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)

What can I do about regrets from my past?

Most Christians look back on their lives and feel regret or shame for things they have done. Those who were saved later in life often feel this guilt more significantly. They consider their life before salvation and wish the past could have been different. Broken relationships, hurts caused, missed opportunities or consequences that continue until this day fill hearts with sadness. The memories of the past hurt.

Many attempt to forget the past, but some things cannot be forgotten. What should Christians do when they look with regret and heartache at the sins of their past? The answer is not to avoid thinking about them, but to learn to think correctly about them.

Sin is a terrible thing, and its consequences are horrible. Sin plunged the world into thousands of years of suffering, disease, despair and death. Sin separates every person from God. Yet, God in His overwhelming grace, forgives every sin of every one who asks Him for salvation. “Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.” (Romans 5:20) The greatness of God’s forgiveness is better seen in light of the terribleness of sin. For those who think sin is no big deal, the forgiveness of sin is not that big of a deal either. Those who feel the weight of their sin, are better able to feel the magnitude of God’s grace. The old hymn says the grace of God is “greater than all our sin.” No matter what terrible things have been done, God’s grace is greater. Let your past sin remind you of the present grace of God.

Though the memory of sin remains, and sometimes the earthly consequences remain, never forget your guilt is gone. The guilty feelings may remain, but God holds you guiltless. He has forgiven all your sin. The promise of God is, “And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more.” (Hebrews 10:17) Why should we allow ourselves to constantly think about that which God promises to remember no more? Every sin you have ever committed is completely forgiven by God. When you remember the sins of your past, remember they have all been cast into the depths of the sea. (Micah 7:9) Praise the Lord!

Be careful to not become mired in feelings of guilt because of your past sin. In “The Pilgrims Progress” John Bunyan told of a man who was weighed down by the guilt of his sin. For a little while he was mired down in a slough, the Slough of Despond. His guilt threatened to drown him in despair. Only the kind help of a faithful man of God brought him out of the swamp. Do not let the remembrance of sin drive you to despair. Let sins past remind you to worship your God for His overwhelming grace. Never forget that where sin abounds grace does much more abound.

As you feel the sorrow of your sin, take comfort. God promises you, “Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.” (Matthew 5:4) God comforts those who have repented and sought His forgiveness. He comforts you with the promise your sins are washed away. All guilt is gone, forever.

What is the sin nature?

The doctrine of the sin nature is not very popular. Even many Christians balk at the idea that all people are by nature guilty before God. Those churches which believe in the sin nature do not often teach the concept. The sin nature is also referred to as original sin and, among theologians, imputed sin. What is it?

The sin nature is the part of the person that is corrupted by sin. The sin nature is more than people committing sinful acts. The sin nature is the idea that every person is spiritually damaged. The broken part of the being produces the performance of evil deeds. 

The idea of a sin nature is found in Scriptures in the contrast between the old man and the new man. The old man is that which is natural to man and is displeasing to God. The new man is that which is supernaturally created by God in the believer with the ability and desire to live for Him. Statements like, “For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners” (Romans 5:19) teach that man possesses a sin nature. The truths, “There is none righteous” (Romans 3:10) and “For all have sinned” (Romans 3:23) express the universal nature of original sin. When Christians say every one is a sinner we mean that every one does things which violate the commands of God and we mean that corruption in the person moves him to break God’s laws. 

The sin nature is something more than the evil deeds done by a person. This truth is made evident in several key Biblical passages. In Ephesians 2 All the unsaved are called “the children of disobedience”. All who have not received the saving grace of God are “by nature the child of wrath.” Left to their natural state all humans are in disobedience to God and are under His wrath.

Psalm 51 says the person is tainted by sin from the very moment of conception. (Incidentally, this passage is one reason why Christians believe life begins at conception. A lump of tissue cannot be guilty of sin.) “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.” Sin is not just an action, a thought, an emotion, an attitude, a word or a conscious choice of a mature individual. Sin is a state of being. Sin is something bound up in the nature of the person that produces sinful actions. 

The sin nature is not the physical part of the person. Body, blood, muscle, tissue and DNA are not sinful. Jesus was a flesh and blood person who possessed all the attributes of humanity. He had a normal human body yet was without sin. Likewise, Adam and Eve possessed physical bodies and were normal human beings before they sinned. Satan is the father of sin. He is an angel, a spiritual being who lacks any physical substance. The physical part of man is not the sin nature.

The sin nature resides in the spiritual part of the man. When describing the source of evil in a man, Jesus traces it to the heart. “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil . . . evil things come from within and defile the man.” (Mark 7:20-23) Man’s problem is a spiritual one. Sin erupts from the corrupted heart to affect all parts of the person. The sin nature is in the heart of man and is the spiritual corruption of the individual.

Is Evil Necessary?

Certain religions and philosophies see evil and good as eternal forces that will always exist in the universe. Both are necessary for the right operation of the universe. Evil and good are opposites that require each other. If there were no evil, there could be no good. The yin and yang is a classic picture of this viewpoint.

A more modern version of this concept is the idea that evil is absence of good. Just like dark is the absence of light and cold is the absence of heat so evil is the absence of good. Since there is light dark must also exist. Since good exists, there must also be evil. But must it?

Evil is not necessary. God existed for eternity before creating the universe. God existed without evil. God continues to exist without evil. God will exist through all the eternity to come without evil. Evil is not necessary to God, but what about to men?

When God created the universe everything was perfect. Satan had not rebelled and man had not sinned. How long things lasted before sin is unknown. The universe functioned just fine without sin.

Evil is not just the absence of good. Evil is the rejection of God. Sin originated in Satan when he determined to rebel against the rule of God. Sin came into the world when man doubted the goodness of God and chose to reject God’s commands in favor of a promise to be like God. Evil is always the rejection of good and rebellion against God.

Evil is not necessary. Evil is sand in the gears of creation. Evil is a destructive influence that hinders the proper working of all things. Evil and all the consequences of sin- death, pain and sorrow- are not necessary. They will not last. The present age is marred by evil but this age is short.

A time is coming when all evil be removed from the universe. All of wicked humanity, all the rebel angels and Satan himself will be thrown into the Lake of Fire. The influence of evil upon the universe will be removed.

The universe that now exists is entirely corrupted by sin. “For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together.” (Romans 8:22) God will destroy this universe. “the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.” (2 Peter 3:10) God will create a new universe which will be as perfect as the original creation. Revelation 21 and 22 describe the coming universe as eternally unstained by sin.

Evil is not necessary. Evil exists for a brief time, but the eternal universe which is coming will be forever free of sin and all its consequences.

Are some sins worse than others?

Jesus said that if a man lusts after a woman he has committed adultery with her in his heart. If a man is sinfully angry with another he faces condemnation similar to that of a murderer. The entire human race was plunged into sin and condemnation because Adam and Eve ate one piece of forbidden fruit. Does this mean that all sin the same? Is committing murder as bad in the eyes of God as telling a white lie?

Sin is always wrong. Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount point to the severity of all sin. God in His holiness does not overlook a single sin, no matter how small or how justified it may seem to a person. No circumstance will ever exist where it is better to sin than not to sin. God hates all sin. Whether or not all sins are equal all are evil. The relationship of sin to other sin and the varying degrees of response to sin never justify committing sin.

The Bible speaks directly about the degrees of severity in sin. Sins can rightly be classified as greater or lesser. Jesus told Pontius Pilate that the priests who rejected Him and turned Him over to Pilate for execution had the greater sin. “Jesus answered, Thou couldest have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above: therefore he that delivered me unto thee hath the greater sin.” (John 19:11) Though Pilate gave the official command to crucify Jesus and the Roman soldiers carried out the command it was the Jewish priests whose sin was greatest.

Evidence for different severities of sin is seen in the differing levels of judgment upon sin. Jesus warned cities of Galilee of the greater judgment waiting for them because they rejected Him. (Luke 10:13-14) Hebrews says, “He that despised Moses’ law died without mercy under two or three witnesses: Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace?” (Hebrews 10:28-29) Those who have greater knowledge of right and wrong are accounted as having committed a greater evil when they sin.

One word of caution must be given. Men often fail to measure the severity of sin according to God’s standard. God is not unjust because He regards sin differently than we do. We consider sin differently than God does because we have been infected by sin. Our ability to make a proper judgment about sin is compromised by our own sinfulness. God’s measurement of sin must be the one that controls all understanding about sin.

All sin is terrible. Some sins are more terrible than others. God alone determines what is sin, how serious is the sin and the consequences of sin.

Is it judging to call someone a sinner?

“Judge not that you be not judged.” Matthew 7:1 is possibly America’s favorite verse. Almost every disapproving statement is greeted with rebuke as being judging. Declaring something is sinful is considered by some as the height of judgmental behavior. This is an important issue for Christians who are attempting to preach the gospel. The gospel message requires an understanding of personal guilt. How can anyone turn to Jesus for forgiveness of sin if he does not realize he is a sinner? Why would anyone turn to Jesus for salvation if he has done nothing deserving condemnation?

Yes, calling someone a sinner and identifying behavior as sinful is condemning. From a Christian perspective the declaration that something is a sin is the same as saying something is bad and should not be done. How does this apply to a person? Is the statement that someone is a sinner a declaration that the person is to be avoided? To be clear, saying someone is a sinner is a statement of condemnation. It is as pleasant as being told you have terminal cancer. It is a declaration that the person is not fit to stand before God and deserves eternal punishment. The statement that a person is a sinner is a statement of condemnation but it does not mean the sinner is to be avoided.

Sinful behavior must be rejected, but not sinful people. Christians have not been sufficiently clear on this distinction. Sinful people are not to be avoided, except in special circumstances. Calling someone a sinner is a socially loaded and theologically significant allegation. When a Christian declares a person is a sinner, he is doing so after having already come to grips with the reality of his own personal sinfulness. Like most others, the Christian realizes he has done bad things. However, the Christian’s recognition goes further. The Christian has recognized he deserves eternal punishment in hell because of his sin. The Christian has recognized the Son of God suffered a horrible death and endured the wrath of God because of his sin. When a Christian says you have sinned, he has already included himself in that assessment, confessed his guilt and grief and plead with God for forgiveness.

Though calling someone a sinner is a hard statement, it is not a declaration of hopeless condemnation. It is in fact much like being told you have cancer. The avowal that one is a sinner is a dire diagnosis of a disease that will end in suffering and death. Like many cancer diagnoses calling someone a sinner is the first step in treating the disease. All are sinners and if left untreated the disease will be eternally fatal. The diagnosis of guilt prepares the way to present the cure. As Jesus said, “They that are whole need not a physician; but they that are sick.” Yes, calling someone a sinner is a hard statement that will agitate many. When it is said as it ought, it is not a statement of condemnation but one of compassion.

What can be done about racism?

Racial differences are surface differences of color and culture. Beneath the trivial external variations all men are created in the image of God. The American religious landscape is dotted with perverse teachings claiming certain ethnic groups are not created in God’s image. Some have said the curse of Canaan is why black people will be slaves or poor. Some have said that blacks are not actually descended from Adam but from another group that was created by not given a soul like Adam and Eve were. Similar stupidities have been spouted about Indians, Mexicans and Eskimos. No teaching of racial superiority or inferiority is found in the Bible. The Biblical reality is that every person who has ever lived is a descendant of Adam and Eve. As a result, every person of every color and culture bears the image of God. Every person on this planet carries within the unique mark of the semblance of the Divine. All men share a common origin, common heritage and common created representation of God. Racism is not only an attack on others, it is an attack on the image of God.

The problems between ethnic groups are not caused by the intrinsic differences between groups. The problems between the races are caused by the intrinsic similarities between all people. Men do not hate others because they are different. Men hate others because of the sin, pride, selfishness, jealousy and hatred that resides naturally in every human heart. “For we ourselves also were sometimes foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, and hating one another.” Romans 3 describes all men, “Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness. Destruction and misery are in their ways.” Racial violence and tensions are not because a few men are racists. The problems between races are just one expression of the universal selfishness and hatred that characterizes all mankind without Christ. As long as men are without Christ they will find an excuse to hate others. The solution is not found in taking down all nationalistic or tribal symbols. The solution is not fostering dialog between different groups. The solution The solution is replacing the commonality that divides with a commonality that unites. The solution is the transformation of the heart and relationships that can only be produced by Christ.

This transformation and unity is to be modeled withing the church. Jesus prayed that all His disciples would be one, even as He and the Father are one. The church is a community that is characterized by it’s cross cultural communion. In the church station, privilege and importance are not defined by familial heritage, personal income or political power. In the church “there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free:” In the church all the redeemed are “all one in Christ.” The work of Christ on the cross has removed all national, language and culture barriers between people. In Christ, Christians are made members of a new people group. Christians are now a “holy nation, a peculiar people.” Surface diversities are nothing when compared to the essential unity between men. Racism will end when man’s sin nature is replaced by the new nature of Jesus.

Is homosexuality a sin?

Recent months have seen increased discussion about the permissibility of homosexual marriage. The public debate will probably continue for many months. For many who have a religious background the debate has gone beyond what is publically permissible to center on what the Bible teaches. Some churches have declared the Bible does not teach homosexuality is sinful. Some churches have become more ardent in their protests that homosexuality is sinful. With these issues certain to stay in the public eye for quite a while, it is necessary to answer the question, does the Bible say homosexuality is a sin.

The answer is really very simple. Yes, homosexuality is a sin. The Bible plainly and repeatedly condemns homosexuality. Jude 1:7 identifies homosexuality as one of the reasons Sodom and Gomorrha were destroyed. The Mosaic law specifically forbade any kind of homosexual behavior, including cross dressing. Romans 1:25-27 speaks of those who have rejected God and the punishment of their idolatry. “Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen. For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.”

Romans 1 identifies homosexual behavior as the punishment of rejecting God. Homosexuality is not a lifestyle to be embraced, but Divine judgment that should promote repentance not rejoicing. 1 Corinthians 6:9 includes homosexuality, “abusers of themselves with mankind”, in the list of sins which will not be found in the true child of God. 1 Timothy 1:10 says that homosexuals, “them that defile themselves with mankind”, are behaving in a way that is opposed to truth.

These are the specific Biblical prohibitions against homosexuality. Added to this is the Biblical definition of the only category of permitted sexual behavior, that which occurs between and man and his wife. The commands against all forms of illicit sexual behavior always encompass homosexual behavior. To state the case succinctly, the Bible plainly forbids all sexual desire, fantasy or activity outside the relationship of a man and woman in marriage. God’s Word does not just condemn the action it condemns the lusts. How any one can attempt to offer legitimate argument against the Bible’s clear statements is rather baffling. The statements of the Bible are plain. The only way to read the Bible as giving anything other than a consistent condemnation of homosexuality is to make one’s own ideas and philosophies more important than the plain reading of the Bible.

Why do bad things happen?

The world is filled with scenes of tragedy. The world’s woes show in gory detail that all is not right with the world. The calamities that affect every person and place on this globe have prompted some to wonder about God. If there is a God who is all powerful and rules everything, why does He allow terrible things to happen? If God is good, why does He let so many bad things take place? These questions are sometimes phrased in such a way as to imply that disaster proves God does not really exist.

The Bible provides a coherent explanation for the existence and purpose of misfortune and misery in this world. The history of bad things begins at the very beginning. God created everything and everything He created was perfect. Everything worked as it was intended. Death, tragedy, sorrow and despair were nonexistent until God’s creatures began to rebel against Him. The rebellion began with an angel named Lucifer, who was joined by countless other angels in opposition to God. Lucifer then persuaded Eve to disobey God and eat the fruit He had forbidden them. Adam joined Eve in disobedience and the whole human race was plunged into sin and death.

Following Adam and Eve’s sin, God spoke to them and declared judgment against them for their rebellion. In Genesis 3 God tells Adam, “Cursed is the ground for thy sake.” The sin of man brought down God’s judgment which encompassed all creation. Everything in creation is now cursed because God’s creation rejected Him. The apostle Paul declares in Romans 8, “We know that the whole creation groans and travails in pain together until now.” All of creation groans in intense agony because of sin. Bad things happen because man rebelled against God. God does not delight in the suffering anyone, but He will always be just. Sin will always be punished. Part of that punishment is the present suffering that fills the earth.

To decry the goodness of God because we don’t like the consequences of our sin against Him is foolish. Such outcry is a bit like a guy in prison complaining that the other inmates are mean to him, the guards don’t like him, his bed isn’t comfortable and he doesn’t get to decide in which cell he sleeps. Judgment is not pleasant and has consequences far greater than the mere pronouncement. A sentence of imprisonment always involves many inevitable unpleasantnesses. The sentence of death that came upon the world involves many unpleasant deaths and much suffering along the way. This is not to make light of the severity of suffering. Compassion moves us to aid and comfort those enduring greater agony because of sin. God in His mercy has done much to mitigate the severity of man’s suffering in this life.

God in His wisdom has not removed all the painful, present consequences of sin. The tragedies of this life serve a good purpose. The sorrows of life cause us to turn our eyes upward. What good would it do us to go through life free of pain, free of sorrow, live to a full age and then die peacefully in our sleep? The warnings of the judgment of sin would seem empty and even kind of silly. The suffering of this world remind us that we live in a place broken by sin. The sufferings of this life remind us that the consequences of sin are terrible. These tragedies remind us of sin’s horror and provide opportunity for repentance. The mercy of God gives men a temporary taste of sin’s judgment that they might be motivated to turn from sin to Him for salvation.

How do I know if something is sin?

The Bible tells us what things are sin. 1 John 3:4 says, “sin is the trangression of the law.” Sin is anything which breaks God’s law. To know God’s law, then you have to read the Bible. In the Bible God tells exactly what He commands people to do and what He commands people not to do.

To understand the commands of God, one has to read the Bible. The Bible was written to be understood by normal people. Scripture was not written to make sense only to those who have special training or advanced degrees. It was not written to make sense only to those who know the secret code to unlocking its hidden meanings. The Bible was written to be understood by everybody. The words do not contain hidden meanings. Work will often be necessary to understand what is being taught but the words of the Bible mean what words usually mean. Do not read it looking for hidden meanings or waiting for some internal impulse to give significance to the words.

When going to the Bible to learn God’s commands, there is a lot of territory to cover. Despite the length of the Bible, God’s laws are not difficult to understand or figure out. Two passages should guide ones thinking about sin. First, Matthew 22:37-38 says, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and great comandment.” Most important in understanding what is sin is how we think about God. God is to be the most important in your life. Nothing- not self, desires, plans, friends, family, job or any other thing- is to be more important than God. If something displeases God or becomes more important to you than God, that thing is a sin.

Second, Romans 13:9-10, “If there be any other commandment, it is briefly summed up in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. Love works no ill to his neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” After considering if something is pleasing to God or is more important to you than God, sin is considering self as more important than others. If something is harmful to someone else then, that thing is certainly a sin. An important distinction needs to be made. What others like and what is actually good for them is not always the same thing. Kids like ice cream and might want to eat ice cream at every meal. They might also cry and complain and tell you how bad it makes them feel to have to eat green beans, but a good parent is going to make them eat what is good for them not what makes them feel good for a little while. That which keeps the law does what is genuinely good for others and does not do anything which harms another.

If you want to know if something is a sin ask yourself two questions, does this action show that God is most important to me and does this do any injury to another person.