Are Humans Naturally Good or Evil?

Tricky question.

If you are asking if doing good things is impossible for humans, the answer is obviously no; and, if you are asking if doing bad things is possible for humans, the answer is definitely yes. No one in a sane state of mind would argue with those foundations. Based on self-examination and on observation of others, we know beyond any doubt that we are capable of both good things and bad things.

What about this bad side, though? If we were to speak of any other phenomenon in nature that had a “bad” side to it as well as a “good” side, we’d be admittedly confused. For example, take a spring of water. Imagine the spring sometimes gives the finest, sweetest, mineral rich water imaginable. Then, a minute later, the thing spouts out sulfuric, acidic, toxic waters. At that point, all would agree the spring should be called bad, even if it varied between its clean state and its dirty state. It is unpredictable…. No one wants to be poisoned. If it is all good, then it is pronounced good. But, if it is bad sometimes, it must be pronounced bad altogether, because something at the source is contaminated. As it is with springs of water, so it is with humans.

Everyone appreciates the biblical phrase found in 1 Samuel 16:7, which reads, “man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” We love that saying, because it indicates that God is a better judge of me than anyone else. He really knows me on the inside. In fact, when discussing a proper view of humanity, God’s is the only unbiased view. The phrase from 1 Samuel is in the context of God’s choosing David, whom God labels “a man after [God’s] own heart.” That being said, David still had evil coming out of his heart during his entire life. He was not morally perfect, but God did call him “perfect” in one regard – that he continually trusted in God as the only God for his heart.

Jesus spoke a great deal about the “heart,” because he knows man’s nature. He knew when people’s hearts were far away from trusting in God, even when their words were religious. He knew when people had hard hearts or when certain hearts wanted to use him or when others plotted to kill him. Yet, perhaps the most stunning revelation Christ gives about the human heart is found in biblical passages like Matthew 15:18; Mark 7:21; and, Luke 6:45. In these sections, Jesus reveals that something is innately wrong with the human condition, and it has a lot to do with good and evil, love and hate. Jesus calls the human heart “defiled” or (in other words) tainted. His label fits the rest of the biblical categorization of the heart as “desperately sick [with sin]” (Jeremiah 17:9).

From that standpoint on the heart, Jesus preached messages of forgiveness and inward healing. He spoke of a new (spiritual) birth which directly affects the heart, since the biblical schemata treats the heart as the center of all human beliefs, affections, and subsequent choice and actions. The message coming from Jesus is clear. ‘You need a heart transplant.’

Again, the reason for this need is humans have fallen so much into sinful selfishness, they no longer can love God and love their neighbor all the time, perfectly (Luke 10:27) And, even if we do it some of the time, our hearts are still tainted, still contaminated at the source. In God’s eyes, we have to be declared unfit until we are fitted for new life by Jesus Christ.

Gaining a new heart is both on the judicial and moral/spiritual level, you see. Only God can grant it, and He has declared the only way He will grant the new heart is by your believing Jesus to do it for you – hands down. With God it is more than safe to say that one’s state of being trumps his actions and intentions.

“If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; look, all things have become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

[For a discussion on why Christians are not “perfect,” please click here]

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