What Is Human Nature?

We mostly just do what comes naturally. But what is human nature? Is it good or evil? What makes us distinctively human? And can our nature change?

What makes us human? Is humanity basically good or basically evil? Where did the evil in our nature come from?

Philosophers have debated these topics for ages. Is there a source that has definitive answers?

Four “natures”

We believe in God and accept the biblical account that God created humans in His own image (Genesis 1:26). The Bible tells us what God has to say about human nature, and it tells us about three other natures as well.

At the highest level is the Creator God’s nature. He is loving, giving, just and all-powerful.

At the lowest level is animal nature. Contrary to many common assumptions, man is not an animal, exemplified by the huge differences between the human mind and the animal brain. Animals have natural dispositions and traits. They operate by instinct, not by logic and reasoning as we conceive of logic and reasoning. Though animals are capable of some level of learning, their nature is to respond in a predetermined way.

Man’s basic nature is far above that of animals. The Bible reveals that man has a spirit within him, enabling thought, planning, emotion, reasoning, creativity and more.

The Bible reveals yet another nature that profoundly impacts us. A former angel rebelled against God and became His enemy. Now known as Satan the devil, he and his angels (demons) powerfully influence the minds and nature of human beings (Ephesians 2:2-3; Luke 10:18; Revelation 12:9). For the most part, humans are oblivious to his tactics and strategies (2 Corinthians 4:3-4).

What does all of this have to do with human nature? Just this: Satan’s influence is powerful!

The apostle Paul explains: “And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others” (Ephesians 2:1-3).

What does the apostle mean by “you once walked”? What changed? How?

Understanding what caused this change in the Christians at Ephesus (and, by extension, all true Christians) is essential to understanding human nature.

Nature vs. nurture

There has been much discussion about how much we are shaped by our genetics (nature) and how much by the influences and experiences in our life (nurture from family and society). Though we certainly have natural dispositions and traits, babies are born morally neutral—a blank slate in regards to good and evil.

So how does what we call human nature develop?

From good to evil and back to good

The Bible tells us the story of the creation of the first man and woman, Adam and Eve. God created humanity with the ability to learn and to choose. All humans are born innocent, but with the capacity to learn from parents and other influences around them.

Adam and Eve’s nature was neither good nor evil to begin with. God taught them in a good and loving way, but He also allowed Satan to interact with them, with the result that Satan deceived Eve into rejecting what God had taught them. Adam followed her in choosing rebellion and rejecting God’s rule over them. They began to choose for themselves what they considered right and wrong, good and evil.

After their disobedience, something happened to their minds (Genesis 3:7). An attitude of rebellion had entered their minds—they were now receptive to Satan.

They were not created with this evil nature. God created them with minds capable of becoming good or evil; minds that could think, analyze, reason and choose. But they chose to reject the instruction from God—as well as the opportunity to partake of the divine nature of God—and instead opted to yield to the deception and evil nature of Satan.

This would have far-reaching consequences: “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12).

This nature has become—as Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary defines human nature—“the fundamental dispositions and traits of humans.”

Little babies start out at birth as innocent, neither good nor evil. But all too soon we all absorb and acquire tendencies toward the selfish, self-centered attitude broadcast by Satan, the prince of the power of the air (Genesis 8:21; Ephesians 2:2). Over time, every human being is corrupted with selfishness, vanity and other negative thoughts.

Still, it’s important to realize we are not all evil, all the time! Adam and Eve, and all of us following, took of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:9; 3:6)—a mixture of good and bad. Have we not all seen wonderful examples of self-sacrifice, compassion, tenderness and love for fellow humans, even by people who at other times could do horrible things? From the beginning, the fruit of the forbidden tree has produced mixed results in human lives.

Humanity’s basic nature is still saturated with the spiritual influence of Satan, making what we call human nature fundamentally hostile to God’s nature.Yet humanity’s basic nature is still saturated with the spiritual influence of Satan, making what we call human nature fundamentally hostile to God’s nature: “The carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be” (Romans 8:7).

The good news, though, is that God has a plan to redeem mankind and bring all humanity back to His tree of life, and the wonderful news is that it is also by choice. God never forces His will on mankind, but gives people free will instead (Deuteronomy 30:19).

Some have been called by God to understand and practice His righteousness now. In His perfect plan, God will give all humans the opportunity to choose to reject Satan’s evil influence and develop the righteous nature of God (2 Peter 3:9).

Biblical descriptions of the characteristics of human nature

Several chapters in the Bible summarize the characteristics of human nature.

Look at Paul’s list of attitudes and lifestyles that are natural and developed through the influence of Satan: “Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. Because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience, in which you yourselves once walked when you lived in them. But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds” (Colossians 3:5-9).

Here’s another list: “Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like” (Galatians 5:19-21).

Can we agree these characteristics are all too prevalent in today’s world? We are all subjected to these negative attitudes or emotions; sometimes we resist them, but they all need to be rejected all the time and replaced with God’s nature.

Partakers of the divine nature

The Bible also reveals another nature that comes from God’s influence: “Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection” (Colossians 3:12-14).

This list complements the fruit of the Spirit Paul lists in Galatians 5:22-23: “Love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.”

These characteristics are the result of God’s Spirit working in our lives. And the Bible tells us how to receive the Holy Spirit: “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38).

When we yield to God, submit to His influence, are baptized, and begin to absorb His divine nature via His Holy Spirit, we are progressively transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2). We learn to forsake the satanic influences permeating the thoughts of mankind today and to instead partake of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:2).

We’re not of the same nature

So while all of us as human beings have a mind capable of analytical thought and reason, we don’t all behave and respond in the same way. The vast majority of us continue to yield unknowingly to the constant bombardment from Satan that manifests itself in selfishness and evil desires far too often.

God has chosen to call a few now to repentance and a change of heart (nature), not to exclude all others, but rather to begin His plan to eventually call everyone. “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).

Once called by God, we are to walk a different path in the light of God’s Word: “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth)” (Ephesians 5:8-9).

The future promise of a new nature

According to the prophecies of your Bible, Jesus Christ will return to this earth (Revelation 11:15; 19:11). A new day will dawn with Jesus Christ in control and Satan cast into the abyss, not allowed to deceive the nations for 1,000 years (Revelation 20:1-2).

When that day arrives, God promises to make His divine nature available to everyone, and many people will respond. Their subjection to a carnal human nature will change: “Then I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within them, and take the stony heart out of their flesh, and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in My statutes and keep My judgments and do them; and they shall be My people, and I will be their God” (Ezekiel 11:19-20).

Humans will voluntarily allow their carnal human nature to come under the influence of God, who will provide the help we need to develop His righteous nature through the power of His Spirit.

Conflict and war will cease

Taking on the nature of God will profoundly change the world in every way. Take, for example, the scourge of war. Today we find continual fighting, conflict and war, which James 4:3 reveals is caused by our selfish desires and evil lusts—human nature!

In this new world to come, as people submit to God’s divine nature, conflict and war will cease: “They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore” (Micah 4:3). How wonderful!

Changing your human nature

You can take steps today to begin to change your nature. You don’t have to succumb to the influence of the invisible god of this present evil world. With God’s help, you can change your nature as you change your life!

Download our free booklet Change Your Life! and experience what life can be like when you’re led and influenced by the Creator God.

About the Author

Ron Kelley

Ron Kelley

Ron Kelley was born and raised in West Virginia. He spent 31 years working in hospital finance in Ohio before entering the full-time ministry in 2006.

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