Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been challenged to think about whether or not people are good. Theologically, the question would be best stated this way: what is the moral nature of mankind? Man can certainly come up with his own opinion, but the authority over all truth is the Scripture. Therefore, our beliefs must be formed and based upon the Word of God.
As for the moral nature of people (i.e. – Are people good?), let’s look at what Scripture has to say:
Isaiah 64:6, “For all of us have become like one who is unclean, And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; And all of us wither like a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.”
Notice that Isaiah says that even our righteous or good deeds are dirty to God. It’s not that we can’t do good things. It’s just that without repenting of sin and trusting Jesus Christ as our Savior, these good deeds are soiled. Why is that? It’s because God’s not just concerned with our actions. He’s more concerned about our hearts. The deed might be good and the motives not be. I could do a lot of good deeds for selfish reasons. But let put it another way. The deed might be good and the motive not be the best. In other words, I could do a lot of good deeds for good reasons (i.e. – I want to see starving people be fed, or I want to see people in tattered clothing clothed well), but these are not the best motive. The best motive according to Scripture is to please God who is revealed in Jesus Christ and bring Him glory. And when we do good things without having our ultimate desire being to please God and bring Him glory, it is like a filthy garment. Outwardly, the deed might be good, but morally it is corrupt, and therefore bad. That’s the situation people who have not repented and trusted in Christ find themselves in. Morally according to the Law of God, they are bad.
Isaiah 53:6, “All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way.”
Every single person has gone astray from God. We’ve all rebelled against God and turned to our own ways. That means that morally according to the Law, we are not good.
Romans 3:9-18, “ What then? Are we better than they? Not at all; for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin; 10as it is written, ‘There is none righteous, not even one; 11There is none who understands, There is none who seeks for God; 12All have turned aside, together they have become useless; There is none who does good, There is not even one. 13Their throat is an open grave, With their tongues they keep deceiving, The poison of asps is under their lips; 14Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness; 15Their feet are swift to shed blood, 16Destruction and misery are in their paths, 17And the path of peace they have not known. 18There is no fear of God before their eyes.’”
This passage describes the moral nature of a human before repenting of their sin and trusting in Christ. None are righteous, not even one. There is none who does good, not even one. That includes you and me and every other person before we are born again in Jesus Christ. What a bleak picture of humanity, but it’s the biblical picture. Therefore, it should be our belief.
Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
This is so important. Notice who Paul says we are to be compared to when determining our goodness. It is not to other men. It is to God. Compared to Hitler and the Hillside Strangler, I look incredibly good, but compared to God, I look terribly bad. The only way for me to look great when compared to God is for the righteousness of Jesus Christ to be mine. That only happens through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.
Ephes. 2:1-3, “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, 2in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. 3Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.”
Verse 3 is key. We are “by nature children of wrath.” In other words, we are born with a sin nature. It’s our nature to sin. I like to think about it this way: I am not a sinner because I sin; rather I sin because I’m a sinner. My nature is the cause of my action. I am by nature morally corrupt, and the only way to have my nature changed is to be born again in Jesus Christ. Then and only then is my nature changed from morally bad to morally good.
Mark 10:18, “And Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone.’”
In the context of this verse, a man comes up to Jesus and says in v17, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” V18 is Jesus’ response. In this response, Jesus is saying 2 things. First, He’s saying that if you are calling me good, then you are also calling me God because only God is good. Second, He’s saying that only God can be called good; man cannot be. This truth ties right into the rest of Scripture, but particularly Romans 3:23. Man cannot be called morally good because every man, woman, and child has sinned and fallen short of the God’s glory. Only God can be called good.
So in conclusion, I believe that the biblical teaching is that no person is morally good because all persons are guilty of sin, which is breaking God’s revealed moral law. This truth includes every man, woman, and yes, child. Therefore, if we are to preach the gospel to people, we must help them to see this truth. We must help them to see that they are not good according to the law. It’s only then that they will see their need for Jesus Christ as a Savior. That’s why Jesus came to die—so that our sins would be forgiven. I would argue that this is the most loving thing that I can do for them. I am not judging them. Scripture is. I’m so glad that somebody took the chance and demonstrated to me that I am a sinner in need of a Savior.