Is There Ever Any Good in Man?
Humanism affirms that there is an innate or natural “goodness” in man, that every person has dignity and worth. However, a number of people — from serious to humorous — have tried to calculate how much a human being is worth, from a merely chemical perspective.
Almost all are agreed about the top seven chemical elements that compose the human body: 65% oxygen, 18% carbon, 10% hydrogen, 3% nitrogen, 1.5% calcium, 1% phosphorus, and 0.35% potassium. The chemical value placed on these and other elements in the human body varies from $1 to $160 or more [see: www.datagenetics.com/blog/april12011/ and several other websites under Google search on "chemical worth of man"].
Chemically worth a little under $2,000 at best, man is “cheap.” And thus a lot of people so regard human life: cheap and expendable.
Even the “sweet psalmist” David asked God, “What is man that You are mindful of him” (Psalm 8:4)? As the creation story tells us, God made man out of a pile of dirt! “And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being [or soul, KJV]” (Genesis 2:7). And as we all know from seeing how dead people end up, God tells us: “For dust you are, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19). Ecclesiastes 3:20 echoes this: “For all are from the dust, and all return to dust.” [See: What Happens to Man After Death?]
David was inspired to answer his own question about why God would even bother about puny mankind which, as a hymn puts it, consists of “frail children of dust”: “You [God] have made him [man, for now] a little lower than the angels…” (Psalm 8:5). Angels, of course, are spirit creatures — belonging to the unseen realm or the “fourth dimension” — also made by God, but much earlier than He made man, and for now superior to man [see: Where Did the Devil Come From?].
The Bible affirms, however, that God created mankind with a greater potential than that of the angels. Genesis 1:26 tells about God’s purpose and design in creating mankind: “Let us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness…” Verse 27 continues: “So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.”
Like Jesus — the God of the Old Testament who became a human being and a Son of God, made in God’s “express image” (Hebrews 1:3) [see: The True Christ] — human beings that likewise are made in God’s image are also sons or children of God. As Hebrews 1:5 asks about angels in relation to Jesus: “For to which of the angels did He [God] ever say, ‘You are My Son, Today I have begotten you’?” Verse 14 continues: “Are they [angels] not ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation?” — for those who, as Spirit-begotten children of God, are now the “brethren” of Christ (Hebrews 2:11) and will inherit the same glory given back to Christ after His resurrection from the dead (John 17:5; Philippians 3:20-21; 1 Corinthians 15:42-55; etc.). [See: Are We All God's Children?]
Since human beings were made in the image of God and have a glorious future as immortal children of God — a potential far higher than that of angels — every man is worth more than the monetary value of the chemical elements he is made of. That gives mankind all the dignity and worth which God intended for man from the beginning (Psalm 8:5; John 17:22; Romans 2:10; 1 Corinthians 15:43; Hebrews 2:10).
But why is man evil?
In contrast to the optimistic view of man by humanists, Jeremiah 17:9 declares: “The [human] heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked: who can know it?” Quoting Psalm 14:1-3, the apostle Paul wrote: “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 altogether become unprofitable; there is none who does good, no, not one” (Romans 3:10-12)!
But, didn’t God originally create man “good” — in fact, “very good” (Genesis 1:26-27, 31)? How did it happen that man’s heart has become “desperately wicked” and “none…no, not one” does good?
Most human beings have known — and many still believe — the old, old story about “the fall of man” in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2-3). This happened when our first parents, Adam and Eve, chose to believe the devil instead of the God who created them. (Those who think that the “serpent” in Genesis 3 was not the devil have either not read or do not believe Revelation 12:9, which says that the “serpent of old” — yes, the serpent at the Garden of Eden — was Satan the devil, who has deceived the whole world, starting with Mother Eve.) [See: "Your Eyes Will Be Opened!" and The Flaming Sword East of Eden.]
From that time forward, even to our times, all of mankind has followed the path which our father Adam pioneered. “Therefore, just as through one man [Adam] sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12).
Satan has so “rewired” man’s heart that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). [This is not God's doing, although God has allowed it, for a purpose.] So thoroughly has Satan done that job that, as Paul described it, there has now operated in each human being a “law of sin and death” in our bodily members making it impossible for us human beings to keep God’s law on our own strength (Romans 7:21-25; 8:2, 6). Paul despaired that in his flesh [or fleshly, "carnal" condition] “nothing good dwells” and that “…how to perform what is good I do not find [in myself]” (Romans 7:18). [See: Switching Positive and Negative.]
The hope of wretched man
Like all of mankind, Paul reached the end of his rope; he felt wretched in his unsuccessful attempts, by his own resources, to obey God’s law and to not commit sin (Romans 7:24). His hope, as well as ours: “I thank God — through Jesus Christ” (Verse 25)!
Jesus came, as sent by His Father, to be our Savior from sin and its consequence, death (Romans 6:23; 3:25; 5:10; 1 John 2:2; 4:10). But each person in his or her own time as determined by God [see: Predestination and This Is Not the Only Day of Salvation].
Jesus promised His true followers that they would receive and be endued with “power from on high” (Luke 24:49). And they received and were endued with that power when the Holy Spirit came upon them (Acts 1-2). That same power, the Holy Spirit, is available to all of Jesus’ true followers from that time up to today. It is that Spirit that enables and empowers a true follower of Christ to obey God’s law — and to do good! [See: God's Spirit and Obedience, The Higher Law of the Spirit, Breaking Down our "Walls of Jericho," and Being and Doing.]
Proper credit for good
Once a young ruler asked Jesus: “Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do [in order] that I may have eternal life” (Matthew 19:16)? Jesus replied: “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. But if you want to enter into [everlasting] life, keep the commandments [of God]” (Verse 17). [By calling Jesus "Good Teacher," the young ruler may have had an inkling that Jesus was somehow divine, but he did not have enough sense to obey what Jesus told him to do, as the story concludes.]
On this side of human history since the Garden of Eden, any “good” that man has ever done cannot rightly be attributed to the “innate goodness” in man. By choice man has thrown away the “good” that God had originally placed in man! Since then, nothing but bad has proceeded from mankind, as witness the generations of the descendants of Adam and Eve that ended up almost extinguishing the whole human race through rampant violence — were it not for God’s grace on one man (Noah) and his family (Genesis 6-9). [See: A Law-abiding Universe -- But Man!] All who have ever lived since the Great Flood in Noah’s day can trace their origins back to that family.
Most men are eager and quick to attribute any good they do, or have, to themselves. “Most men will proclaim every one his own goodness; but a faithful man who can find” (Proverbs 20:6)? Psalm 36:1-3 declares about the wicked person that “…he flatters himself in his own eyes,” and in his deceit “…he has ceased to be wise and to do good.” Paul knew this human tendency all too well, and exhorted everyone of the brethren “…not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith” (Romans 12:3).
Israel’s King David, famously known as “a man after God’s own heart” (Acts 13:22), was fully aware of his own sinfulness. When confronted by God’s prophet Nathan concerning his double sin of adultery and murder (2 Samuel 11:1-12:12), David readily admitted: “I have sinned against the LORD” (12:13), and God quickly forgave him and spared him the death penalty that his sin rightly deserved. As one who meditated on God’s law day and night, David was overwhelmed with the multitude of his sins, which he described as “more than the hairs of my head” (Psalm 40:12). Yet, as one on whom God bestowed His grace and mercy, David was forgiven of all his sins, and he felt greatly blessed (Psalm 32:1-5).
Despite all his human failings, David found forgiveness with God, and in the end God judged David to have done “what was right in the sight of the LORD” (2 Kings 18:3; 22:2; 16:2; 1 Kings 15:11), to have walked before the LORD “in integrity of heart and in uprightness” (1 Kings 9:4) and to have walked in God’s ways, having kept God’s statutes and commandments (1 Kings 3:14). God saw David’s heart as “loyal ['perfect,' KJV] to the LORD” (1 Kings 11:4; 15:3).
David humbly admitted to God, “You are my Lord, my goodness is nothing apart from You” (Psalm 16:2). He called God “My goodness” (Psalm 144:2, KJV, a transliteration of the Hebrew chesed). David realized what his Lord, the God who later became Jesus, told His disciples: “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).
That is, the disciples could do “nothing” good without Jesus, especially bearing “fruit” that God the Father is pleased with and glorified by (Verse 8; see also Galatians 5:22-23 for the nine facets of the “fruit of the Spirit,” one of which is goodness). For the disciples of Jesus did and said a lot of wrong things, for which He rebuked or upbraided them (see, for example, Matthew 17:14-21; 18:1-4; 19:13-15; 20:20-28; 26:50-54; Mark 16:9-14; Luke 9:46-50; John 13:5-13; 20:24-29, etc.).
After God poured out His Holy Spirit as Jesus promised His disciples (Acts 1 and 2), they became changed men and women. Despite the human frailties that still remained in them, God used these disciples to do a lot of good, as the rest of the New Testament testifies.
Gentiles who by nature obey the law
Romans 2:14 makes this intriguing statement: “…for when Gentiles, who do not have the law [of God], by nature do the things contained in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves.”
Doesn’t this prove that there is, after all, some natural good in man?
Since there is no one good but God (Matthew 19:17), all the goodness that men may show ultimately traces back to God who gives “every good gift” (James 1:17). The apostle Paul explains what he meant by Romans 2:14 — these Gentiles “…show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them” (Verse 15).
Who writes the law of God in the hearts — and consciences — of Gentiles?
Proverbs 7:1-3 exhorts all to write God’s words, commands and law “on the tablet of your heart.” But the sad reality is that man, on his own, is unable to write God’s law in his heart. The children of Israel, who had the law of God delivered to them by Moses and taught to them by the priests, failed to write God’s law in their hearts. God had to promise them: “I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts…” (Jeremiah 31:33).
In His inscrutable judgment (Romans 11:33) God writes His law on the hearts of some Gentiles whom He has chosen, in order to provoke the erring children of Israel toward zeal in obeying God’s law (Verses 7-12). Eventually, God will save Israel as a whole (Verses 22-32).
With God’s urging, somehow Gentiles find it “natural” — even necessary — to obey some, if not all, of God’s laws. For example, most nations around the world have laws that prohibit and punish stealing, lying, murder, and adultery in order to preserve the peace in their community. These laws then mold the conscience of the people. By the people obeying or disobeying these laws, their consciences will either “excuse” or “accuse” them.
A few good men and women
With God’s Spirit working in the men and women of God who have been the “first” to trust and believe in Christ (Ephesians 1:11-12; Hebrews 11), those who have the “firstfruits of the Spirit” (Romans 8:23) are able to do a lot of good. Jesus talked about “A good man” who “…out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things” (Matthew 12:35).
- Joseph of Arimathea, who offered his own grave as the crucified Jesus’ temporary resting place, was called “a good and just man” (Luke 23:50-53).
- Barnabas, a companion of the apostle Paul in his work of preaching the gospel of Christ, was called “a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith.” Through his efforts and God’s Spirit “…a great many people were added to the Lord” (Acts 11:22-24).
- The apostle Peter spoke about masters, obviously Christian (whether male or female), who are “good and gentle” (1 Peter 2:18).
In the Day of Judgment Jesus will tell His true disciples: “Well done, good and faithful servant…” (Matthew 25:21, 23).
Thus we can see that there are, and have been, a few good men and women of faith in the past thousands of years of human history. Their goodness has not come from an “innate” or inborn virtue, but something that God has placed (or “replaced” since God-given goodness was lost by man through sin) in man. Man cannot take for himself the credit for that goodness.
As Paul taught, God has called to salvation in this age people who are among the “foolish,” “weak,” and “base” of mankind (1 Corinthians 1:26-28). For what reason? “…that no flesh should glory [take pride in their own selves, including any goodness] in His presence” (Verse 29). [See: The Children of Abraham, especially the box titled "The kind of people God calls."]
Eventually, when each and every human being will have been given their chance to receive God’s Spirit and be saved, mankind will recover the “goodness” that God originally placed in man at creation, but which was lost when man “fell” from God’s grace through sin.
Pedro R. Meléndez, Jr.