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Are Most People "Good" People?

The Good People

What if someone asked you the question, “Are most people ‘good’ people?”  How would you answer that?  On the surface one might say ‘yes’, and the evidence could be something along the lines of, “Most people are not in jail.  Most people do pay their taxes.  Most people are not stealing, etc…”  That is, most people obey most of the laws of the land, most of the time, or so it seems.   If one appeals to the Bible, a person might cite the example of Cornelius, who while not a Christian is pictured as a very good and moral man (Acts 10:1-2).  Yet, someone else might observe that Cornelius appears to be an exception, rather than the rule, and that even this good moral man needed to be saved, for he was lost (Acts 11:14).  So let’s dig a little deeper:

Good Teacher

As He was setting out on a journey, a man ran up to Him and knelt before Him, and asked Him, ‘Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’  And Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call Me good?  No one is good except God alone.”  (Mark 10:17-18). 

Apparently, the young man had used the word “good” twice, “Good teacher what good thing must I do?” (Matthew 19:16).  Jesus’ method here of dealing with this man is to first call attention to his superficial and careless use of the word “good”.  “You throw that word ‘good’ around so loosely, that you need to reexamine your idea of goodness.  Do you really care about goodness?  If there is none good but God, to apply that term to me with this understanding is to affirm that I am God—but do you really believe this?” (Fowler p. 839).  Jesus reminds this man that he has asked a question that only God can answer.  Does he want Jesus to play God for him or does he really believe that Jesus is one with the Father and knows the answer Himself?  Observe that Jesus is not in a hurry to quickly convert someone.  He wants to make sure that this young man understands what he is saying and asking.  Jesus is not saying that people can never do something good or be good, rather, He is reminding us that only God is 100% good (1 John 1:5), and God is the actual source of all goodness.  The rest of us have sinned (Romans 3:23).

Born Innocent

It is important to remember that we were born innocent and at some point as we grew and matured, went off the right track into sin:

  • “Behold, I have found only this, that God made men upright, but they have sought out many devices” (Ecclesiastes 7:29).
  • “Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:4).
  • “Brethren, do not be children in your thinking; yet in evil be infants, but in your thinking be men” (1 Corinthians 14:20).
  • “All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way” (Isaiah 53:6).

The Biblical View

While most people are not in jail, and most people appear to pay their taxes and mostly observe the laws of the land on the highways, the reality is that the Bible repeated pictures most people as having turned from the right way, and being in a lost condition.  We did not start out that way, rather when given the choice between God or self, righteousness or selfishness, the right way or the easy way, most choose out of self-interest.

  • “For the intent of man’s heart is evil from his youth” (Genesis 8:21).
  • “The gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it” (Matthew 7:13).
  • Romans chapter 1 gives a very similar picture with a lot more details of how people who knew God and His requirements (1:32), opted for the broad path that leads to destruction.
  • When God sent Paul to preach to the Gentiles, God pictures the Gentiles as being in the dominion of Satan, in a condition of darkness and having eyes that are closed (Acts 26:18).
  • Paul speaks of the former condition of those in Colossae as being in the domain of darkness (Colossians 1:13-14).   

Carefully observe in the above passages that no one is born on or forced onto the broad way.  It is a path that one enters at some point in their lifetime.

The Pattern

The pattern that is so often repeated in the Bible is not of people remaining so very close to the truth, or just deviating just a little bit. Rather the pattern from the Garden of Eden is one of continual movement or apostasy from the truth.  This was true even among God’s own professed people.

Adam and Eve departed from God in the garden (Genesis 3).  Cain offered a sacrifice that did not conform to God’s requirements (Genesis 4).  Noah’s generation was in complete rebellion to God (Genesis 6).  Noah’s descendants disobeyed the command to fill the earth (Genesis 9:1; 11:4).  The generation that came out of bondage continually rebelled against God (Exodus chapters 14-32).  The generation that arose after the time of Joshua went into apostasy (Judges 2:10-11).  The book of Judges illustrates one apostasy after another (2:11-23).  Eventually the northern Israelite tribes became so unfaithful that God removes them off the land and sent them into exile (2 Kings 17).  Eventually the same thing happened to the southern tribe of Judah (2 Chronicles 36).  Even after a remnant returned from captivity, they still hadn’t learned their lesson (Malachi chapters 1-2; Ezra chapters 9-10).  The same trend continues on into the New Testament (Acts 20:28-31; Romans 1:18-32; Galatians 3:1; 1 Timothy 4:1-3; 2 Timothy 4:2-4; 2 Peter 2:1ff).  

All the Good People Keeping the Laws of the Land

I believe it would be accurate to say that most people do not shoplift, do drugs, commit adultery or murder.  Yet there is another question here.  Why is that?  Recently I heard someone observe that the Bible says that if you lust after a woman in your heart you have already committed adultery in your heart (Matthew 5:28).  Or, if you are angry, you are already a murderer of sorts (5:22)—or guilty enough to end up in hell.  So why not just commit the actual physical act?”  At that point many people would probably point to the consequences.  “I don’t want to get a disease.  I don’t want to be exposed or humiliated.  I don’t want to lose my wife, husband and respect of my children.  I don’t want to go through a divorce and lose half of what I own, etc...”  The same is true with the actual act of murder.  “I don’t want to spend the rest of my life in jail”.  Yet did you notice a common theme.  If we say things like above, then the reason we are avoiding adultery is based entirely on self-interest, rather than on what is good and right.  None of these reasons mentioned God.  None of them sounded like Joseph who said, “How can I do this great evil and sin against God” (Genesis 39:9). 

So that is convicting.  Because avoiding certain sins because of “self-interest” might make it appear that I am a “good moral person”, but self-interest is not being moral or good.  Yes, most people pay their property taxes, yet not from the motive of honoring God (Romans 13), but rather often from the motive of not wanting to lose their home.  Most people go to work, yet not from the motive of working for the Lord (Colossians 3:23), but from motives such as wanting to be able to buy things or have an earthly life that is comfortable.  So complying with various laws of the land and being “good” are not always the same thing.

Plan Ahead

People like Joseph and Daniel were young men who planned ahead (Daniel 1:8).  For morality and goodness do not happen by accident, they are choices.  History is filled with examples of “normal people” who did horrible things or allowed horrible things to happen without saying anything.  Goodness is a choice we make every day and something that we always need to be working on (Romans 12:1-2; 2 Peter 1:5-11; 2 Corinthians 7:1). 

Mark Dunagan/mdunagan@frontier.com

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