Lesson 4 - The Doctrine of Man





Why do we need a savior?  The answer of course is that we need a savior because we are human – and sinful.  In this lesson, we will examine exactly what it means to be human and why that leaves us in need of a savior.   This lesson will deal with some important issues related to creation and to man’s origin. 

Everything we believe about man and his relationship with God is premised upon our belief in the fall of man in the Garden of Eden.  Therefore, our understanding of salvation is tied directly to our BIBLICAL understanding of the creation story itself.  IF THERE WAS NO GARDEN OF EDEN, THEN THERE WAS NO ADAM WHO SINNED.  Without the Eden story, we cannot be certain what our condition actually is and therefore we cannot claim that we really need Jesus.  Without the Eden story, how do we know that we are not just all stumbling about doing our best to be as good as we can be?  If that is true, perhaps we need to look at other religions such as Hinduism or Buddhism.  But we do believe in the Eden story and therefore we must understand our need for Jesus based on our understanding of ourselves from the Garden of Eden.

It is at this point that science and religion part ways.  It is at this point that atheists look at Christians and say we have left rationality for mythology.  However, Christians most fully understand who they are and why there is no other name under heaven by which man can be saved than Jesus Christ only when we understand man’s condition through the creation story.  So we must ask this question: Is the Bible story of creation and the fall in the Garden of Eden inconsistent with scientific evidence about the origin of the universe and of the earth?  Our answer must be: NO – because without the Garden of Eden and the fall, there is no cause for redemption.


For this reason – and before we attempt to address the condition of man resulting from the fall – we must address the issue of creation.  It must be said here that faith plays a major role in understanding the creation story, because much scientific “evidence” appears to be in conflict with the biblical account.  However, there are faith-based answers to each and every one of those scientific claims that appear to contradict the Bible.


The Creation of Earth and the Universe


There are two primary views of the creation of the earth – from which a number of theories have been posed.  Those two views are the old earth view and the young earth view.  The idea of this portion of the lesson is not to persuade you one way or another regarding which view to believe.  Nor is it to give any authority or weight to any particular view.  There are many very godly Christians on both sides of the discussion who are deeply convicted in their beliefs and would argue in favor of their position very strongly.   Instead, we will briefly describe each view and some of the tough questions that must be asked about each of them.  After which, we will pose some answers for each.  It is up to you to determine what you believe with respect to the creation of the earth. On the other hand, we will see very quickly how important your view of creation is to your understanding of the condition of man – and therefore your view of salvation. Not every view of creation can support the biblical concept of the fall of man, so what you believe will impact your understanding of the condition of man.

Old Earth View. The old earth view says that the universe is about 13 Billion years old and that the earth is about 4.5 Billion years old.  Scientists use a number of “proofs” for these assertions.  For example, we have telescopes that observe light from distant galaxies.  We understand the speed of light and can determine that it took the light from these galaxies 13 Billion years to get here, so scientists will say the universe must be 13 Billion years old.  Also, scientists have found ways that they believe accurately date rocks and fossils (for example, carbon dating).  From these, scientists believe they can determine that the earth is several billion years in age.  Plus, Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, which is accepted without question in scientific circles but not so universally accepted among orthodox and evangelical Christians, requires millions and millions of years to play out for us to have “evolved” from single cell bacteria.

This view of the creation and age of the earth, however, has some tough questions to answer.  For example, there is absolutely no scientific evidence to suggest that large-scale evolution – that is, one species becoming another species – actually exists.  At most, science can prove minor mutations within a species, but no scientific or archeological evidence exists for wholesale jumps from one species to another.  Despite how universally accepted it is amongst scientist, Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution is still merely an unproven theory. Also, there have been some serious challenges to the assumptions used in carbon dating.  It has been challenged that even under the absolutely best of assumptions, carbon dating cannot be accurately used to date anything beyond 80,000 years, and that the true accuracy is most likely much less than even that.  Finally, for Christians who say they believe in the old earth view, how can they reconcile this belief with the biblical account of the creation story.

Young Earth View. The young earth view says that the whole universe, including the earth, is at most 10,000-20,000 years old – perhaps even in the 6,000-year range.  This estimate is based on tracing biblically-recorded history back to the creation story in Genesis.   This view holds that the entire universe was created in 6 literal days in accordance with the biblical record in Genesis chapter 1.

There are also some tough questions for this view that must also be answered.  How would someone holding this view dispute the astronomical observations of galaxies far, far away knowing that the speed of light is a known quantity?  Similarly, how can you explain carbon dating, and where did the dinosaurs go?  Finally, those who hold to the young earth view must answer the question as to whether or not we have properly interpreted the Genesis account of creation.  After all, Christians just a few centuries ago believed the Bible taught that the earth was flat and that the sun revolved around the earth. 

Here are some suggested answers to all of the questions.  This lesson will not promote any of these theories as necessarily being THE correct answer, primarily because there is such disagreement on this subject among Christians of all denominations and backgrounds. They are, instead, briefly presented for your thought and consideration.  However, what many Christians fail to realize when they adopt any of these views is that there are important consequences to their belief system when they make such belief choices.   As we shall see, there is an important conclusion that we must make at the end of this discussion in order to fully understand the condition of man based on the Garden of Eden story.


Young Earth View – Literal Theory.  This theory holds that Genesis 1 represents six literal 24-hour days of creation and that current scientific evidence is being misinterpreted.   Proponents of this view will point to questions about the accuracy of carbon dating (see earlier discussion) to disprove scientific claims about the age of the earth.  They believe that eventually science will prove that the earth is only a few tens of thousands of years old.  Many point to the flood in Genesis chapters 6-8 as explaining fossil records, extinction of the dinosaurs, and many other similar questions.  Entire organizations (such as www.answersingenesis.org www.creation.com) have been created and dedicate themselves to the defense of this view and the education of Christians to help them answer the tough questions surrounding this view.  Critics of this view say that it ignores clear scientific evidence to the contrary (fossils, the size of the universe, etc.).  At the end of the day, those who hold this view hold fast to their faith and say they must believe God rather than man.   Because the literal theory of the young earth view is so seemingly contradictory to prevailing scientific evidence, this view is almost universally rejected by those in the scientific and academic communities.


Young Earth View –Aged Creation Theory. This view holds that Genesis 1 represents six literal 24-hour days of creation, but that in the same way that God created man to appear aged – as a fully grown adult - God also created the universe to be fully mature as well.  In other words, he made it to “look” old.  If God is able to create a fully matured man that appears to be many years old in age (by our understanding of maturity), then God is certainly able to create a fully matured universe that appears to be billions of years old (again, by our understanding of scientific measurements).  Proponents of this view say that it reconciles apparent conflicts between scripture and science.  The universe scientifically measures out to be billions of years old because God created it that way.  Critics, however, may argue that if this view is true, God is being disingenuous because he tells us one thing and then provides scientific evidence of something different.  Since God cannot lie, they say this view cannot be true. The response to this is that creating the world in this fashion is neither a lie nor disingenuous because God wishes for us to live by faith, so he gave us His Word. The universe was created in this way so that we must believe by faith, rather than by fact.  Those who want to disbelieve God are provided evidence to justify their disbelief.


Old Earth View - Progressive Creation Theory.  This view essentially holds that Genesis 1 is more symbolic than it is literal – in other words, we have mis-interpreted the creation story.  There are several variations of this view.  One is that Genesis 1 is completely symbolic and that evolutionary theory explains how God directed the creation of earth.  Another is that the six days in Genesis 1 represents “stages” of evolutionary development, which were all “directed” by God.  There are even some who say that “evolution” comes only by the hand of God and not by natural selection.   Many “Intelligent Design” proponents hold one of the variations of this theory.  Proponents of this view say that it is the only way to explain biblical creation given the scientific facts we have today.  Critics of this view point out that there is no indication from scripture that the events of Genesis 1 should be taken any other way than literally.  Additionally, the story of the Garden of Eden makes no sense in this view and brings into question the true origin of man – and the origin of his sinfulness.  Finally, scripture generally provides some indication as to when it should be taken literally and when it should be taken symbolically (e.g. apocalyptic writings are almost always taken symbolically – as are parables).  Critics say, therefore, that there is no indication that Genesis 1 should be taken symbolically.


Old Earth View - Gap Theory.  This view holds that there is a significant time gap between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2.  According to this view, the original Hebrew can be translated in one of two ways:


…the earth was void and without form… or

…the earth became void and without form…


Gap theory proponents say that Genesis 1:1 should be translated as the latter and that there was a previous “earth-creation” that was destroyed and re-created.  This reconciles the scientific evidence of the age of the earth/universe and explains dinosaur fossils.  Furthermore, this view can still hold to the literal 6-day creation account for this version of the earth.  Critics will deny the alternate translation of Genesis 1:1 and will claim that the existence of a previous earth-creation would indicate that God had somehow failed in his previous attempt at creation.  They would ask the question “why” God destroyed the previous creation.  The only logical explanation must be sin, which means Satan’s sin.  If that is true, they say, then Satan had already sinned when the Garden of Eden was created and so all of creation could not be “good” as scripture says.  The response to this criticism is that God has (1) already destroyed this creation once by flood, (2) promises to destroy it again by fire, and (3) has already indicated that he will create a New Heaven and New Earth.  We would never argue from those facts that God has failed with this creation, so why would it not be possible that there was a previous creation?  Also, it is somewhat presumptuous to say that we know why God may have destroyed a prior creation.  Since we have no direct knowledge of its supposed existence, we can have no direct knowledge for the reasons it may have been destroyed.  Nor can we say for certain that Satan’s fallen existence could not have happened before the creation of Garden of Eden.  It is all a matter of presumption – a presumption that explains many things, but a presumption nonetheless.


Of these views, the literal story of the Garden of Eden and the fall of man can be supported in three of the four views.  The only view in which a literal Garden of Eden story cannot be supported is the Old Earth – Progressive Creation Theory.  This becomes crucially important in our understanding of man, because any view that does not support the literal story of the Garden of Eden and the fall of man creates significant difficulties in our understanding of redemption – as will be explained below.   Nevertheless, whatever view you hold, you must believe that (a) God’s word is without error and (b) Science and Scripture are not incompatible.  We must hold these facts as true.


The Creation of Man


According to Genesis 1:26, God created man in his own image.   The biblical account of the creation story says that when God created Adam, he brought all the animals before him to be named and NONE of them were his equal.  Man was unique because only man was created in the image of God.  That means that man was created to be “in the likeness” of God.  Being created in the likeness of God means that there are a number of different ways that we are “like” God.  Some of these we learned in Lesson 3 when we discussed the communicable attributed of God.  But there are other ways we are “like God” as well and we will discuss five critically important ones here.

First, we have a moral sense.  No other creature has the ability to distinguish right and wrong.  In stead, they behave instinctually, not morally.  When we act morally, we are “like God,” but when we sin we are “unlike God.” 

Second, like God, we have a spiritual awareness and existence that corresponds to our physical existence.  This spiritual awareness allows us to comprehend and experience spiritual things.  We relate to the divine very uniquely. No other creature will ever appeal to the spiritual realm the way that humans do. 

Third, we also have mental aspects that are in the image of God and unlike other creatures. Those mental abilities to think and reason set us apart and make us “like God.”  It is important to realize that even when animals behave in a manner that appears to be rational or thinking, it is more instinct than reason.  Abstract reasoning, historical recordkeeping, artistic ability, creativity, an awareness of the future… all of these set us apart from other creatures. 

Fourth, we are like God in our ability to relate to him and to one another.  Just as God via the Trinity is in perfect relational harmony with himself, mankind has the ability to form and maintain relationships that are unparalleled in creation.  The very concept of marriage, while not a perfect analogy, is a parallel of the relationship of God and the Trinity.  Just as God in the Trinity is one, so man and woman are one in marriage.   It is also a picture of Christ’s relationship to the church.  While some animals mate for life and many animals have a rudimentary sense of “community,” only humans have the true ability to “relate” the way that God does.

Finally, we share physical aspects that are like God.  This one is different, because God is spirit and not physical, but in a sense, our physical bodies are in fact an image of God.  Just like our minds have the ability to be creative, our physical bodies have the ability to create in a way unequaled in creation.  Like God, we experience and enjoy not only the work of His hands, but the work of our hands as well.  We “create” and enjoy that creation.  Most importantly, however, the savior, Jesus Christ, was the incarnation of God – and he came in THIS form – human form.

Important note:  many of the ways in which man is created in the image of God are also reflected to a lesser degree in the rest of creation.  This should not be surprising since all of creation is a reflection of the glory and handiwork of God.

There are, of course, implications of being created in the image of God.  First, it means we are a reflection of God.  As previously discussed, we were originally created with many of his characteristics, although some have been lost, diminished, or corrupted by the fall.  However, being created in his image also means we are representatives of God in this world.  There are no other creatures to which God has specifically given a task.  Each may have a purpose, but that purpose is instinctual. Only man was given a specific command and was expected to be obedient to that command.  For that reason, being created in the image of God means that we are accountable to God.  No matter what else may happen in nature, only man is accountable to God for his actions.

This, therefore, brings us to the Garden of Eden.  God placed mankind in the Garden of Eden and assigned him a purpose.  According to Genesis 2:15, God gave Adam a job.  He was to care for and dominate the creation as God’s representative here on earth.  Because the creation was perfect and uncorrupted at this time, that job was also perfect.  Adam is the only person who ever held the perfect job.  As a result, Adam had access to God’s provision.  According to Genesis 2:16 God essentially provided everything that Adam needed.  He had access to every fruit and vegetable, including the fruit of the Tree of Life.  The only fruit he could not eat was the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  Most importantly, as long as Adam remained obedient to that command, he had access to God himself (Genesis 3:8).  Genesis provides every indication that God regularly visited the Garden of Eden to fellowship with Adam.


The Fall of Man


The story of the fall of man can be found in Genesis chapter 3.   The serpent (Satan) deceives Eve and convinces her to partake of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil – the only tree that God had forbidden mankind to eat.  Eve then offers the same fruit to Adam who willingly partakes.  As a result, sin enters the world and there are consequences that forever alter the history of mankind.


Consequences to Man

God had said to Adam that on the day he ate of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil that he would die.  Satan told Eve that she would not die, essentially calling God a liar.  So what actually happened after Adam and Eve ate of the fruit?  Did they die?  Well, they did not die physically – at least not on that day.  However, as we have already seen, mankind’s existence is not merely a physical one. Man (both Adam and Eve) were created not only physically alive, but spiritually alive as well.  Something incredibly devastating happened the moment they ate of the fruit – they did indeed die – not physically, but spiritually.  Adam and Eve immediately died spiritually.  When Jesus spoke to Nicodemus in John 3:5, he said “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.”  Because Adam (and Eve) died spiritually, we are all born spiritually dead.  It is the state of mankind in his sinfulness.  To enter the kingdom of God, we must be made spiritually alive – we must be born again.

In addition to dying spiritually, however, Adam and Eve – and thus all of mankind – began losing their “God-image.”  Our perfection in creation was corrupted when Adam an Eve sinned.   Left to its own devices, humanity is growing further and further away from the ideal of the Garden of Eden.  From the moment Adam sinned, mankind spiraled further and further out of control until, at the time of Noah, God determined that mankind was so evil that he needed to destroy all of mankind – saving only Noah and his family through the flood.  Nothing has really changed since then.  Without Christ, mankind continues to spiral out of control (see Romans 1:21-31).

Eventually, Adam and Eve died physically, because the ultimate result of sin is death (Romans 6:23).  They were cast out of the Garden of Eden and thus were unable any longer to partake of the fruit of the Tree of Life.  As a result, death entered the world for all mankind.  Theologian Millard Erickson says it this way:


 “There have been only three pure human beings: Adam and Eve before the fall, and Jesus.  All the rest of us are but broken, corrupted versions of humanity.  Our humanity is not a standard by which we are to measure his [Jesus’ that is].  His humanity, true and unadulterated, is the standard by which we are to be measured.”


Consequences to Creation

The Serpent. It wasn’t just mankind that was cursed as a result of Adam’s sin.   The serpent was cursed along with man, but along with the curse of the serpent comes our first hint at the gospel and the promise of redemption. Genesis 3:14-15 says


 And the LORD God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life: 15 And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.


The Woman.  The woman was also cursed for having been deceived.  Her curse is that she would forever be destined to have difficulty in childbirth and would forever be subjected to her husband.  Genesis 3:16 says:


Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.


The Earth. Finally, the earth itself was cursed.  It may seem strange that the physical earth would be “punished” for the sin of mankind, but keep in mind that it was mankind (that is, Adam) who was placed in charge of creation.  No longer would creation be responsive to his care and supervision; rather he would have to work, sweat, and suffer in order to carry out his mission to subdue the earth.  Genesis 3:17-19 says:


17 And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life;


18 Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field;


19 In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.


 This concept is further reinforced in Romans 8:19-22, which tells us that not only was all of creation cursed along with mankind, but like us, it is waiting and groaning eagerly for our redemption, so that it too may be restored.


The Impact of Sin on Mankind

Because of Adam’s sin, all of mankind became dead in his sin.  Romans 5:12 says, “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.”  We are not born with spiritual life.  We are born physically alive but spiritually dead.  That is why Jesus tells Nicodemus in John 3:5 that he had to be born of water (that is, flesh) and spirit in order to see the kingdom of God.   As mentioned above, Adam was cast out of the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:22-23) for the express reason that God could no longer allow him to have access to the Tree of Life.  Therefore all men born of Adam must ultimately face death.

As a result, mankind became separated from God.  Prior to the fall, Adam fellowshipped with God face to face and walked with God every evening in the Garden of Eden.  After the fall, Adam no longer had such access to God.  Isaiah 59:2 says, “But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear.”  Because we are all sinful, we are all separated from God.  Although God is present to sustain, he is no longer present to bless or to fellowship.


The Depravity of Man


As a result of the fall and the consequences of sin, mankind is utterly depraved.  Without God, man is incapable of doing any real good.  Man may do things that appear to be good, but Isaiah tells us in Isaiah 64:6 that all of man’s apparent righteousness is as filthy rags in the eyes of God.  Numerous places in scripture tell of the evil of man’s heart.  In Genesis 8:21, after destroying the earth through the flood and saving Noah and his family, God acknowledged that despite having saved Noah, he understood that ultimately man’s heart was still evil.   Jeremiah 17:9 tells us that our hearts are desperately wicked and deceitful.  Psalm 14:1-3 tells us that there are none who are good.  And Ecclesiates 7:20 says that there is not a single, just man on the earth that does not sin.   Some would argue that even the “good” that man does is based upon a faulty and sinful premise, meaning that ultimately selfishness and wickedness are the root of all that we do.  Others would argue that through “Common Grace” bestowed by God, man is capable of limited good, but that such good has no eternal value.  Most all would agree, however, that it means we cannot fully love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength as God requires.

Because of this, man is incapable of reconciling with God.  Every religion of man, including the way some people falsely practice a pseudo-Christian religion, is an attempt to reconcile man with God.  Through human efforts, we try to please and appease our man-made concept of “god.”   True Christianity, by contrast, is the recognition of the fact that man cannot reconcile himself with God. Rather, we must accept that by grace, God has reconciled himself with us.  2 Corinthians 5:18-19 says “And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; to wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation” – a fact we will explore in more detail in the next few lessons.

Furthermore, because man is dead, he is incapable of responding to God’s call.  That which is dead cannot make itself alive.  It is God who makes us alive (Ephesians 2:1).  God enables us to respond to his call by drawing us to him.  There are two views as to how this happens:

1.     Efficacious Grace – which is the idea that God specifically grants individuals the grace to respond to his specific call on their lives; this call is only given to those whom he has elected – thus the elect will respond and receive salvation (John 6:44), or

2.     Prevenient Grace – which is the idea that God grants all of mankind that minimal amount of grace necessary to respond to the general call of the gospel; some will accept and some will reject (John 12:32).


Regardless of which approach you believe is true, the fact remains that salvation is a work of God, not a work of man’s effort. 


So here we are as humans - broken and corrupted, waiting to be redeemed –

and to meet the redeemer, which we will do in the next lesson!


In conclusion, however, we want to go back to the beginning of this lesson to our discussion about the creation of the earth.  Why is it so important that we have a view of creation that supports a literal Garden of Eden where Adam and Eve were the first two humans to exist?   It is important because the story of the fall of man is absolutely essential to our understanding of the need for a savior.  If Adam didn’t exist per the Genesis account, then on what basis do we say we are sinful? If man somehow evolved from a previous life form, then how do we understand and explain good and evil?  What is the origin – or meaning for that matter – of sin in our lives?  If we evolved from simpler life forms – even if that evolution was directed by God – then what does it really mean to be created in the image of God?  If sin and death did not originate with Adam, then why do we die?  More than that, on what basis do we say that we deserve death and punishment?  And if we were not created specifically to live eternally, then on what basis do we have hope in the resurrection to eternal life?  Everything we believe about our salvation and everything we hope for in our salvation is dependent upon the one fact that all mankind descended from Adam.  Furthermore, Adam’s disobedience to the command not to eat of the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil is essential to our understanding of our own depravity.  We are sinful because we are his offspring.  We are born spiritually dead because he spiritually died when he disobeyed God.  We die physically because we no longer have access to the Tree of Life.    Without the Garden of Eden narrative, good is just a construct of our evolution and Jesus is simply irrelevant.