within us, gradually breaking the hold sin has over us (Ephesians 2:1–6; 4:22–32; Galatians 5:16).
While we are aware that we are sinners, we rest in the fact that Jesus’ sinless life stands in place of ours. We know we are loved and accepted by God because of Jesus, which is why we can claim this promise by faith:
“There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:1, NKJV).
Want to experience this hope and freedom in overcoming sin?
- Handbook of Seventh-day Adventist Theology (Review and Herald, Silver Spring, MD, 2007), p. 245. [↵]
- Lightman, Alan, A Sense of the Mysterious (Vintage Books, New York, 2006), p. 110. [↵]
- “Martin Luther King, Jr. On Science And Religion,” Forbes. [↵]
- See also 1 Corinthians 15:57; Romans 6:6–7, 14; 1 Corinthians 10:13. [↵]
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