Are People Good?

Do we come into this world as basically good, clean slates who learn to do bad as we go along? Are most people really good at heart? Do they mean well most of the time? Or is everyone a sinner by nature? In other words, do people sin because they are sinners or are they sinners because they sin? This issue stirs up strong feelings but needs to be considered because it is central to a proper understanding of salvation.

The Bible is plain about the nature of man. We are all the children of wrath and the children of disobedience. Every person is naturally a sinner. “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity.” (Psalm 51:5) “There is none righteous, no not one.” (Romans 3:10) The Bible describes all people as rejectors of God. (Romans 3:11) Every person’s natural moral disposition is against righteousness, against God and against His commands.

The Bible describes every person as enemies of God and separated from Him. (Colossians 1:19) As long as the person is separated from God, nothing done by that person is truly good in the eyes of God. God says to those who are in rebellion against Him, “All (your) righteousnesses are as filthy rags.” (Isaiah 64:6)

This does not mean that no one does good things of their own free will or that people will always do the most wicked thing they could possibly do. This does not mean all beneficence and philanthropy is actually self-serving. Many people genuinely do good things for others. Most people refuse to do all the bad things they could do. Goodness and self-restraint are real. Goodness in humanity is evidence of God’s grace in the world.

God has given every person a conscience which teaches him to know right from wrong. Romans 2 says people naturally do the things written in the law of God. Their natural obedience to God’s law is evidence that God has written His law in the heart of every person. However, the human conscience is not proof of basic human goodness, but of basic human guilt. The conscience convicts every person of his guilt so that none can legitimately claim to be without sin. (Romans 2:14-15)

The claim that no one is born good is not a denial of individual ability to understand right from wrong, a denial that people will do right instead of wrong or a declaration that people will always do their worst. Instead, this truth teaches that each person does evil because evil resides within the heart of every person. The Bible teaches that every one is a sinner because they are naturally disposed to sin from birth. None are as bad as they could be, few are as bad as they want to be, but no one is perfect before God.

The universality of sin does not lessen the individual’s guilt. Instead, the universal scope of sin is an indication of the severity of the problem. Sin is so terrible it has infected the entire human race. Because all are infected with sin, “there is none that doeth good.” (Psalm 14:3) However, the Bible offers hope and healing from sin. “Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound: that as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 5:20-21)