Are We Really That Bad?
Hello Church Family,
I got a text from a friend the other day, a member of our church, who asked me: “If we are born in His image, how are we born in opposition to Him?” It was an excellent inquiry provoked by something I said in a sermon. And since I get a similar question semi-regularly—something like, “You say people are sinful and broken, but I see people doing so much good in the world … how can that be?”—I thought I would respond more broadly (than to just my friend).
Here goes: Because we are created in the image of God, we are of great worth and priceless value. At the most fundamental level, the level of our being, we were designed to mirror and represent our Creator. And despite the fall of Adam and Eve, every human retains an element of that God-endowed goodness. Nothing else in all the world was made in the image of God: not plants or animals, not insects, not clouds, nor trees; only mankind. Consequently, of all God’s creation, we are his most cherished handiwork. Every person you’ll ever meet, including those in the womb still yet to be born, enjoys the dignity of bearing God’s image and is consequently very good.
It’s ethically or spiritually that we have an irremediable problem. Because of the aforementioned rebellion of our first parents in the garden, the curse of sin has been passed down from generation to generation. From Adam all the way to us. Sin and death entered the world by one man, the Apostle Paul instructs, and no person has escaped its bondage. Fourth century bishop, Augustine of Hippo, said that our sinful wills are like broken legs that cripple any chance of doing good on our own before God.
Simply put, fallen man is unrighteous. Our minds and hearts have been contaminated. And even though none are as bad as they could be—that is, no one has reached his or her max potential to do evil—everything we do is still tainted by sin. Just as one pin-drop of polonium poisons an entire carafe of wine, our entire beings, ethically speaking, have been infected and affected by the “flesh” we inherited from our first parents.
This is why Paul could say, “There is none good, no not one” (Romans 3:10) while the prophet Jeremiah could say about humanity, “Our hearts are deceitful above all things and beyond cure” (Jeremiah 17:9).
Princeton theologian, Loraine Boettner, says the issue is “not that anyone is entirely destitute of virtue, nor that human will is evil in itself, [but] that since the fall man rests under the curse of sin, he is actuated by wrong principles, and he is wholly unable to love God or do anything meriting salvation.”
In short: we are messed up spiritually; “By nature children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:3); born sinners, and by nature, sinners, hence we are separated from God at conception.
So what does this mean? At least three things:
1) All people are deserving of respect, honor, and protection. Because we are image bearers of God, retaining a level of goodness conferred on us at creation, every single person is of tremendous value to God. And all people regardless of age, status, race, ethnicity, religion, sinful past or present, should enjoy the benefits that go along with bearing His image. Even those in the womb, who have yet to be born. Everyone is worthy of being respected and loved.
2) All people are in need of salvation. However, because we are ethically and spiritually broken, we need a Savior to deliver us. With every rebellious act—in word or deed—we heap on ourselves a moral debt, which we can never repay and from which we cannot free ourselves. A debt that prevents us from being reconciled to God. The good news is: Jesus paid that debt with His life. That’s why the gospel promises freedom to the captive. In Christ, God offers forgiveness full and clear to all who repent of their sin and turn to the cross in faith. And I can tell you as one who has experienced that forgiveness, it feels good to live debt-free.
3) We should be suspicious of our hearts. Even the post-conversion heart is still wicked. Those who are in Christ are indeed made new, but we won’t fully shed the baggage of the flesh until we are glorified. That disgusting residue of sin still remains. While we now enjoy the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, and the comfort, conviction, and intercession guaranteed thereby, our hearts are constantly inclined toward selfishness. The raging struggle to love God and neighbor is not proof that we are spiritually inferior, but evidence that sanctification is actually taking place. Our relationships would benefit if we kept in mind the fickleness of our own hearts. This awareness leads us to say, “I’m sorry” more quickly, grant forgiveness more eagerly, love more freely, pray for fervently, and redirects our focus from us to Christ.
I know that Oprah wouldn’t like this article:) But how much better to admit we have a problem that can only be fixed by Jesus, than to pretend that we’re good, while deep inside we know that we’re not.
As my son asked me the other day, “Dad, why do you always say that self-righteousness equals exhaustion?” My answer: It’s a never ending job to maintain a veneer of perfection. I’d rather rest in Jesus and His finished work … the One who said His yoke is easy and His burden light!
For your joy,