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Articles by Brian Jackson

I Believe in Total Human Depravity

10 August 2008

It's not a particularly popular idea, even among Christian culture, but I believe that people are basically evil. Not a good that goes a little bad because of our surroundings. We don't acquire what's base. We don't pick it up because we've seen someone else do evil first. It comes from our nature, and there is no part of the human condition that remains untouched by evil.

I had a conversation about this subject with a few friends of mine the other day. Someone asked if I could make the argument from a purely secular perspective that people are evil. I obliged, but as hard as I tried, I couldn't seem to make any headway. Every analogy seemed to break down, and we couldn't agree on anything.

The next morning, I realized the real problem with explaining total human depravity in secular terms: you can't do it without a fixed point of reference! If what's good for me is what I think is good for me, then everyone's almost perfect as they stand. If I get to choose what "good" means, then of course I can say people are basically good!

But people aren't good, I contend, and as someone who holds the Bible up as the authority on the subject, I can submit the moral law of God as a fixed point of reference. It calls all men to account, myself most of all, and demands of us everything righteous that we simply cannot give.

It's unsurprising that someone who doesn't believe that the Bible is completely true would assert the basic goodness of humanity. They have something of a vested interest in the goodness of humanity, because it is there that they can say that they're "good people" too, and they've done the best they can in life. The Proverbs tell us to expect such an approach, that "every man's way is right in his own eyes, but the LORD weighs the hearts".

Perhaps those who wish to pick and choose small truths out of the Bible to add to their own beliefs would like to choose Jesus' words in Mark 7: "from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person."

If Christians really believe what Jesus says, then this brings up one more thing: having recognized that evil actions come from an evil nature, no social action can correct the problem. No campaign against vice can solve the problem with drinking or smoking or adultery, because the illness is more than its symptoms. No pro-life rally can solve the problems with abortion, because you haven't dealt with the teen pregnancy issue yet, or the promiscuity that preceeds it, or the problems of the heart from which all of the rest descend!

It turns out that, short of the salvation Jesus provides, we have nothing to offer the world for its social issues. And we cannot stop short of salvation; no half-measures will do. No measures of reform, whether by government or otherwise, can take the place of evangelism.

And the kind of evangelism that the Bible demands of us is not the type that forces every Christian to become a Billy Graham figure or a pastor or a preacher. We're not the Jehovah's Witnesses or the Mormons, here at your house for a drive-by conversion. No, our lives, lived in honesty and quietness, are to give silent witness to the truth of what we say, and when we do bring it up in conversations with our friends, the truth of the Gospel is what will pierce them deeply, rather than the stage-magician demeanor with which some travelling preachers attempt to use it.

Let us never use our scriptures deceptively, lest when the examination our own Bible demands is brought to bear on us, we be found dishonest and untrustworthy. It should cut us to the core when we examine ourselves and find a familiar place for any sin, because any sin we tolerate in our own lives is one too many.

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