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Editor’s note: This post provides an overview of the theology studies of Epistemology and Bibliology with applications pointing to biblical counseling. In this series of posts, Terry Enns provides an overview of 10 different areas of systematic theology. This post was excerpted from a message at our Annual Conference. You can listen to the message here. Read also the other posts in this series:

In contrast to the doctrine of God we have anthropology, the doctrine of man.

Man is God’s Creation

One of the first truths we want to learn about man is that man is God’s creation, and he is made in the image and likeness of God (Gen. 1:26-27). God has created us and we are dependent on Him; He is not dependent on us. We reflect His glory; He does not reflect our glory.

We also find in Genesis 1 that man is a man and he is not an animal. He is a man because he is created in the image and likeness of God. Therefore, he is not a victim of his environment. Rather, he has been created by God to reflect God in his environment and world.  Furthermore, he is made for God’s glory. Man is made to reveal the nature and character of God in a manner that is distinct from the rest of creation.  God only says of man that he is made in God’s image and likeness; there is uniqueness in the creation of mankind. So man lives for God’s glory and everything he does finds its culmination and fulfillment in God.

All Mankind is Under Sin

In studying anthropology, we understand that all mankind is under sin because of mankind’s identification with the sin of Adam. Adam sinned and all of mankind sins with him; he was our representative head or our federal head. Romans 5 says we are identified with him and with his sin. We are born under the curse of Adam (original sin), and all men are sinners because they sin and their own sin condemns them (Rom. 5:12). So we sin because we are sinners — we sin because we were born that way — and we are sinners because we also sin. So it’s not just that we’re born under the curse; no, we demonstrate every day by the way we live that we are sinners.

Man is Totally Depraved

The Scriptures are also clear that man is totally depraved and unable to please God (though he continually attempts to live in self-righteousness, man is incapable of meeting and maintaining God’s standard of righteousness. Romans 3:9-18 makes this particularly clear (note all the absolutes in that passage:  “none,” “not even one,” no,” etc.). On his own, man cannot do good. He is incapable of doing anything in the flesh (on his own) that is pleasing to God. In fact, everything he does is sin because he does nothing for God’s glory. Nothing he does is good. Everything the unbeliever does is sin.

Let’s imagine this scenario: Two neighbors both have 9-year-old boys who play baseball. Both dads come home early from work one day at about 4 p.m. They go to their boys and they both invite their sons to play catch with a baseball before dinner. When they finish playing about 45 minutes later, the fathers encourage their sons verbally, and then take them for a snow cone (before dinner!). Both sons think very highly of their dads and love them.

In this illustration, one of the neighbors is a believer in Jesus Christ and the other neighbor is not a believer in Jesus Christ. For the follower of Christ, this action is righteousness and for the one who is not a follower of Christ it is sin. They both did the same things externally didn’t they? They both took their sons out, they both spent time with them, they both encouraged, they both helped them, and they both lavished them with some measure of grace, something the son didn’t deserve. For one it’s righteousness, but for one it is sin. How is that so? Because the one who is not a believer in Jesus Christ has pulled God out of the equation and says, “I’m going to live life on my own as if my standard is enough to achieve Heaven and satisfy God.” It’s not enough. God’s standard is righteousness, but the unbeliever’s standard isn’t perfection; he hasn’t done what he’s done for the glory of God. Even though the man has done something that superficially seems good, it is only more condemnation that will be held against him on the day of wrath. He has not lived for the glory of God. So everything the unbeliever does is sin. His heart is deceitfully wicked; his goal in life is selfishness and only evil continually. Every aspect of his life is tainted by sin.

Now that doesn’t mean he is as sinful as he might be. He can always do things that have a greater impact and are worse in results; therefore, he is not as fully sinful as he might be, but there is nothing in his life that isn’t touched by sin. He is depraved and unable. All of his life is touched and tainted by his sinfulness.

Man Functions out of the Overflow of His Heart

Along with saying that man is depraved, we also say that man is directed by his heart and his mind; so his heart is the primary area in need of change. He needs change in the heart. Man has both an inner man, the heart and the soul, and an outer man, the outside things that can be seen and observed (Lk. 6:43-45).

In Luke 6, Jesus is pointing to both aspects of the man: the outer man and the inner man. Our outward choices and actions flow from the heart; they come from the inward life. As we think about the heart biblically, it’s about more than just the mind, it’s about the things that we think, our conscience and our beliefs, our desires, our motives, and our emotions. All that combines to make the will and the mind and heart. This is everything that we are; it’s all the inward stuff that makes us who we are. Those inward characteristics always overflow into activity, and if we are in Christ that overflows into righteous activity, but if we’re outside of Christ that overflows into unrighteous activity.

Practically speaking, when a counselee comes we want to address both his inward and outward lives. If the husband is coming in and he’s having outbursts of anger against his wife, we want him to stop having those outbursts of anger. So we are going to talk about some practical things we can do to control his tongue, but we also want to address his heart and the desires, emotions, and thoughts that emanate from his inner self. This means evaluating the things that he is thinking, his motives, his desires, and considering how he thinks and understands his relationship with God. Proverbs 23:7 says, “For as he thinks within himself, so he is.” So we want him to deal with those inward thoughts, those inner desires, so that those begin to overflow into righteous activity. And when he thinks rightly he will be able to produce a life that is honoring to the Lord.

A Summary of Anthropology

Man was created to glorify God, but because of sin he seeks to glorify himself; he is constantly attempting to usurp God’s throne. This is what sin does. It leaves us wanting to take over God’s throne.

A strong theology on anthropology is closely tied to the next topic: Hamartiology (the doctrine of sin).

Terry Enns is the pastor of Grace Bible Church in Granbury Texas. He has over twenty years of pastoral counseling experience, and is a certified counselor with the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC, formerly NANC).  In addition to his preaching and pastoral duties at Grace, Terry maintains an active blog at Words of Grace.


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