089. Humans. Basically Good? Or Prone To Evil? Mark 7:20-23

Someone once said to me, “I don’t think the description of the Fall of humankind in Genesis 3 is relevant for today. Humans are basically good.” I felt like saying, “Brother, what planet have you come from? It’s certainly not planet Earth!” When you have had to deal (as I have done in full-time ministry for almost 45 years) with all the messes humans get into, there can be no other explanation than the truths in Genesis 3. Humans are wired to do bad stuff. It needs the power of God to stop them going more deeply into even more evil.  So the question is, “Are humans basically good or are they prone to evil?” It’s not just a theoretical question for philosophers to discuss ad nauseam. It hits us in the face every day as we drive our cars. I saw just last week someone driving irresponsibly and if I had not braked to let his speeding car into a narrow space  in front of me there may have been a serious head-on collision on a narrow two direction two lane road at a combined speed of close on 200km/h. How selfish can you get to want to be seen as a skilful driver (or having a FAST vehicle) passing car after car, but at the same time endangering the lives of many people?

The dilemma we face. Should I trust people or not? Are they basically good or could they do evil?  The dilemma for one person might be, “Can I leave my child with that man or woman? They seem to be nice. But can I really trust them?” The decision is made to do so. Another child is sexually abused.  Or “Should I go into business with that person? They seem trustworthy enough.” Another business is liquidated as the new partner skips off with the money. Or as one woman told me, “I married this lovely fellow and we went on our honeymoon. He said he would just go down stairs for a drink before we retired. He took some time. Later I discovered that he had met a young woman in the bar and had gone back to her room and had sex with her.” She almost screamed at me as she painfully said, “ON OUR WEDDING NIGHT!” But that was the first of many similar occurrences during her marriage. Apparently a “nice” man in the view of most people who knew him but with a fatal flaw that brought so much hurt and pain to his wife.

Are we humans basically good or basically evil?  We need to know in terms of whether we can implicitly trust people. Jesus didn’t always trust people. We read in The Message version of John 2:23-25, … many people noticed the signs he was displaying and, seeing they pointed straight to God, entrusted their lives to him. (24)  But Jesus didn’t entrust his life to them. He knew them inside and out, knew how untrustworthy they were. (25)  He didn’t need any help in seeing right through them. We may not have the same depth of perception He had. But we do need to have the same caution about relationships, knowing what people are capable of doing.

 Jesus Has The Answer For Our Dilemma. Mark 7:20-23.  In this passage Jesus said that it was not what went into a person that made them unclean. It was what came out of them. He continued, Mar 7:20 And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him.(21)  For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, (a word meaning inner dialogues or reasonings or deliberations, planning what to do. ) He then spoke about the form those evil thoughts took in the actions that followed.

  1. Sexual immorality. Sexual sins or immoral acts both within and outside of the marriage.
  2. Theft.  Taking or using unlawfully something that belongs to someone else.
  3. Murder.  Begin with thoughts in the mind. The actions stem from the thoughts. Jesus went deeper and said that to have hatred in one’s heart towards someone was to be guilty of murder.
  4. Adultery.  Where a spouse is unfaithful to his or her partner. I tried once to get a man to face up to the fact that he was committing adultery with a friend’s wife.  I said to him, “You didn’t just wake up and suddenly find yourselves in bed together, did you? You thought about it (which was wrong) and made a decision to go further in the relationship. You are accountable for what you have done. It wasn’t accidental.”  Again as Jesus said, for a man to look lustfully at another man’s wife is to make him guilty of adultery even though the action hasn’t happened.  This leads on to the next wrong way of thinking that leads to actions. Coveting.
  5. Coveting.  This is mentioned in the Ten Commandments in Deuteronomy 5:21  “‘And you shall not covet your neighbour’s wife. And you shall not desire your neighbour’s house, his field, or his male servant, or his female servant, his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbour’s.’” Coveting often leads to further action to take hold, for oneself, of the thing or person coveted.
  6. Wickedness.  All sorts of evil. A similar word is used of the devil as the wicked one. These are the sorts of bad things the devil would deceive us into doing to other people.

Then Jesus added a number of evil attitudes

  1. Deceit. It’s outwards expression in speaking or acting out what is false.
  2. Sensuality.  Lacking self-control in sexual matters.
  3. Envy.  Wanting what is not ours. Not grateful to God for what we have.
  4. Slander.   The word is blasphemy. Evil speaking = speaking evil of others.
  5. Pride.   Self-focussed attitudes looking down on others.  Thinking and acting as though others were inferior to oneself. Eg., the scribes and the Pharisees.
  6. Foolishness. Sums up all the previous evil attitudes.

Jesus concluded, (23)  All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”

No wonder King David as a man after God’s own heart cried out to God after he had sinned against God in his sin with Bathsheba, Psalm 51:10  Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. He saw that his heart needed to be recreated lest he do the same again.  He had discovered how capable he was of deliberately doing evil and of trying to conceal it.

What do Anglicans believe?  Anglican belief is found in the 39 Articles of Religion to be found in the back of most Prayer Books. Article 9 is titled, “Of original or Birth sin”.  It has these words. Man … is of his own nature inclined to evil. … This infection of nature doth remain in those who are regenerate (born again). In other words this proneness to do evil is characteristic of all people. All born-again people still possess this old nature with its bias towards evil and can give way to it unless they are careful. That’s why they are to sow to the Spirit and not to the flesh (the old nature). Gal 6:8  For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.

A question to consider regarding this. Have you ever wondered why many men and women who have been in active service in wartime hardly ever speak of their experiences? There is one obvious reason. Because they saw man’s inhumanity to their fellow humans in war. They saw and heard despicable things. It had a terrible effect on them. They don’t want to recall the memories. But there may be another far deeper reason for some of them. I discovered this when counselling many men over the years. Many of them have opened up enough to say that during active service they thought about and did some terrible things themselves. Now they find it almost impossible to talk about them.  They were horrified at their thoughts at that time. They were even more horrified at some of the things they did.  They never dreamed they would ever think or do such things in all their lifetime.  They discovered that they were just as evil sometimes as they imagined the enemy to be. That may be why many such men and women who used to be church-goers never came back to church again. They detested the evil they saw in others. They detested even more the evil they saw in themselves. They felt there was no place for them back among the “good people”. I’m sure that there is a whole lot of healing that needs to happen for such men and women. But they need to find people who won’t be shocked at what they hear about the experiences of those veterans.

William Golding. The challenge of the book and the film “The Lord of the Flies”.   The story is of “innocent” schoolboys alone on an island without any adult supervision or presence. Golding shows that the increasing violence in the boys came from within them. It was not due to some external factor. He portrays the characters in the film to show that there is innate evil in humans. He is correct in what he portrayed. Human experience confirms it. The Bible has always taught it. Philosophers and theologians ignore it at their peril. There is no other satisfactory answer to why the world is as it is. God knew what He was doing in giving such a simple explanation in Genesis 3 for why humans function (or malfunction) as they do. As has been said before, We are not sinners because we sin. We sin because by nature we are sinners.

It means then for Christians that they need to change their prayers from praying that nice people become even nicer, to something much deeper than that. They need to pray for people that they get soundly converted; that they get switched on to the Lord; that they are turned around by repenting of all evil and turning to God for forgiveness and His wisdom and strength. They need to be born again of the Spirit of God so that they become new creatures in Christ. People need it. The world needs it. Every individual needs it.

A New Beginning. A New Creation. A New Humanity. A New Way Of Thinking. A New Way Of Living. St Paul had known a radical change in his life. He saw himself as a new creature in Christ. He saw that other people could know the radical change he had experienced. He expressed that in 2 Corinthians 5:17  Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. New creatures could become new in character due to the indwelling Spirit who came upon those who believed in Jesus. They would be given a new nature through the presence of the Holy Spirit in their lives. In fact he described this new nature in Galatians 5 as the spirit nature being opposed to the old nature (flesh) which they had from birth.

That contrast is spelt out in this chapter in the difference between the “works of the flesh” and the “fruit of the Spirit”. The “works of the flesh” are those characteristics that come to all people because they are like that in a fallen world.  It affects every area of life. It is in the area of sex, (19)  Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality. It is in the area of religion, (20)  idolatry, sorcery.  It is in the area of social sins such as enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions,(21)  envy. It is in the area of drinking, drunkenness, orgies. It is in everything associated with these things,  and things like these. That pretty well covers most of life’s experiences. The problem with this life-style is that it is self-defeating. It misses out on life with God in heaven, I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

The new life in Christ. It is full of opposite characteristics. It is not “works” (frenzied activity) but “fruit” (the quiet outward expression of the life within), the expression of the life of the Holy Spirit within each believer. It is seen to be operative in the area of one’s attitude to God who shares His love, joy and peace with us. (Jesus spoke of His followers are having His love, His joy, His peace.) It is in the area of relationships with others in society, possessing patience, kindness, goodness. They are nice thoughtful people to have around! It is in the area of one’s relation to oneself, faithfulness, (23) gentleness, self-control.  They are honourable and trustworthy people.  While they are living according to the Spirit that is!  Paul wrote in Gal 5:25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. If the Spirit had brought people new life then they had an obligation to continue to live life being continually guided and empowered by the Holy Spirit.

 If it is true that all humans have a bias towards evil (in St Paul’s terms, a flesh nature) then that explains why there is so much evil in the world. People who are out of touch with God are doing what comes “naturally” to them. In various degrees. How can that change? They need to know and to experience God’s power in their lives.

This is how I sometimes pray for everyone I know, those who are my friends and the same prayer for those who aren’t interested in being my friend.

“Lord, I ask that you might work in (so and so’s) life to bring them to yourself. Open their eyes to see that they need You and may turn to You to receive forgiveness for all their sins and to receive a new life in Jesus. Set them free from the power of the evil one who had blinded their eyes and who holds them captive to do his will. I pray that they may be born again of Your Spirit and be released to be the people of God You want them to be. Fill them with Your Spirit so that they might know and experience Your wisdom and Your power to live in Your way. May they show forth the fruit of the Spirit in their lives day by day. Please protect them and bless them that they might be a blessing in the lives of other people. AMEN

Your prayer for people doesn’t have to be the same. But it does have to take into account that what is required for people is that they become new creatures in Christ and not become just  slightly nicer people in the world.

Blog No.089. Jim Holbeck. Posted on Sunday 2nd September 2012

About Jim Holbeck

Once an Industrial Chemist working for the Queensland Government but later an Anglican minister in Brisbane, Armidale and Sydney. Last position for eighteen years before retirement was as the Leader of the Healing Ministry at St Andrew's Cathedral Sydney.
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