Are Humans Intrinsically Good?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

The Christian view of man holds a tension.

On the one hand, we are to understand that God created man in his image, meaning he gave us rational minds, a will, moral values, and so forth.  Since we are unique among his creation in possessing his image, this surely guarantees our tremendous value, both as a species and as individuals.

On the other hand, we are nothing, less than nothing, without God in our lives.  Sin pervades our nature and darkens our souls.  Only when we reach out to God can we cure this horrible disease.  We must humble ourselves before him to escape our predicament.

How do we synthesize these two views of man?  We are to always remember our value in God’s eyes, but we are also to remember what we are like without him.

It’s no use beating ourselves up all the time and putting ourselves down.  That denies our value.  Maybe you’ve heard the following wise saying: “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.”

It’s no use thinking we are intrinsically good on our own.  That denies our need for God.  Those who think they don’t need God end up with a distorted view of their own abilities.

Both traps are waiting for us, so we mustn’t fall in either one.

Which trap do you think people are more prone to fall into?

  • Matt Salmon

    Could men, then, be likened to masterpiece portraits of God? We are limited in our ability, we don’t fully express God, but we are an expression of God. A portrait is infinitely more valuable than the doodle of a kindergartener but infinitely less valuable than the subject of the painting. Stains (sin) can collect on the Portrait and make it represent the subject (a portait’s standard of perfection), but even the most stained painting still has good ink underneath. The subject is the standard for what should be removed to clean it up and for what should be added. We must keep in mind though that, even a perfect portrait only RESEMBLES the subject, just as a man has more dimensions than his portrait.

  • Matt, I like that image (no pun intended!) even more, I like the idea of a mirror, a reflection of God. A mirror (unlike a great painting) is almost nothing in itself, but its beauty and worth are almost totally in that which it reflects. When we do not have our face towards God, we reflect Him less. When we are dirty, stained broken or covered, the viewer sees more of *me* and less of that which I should be reflecting. When our thinking about God is flawed, we reflect a distorted image, and the world sees a flawed God.
    But ultimately, though we may draw near to God by approach to an excelant mirror,teacher, church; ultimately as we draw near that mirror, we must “reject” it – that is, we must ackowledge thatPaul, or Apollos, or NT Wright, or my favorite is NOT God, and I must go on toward the real thing. To stop at the image in the mirror turns it from a guidpost to an idol.

    R. Eric Sawyer

  • Boz

    OP said: “It’s no use thinking we are intrinsically good on our own.”

    I have found, through my interpersonal experience, that everyone* is an intrinsically good person. They do predominantly good actions, and are good people.

  • Two comments re: Boz’ post.

    1) Good is a relative word, and God’s standard for good is perfection. Good is meaningless apart from a context.

    2) If we could look at the thoughts and intents of the heart (as God can and does), I doubt we would see our neighbors as good – even by our lesser personal standards of goodness.

  • Tye


    How do you define intrinsically good? What are good actions and good people?
    What is good itself?

  • Matt Salmon

    Why does everyone behave well? Is it an internal force from inside them or is it outside pressure from society? Do people do good expecting their deeds to be rewarded or do they simply want to to see people blessed (while receiving no fame or popularity boost)? Essentially, would go out of your way to comfort a quickly dying man, whom you don’t know and who can do nothing for you not even speak, if noone would ever know about it?