Transforming Human Nature
“MEN do not live only by fighting evils,” said philosopher Sir Isaiah Berlin. “They live by positive goals, individual and collective.” But how many can find such “positive goals”? All too often human nature gravitates toward what is negative and destructive.
In Britain, for instance, crimes of violence recently jumped 11 percent. “Our job,” says Britain’s prime minister, “is to try to find constraints so that great civilization can go on.” But can laws and political pressure, however well-meaning, really change the tendency of people to do what is wrong? The fact that lawlessness exists and increases in the face of legislation, and even in the face of stringent law enforcement, speaks for itself. Something more than legal restraint is needed. The very nature of people has to change.
The Bible, taking an honest, down-to-earth view of life, describes man’s bad traits. For example, the apostle Paul wrote to his fellow Christians in Galatia about “immoral, filthy, and indecent actions . . . People become enemies and they fight; they become jealous, angry, and . . . are envious, get drunk, have orgies, and do other things like these.” According to Today’s English Version, quoted here, all these degrading practices are “what human nature does.”—Galatians 5:19-21.
The Root of the Problem
Today’s English Version, however, is a free translation and the expression “what human nature does” is merely a paraphrase of what Paul actually said. The Greek word used by Paul, sarx, means “flesh,” not “human nature.” For this reason, literal translations speak here of “the works of the flesh” to convey Paul’s expression accurately in our modern tongue.a
The Bible account of sin’s entry onto the human scene is clear and simple—in fact, so simple that most choose not to believe it. This is how Paul described it: “Through one man sin entered into the world and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men because they had all sinned.” (Romans 5:12) Paul is here alluding to Genesis, the first book of the Bible, and to the creation of the first man, Adam, and his wife, Eve. Their willful disobedience is well-known. On account of it, they were sentenced to death. Their offspring inherited their imperfections and likewise died. So then, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” For this basic reason, human nature today is at best a muddied reflection of what it was when God originally created man perfect.—Romans 3:23; Genesis, chapters 2 and 3.
Human Nature Transformed!
It is possible, however, to overcome many of the worst traits of human nature. Indeed, the Bible says that we can change our nature in the sense of changing our personality. How? With the aid of God’s holy spirit.—Romans 8:9.
Paul, in his letter to fellow Christians at Colossae, put it this way: “Strip off the old personality with its practices, and clothe yourselves with the new personality, which through accurate knowledge is being made new according to the image of the One who created it.” Among the practices of the old personality, he lists some of the traits that move people to gravitate toward what is destructive: hurtful desire, wrath, anger, and badness.—Colossians 3:5-10.
Writing similarly to the Christians at Ephesus, Paul again mentions the need for a “new personality,” which he tells them was “created according to God’s will in true righteousness and loyalty.” He develops his discussion by saying: “Let all malicious bitterness and anger and wrath and screaming and abusive speech be taken away from you along with all badness. But become kind to one another, tenderly compassionate.”—Ephesians 4:24, 31, 32.
Were Paul’s words realistic? Can personalities really be changed? Well, the evidence is that those early Christians did make radical changes in their lives. As a group of people, they stood apart from the world around them. Justin Martyr, a historian in early Christian times, wrote: “We who hated and destroyed each other, and, on account of the difference of manners, refused to live with men of a different tribe, now, since the appearance of Christ, live on terms of familiar intercourse with them, and pray for our enemies, and endeavour to persuade those who hate us without a cause to live conformably to the perfect precepts of Christ.”
What about today? Is it still possible to make such radical changes in the nature of a person? Yes! Tens of thousands of examples show that dramatic changes are still taking place. The following is just one of them.
Stephen was brought up in one of the industrial centers of England. His father was an atheist. At the age of 12, Stephen was sentenced to three years in a reform school. He had confessed 64 cases of burglary! He soon lost respect for any authority, and as he grew up, his crimes became more serious. They included fraud, drunkenness, disorderly conduct, and assault on the police, for which last offense Stephen was sent to prison. His nature became very violent. “There is no crime a godless man will not commit if his needs are great enough,” he said.
What could change such a hardened criminal? Stephen eventually accepted help from his brother who had become one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. After having studied the Bible for a short period of time, Stephen started to put on a “new personality.” The changes he made were truly dramatic. Now, five years later, he is happily married and a responsible member of a congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses, in which he serves as a ministerial servant.
So human nature can be changed in individual cases. But are human weaknesses the sole reason for the ‘undermining of civilization’ today?
“The Devil of Scripture”
The apostle Paul wrote a remarkable prophecy regarding these “last days.” His words are reproduced in the above box. Notice that the crescendo of violence and evil brings “critical times hard to deal with.” Is human nature solely responsible for all of this?—2 Timothy 3:1.
No, there is something else, a sinister force for evil that is manipulating human weaknesses. Just as people find it difficult to believe that man has inherited sin, they likewise find it hard to accept that there is a power superior to man that seeks to manipulate him. But the Bible says that such a power does exist: Satan the Devil.
The word “Devil” (meaning, “slanderer”) occurs 33 times in the Bible, and “Satan” (meaning, “resister”) 52 times. Most of these references have to do with the same wicked spirit person. Some, though, deny the existence of a personal Satan, preferring to say: “Human nature with its propensity to sin is the devil of Scripture.”b Interestingly, though, in the account of Jehovah’s faithful servant Job, the Hebrew text uses the expression has·Sa·tanʹ, the Satan, and at Luke 4:2, we read that it was the Devil (Greek, ho di·aʹbo·los) who tempted Jesus. (Job 1:6) In both instances, a particular person is grammatically designated. Human nature does not enter in.
The apostle Paul adds to our understanding of how powerful Satan is when, in writing to the Ephesians, he speaks about “the world rulers of this darkness, . . . the wicked spirit forces in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12) Along with Satan the Devil, those “world rulers” are demons, invisible wicked spirit creatures. They are “misleading the entire inhabited earth,” exploiting man’s fallen condition to the greatest extent possible. (Revelation 12:9) It is for this reason that Paul strongly urges each Christian to “stand firm against the machinations of the Devil.” He is a major cause of the deterioration of humanity that we see around us.—Ephesians 6:11.
Peter, Paul’s contemporary, assures us that Satan and his demons will not be around forever to prey on humankind. He says: “There are new heavens and a new earth that we are awaiting according to his promise, and in these righteousness is to dwell.” (2 Peter 3:13) Indeed, soon now, evil in all its manifestations will no longer be part of the human scene. Satan and his demons will be destroyed. (Romans 16:20; Revelation 20:1-3) Then, indeed, human nature will reflect “the glory of God,” with everlasting life the sure prospect for the human family.—Romans 3:23.
“I have always said and always will say,” asserted American president Thomas Jefferson, “that the studious perusal of the Sacred Volume will make better citizens . . . The Bible makes the best people in the world.” As we have seen, our nature can be transformed if we give the Bible’s powerful message a chance to influence our lives. (Romans 12:2) We can choose to reach out to embrace what is noble and godly. And to strengthen us in our effort to improve, we can choose to associate with those who sincerely want to do the same. (Hebrews 10:24, 25) Jehovah’s Witnesses are willing to help you in every way possible. Why not contact them now!
a Compare: New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures; The Holy Bible, by Robert Young; The Emphasised Bible, by Joseph B. Rotherham; The Holy Bible in Modern English, by Ferrar Fenton; The Modern Reader’s Bible, by Richard G. Moulton.
b An official statement of belief of Christadelphianism, a sect of Christendom.
[Box on page 6]
“THE LAST DAYS”—The Bible’s Description
“But know this, that in the last days critical times hard to deal with will be here. For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, self-assuming, haughty, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, disloyal, having no natural affection, not open to any agreement, slanderers, without self-control, fierce, without love of goodness, betrayers, headstrong, puffed up with pride, lovers of pleasures rather than lovers of God, having a form of godly devotion but proving false to its power; and from these turn away.”—2 Timothy 3:1-5.
[Picture on page 7]
Soon, human nature will fully reflect the glory of God