Is Man Inherently Good?

Something is wrong. Surely we all recognize it. Mass shootings, terrorism, division, racism, nuclear threats, sexual abuse, and on and on the list goes of daily news headlines. What’s going on?

The answers will vary depending on your worldview. Some argue that we need better education. Some might argue that people just need opportunity and success; only when people get in desperate situations will they commit heinous acts. Others argue that we need better laws. While laws are good and assist in restraining evil, they don’t fix the problem.

These answers merely skim the surface. To understand what’s going on, we must get to the center of man’s thoughts and desires. We must dig deeper and look at the heart of man.

None Are Innocent

The idea that man is good, or at least morally neutral, is taught by our society…unfortunately, it has crept its way into the church as well. The church has watered down doctrine and determined it irrelevant and divisive. Yet, in the absence of teaching historic biblical truths, the ideas of culture have infiltrated the minds of church-goers. Where the importance of doctrine is deemphasized, something else will fill the void.

Scripture is clear on the state of man. Most of are familiar with passages like Romans 3:23: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Knowing we are all sinners is a good start, but it doesn’t give us a complete picture of man. Are we inherently good people who’ve made some bad choices or are we inherently sinful people? To answer this, we’ll have to look at more passages of Scripture.

How Bad Are We?

Scripture teaches that in our natural state we are immoral. We are naturally “children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:3). At the core of our being, our heart controls our will, thoughts, and desires and our heart is bent toward evil. Scripture isn’t just saying this about the mass shooters and terrorist, it’s talking about all of us. There are several passages that make this clear:

  • Jeremiah 17:9- “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it.”
  • Romans 7:18- “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh.”
  • Titus 1:15- “…To the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled.”
  • Romans 3:10-12- “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”
  • Romans 8:7-8- “For the mind that is set on the flesh [unbeliever] is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.”
  • 1 Corinthians 2:14- “The natural person [all of us before Christ] does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.”

It’s absolutely vital that we get our understanding from what Scripture teaches and not our own thoughts and experiences. When we look to Scripture, we see that we are utterly depraved. Not only are we all sinners, but the truth is we are so tainted by our sin that we cannot please God. Left to ourselves, we are unable to follow God and His commandments. Because of this inability, anyone who is still in sin is referred to as a “slave to sin” (John 8:34).

The Power of God

What hope do we have then? If we are in sin and are not able to obey God because we are slaves to sin, what can we do?

When teaching about the nature of man, Scripture is brutally honest and takes us to the point of despair…then it gives us hope. After telling us about the limitations of natural man, we are told about the power of God’s Holy Spirit at work in man. The Holy Spirit takes a man dead in his sins and transgressions and makes him alive again. We are given a new heart! Ezekiel 36:26 reads, “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” We are the dry bones in Ezekiel 37 that God has called and given life to!

Though we would continue to rebel against God left to ourselves, thankfully God, in His mercy, can open our eyes to the gospel by the power of His Spirit. Jesus tells Nicodemus that in order to see the kingdom of God, one must be born again. Not understanding, Nicodemus asks how this is possible. Jesus tells him about the mysterious work of the Holy Spirit. Jesus later teaches in John 6:44: “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.” God draws us by His grace and power.

So, Christians are believers because of God’s gracious work in our lives. Our thoughts, actions, and desires before Christ were in rebellion to him, but by His grace, he worked in our heart and we cried out to God in repentance and faith!

Our Mission

If the teaching of Scripture regarding man is true, then we are in a spiritual battle. The chaos we see is the result of man’s depravity. Solutions will not come by passing laws, gun control, better politicians, worldly systems, education, or any other man-made fix. Those things can be helpful to a certain extent, and we should voice our opinion by voting and public discourse. But, ultimately, our problem is a spiritual one and it will only be fixed with a spiritual solution. Thankfully, our hope isn’t in man.

If we truly believe that man needs a new heart, and this only comes about by the power of the Spirit working through the message of the gospel, then it should drive us to be prayer warriors and evangelists. Our world will continue to be under a curse until Christ returns, so evil will continue to show it’s ugly head, but we are to continue shining the light in the darkness.

Some will argue that this isn’t practical and to believe it makes one “so spiritually minded to be no earthly good.” However, it’s the commission given by Jesus to do until he returns. He commands us to make disciples and teach them to obey, and He promises to be with us the whole way. The apostles followed his instruction and turned the world upside down, without ever running for office or bowing to the political elites. Perhaps our problem is that we need to be more spiritually minded than we are.

While it might seem small to us, sharing the gospel with a friend, showing compassion to a stranger in need, and sacrificing our rights for others might be the most powerful and radical thing we can do. While looking for a “top-down” approach to changing our world through worldly influence, perhaps as Christians we’ve missed the many opportunities to show the love of Christ in our everyday life.

Christ lived and died for sinners like us. The good news of the gospel is that even though we are inherently evil, God is able to make us alive in Christ.

James Williams

Trying to live this life to the glory of God and help others in the process. Only by His grace!

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