Is Man Good?
The Bible clearly says that men are not good. Jesus said, “…there is none good but one, that is, God” (Mark 10:18). “They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that does good, no, not one” (Romans 3:12). But what exactly does this mean?
What this doesn’t mean
This doesn’t mean that all men are as bad as they could be, for there are different degrees of punishment which help us see that there are different degrees of sin (Luke 12:47-48). This doesn’t mean that men cannot give good gifts (Matthew 7:11). This doesn’t mean that men may never be considered “good” in what I would call a secondary sense, which is a possible interpretation of 1 Peter 2:18. And this doesn’t mean that Christians are not good (Matthew 25:21; Acts 11:24).
Of course, we must ask, what does the Bible mean when it uses the word “good” to describe people? A definition that seems to capture at least part of what the Bible means is this: a good person is someone who is conformed to the likeness of God. That doesn’t mean the person is now God, or a lesser god, nor does it mean that person is perfect, but it does mean that in a true sense that person is living like God wants them to. God is indeed the only One who is good, but Christians are now good as well because our lives have been joined with God, and the goodness that Christians have is from God Himself. This is why a non-Christian cannot be good. They are without a relationship with God and therefore do not have the power to live good lives.
What do these passages mean then when they say that men are not good?
The Bible would teach that men and women can give good gifts (do good things), and yet overall they are wicked and evil.
When you look at men, you are viewing those who can do some good things. They can have love for their families. They can care for their children. They can have a desire to help those in need. But, when their life is looked at as a whole, they are wicked people who deserve judgment.
How can I say that men are wicked?
Probably to most people reading this, the statement that men are wicked and deserve judgment, seems ridiculous. “Can you really think that my nice neighbor or family member that seems to live a moral life deserves the judgment of God?” Let me give you six reasons that should help you see that men are not good, but deserve God’s judgment.
1. The Bible says so. Unfortunately this will not help many non-Christians change their position, but for the Christian this should end all debate. I hope we haven’t got to the point where we won’t trust the Bible unless we can understand how its teaching can be true. Yes, we want to understand better its teaching. But the Bible is very clear that men are not good (Psalm 14:1-3) and all non-Christians deserve hell (John 3:16, 36). God would never allow someone to perish that didn’t deserve to perish, would He? Of course not. We must believe God.
2. We don’t know men as well as we think we do. This is a simple fact. In reality, there are few people we really know well. And if that is true, are we really able to declare who is in fact a good person? We do not know what people are thinking. We do not know what they do when they get home. We don’t know people that well. But God does. He knows them perfectly and He tells us that they are not good.
3. Probably most things we judge men by are not really matters of right and wrong. “He is so nice,” “she always has a smile on her face,” “he has never done anything wrong to me.” I think that is how a number of people, if not most, judge whether someone is a good person or not. However, though we should be nice to others, these things really are not matters of right and wrong. Listen to the words of Jesus, “For if you love them which love you, what reward have you? Do not even the publicans the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you more than others? Do not even the publicans so?” (Matthew 5:46-47).
If you love everyone that loves you, you really haven’t done anything. Everyone should do that. If you are really nice to those that are really nice to you, you really haven’t done anything. That’s what everyone should do. These things should not be our standard to judge whether someone is good or not.
4. We judge men by the lesser things and forget about the greater things. Again listen to Jesus, “Woe unto you, Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and all manner of herbs, and pass over justice and the love of God: these ought you to have done, and not to leave the other undone” (Luke 11:42). The Pharisees should have been tithing and they were. However, tithing, though good, is far less important than justice and the love of God. Yes, they were doing something good. But in light of what they weren’t doing it really didn’t matter.
5. An outward action can be good and yet the motive behind the action evil. Let’s suppose you let someone borrow your car to go to the grocery store. That action, in-and-of-itself, is a good thing. However, what is the motive behind the action? If the reason you allowed them to borrow your car was because they “bugged” you over and over for it, you are acting similar to the unjust judge who didn’t fear God or regard man, but finally did what was right because a widow came to him often (Luke 18:1-6). What if you let them borrow your car because you wanted to impress your friends with your generosity? That’s like the Pharisees standing on the street corners praying to be seen by other people (Matthew 6:5). Or what if you are letting them borrow your car because you think that by doing enough good things you will win a place in heaven? That’s like the Jews who rejected God’s righteousness and went about to establish their own (Romans 10:1-3). We often cannot tell a person’s true motives, but God can. Shouldn’t we trust Him above our own judgments?
6. Men are not good because of what it means to reject Jesus. This is the last and the most important of all. When we get a glimpse of what it means to reject Jesus, then we can understand that non-Christians are not good.
Let me tell you a story from Genesis 19:1-11. A man named Lot is in the city of Sodom. Two angels come down to the city and Lot has them stay with him for the night. Then, from all over the city, men old and young come and surround Lot’s house. Why? They want to have sexual relations with the two angels (which look like men). Lot tells them not to do this evil but the men surrounding his house tell Lot that they are going to treat him worse than the two men. It appears they are going to rape Lot. Then the angels strike the men surrounding the house with blindness and they become tired of trying to find Lot’s door. Considering the above information, were these men “good”? What do you think these men deserve for their actions? However wicked their sin was (and it was wicked), it’s not as wicked as the sin of rejecting Jesus,
But into whatsoever city you enter, and they receive you not, go your way out into the streets of the same, and say, Even the very dust of your city, which clings on us, we do wipe off against you: notwithstanding be you sure of this, that the kingdom of God is come near unto you. But I say unto you, that it shall be more tolerable in that day for Sodom, than that city…he that hears you hears Me; and he that despises you despises Me; and he that despises Me despises Him that sent Me (Luke 10:10-12, 16).
To reject Jesus or His messengers is a worse sin than the sin of Sodom.
How would you feel if your son died to save someone’s life and then that person turns around and despises your son’s sacrifice? How do you think God feels when wicked men reject the death of His beloved Son, who died to save them? What do you think God will do to those men (Matthew 21:33-40)? A man stands before a judge. In his past he has saved a baby from dying and protected an elderly lady from harm. But he has also murdered another man. What must a good judge do? In the same way no matter how many good deeds one has done and good gifts one has given, to reject God’s Son is too much. And not only is this a horrible sin, it also proves that the life of the one rejecting Jesus is characterized, not by goodness, but by wickedness. A man cannot be good and reject Jesus.
Imagine a man who lives in a land that is ruled by a King who is perfectly good and always does what is right. From time to time this man can be seen helping his neighbor. He can be seen speaking an encouraging word to those in need. He can even be heard telling how much he loves righteousness. But there is a huge problem. Even though he does good to others and tells how much he loves doing what is right, he hates the King of righteousness and will not obey Him. How can a man who supposedly loves what is right hate the One who is perfectly good and righteous? The answer is that no matter what this man does or says, if he hates the perfectly righteous King, it plainly shows that he does not truly love what is right. He is not good. How could he be good if he hates the Source of all goodness?
There is good news
The Bible teaches us that man is not good and that he deserves judgment. But there is great news. God loves those who aren’t good and offers forgiveness to all who will turn to Him, no matter how wicked they have been. It is so important that we see that we are not good people because as we see this we should also see the fact that we need Jesus as our Savior. “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Romans 10:13).