Are humans basically good?

Most people agree that “nobody’s perfect”. Then why do we see such horrible atrocities committed by mankind?

The idea persists that the core of humanity is good, and that the evil deeds committed reside at the rim or edge of our character. Many people say that mankind is “inherently good” or “basically good”. This view arose from humanistic ideas which were rediscovered and further developed during the Renaissance. This is not the biblical view.

“There is none righteous, no, not one; there is none who understands; there
is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside; they have
together become unprofitable; there is none who does good, no, not one”
(Romans 3:10-12).

The Bible teaches that humanity is sinful in their very core, and permeates all areas of life. We are described as “dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1) and are “by nature children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:3). Only by the power of the Holy Spirit may our hearts be transformed, changing our heart of stone into a heart of flesh.

Churches in the reformed tradition who use the Canons of Dordt as one of their confessions, often use the term “total depravity”, from the acronym TULIP, to describe the human condition. RC Sproul differentiates total depravity from utter depravity as follows:

“To be utterly depraved is to be as wicked as one could possibly be. Hitler was extremely depraved, but he could have been worse than he was. I am a sinner. Yet I could sin more often and more severely than I actually do. I am not utterly depraved, but I am totally depraved. For total depravity means that I and everyone else are depraved or corrupt in the totality of our being. There is no part of us that is left untouched by sin. Our minds, our wills, and our bodies are affected by evil."

RC Sproul suggests that the term radical corruption might be a better description of our condition, as the word radical comes from the Latin word for “root” or “core”. As our core is tainted by sin, all things that we do are tainted by sin.

There is a helpful illustration of this concept. Imagine three glasses. The first glass is pure water. The second glass is filled with water, with one drop of poison added. The third glass is pure poison. The glass of pure water represents humanity in its purity before Adam and Eve fell into sin. The glass of pure poison represents Satan and his pure evil and malevolence. The glass of water with one drop of poison is representative of humanity that is poisoned in totality, not as evil as Satan, (who is pure evil), but affected by evil in every aspect of their existence.

It can be very difficult to process the idea that the human heart (our heart!) is inclined towards all evil and wickedness, and that we can do no spiritual good. But God does not abandon us in this condition. God has promised to give us a new heart. By the work of the Holy Spirit, He works in us and regenerates us so that we would come to know and love our Saviour Jesus Christ who took the penalty for our sins. We begin to desire to please God and do actual good for Him. We rejoice that through Christ we are reborn, being regenerated in the image of God so that we will be reunited with Him in our heavenly home.


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