What does the Bible say about the human condition?

This is a direct excerpt from a larger article by Dr. Kim Riddlebarger that can be found here.

The Scriptures are very clear about the effects of Adam’s sin upon the human race, and there are a host of passages that speak to the issue of human sinfulness. In Job 14:1-4 we read, "Man born of woman is of few days and full of trouble. He springs up like a flower and withers away; like a fleeting shadow, he does not endure. Do you fix your eye on such a one? Will you bring him before you for judgment? Who can bring what is pure from the impure? No one!" In other words, we are born "impure" or sinful, and therefore, subject to the judgment of God. Job asks the poignant question in this regard, "who can bring what is pure from what is impure?" and the answer is emphatically, "no one." Jeremiah (13:23) asks a similar question, "Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard its spots? Neither can you do good who are accustomed to doing evil." Thus because of our sin, we are impure, accustomed to doing evil, and unable to do anything to change our true nature any more then a leopard can wish his spots away, or that we can change the color of our skin simply by wishing it were so.

The Scriptures are also clear that our sinful nature is something with which we are born. According to the Psalmist in Psalm 51:5, "Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me." Thus we are born sinful, sinful from the very moment of conception. The Psalmist goes on to say in Psalm 58(3), "Even from birth the wicked go astray; from the womb they are wayward and speak lies." We go astray from birth and we are born liars. We do not need to learn how to sin, it comes quite naturally to us.

The sinful nature (i.e., "the flesh") with which we are born produces a host of sinful actions. The author of 1 Kings (8:46) contends "there is no one who does not sin" and the author of Proverbs (20:9) laments, "Who can say, `I have kept my heart pure; I am clean and without sin’? Indeed Moses writes in Genesis 6:5, "the LORD saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time." Thus because we are born in sin, every thought, every inclination is purely evil. This is not something that we enjoy hearing, but it is what the Scripture clearly teaches about human nature.

And this doctrine of human sinfulness is not only clearly taught in the OT, it is found with equal force in the New Testament, even on the lips of our Lord. For our Lord says much the same thing in Matthew 15:19, when he declares "For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander." Thus the specific sins which we commit come from the sinful condition of our hearts. For as it is used in Scripture, the heart is the seat of our very personality – the heart is the true self, what we really are. Jesus went on to point out in Matthew 7:16-20, that "By their fruit you will recognize [wolves who come in sheep’s clothes]. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them." Can any one of us here pretend for even a single moment that unlike everyone else, we are born good trees, and that we somehow escape the effects of sin which befall the entire human race? For out of each of our hearts inevitably spring the evil deeds and sins that all of us commit on a regular basis.

And if that is not all, it is Jesus who also reminds us that even if we haven’t committed a specific sin with our hands, you can bet we have done it in our hearts. It is Jesus who declares, "anyone who looks at a women lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart." Jesus also said, "You have heard it said, `Do not murder,’ and anyone who murders will be subject to judgement.’" And so there may be someone who is even now saying to themselves, "I am not a murderer!" I have never taken a life. Jesus says otherwise. You may not have taken the life of another, but as Jesus says, "any one who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgement," and "anyone who calls his brother a fool will be in danger of the fire of hell." Thus any one of us who has ever driven a Southern California freeway is certainly guilty as charged.

While the Scriptures are clear that we are born in sin, and that we sin because we are sinners, the Scriptures are equally clear about the specific effects of our own sinfulness upon our relationship with God. According to the Apostle Paul, (Romans 8:7-8), "the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God." Thus because of the sin into which we are born, we cannot submit to God’s law, nor do anything to please him. So much for non-Christians supposedly keeping the 10 Commandments. In his letter to the Galatians (5:19-21), Paul speaks of the human condition this way: "The acts of the sinful nature [the flesh] are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God." While we are apt to make distinctions between so-called big and little sins, Paul would not agree. All sins damn, even such things as jealousy and ambition, and these sins that damn spring forth spontaneously from our sinful nature. This certainly calls to mind our Lord’s comments about bad fruit coming forth from a bad tree. The sins of the flesh spring forth from our sinful hearts as surely as apples grow on an apple tree.

And when all is said and done, Paul indeed paints a very dark picture. In Romans 3:10-12 he writes; "There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one." Paul is clear, here, though many of us do not like what he says.

First, he points out that there are none righteous, that is, none without the guilt of sin. And for the sake of emphasis, he repeats the phrase, "no, not even one."

Next he states that because of sin, there is no one who understands, for as he says elsewhere, sin has darkened our understanding, made our thinking futile, and hardened our hearts to the things of God (Ephesians 4:18 ff).

Third, the result of these blinding effects of sin is that there is no one who seeks God. Even though these words make many of us choke, they are simply un-American, nevertheless, Paul is utterly clear, because of sin, "no one seeks God." Tough words, but we cannot evade them simply because we do not like them.

And if we do not believe the testimony of Paul, Jesus says exactly the same thing. Speaking to the crowds that followed him after he feed the five thousand and because they saw the miracles and wanted their stomachs filled (John 6:44), Jesus declared, "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day." In other words, you cannot come to God unless you are drawn, the term translated here as "to draw" is also translated "to drag" elsewhere in the NT, as for example, when Paul is dragged out of the temple against his will in Acts 21:30. And then again in that same discourse in John 6, as if he was not clear enough the first time he said it , Jesus went on to say in verse 65, "This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him." Thus unless we are enabled to come to Father, we cannot and indeed will not turn to God and embrace Jesus Christ. For we are sinful, we do not seek God, we do not understand God, we do not obey God’s law, and indeed says Paul, we cannot. Our hearts are sinful, there are none righteous, not even one, and we sin freely and willingly because we want to.

Thus when all is said and done, what this means is that if God does not do something to rescue us from our predicament, we will perish in our sins. And this is what we mean when we say we are saved by grace alone, because there is certainly nothing in us worth saving and there is nothing that creatures in such a predicament can do to save themselves. Our salvation depends upon God’s graciousness and not upon our goodness.

So it is against this backdrop ­ the biblical description of sin and its effects ­ that we now turn our focus to grace alone.

NOTE: Dr. Kim Riddlebarger is a graduate of California State University in Fullerton (B.A., Westminster Theological Seminary in California (M.A.R.), and Fuller Theological Seminary (Ph. D.). Kim has contributed chapters to books such as Power Religion: The Selling Out of the Evangelical Church, Roman Catholicism: Evangelical Protestants Analyze What Unites & Divides Us, and Christ The Lord: The Reformation & Lordship Salvation, and is currently the pastor of Christ Reformed Church in Placentia, California.

21 responses to “What does the Bible say about the human condition?

  1. “Even though these words make many of us choke, they are simply un-American, nevertheless, Paul is utterly clear, because of sin, “no one seeks God.” Tough words, but we cannot evade them simply because we do not like them.”

    Yea, a lot of folks think this is un-American!!
    Just got out Pink’s Doctrine of Human Depravity again, over the weekend, always a good read! Will get over to Riddlebarger’s site and read the full article. Thanks Born!


  2. Can’t thank you enough for posting this. Wow, Dr. Riddlebarger packed so much into that article. He says, “Americans hate to be told that God does not depend upon them and a decision that they make.” Yep

    I found that section of, ‘ Why is it, then, that American evangelicals have so many problems with this biblical teaching?’, so very, very good.

    Thanks again and keep up the great work, Born! You are much appreciated.


  3. Oh, yea…love Dr. Riddlebarger. In fact just now finishing up his book, Man of Sin. It’s a library book, knew that once I read it, would have to end up buying it! So good.


    • Hopefully some of the folks who think we’re born innocent will come over and read it! At least they couldn’t tell me it was just MY interpretation! 🙂 They might look up Dr Kim and fine out he’s a reformed thinker and blame it all on Calvin though. Hope springs eternal?


      • It is just your interpretation…no wait, it’s someone else’s interpretation, and you bought off on it. It’s the same ole Calvinist talking points that I have seen time and time again. It’s funny how Psalm 51:5 is outlandishly reworded to indicate that you are born WITH SIN. It states in the KJV Behold, I was shapen in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.

        Your version is twisted. Not only that, the Psalms were SPIRITUAL, and therefore can ONLY BE interpreted in the SPIRITUAL. The Calvinist interprets everything in the Carnal.

        We are born IN sin, not with sin.

        The natural man is the Calvinist, because they never interpret anything in the Bible in the spiritual. They are more concentrated on the CARNAL exegesis that they miss JESUS.

        If you properly read Romans 8 and 1 Cor 2:14, you will see that the natural man are CHRISTIANS who are CARNALLY MINDED. 1 Cor 2:14 was about the Corinthians, contending that they are of CALVIN (Apollos, Paul, etc.). They are in the milk phase, because they are not MATURE ENOUGH to get fed the meat, and that was making Paul a bit mad at them.

        If you KILL THE FLESH, you live in the spirit, and then you can spiritually discern things.

        But you make it out as if Romans 8 and 1 Cor 2:14 is about the condition of the fallen man. No, it isn’t. It’s about the CHRISTIAN who is CARNALLY MINDED, just like Calvinists are, because they are more concerned with CARNAL EXEGESIS.



        • Ed,

          Actually, the ‘natural’ man is the man who has only one birth, the ‘natural’ birth. The Calvinist quip REALLY sounds rather stupid, but I didn’t edit it out.

          Rom 8:7 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.

          This passage can be interpreted as pertaining to both fallen human beings and those who have been regenerated by the Spirit of God. The difference between the two is that fallen, unregenerate human beings have minds that are ONLY carnal while believers are spiritually minded by their ‘new’ birth, but are also capable of being fleshly minded due to remaining sin. Therefore, even IF Paul is speaking specifically about those who are presently in Christ, there is a truth about the mind that cannot be denied.

          For me, that’s a bit of a ‘logic’ bomb. The same applies to 1 Cor 2:14:

          1Co 2:14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.

          Who is a ‘natural’ person? ANYONE who has not been born of the spirit, Another logic bomb?


          • Again, you are not reading Romans or Corinthians correctly.

            Living in the flesh is obeying the Law of Moses.

            YES, Jesus was talking about those who were already in Christ…who were NOT MATURE Christians.

            I would suggest that you re-read Romans Chapter 7 in which Paul states that BEFORE HE KNEW THAT LAW OF MOSES, HE WAS “ALIVE”.


            No need to be born again when one is SPIRITUALLY ALIVE.

            Then when he KNEW THE LAW, he died for sin is the knowledge of the law (Romans 3).

            Once he DIED, then there is need to be born again.

            Once you are born again, SIN IS DEAD, THE LAW IS DEAD. THE BODY IS DEAD.

            Paul said that he dies daily, because he keeps resurrecting the dead body of sin.


            What that means is that God is with us when we are born in the flesh.

            God’s spirit is present with our spirit when we are born in the flesh.

            Once we get knowledge of sin, then God departs us. That is spiritual death.

            Then we must be born “again” OF THE SPIRIT, where God comes back into our bodies with our spirit.

            Born of the spirit vs. born “AGAIN” of the spirit.



              • If you are under GRACE, then what sin can you be convicted of? NONE.

                If you are under the LAW OF MOSES, then you will be found guilty. Which do you prefer? Law or Grace?

                Let me see if you can understand 1 John 3:9

                9 Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.

                Can you see the words, “Does Not”, and, “cannot”? And why? Because he is born of God.

                It is GRACE vs. LAW…not GRACE PLUS LAW.

                Law vs. NO LAW.


              • And you point is, Ed? We are not under the law because Christ stands as the perfect sacrifice for OUR sin. The LAW was fulfilled on our behalf! Whenever I die, I will still have sin in me and still deserve Hell. So if you are saying I don’t understand law and grace, you are mistaken.


      • Living in the FLESH is PROPERLY defined as “Obeying the Law of Moses”.

        It isn’t discussing the fallen nature of man.

        All of the do’s and don’ts are about living in the flesh.

        That is why it is about LAW vs. NO LAW.

        If you kill the flesh, then you are not under that law, and therefore not “IN” SIN. Sin is DEAD when you are not LIVING IN THE FLESH. Sin is ALIVE when living in the flesh.

        If the flesh is alive, so is the law, and if the law is alive, so is sin.

        If you kill the flesh, the law is dead, sin is dead, then you live in the spirit (without a body, aka flesh), and we clothe ourselves with the BODY OF CHRIST, who is eternal. Then we are living in the spirit, and are able to spiritually discern things. Put the flesh back on, and you carnally discern things. PAUL SAID THAT HE DIES DAILY.

        None of this has anything to do with the condition of fallen man. But you people wish to make it all about the condition of fallen man.



        • Ed,

          If one has not been born of the Spirit, how else CAN he ‘live’, but in the ‘flesh’?

          What about all of the non-Jews who have not received Christ (been born of the Spirit)? They didn’t have the Law of Moses. How did/do they live? They CAN’T live according to the Spirit, being unregenerate and all.

          So limiting it to your LAW / NO LAW paradigm lacks a certain amount of rational thought. Perhaps you are a bit ill with AntiCalvinitis? I’m not a Calvinist, BTW. The Bible was written a bit before his time.


          • Romans Chapter 3 states that the law is the KNOWLEDGE OF SIN.

            One must have KNOWLEDGE FIRST before SIN is IMPUTED.

            You cannot be accountable for what you don’t know.

            Yes, for all have sinned….but the law was not given to the Gentiles, therefore, they don’t have KNOWLEDGE OF THE LAW.

            The only way that they have knowledge is when a Christian goes to proselytize them.

            Then they realize that they have done sin, and that is when they are convicted in their heart, and that is when they repent.

            There is an order of things. KNOWLEDGE FIRST.

            If one rejects a savior after that knowledge has come, they are judged by the LAW OF MOSES when they die.

            Those who accept Jesus as their savior, they are NOT JUDGED, because Jesus was already judged.

            And, still, those who are ignorant are judged by their conscience.

            Again, KNOWLEDGE (ROMANS 7, DEUTERONOMY 1:39, ROMANS 3)



  4. But if man’s sinful nature is due to Adam and Eve’s “original sin”, what mechanism in human nature is sustaining the corruptible memory of sin? Is it genetic? If it’s the “soul” and not genetics, then what is the soul, anyway? What is it’s physics? If the soul is part of all reality and physics is the underlying fabric (God included) then from that perspective, what does sin do to the physics of the soul that corrupts the nature of human behavior?


    • Joseph,

      Trying to figure out the nature of the soul and exactly ‘how’ physics/genes might be connected cannot remedy the problem of being in bondage to and slaves of sin, in our natural state. But God, in his great mercy, sent his own Son to suffer the just wrath against OUR sin’ as our substitute. The one who knew NO sin became sin for US (2 Cor 5:21′ 1 Peter 2:21-24)’ on behalf of all who would repent and believe the gospel message that Christ did indeed die for OUR sin.

      We could talk all day about physical/metaphysical/genetic connections in an effort to find a solution, but that would all be but useless at the end of the day. All the scientific labor might result in ways to elicit better behavior from sinful humans (we are all in the same condition) but unless we realize our true condition (dead and condemned for our unbelief (John 3:18), repent and believe in the One who gave his life for ours, we wind up with an eternal death sentence.

      My friend, I have no idea where you are or what you think about all this, but I pray that you would consider these things. Perhaps you have already considered these things and truly repented of your sin and believed in the Son. If you have, I rejoice with you! If you have not, but are still on the road, I pray thar God will grant you repentance and salvation through his Son!

      My apologies for not having replied sooner, but I wanted to provide a well thought out and honest answer that cut to the heart of the issue.

      May you be blessed, my friend!


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