The Complexity of the Natural Man

Not as though he is in every sense self-conscious of his own adopted principle. In practice the natural man is much better than his principle. He does not fully live up to his principle. He is not a finished product. He is restrained by the non-saving grace of God from “being as bad as he can be,” and as bad as he will be when his principle has full control of him.

In practice, therefore, the man of the street is a complex individual. He is first the creature made in the image of God. He was represented in Adam at the beginning of history. In Adam he broke the covenant of God. He is now in principle opposed to God. He is dead in trespasses and sins. He is wholly polluted in all the aspects of his being. So far as he lives from this principle he will not because he cannot, and he cannot because he will not, accept the overtures of the grace of God unless by the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit he is made alive from the dead. But he does not live fully from his principle. Therefore he does not react in the exclusively negative way that we would expect him to, if we look at the principle that ultimately controls him. Like the prodigal of the scriptural parable he cannot forget the father’s voice and the father’s house. He knows that the father has been good and is good in urging him to return. Yet his principle drives him on to the swine trough. On the one hand he will do the good, in the sense of that which externally at least is in accord with the will of God. He will live a “good” moral life. He will be anxious to promote the welfare of his fellow men. In all this he is not a hypocrite. He is not sufficiently self-conscious to be a hypocrite.

It is therefore of the utmost importance to distinguish between what the natural man is by virtue of his adopted principle and what he still is because of the knowledge of God as his creator that he has within him and because of the non-saving grace by which he is kept from working out his principle to the full and by which he is therefore also able to do the “morally good.”

– Cornelius Van Til, A Christian Theory of Knowledge p.225-226

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