Are we all born basically good, children of God by birth?
If you listen to the hugely popular happy-talk preacher Joel Osteen, the answer is yes. But if you read the Bible, it’s a definitive “No!”
During a recent interview on CNN with Piers Morgan (he’s the new Larry King), Osteen assured a worldwide audience that we’re all born children of God, so we’re all basically good in our nature.
This includes Adolf Hitler, by the way, a man personally responsible for the Holocaust where millions were systematically murdered and World War II where tens of millions more perished.
Osteen told Piers that he couldn’t explain Hitler’s monstrous evil, but he’s sure he wasn’t born that way. And if Hitler was born good, then so too were Stalin, Mao and all of history’s other mass murderers, ethnic cleansers, serial killers, child rapists … well, everyone.
Yet the Word of God tells us the exact opposite is true. The Bible declares that all of us have sinned throughout our past and continue falling short of God’s standard of righteousness in our present (Romans 3:23). Isaiah 53 reveals that we have all gone astray like wayward sheep and have “turned, every one, to his own way.”
Therefore, Psalm 53 says God looks at all mankind and declares: “Every one of them has turned aside; they have all together become corrupt. There is none who does good; no, not even one” (emphasis mine).
Indeed, when the rich young ruler called Jesus “good,” He responded: “No one is good but God” (Luke 18:19). The young man didn’t have the spiritual insight to understand that Jesus is God, so the exchange ended there. Still, Jesus made it clear that only God is good, and no human being meets that lofty standard.
Jesus told us that we must be perfect, even as God is (Matthew 5:48). This is God’s standard of goodness – absolute perfection. This has been called Plan A for salvation. As someone once remarked: “Thank God for Plan B,” which is salvation by God’s grace through faith alone in Christ’s finished redemptive work on the cross for us (Ephesians 2:8-9, Titus 3:5, etc.).
We consider ourselves good because we compare ourselves to other people, and we can always find someone worse than we are. Scripture describes those who “commend themselves” (for their goodness, good works, etc.) as being the ones who “measuring themselves by themselves are not wise” (2 Corinthians 10:12).
That’s because Charles Manson is not the standard by which we’re measured. Neither is the guy down the street who gets drunk and beats his wife. Nor any other person. The One we’re being measured by is Christ Himself, who is good because He lived a perfectly sinless life – in His actions, words and thoughts. Anything less than that is unacceptable to a perfectly holy, perfectly just God who cannot tolerate sin (Habakkuk 1:13). He can only punish sin.
Of course, as Piers pointed out in questioning Osteen about his elusive views on homosexuality, the perpetually smiling preacher doesn’t have a whole lot to say about sin. In fact, hardly anything at all. Nor does he like to delve into such issues as eternal judgment or the reality of hell. They’re “too negative.” They bring people down.
Yet these are the very issues God most wants us thinking about and dealing with, for the Bible says His Spirit is in the world with the express purpose of convicting all mankind “of sin, righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8). Sin because it’s our sin that separates us from God; righteousness because there’s a righteous standard we all fall infinitely short of meeting but which Christ has attained for us, and offers us as a free gift when we trust in Him alone for salvation (John 3:16, 3:36, etc.); and judgment because apart from trusting in Christ alone, we have nothing to look forward to but eternal judgment.
This doctrine of original sin (for which the whole world already stands condemned before God) lies at the heart of the gospel message Christ said should be proclaimed by His servants throughout the world until He returns.
But if we’re all children of God from birth, then why bother with such dour material? That’s clearly Osteen’s position, although here again, God’s Word says something completely different.
According to the Bible, none of us is born a child of God. Instead, we must be adopted into His family (Romans 8:14-15, Galatians 4:4-7, Ephesians 1:5-6) by trusting Christ. Scripture explains that believers are “all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:26); we “become children of God” when we accept Christ by faith alone (John 1:12, emphases mine).
Because the scourge of sin entered mankind through the Fall of Man in the Garden of Eden, we all have a sin nature. This means we are born separated from God and can only be saved by means of a second (spiritual) birth (1 Peter 1:23). As Jesus put it: “Unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. … You must be born again” (John 3).
Joel Osteen and other so-called “prosperity preachers” are directly contradicting God’s Word on the fundamental tenets of the faith, opting instead to preach a message of worldly riches and continual temporal blessings. They have forsaken the one true gospel to proclaim a false message, a “different gospel which is really no gospel at all” (Galatians 1:6).
This “other” gospel won’t save you, but it does make preachers filthy rich, tickles the ears of their followers and fills football stadiums with people willing to give until it hurts (so they, too, can cash in, you see).
It’s a far cry from the One who said: “My kingdom is not of this world.” But when there’s so much money to be made in this life, who wants to wait for eternal blessings and rewards in heaven?
That would be such a total downer!
Tom Flannery writes for a newspaper in Pennsylvania. His opinion pieces have appeared in publications such as Newsday, the Los Angeles Times, MovieGuide and Christian Networks Journal. He has won the two $10,000 awards for opinion writing, the Eric Breindel Award for Outstanding Opinion Journalism from News Corp/The New York Post in 2000 and the first-place prize in the Amy Foundation Writing Awards in 2008. He has won eight Amy Awards in all, as well as a Keystone Award from the Pennsylvania Newspaper Publishers Association for his work. He is author of the book “1939: The Year in Movies,” and an essay he wrote on Hollywood was included in the book “The Culture-Wise Family” by Dr. Ted Baehr and Pat Boone.