Sin and its impact on human beings have been the focus of our study of Romans this month as we have looked at Paul's view that all people, Jew and Gentile alike, have been thoroughly corrupted by their transgression of God's law. This raises issues related to the nature of man, so we will now pause our study of Romans for two days to look at what the Bible says about the nature of human beings as fallen images of the Lord. Dr. R.C. Sproul will assist us in this study through his lecture "The Nature of Man" from the Ligonier Ministries teaching series Essential Truths of the Christian Faith.
Given the emphasis on total depravity in the Reformed tradition, many have accused Reformed thought of having an entirely negative view of mankind. To say that fallen human beings are basically corrupt and wholly inclined to reject our Creator does indeed seem to be a dour view of humanity when surveys report that even a large number of professing evangelical Christians believe that men and women are "basically good." Yet as Dr. Sproul points out, there is no need for the evangel—the gospel—if we are basically good. If that were the case, our basic goodness would mean that there is not really anything that we need to be saved from.
It is actually a strong view of the pervasiveness and power of sin as we find in the Reformed tradition that reflects the highest view of man possible. To say that human beings are basically good is to say that sin is ultimately of little consequence. Sin would then be just a minor error, not a true violation of other image-bearers and even God Himself. If we were not made in the image of God, then sin would not really matter. It would have no more moral significance than any other event in creation such as the movement of subatomic particles.
The person who has a low view of sin and tries to minimize my guilt before our holy God actually hates me and robs me of my dignity as the Lord's image-bearer. If sin is serious, then the fall was serious, and if the fall was serious, what we were created to be has profound significance. The higher our view of the power and extent of sin, the higher our view of our Creator's righteousness and holiness; and the higher our view of our Creator's righteousness and holiness, the higher our view of mankind and what He made us for, namely, to reflect that righteousness and holiness in all that we do.
Our understanding of the fall has inevitable consequences for our view of what human beings are, how wonderful God made us originally, how important it is that we preach the gospel so that sinners can recover the high dignity that has been marred, and so on. But to have a right understanding of sin and the fall, we must have a deep understanding of God’s holiness. Only in contrast to His holiness can we see the depth of sin and thus how glorious the Lord made us to be.