What do Seventh-day Adventists Believe about Sin and the Nature of Humanity?
Adventists believe that human beings have a natural tendency to be sinful, evil, and selfish. But they also believe that God has provided 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 man became evil or sinful
- The effects of sin on humanity
- The impact of sin on the natural world
- The nature of humanity in recent years
- God’s cure for our sinful nature
- How to overcome sin today
Adventists believe in this Biblical narrative and have summarized it on their website as follows:
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.”
Human Nature is basically Corrupt
Are people as bad as others claim? What about the good people, and the good things those people 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.
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, people’s nature is corrupt. Every person sinned and has broken God’s holy law.
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 just a few of the many Bible texts that address the sinful nature of humanity. Unfortunately, it is a foundational biblical truth.
Also, whether we take a look at world history or just 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.
Why did Humanity—though created perfect by God—become so evil?
The Bible teaches that God originally made humanity 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, God did not create human beings with any sinful tendencies or with any hint 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 rebellion.
Maybe 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 instead. A robot dog would, of course, never bite, never 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. You couldn’t look into those puppy dog eyes and know your pet was alive, and looking back at you.
What’s great about a real live dog, even if they aren’t perfect, are the silly little things they do that make them unique. We adore the traits of their little dog personalities. We lovingly train them, being patient with them, and in return we know they actually care about us as their “people.”
So if the idea of a robot dog leaves you cold, you can somewhat understand why God created humans as free moral beings. We possess characteristics of God’s own image, which include self-awareness and the ability to choose. And these are significant characteristics that set humans apart from any other living being on earth.
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 the freedom in love. They chose to follow their own curiosity and desire, 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 and evil came into the world that was originally created perfect. And as a result, humanity was 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 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.
After Adam and Eve were created, the Bible specifically said they were naked but not ashamed. This revealed just how innocent they were.
But after the Fall—after they blatantly disobeyed God as morally free 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 lost their innocence.
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 humanity’s moral decline.
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 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. And every time we sin, succumbing to our selfish nature, we can expect that there will be consequences.
The impact of sin on the natural world
Many people ask about “natural evil.” Yes, we understand that 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 aftermath of the flood (Genesis 7:12)
- The curse on the ground after Cain’s sin (Genesis 4:12)
The Bible also teaches how even the whole 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.
What has been the Nature of Humanity in Recent Years?
At various times, especially in the past half a millennium, people have tried on a massive scale to improve the world.
In other words, one doesn’t have to be a Christian believing in the sinful state of humanity to see all the terrible things that happen because of what human beings do to the world and to each other.
Thus, the question is: Can we change ourselves for the better?
Some believed that yes, we could change ourselves for the better.
Starting in Europe, in the 1600s, the Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment began to take hold. 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, which were already beginning to make life easier, were set to greatly improve humanity and human nature.
At least, that was the hope.
Commenting on “this grand idea of progress which took almost mythic proportions in the eighteenth century,” American Physicist Alan Lightman cites the various milestones:
- Intellectual progress was represented notably by the theoretical discoveries of Isaac Newton and his sweeping laws of motion.The laws of gravity, discovered by Newton, governed everything from the orbit of the moon to the fall of an apple.
- Material progress was nowhere better symbolized than in James Watt’s remarkable steam engine, the centerpiece of the industrial revolution.Power looms, for example, enabled textile workers to perform at ten or more times their previous rates and reasonably promised to raise the standards of living and relieve the exploitation of factory workers, as well as to increase the wealth of nations.”2
And though technology has made many aspects of human life better, it has not made human nature any better.
Even in some cases, technology only furthered the expression of evil: one with the invention of the guillotine, which was supposed to make capital punishment more humane, and another was 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, chemicals, etc.
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.”3
Or as Dr. Martin Luther King famously said:
“Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have guided missiles and misguided men.”4
None of this should be surprising.
“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 went 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, even despite our sinfulness.
He loves us so much that Jesus came to this world and died in our place, precisely because God loves us, regardless of our sinful nature.
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 the sinful, fallen humanity that He sent His own Son . . .
And that’s what the gospel is all about. It’s what God had to do in order to save us, despite us being what we are. He showed us the ultimate love, while sin shows us the opposite. We now can know full well what we are choosing between when we choose God.
“For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly” (Romans 5:6, 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 ungodly, when we were still sinners, Christ died for us because that was the only way to 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.
How can we live in that hope and overcome sin today?
Adventists believe that through the power of God, human beings no longer have to be slaves to the sin that was in their nature.
“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).
See also 1 Corinthians 15:57; Romans 6:6-7, 14; 1 Corinthians 10:13.
In the New Covenant, God promises to “put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts” (Hebrews 8:10, NKJV).
In other words, God promises us 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.
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.
While Adventists are aware that they are sinners, they rest on the perfect merits of Jesus credited to them. They know they are loved and accepted in God because of Jesus, which is why they and all of humanity 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? Join a Bible study today!
 John Fowler, Handbook of Seventh-day Theology, ( Review and Herald, Silver Spring, MD, 2007). p. 245.
 Alan Lightman, A Sense of the Mysterious (Vintage Books, New York 2006), p. 195.
 Alan Lightman, A Sense of the Mysterious (Vintage Books, New York 2006), p. 110.
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