Lesson 15 in the Gospel Doctrine’s curriculum looks at Mosiah 1-3 in the Book of Mormon. Mosiah 3:19 talks about the natural man and how it is an enemy of God. The teacher’s guide has one quote from McConkie’s Mormon Doctrine explaining it. Other than that, it’s difficult to find much written about it. The LDS Bible Dictionary contains no entry on it. I found no specific listing of it in either of Mormonism’s basic manuals: Gospel Principles or True to the Faith. Neither has it often been raised in my discussions with LDS members.
The one thing that is obvious about Mormonism’s view of the natural man is that, in Mormonism, it doesn’t describe a thorough corruption. For example, Mosiah 3:16 talks about how even if little children could sin, they couldn’t be saved without Christ’s atonement because “as in Adam, or by nature, they fall.” So even though they fell, they don’t sin. D&C 29:47 simply says: “Wherefore, they cannot sin, for power is not given unto Satan to tempt little children, until they become accountable before me.” According to D&C 68:27 they reach that at the age of eight. Therefore Mormonism teaches that children don’t sin until the age of eight. Just as an aside, spending one hour in any preschool will severely put that belief to the test!
But to the bigger point. This teaching about children is just one illustration of Mormonism’s view that the natural man doesn’t describe a thorough corruption. But thoroughly corrupt is how the Bible describes us by nature. God said: “for the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth” (Gen. 8:21). What is so striking about that is that God said that after the Flood – when Noah and his family constituted the whole human race! Even then God did not have an optimistic view of humanity. Instead of talking about an innate right to choose between good and evil, he said that even a person’s inclination is evil.
Other scriptures support this. “God looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, that did seek God. Every one of them is gone back; they are altogether become filthy; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.” (Psalm 53:2-3.) That is all inclusive. None were seeking God – all have become filthy – none does good. Wouldn’t yielding to “the enticings of the Holy Spirit” which Mosiah 3 says is the way to put off the natural man be doing something good?
Mormonism and the Bible have differing views of humanity. Because of their different starting points, they end up in different places. Because of its more optimistic view of humanity, Mormonism talks about grace plus. It says that “effort is required on our part to receive the fullness of the Lord’s grace and be made worthy to dwell with Him” (True to the Faith, p. 77). Because of its pessimistic view of man by nature, the Bible talks about grace alone based entirely on Jesus’ work for us. “In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace.” (Ephesians 1:7).
I confess that by nature I was rotten through and through. I confess that I was filthy in God’s sight. I confess that I sinned against God a multitude of times before I was eight years old. Therefore I am thankful that Jesus did everything for me. I praise him for drowning my sins in the depths of the sea. He completely covered me with his perfection. I am saved by God’s grace alone. Only because of what he did am I confident that I will spend eternity living with Heavenly Father. To God be all the praise!