Someone once asked the great philosopher Plato, “What is man?” He replied, “Man is a featherless biped,” (an animal with two feet) demonstrating that the renowned Greek thinker had a sense of humor. The answer doesn’t really tell us what man is in any substantial sense, leading one of his rivals at the time to show up at lectures holding a plucked chicken in order to make fun of Plato’s definition.
But the question is important. It is only through understanding who we are that we can come to understand what we may become through God’s plan. Are human beings basically good or is there something wrong with us? Do we naturally seek after God and His moral goodness or do we tend to desire to do our own thing on our own terms? The first article in this series provided an overview of God’s outline of history in creation, fall, redemption and restoration. This article will emphasize the human condition and need.
Defining Sin and its Extent
Before we can begin to restore our relationship with God, we need to understand that this relationship is broken to begin with and why that is the case. The relationship is broken not because of anything God has done, but because of what we have done. We have turned away from God’s standards and made our own path.
Sin is a key concept in Christianity, but it’s also that negative word no one likes to talk about. We prefer to be positive, to think that people are basically good. But Christianity claims that sin has a hold on everyone. Before we get ahead of ourselves, though, let’s take a moment to define sin.
Sin involves any deviation from God’s perfect standard of holiness. This can be the result of our thoughts, our behavior or in what we say. Christ emphasized the importance of being internally moral, not just externally moral. That’s why he provided His listeners with examples such as, “But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28). 
Our sinful behavior harms others, harms us and, more importantly, is an affront to a holy God. This is not God’s way of taking all the fun out of life. Rather, if we were designed to function best a certain way – living in harmony with God – then the best thing for us is to restore our broken relationship with God and enjoy life within the parameters He has established.
As a result of sin, we reject God and instead put ourselves in His place. This means that sin is not only the fact of our separation from God, but also involves our willful disobedience.
But what is the extent of sin? According to the Bible, sin is universal. As a whole we are fallen and sinful, but we are also fallen and sinful individually. As Paul explained, “As it is written: ‘There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one'” (Romans 3:10-12).
The Word Became Flesh
If human nature is so corrupt, then how can any of us restore our relationship with God? The truth is, on our own we can’t (Ephesians 2:8-9). While God has revealed Himself to us in a general sense in nature and moral conscience (Psalm 19:1; Romans 1:20; 2:14-15), this is not enough to restore our relationship. That’s why God provided the Bible for us – His special revelation – and did something else amazing: “The Word [Christ] became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood” (John 1:14, The Message). This is the story of God the Son – Jesus Christ – being born as a human, fully God yet fully man, in order to grow up and suffer and die for us on a cross, but miraculously come to life again, forming one of the cornerstones of Christian belief – the Resurrection. It is only through God’s grace that any of us can restore our relationship with our Creator.
Christ and the Good News
But Christ’s death and resurrection do not automatically accomplish a restored relationship between us and God. We must respond personally, sincerely and with a commitment to turn away from our sin (repent), acknowledging that only Christ can save us from our fallen condition.
The gospel or “good news” is that Christ has died for us, meaning that we can ask for His forgiveness and receive it. There is no magic in this request or exact ritual we must follow. It is simply a matter of turning to God through Christ and, through prayer, confessing that we have fallen short of His standards, expressing our desire to have Christ direct our lives for His glory, not ours. 
What About Faith and Reason?
But how do faith and reason relate to being a Christian? What if you have a hard time accepting the claims of Christ and Christianity? Fortunately, Christianity has a history, rooted in the Bible, for thinking through tough questions.
It’s not true that Christians must abandon reason in order to embrace faith. Christianity encourages the life of the mind (see, for instance, Matthew 22:37), with Paul noting that Christian beliefs are “true and reasonable” (Acts 26:25). Faith and reason complement one another rather than compete with one another. Christians are not called to blind faith or a leap of faith. Instead, our faith has a firm foundation in a variety of evidences such as the historical evidence for the Resurrection, the reliability of the New Testament documents, validity in historical findings, logical consistency and more.
When compared with other worldviews, Christianity offers the best explanation of reality. Atheism and secular humanism deny the existence of God, meaning that there is nothing essentially wrong with our condition as it is – we’re merely the product of chance and time, anyway, so we can just do the best we can as the reasoning animals we are. Pantheism, the view that everything is divine, generally claims that human beings are basically good. Our problem in pantheism is that we need spiritual liberation through enlightenment. Once we realize we are divine, then we will understand that there really is no distinction between good and evil. In deism, God has created and wound up the universe like a watch, but is now gone, leaving us on our own.
But in Christianity it is God who reaches out to us, seeking to throw us a lifeline if we will only respond to His help.
Featherless Bipeds or Glorious Creatures?
Fortunately, human beings are much more than featherless bipeds, as Plato quipped. We are glorious creatures, made in God’s image, but we are also fallen, broken and in need of salvation. If you are ready to receive Christ and follow Him, we encourage you to do so. Maybe you are uncertain or have further questions. If so, please feel free to contact Focus on the Family or a reputable evangelism ministry such as the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association ( www.billygraham.org ).
In the next article we’ll focus on “What Christ Did for Us,” further exploring God’s plan, specifically in relation to the work of Christ, the meaning of his death and resurrection, and more.
For more information or reading materials, call 1-800-A-FAMILY (232-6459).
Robert Velarde is author of Conversations with C.S. Lewis (InterVarsity Press), The Heart of Narnia (NavPress), and Inside The Screwtape Letters (Baker Books). He studied philosophy of religion and apologetics at Denver Seminary and is pursuing graduate studies in philosophy at Southern Evangelical Seminary.
 Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are from the New International Version of the Bible.
 “Steps to Peace with God,” by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, presents the gospel message clearly and simply, outlining “God’s Purpose,” “The Problem,” “God’s Bridge,” and “Our Response.”