It's Only Human Nature


*this blog is the first entry in the new “imagination station” blog series

When we make mistakes or say something downright monstrous, our gut response is to appeal to the imperfection of “human nature.” But have you stopped to wonder if humans have only one nature, like a product that is only offered in one color? Is this “human nature” unchangeable, or can we alter it slightly or even exchange it for a new one? 

The Bible takes the question of human nature seriously, as it gives its own definition of human nature in its earliest chapters. The Bible says that God gave humanity its nature and described it as consisting of God’s own image or stamp (Genesis 1:27). Mankind was created to image God, as a son images his parents (Genesis 5:3). Man reflects God at the creaturely level; we are to “be imitators of God” (Ephesians 5:1). God is not a murderer, so we are not to murder. God is not unfaithful to his own, so we are not to be idolaters or adulterers. God is self-sufficient, so we are to find our satisfaction in Him. God is the Lord of all, so humanity is to rule over the creation as steward-kings (Psalm 8:5, 6). 

Contemporary society may still appeal to a shared “human nature,” and yet the popular culture is waging an aggressive attack on the biblical idea of a received human nature, created to image God. Take the transgender movement as a rather severe example. The idea of changing (“trans”) one’s gender identity is an attack on the very idea of “human nature,” because who we are is no longer fixed, at least in part, by our God-given bodies. The body, in the transgender ideology, is divorced from one’s identity in a way that the unified biblical definition of human nature and individual identity could never justify (Genesis 2:23, 24). 


The 20th century, atheistic thinker Jean-Paul Sartre asserted that humanity has no given nature, what he called “essence,” that can dictate to humanity a particular set of identities, rules and goals. Instead Sartre proposed an unpredictable and endlessly mutable self, governed exclusively by itself (i.e. autonomous). According to Sartre, human nature is not something that humans are born with or that we all have in common, rather human nature is what each individual discovers and creates over a lifetime. To the average cultural observer, it’s not hard to see Sartre’s influence on our own culture.

Think of a few less severe examples than transgenderism: When it comes to romance we are called to follow our heart wherever it may lead. In the arena of child-bearing, we are cautioned to live life freely for as long as we are able before having children; in this view, having kids is a stunting of one’s authentic self-development. Social networks pride themselves on being perfect forums of self-expression. All four examples (transgenderism, romance, childrearing, social media), show us a culture obsessed with self-definition and radical self-governance. 

In contrast, the biblical perspective envisions a humanity created good and inextricably bound in its origin, purpose and identity to the God who formed it. As Herman Bavinck wrote, “We believe that the image of God belongs to the essence of our humanity; humanity apart from God, therefore, is unimaginable” (Reformed Ethics, 33). Human beings, then, are to strive, not to become what we are not on the basis of what we determine, but to become more fully what we already are on the basis of what God has determined. “To be fully and truly human, we must image God” (Bavinck, 33).

Reflection Questions:

  1. Is this a fair assessment of our culture (“obsessed with self-definition and self-governance”), and if so, how do you see the culture’s impact on your own life?

  2. How does a Christian view of human nature as image of God change the way that Christians do romance, child-rearing, and social media?

  3. What is the biblical means of striving to reflect God more fully? (check out Colossians 3:1-11)