Are People Basically Good?

(Cameron Kufner) #1

Hello All! I recently had a conversation with a fellow brother in Christ about the goodness of people. For me personally, I try to find the best qualities in others. I tend to see people as basically good individuals. One of my favorite quotes is from the 40th President of the United States, Ronald Reagan.

“I know in my heart that man is good. That what is right will always eventually triumph. And there’s purpose and worth to each and every life.” - Ronald Reagan

I agree wholeheartedly with the quote, in fact I believe in that message with all my heart. But I was pondering on some few scriptures.

:black_small_square:Romans 3:10-12
:black_small_square:Romans 5:12
:black_small_square:Romans 7:14-25

I just wanted to name a few scriptures. But, I have a complication justifying my worldview as people being basically good when just from reading a few scriptures all I can take away from them is people are inherently evil and are evil until Jesus enters their life. I may have it all wrong.

So my question is: Can I claim to be a follower of Christ and still believe people are basically good?

(SeanO) #2

@CamKufner Great question. I think the problem is that we have not defined good and evil Biblically. By ‘good’ we simply mean that a person doesn’t harm other people and generally seeks to be helpful - ‘he seems like a decent guy to me’. By ‘evil’ we mean a person who harms other people through violence - emotional or physical. Our definition of good is far too shallow and our definition of evil is far too narrow.

What Jesus says in Matthew 7 is a bit shocking - even someone who takes good care of their family may be - yes - evil. Clearly God’s definition of sin / evil is very different from our own.

Matthew 7:11 - If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!

Here are a few observations I would like to make in regard to the Bible’s definition of sin that can help us understand the reality that all people have ‘fallen short’, even of their own standards.

  • we all break even our own moral code - a lot - we are not good even by our own standards - not really
  • we can be lost because we think we are good - our goodness can be a way to use God or to justify ourselves and that pride puts a wall between us and God - we try to be our own savior
  • sin is fundamentally idolatry - putting something before God - and the human heart is a factory for idols
  • the Gospel is that we are more broken then we could ever imagine and yet also more loved and accepted than we ever dared hope (Keller)

I really think Keller has nailed this misunderstanding, so I highly recommend the resources from him below. Look forward to further discussion. Christ grant you wisdom :slight_smile:

We are All Slaves to Sin

While all people, at some level, know what goodness is, all of us fail to truly be good. As Paul points out in Romans, this is the universal problem - this is why we wall need Jesus! Even though we recognize what we ought to do, we are not able to fulfill it.

If you think you know anyone who is truly good and is not a slave to sin apart from Christ, just room with them for a few years. They may be generous and, as people go, a wonderful person. But without Christ we all fall short of even our own expectations. Francis Schaeffer’s ‘Invisible Tape Recorder’ illustration makes this point well.

Romans 7:21-24 - So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. 24 What a wretched man I am!

Romans 2:1 - You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.

Romans 2:15 - They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.)

Francis Schaeffer’s Illustration of the Invisible Tape Recorder:

“Do you know what Romans 2 is about? Romans 2 is about the invisible tape recorder. Romans 2 is saying even though you don’t know it, there is an invisible tape recorder God has put around everybody’s neck. No, you can’t feel it or see it, so don’t try. It’s there. Romans 2 says it’s there.

On judgment day all of a sudden you’re going to appear before God, and a lot of people are going to say, ‘I didn’t even know you existed. Wait a minute. You can’t hold me responsible for the law of God.’ Other people are going to say, ‘Oh, I’ve heard of the Bible, but I’ve never read the Bible. You can’t hold me responsible for this law. I didn’t realize the God of the Bible is the real God. Okay, here you are, but you can’t hold me responsible. You can’t judge me for something I didn’t believe in.’

Then what is God going to do? He’s going to reach around the back. He’s going to unclasp, and he’s going to get off your invisible tape record. It’ll become visible, and you’ll say, ‘I didn’t see that there.’ He’ll say, ‘No, you couldn’t have felt it. It was invisible.’ Then he’ll say, ‘I want you to know I am the fairest Judge you could possibly imagine. I am not going to judge you according to the Bible because you didn’t know the Bible. I’m not going to judge you according to Christ because you never heard of Christ.

I’m going to judge you by your own words, because this tape recorder only recorded throughout your life whenever you said to someone else, ‘You ought’ or ‘You should.’ This tape recorder has only recorded your standards for the people around you. Therefore, I’m not going to judge you by anything other than the standards by which you judged people your entire life.”

We can be Lost Because of Our Goodness

Tim Keller points at that there are two ways to try to be your own savior and lord - try to control the Father’s stuff by living a bad life or by living a very good life. In both cases, there is an attempt to control God and your own life. The older brother thinks the way to get God’s blessing is to avoid sin - that is self-salvation and a way of trying to get God to give you what you want.

Religious people obey God to get things (so that God will owe them - its an equation) - Gospel people obey God because they want God Himself, regardless of whether they get anything else or not. The elder brother does not obey out of love - the elder brother obeys to get stuff.

It is not his sin keeping him from the Father. It’s his righteousness. Tim Keller

moral conformity and self-discovery are ways people try to set themselves right without God - both wrong - both lost

the elder brothers divide the world into two - good are in, bad are out. the younger brothers divide the world into two as well - the open minded people are in, the proud are out

Jesus says that both are wrong - it is the humble that are in, the proud are out. It is those who know they are bad and need God.

Sin as Idolatry

Sin is not fundamentally things that we do - it is a misaligned heart.

“The Bible says that our real problem is that every one of us is building our identity on something besides Jesus.” Tim Keller

An idol is usually a good thing that we make ultimate. We say, “Unless I have that, I am nothing.” Tim Keller

Sin is not just bad things, but good things we make ultimate over God. Tim Keller

What is the Gospel

“The gospel is this: We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.” Tim Keller

“The Christian Gospel is that I am so flawed that Jesus had to die for me, yet I am so loved and valued that Jesus was glad to die for me. This leads to deep humility and deep confidence at the same time. It undermines both swaggering and sniveling. I cannot feel superior to anyone, and yet I have nothing to prove to anyone. I do not think more of myself nor less of myself. Instead, I think of myself less.” Tim Keller

“The Christian does not think God will love us because we are good, but that God will make us good because He loves us.” C. S. Lewis

"But who prays for Satan?"
Question on salvation, Noah Fincher
(Josh) #3

I applaud your attempts to see people’s good side. However I think that you need to be careful of that as well since I think it may block your desire to go and reach the lost or even your ability to recognize them. I personally do not believe that people are inherently good I think they were meant to be until the fall and now are born broken. I believe it was Malcom muggeridger that said
“The depravity of man is at once the most empirically verifiable reality but at the same time the most intellectually resisted fact.”. And when the man asked Jesus good teacher what is the greatest commandment Jesus said why do you call me good.none are good but God… and in my own personal life I have meet more good people doing evil things then I care to count in fact some of the noblest people I know will tell you flat out I’m a bad person but these are my lines. I am only new to the faith and have been doing a lot of reading and growing I just began to minister to my father and hope to minister to others as well but I believe you are a Christian even if you believe that as long as you believe in the cross the whole message there but if you do believe that then you must admit that you yourself have fallen short and only by the grace of God can you be forgiven and saved. So in order to be a disciple and grow in the faith I think you first need to accept that people are broken. They don’t have to be horrible to be broken but they are in fact broken and only God came make them whole