The dichotomy between the two ideas of if us as humans are inherently good and evil has been going on for millennia. Our culture debates these two ideas as well in Christian teaching. This is a polarizing topic because it is puts on display in political discourse. I will discuss the opposing viewpoints in detail and determine if there is a middle ground.
The first idea I’ll dissect is the idea that humans are inherently good. For this idea to work you must believe that human actions are a by product of their circumstances. Our sinful nature is not a product of our circumstances. It is explained in these verses:
Galatians 5:16-21 (NASB):
“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law. Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”
Sorry about the long passage but I felt like I needed to give you it for greater context. The flesh shows us that we are prone to sin. If the flesh leads to sin, then we cannot be inherently good. If we are inherently good, then we wouldn’t need the Spirit to guide us. We cannot overcome our sin and our fleshly desires without the guidance of God. Another verse to bring the point home:
James 4: 4 (NASB):
“You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.”
I like the book of James cause this guy is right to the point. So, no interpretation needed after this.
As I laid out it looks like we are inherently evil because of our fleshly desires. The greater question is being we born evil or are we prone to evil?
Psalms 139:1 (NASB):
“I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Wonderful are Your works, And my soul knows it very well.”
Ephesians 2:10 (NASB):
“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.”
I believe we are prone to evil because of our fleshly desires. Those desires are engrained in us, but God didn’t create us for those purposes. We are not born evil but being human we are prone to it. Sounds very close to the same thing but has doctrinal ramifications if you believe you are born evil, unfortunately. Apart from God we are prone to evil. When we walk with him we are prone toward righteousness. If there was a sliding scale on the spectrum between whether we are inherently good or evil it would slide closer to evil. In a later post I will discuss how our culture tends to believe we are inherently good and the consequences of that belief.