Most people do not think of themselves as innately evil. The probable reason that they think this way is because they are not guilty of actually committing heinous sins such as murder, rape, incest, etc., and they don’t think that the “lesser” sins which they commit indicate that they are evil.
However, God regards all sins as evil, because every sin is a violation of one or both of the two Great Commandments. These two Commandments are found in Matthew 22:37-40, in which Jesus Christ quotes from the Old Testament, stating,
“You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.
[Note: When we quote Scripture in this article, we use the wording in the New King James Version of the Bible.]
The Bible indicates that no one except God is truly righteous. Every human sins because they are not very successful in overcoming their inherent disposition to sin. Therefore, the Bible states that every person is evil. Although the inherent disposition to sin includes infants and young children, it is not likely that God will hold them accountable for their behavior until they have attained sufficient understanding of what is right and what is wrong. Likewise, God is unlikely to hold accountable people who are seriously challenged mentally and, as a result, they too lack sufficient understanding regarding what is right and what is wrong. [For a discussion regarding the accountability of infants, young children, and the mentally deficient, click on “Does God Make Exceptions for People Who Don’t Have Opportunity to Trust in Christ?”]
Before we continue, we need to define the terms innately, evil, wickedness, sin, and righteous. Webster’s Dictionary defines these terms as follows:
- Innately refers to “existing naturally rather than acquired.”
- Evil means “morally bad or wrong; wicked; depraved.”
- Wickedness is synonymous with evil.
- Sin is “an offense against God, religion, or good morals.”
- The Sinful is defined as “full of or characterized by sin; wicked; immoral.”
- Righteous pertains to “acting in a just, upright manner; doing what is right; virtuous.”
The scripture that most clearly indicates that every person is innately sinful is probably James 1:14-15, which states, [Each person] “is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.”
This scripture indicates that the inclination of people to sin is a result of their innate human desires, which compel them to attempt to satisfy these desires in sinful ways. And, it is highly likely that most of the sins by humans are attributable to their human nature, rather than a result of their being tempted by Satan or any other supernatural being. [For a discussion of who is responsible for people’s sins, click on our article entitled “Who Should Be Blamed for Our Sins?”]
We will now consider several verses of scripture which indicate that all humans are evil.
Genesis 6:5 says, “Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.
Genesis 8:21b states, “Then the LORD said in His heart, ‘I will never again curse the ground for man’s sake, although the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth; nor will I again destroy every living thing as I have done.’”
Romans 3:10 asserts, “There is none [no person] righteous, no, not one.”
And, Romans 3:23 declares, “[A]ll have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
It may be argued that Genesis 6:5 is applicable to only the people living at that time, excluding Noah and, perhaps, the members of his immediate family. However, there is no valid reason for making a similar argument with regard to the other three scriptures that we have cited. These other three scriptures make it clear that all humans are evil (i.e., unrighteous or sinful), although, as previously stated, this does not include those who lack sufficient understanding of what is right and what is wrong.
In contrast with the preceding scriptures, both the Old Testament and the New Testament contain numerous references to “the righteous.” Among the Old Testament men that the Bible specifically indicates were righteous are Abraham (Genesis 15:6 and Acts 4:3); Job (Job 1:1, 8; 2:3); and David (Romans 4:6). Other Old Testament references to “the righteous” include Genesis 18:23-26; 20:4; Exodus 23:7-8; Numbers 23:10; and there are also a number of additional references to the righteous throughout the books of Psalms, Proverbs, and Ezekiel. New Testament references to “the righteous” include Matthew 9:13; 13:43; 25:37, 46; James 5:16; and 1 Peter 3:12; 4:18.
These scriptures raise the question: Can people living today who are inherently evil become righteous? The answer to this question is found in Romans 5:19, which states, “For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous.” In other words, the initial sin of Adam (i.e., the first man) resulted in the inheritance of a sinful nature by every person born subsequently, whereas every person who genuinely trusts in Jesus Christ as their Savior is regarded as righteous by God, even though these people continue to sin, because of their inherently sinful human nature.
However, if a person has sincerely trusted Jesus Christ as his (or her) Savior, that person should give serious consideration to Proverbs 8:13a, which declares, “The fear of the Lord is to hate evil.” Therefore, if a person truly fears God (i.e., regards God with sincere awe or reverence) and genuinely loves Him, that person will want to refrain from doing things that the Bible regards as evil (i.e., sinful). Although no ordinary human is able to completely avoid sinning, the frequency of his (or her) sins should diminish as that person matures in their relationship with God.
Even the men mentioned in the Bible who demonstrated a strong faith in God, and whom most people would regard as righteous, were not sinless. For example, years after the conversion of the Apostle Paul to a saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, he continued to struggle with – and yield to – temptations to sin. This is evidenced by Paul’s statement in Romans 7:19: “For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice.” (The preceding verses in the same chapter indicate that Paul probably used the term evil in verse 19 in reference to his struggles with sin.)
[For a brief discussion of whether or not any Christian can live a sinless life, see the appendix that follows.]
Every person, with the exception of Jesus Christ, is innately evil because they have an inherent disposition to sin that compels them to engage in unrighteous behavior. Even people who have genuinely trusted in Jesus Christ as their Savior will continue to sin, but if they become increasingly more mature in their relationship with God, they will be inclined to sin less. As for the people who do not genuinely trust in Jesus Christ as their Savior, they will be held accountable for all their sins.
[For further discussion about whom God will hold accountable for their sins, click on “Does God Make Exceptions for People Who Don’t Have Opportunity to Trust in Christ?”]
Can Christians Live a Sinless Life?
People who are not Christians and, therefore, are not sanctified, are not capable of living a sinless life, but what about Christians who are sanctified? Shouldn’t sanctified Christians be able to live a sinless life?
To answer this question, we will focus on 1 John 3:9, which declares, “Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God.” Does this scripture imply that Christians can live a sinless life?
In regard to this scripture, Gleason L. Archer states on page 428 of his book entitled Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, “[A] present infinitive in Greek implies continual or repeated action. . . . For this reason some of the more recent translations [of 1 John 3:9] bring out the true emphasis by rendering it ‘he cannot go on sinning (NIV).’”
Likewise, on page 539 of their book entitled When Critics Ask, Geisler and Howe assert in reference to 1 John 3:9,
John nowhere claims that believers are without sin or never commit a sin. First John 3:9 is in the present continuous tense and should be translated, “Whoever is born of God does not continually practice sin.” Conversely, if a person habitually practices sin, he is not born of God. . . . Both a believer and an unbeliever can fall into the same sin, but a believer cannot stay in it and feel comfortable.
Thus, 1 John 3:9 indicates that, because of a person’s new relationship with God after he (or she) becomes a Christian, that person should have a sincere desire to refrain from committing sins. However, there is no indication in this scripture or any other scripture in the Bible that Christians are able to live a sinless life.
[Note: Insofar as we are aware, no scripture other than 1 John 3:9 addresses the question as to whether or not Christians can live a sinless life.]