Is Man Good or Bad?

How you answer this question will determine how you approach God

Written by: Joel Joyce

Most people would agree that at least some people are bad: chronic criminals residing in Jackson State Prison, ruthless Colombian drug lords, and inner city gang leaders. But what about the productive members of society, law abiding citizens, family people who respect the rights of others and the authority of the law? Where do they fall on the spectrum between good and bad? If we asked this question in a random poll, people would give a range of answers. Some would say that man is basically good, except for a few deranged people like those mentioned; others would say that man is mostly good, but there is also a little bit of evil in all of us; still others would assert that man is neutral—family and social influences determine his inclination toward goodness or evil. A few people might even believe that man’s natural propensity is toward evil.

CThis question may seem to be philosophical and not really relevant to you as a nurse, homemaker, salesman, or engineer. But how you answer this question will determine how you approach God and his salvation. If you feel you are good, you will offer your goodness to God as reason for Him to accept you into Heaven. However, if you realize you are not good enough for Heaven and that your inherent evil deserves Hell, then you will approach God pleading for His mercy.

Before answering this ancient question lets define good and bad. The Bible equates goodness with obeying God’s moral laws; badness is falling short of these. Jesus summed up God’s law in this statement, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind… and love your neighbor as yourself" (Matthew 22:37-39). God judges us not only by what we do, but by what we think—our motives and attitudes. Jesus taught that if we hate our brother, then in God’s mind we have committed murder in our hearts. If a man looks at a women to lust after her he has committed adultery in his heart (Matthew 5:28). We may never have actually murdered or committed adultery, but if we have thought about committing these things we have broken God’s law. With goodness and badness defined, let’s ask the question again in a slightly different way: Is man’s natural bent to love God and to put the interest of his neighbor on the same level as his own? Or, is he basically selfish and self-centered?

In answering this question let me first appeal to your common sense. Why do we make laws? Are they not to protect ourselves from each other or to prevent us from taking advantage of each other? If each of us lived by the "Golden Rule" and loved his neighbor as himself, what need would we have for laws? There would be no theft, no murder, no divorce, or no racial discrimination. What need would there even be for a police force or army? Yet our modern societies are more regulated than any societies in history. Some may argue we have too many laws, but I shudder to think of what our country would be like if there were no laws and no authority to enforce them.

Do we have to teach our children to be selfish with their toys? Do we have to teach them to make fun of the boy down the street with the big ears? Do they only learn laziness by example? Do they need lessons in lying? Certainly a poor example by parents and a lack of restraint will accentuate these tendencies, but virtues like sharing, truthfulness, obedience, and kindness must be taught. As adults, this bad behavior doesn’t disappear; it just becomes refined. We know it is socially unacceptable to make fun of people so we do it behind their backs. Selfishness merely takes on a new face. Babies are aborted so life-styles are not cramped. Marriages break up because, "I am not getting what I want out of it." Lying is okay as long as it promotes our interest and doesn’t hurt anybody.

Common sense clearly shows that since people must be trained and restrained, they cannot be inherently good.

What does the Bible teach about the nature of man? "No one seeks God. All have turned away… there is no one who does good, no not one" (Romans 3:11-12). "We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way" (Isaiah 53:6). "There is none good but one, that is, God" (Mark 10:18). "All of us lived at one time among them, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts" (Ephesians 2:3). The Bible’s clear teaching on the nature of man is that he is born with a sinful nature. In his heart he makes himself the most important person in the universe and gives God second place or no place at all.

These alarming statements from God’s word may seem to overstate the sinfulness of man. But that is simply because we are so accustomed to comparing ourselves with each other. Since we can always find someone worse than ourselves, we think that we have some good in us. But God does not grade on a curve. If we fail to meet His standard, we are unfit for Heaven.

What hope can we have of Heaven? How can we have a right relationship with a holy God? Through the death of Christ, God has provided a way in which our guilt as sinners can be removed and replaced with a righteous standing in His sight: "God made Him [Christ] who had no sin to be sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him" (2 Corinthians 5:21). Christ, who is righteous, took the punishment of our sin upon Himself, so that we who are unrighteous may receive a righteous standing in God’s sight. How do we receive this right standing? Not by prayers, baptism, church attendance, or even good works, but through faith in Jesus Christ. "But now a righteousness from God, apart from the law, has been made known… This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ" (Romans 3:21-22).