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The Gospel in Words: The gospel in words: 'Natural'


This is a reprint of a previous article.

"The natural man is an enemy to God." (Mosiah 3:19)

The Oxford English Dictionary has nearly three pages on the word "natural." A natural person is "one who is morally in a state of nature, in a purely natural condition, not altered or improved in any way." Natural matters are things "having their basis in the natural world or in the usual course of nature."

Natural things take "place in conformity with the ordinary course of nature; not unusual, marvelous, or miraculous." People living in a state of nature are those "without spiritual enlightenment; unenlightened; unregenerate." These people have a natural inclination or disposition to follow their own appetites. Natural events or things have "a real or physical existence, as opposed to what is spiritual, and pertain to or operate or take place in the physical (as opposed to the spiritual) world."

This is an enormously important concept in understanding scripture. It begins in Genesis with a description of the creation of Adam and Eve, born, as it were, into a spiritual state constantly in God's presence, and descending into a natural, unregenerate state, cut off from the presence of God.

Interestingly, "genesis" and "natural" have the same root, which means to beget, or give birth. This root is the parent of numerous words such as progeny, kin, nature, kind (both kinds), pregnant, congenital, innate, indigenous, nation, genius, benign, malign, generate, degenerate, germinate and genealogy.

Undergirding all of scripture is the idea that we are fallen creatures, of the earth ("therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden to till the ground from whence he was taken." Genesis 3:23); in a natural state, but with an obligation to overcome the natural state and reconnect with God through spiritual understanding that is simply not available to the natural, unregenerate mind.

Paul taught, "the natural man receiveth not the things of the spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them because they are spiritually discerned" (1 Corinthians 2:14).

Paul adds that we should "beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments (the imperfect beginnings or foundations of a material or an immaterial thing) of the world, and not after Christ" (Colossians 2:8).

So, an indispensable component of salvation is to exercise our agency to yield "to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and (put) off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father" (Mosiah 3:19).

Joseph A. Cannon is editor of the Deseret News.