The Biblical teaching of human depravity is in direct opposition to the postmodern view so prevalent in the West. Postmodernism teaches that man is the standard of right and wrong, and by logical extension, naturally good. The argument is focused on whether our negative actions are the result of our genetic disposition or the environment in which we develop. Anyone who has taken Psych. 101 knows that nature versus nurture is a contentious arena in psychological circles.
One might debate that a serial killer is genetically predisposed to mass murder, while another theorizes that their inclination to do violence is a corollary of childhood trauma. While this is an interesting conversation it fails to get to the deeper issue of nature and nurture in the first place. The starting point is neither situational nor genetic analysis. Rather, it is the ontological question of whether mankind is basically good. And there is a great irony involved when people say humanity is naturally good.
Are We Naturally Good?
“Sin is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God.” — Westminster Shorter Catechism 14
To answer that question, one must start with the standard of goodness. Since God is sovereign all standards rest upon Him and His character (Ps. 135:6). God is good, therefore the standard for goodness is God (Ps. 34:8). What He has revealed to be right in His moral law is how we’re told to meet this standard (Deut. 30:16). If goodness is holding to the standards set by God in the law, then perfect obedience is required to be good. If so, to be evil requires any one time breaking of God’s law (James 2:10). Since we’re born into the representation of Adam’s disobedience all of us are inherently lawbreaking sinners (1 Cor. 15:22a, Rom. 5:18). Therefore, every human is naturally evil and will act accordingly. Because of this, we all need a savior, and surety, in whom the Spirit regenerates us unto new life (Titus 3:5). Are we naturally good? Not even close.
“None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless no one does good not even one. Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive. The venom of asps is under their lips. Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes.” — Romans 3:10 – 18
The Great Irony
“I’m naturally an optimist, but my basis for hope is rooted in my understanding of human nature.” — Al Gore
Comments like Former Vice President Al Gore’s are both common and unbiblical. Man is depraved by nature and, in this state of depravity, unable to please God and satisfy any of His legal requirements. The greatest witness to the total depravity of human nature, apart from Scripture, is the countless people who believe that mankind is inherently good.
How is it that so many people can look at human history, current events, and the recesses of their dark and twisted minds and conclude that humanity is intrinsically good? The reason that sinners believe that they’re basically good is because of their sin induced blindness. Total depravity is the only answer to the dismissal of the evil nature of man. The great irony of denying human depravity is that people believe they are good because they are not.
“People believe they are good because they are not”
Psychological distinctions aren’t the starting point of understanding evil in the world, we are. Observing someone’s childhood doesn’t correspond with humanity as a whole. Individual genetics can’t universally explain continent-spanning wickedness. We’re all fallen and exclusively able to sinfully nurture our fallen nature.
Without the incarnation of the Son, humanity would have no hope for redemption. Christ came to redeem our fallen nature, not to excuse it. Only through His sinless sacrifice could we be made righteous before the throne of God (Gal. 2:16, 1 Cor. 5:21). The regenerate must fight for the doctrine of total depravity because to compromise the doctrine of man’s inherent wickedness subverts the necessity of the incarnation. Apart from Christ our only experience would be one in which we would continue the pitiable cycle of believing that our iniquities are irrelevant to our ontological condition. We would perpetually think that we’re just fine. We would believe in ourselves all the way to hell.