The Meaning of “Fallen Nature”

From my article “Was Calvin a Nominalist? Part 1: Historical and Theological Background

…to say that human beings have “a fallen nature” refers to more than simply each individual’s inability to stop sinning; rather, it refers to the way human beings are oriented towards disordered affections that present substitute notions of what it means to flourish. These substitute notions of human flourishing compete with the God-given vocation originally bestowed upon mankind by the Creator God. Thus, the curse of Adam and Eve after they disobeyed God was not a purely juridical act that might have been otherwise – rather, being cursed with death was a natural and organic correlate to cutting oneself off from the ultimate Source of life. To use an analogy from Wright’s book The Day the Revolution Happened, the death and judgment that follows sin is like having an accident from driving around a corner too quickly rather than getting a speeding ticket (the latter is arbitrary, whereas the former is organically related to the offense itself). As human beings pursue substitute notions of human flourishing that are separate from the Source of life, human beings move away from everything that gives health to our souls. The result is that we become progressively subhuman….

Within this context, to say Jesus “saves” mankind refers to much more than simply that Jesus made it possible for believers to go to heaven when they die. Rather, Jesus saves humanity in the sense that He reunites human nature to the life of God. Instead of mankind being defined by death, man can now be defined by life. As such, death ceases to be the enemy because, even in the midst of death, it is the life of God that defines those who are united to Christ. Thus, as an instrument of death the cross also becomes a powerful symbol of life. In the teaching of Jesus and the apostles, the uniting of man with God that began at the incarnation continues as the life of God is mediated to mankind through the sacramental life of the Church. The ministry of the Church thus becomes the means for men and women to experience salvation, in the aforementioned sense of being reunited with the divine life. As such, salvation is as much medicinal as it is juridical. The incarnation of Christ—made present to men and women through the sacramental life of the Church—is the medicine of immortality through which the human soul is healed and able to move towards flourishing.