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A story is told of a journalist who wrote to various authors and thinkers to ask this question: “What is wrong with the world?” G.K. Chesterton allegedly responded, “I am.” He recognized what most people fail to recognize—namely, that all the problems in the world begin with us. However, the fundamental problem with most people is that they don’t grasp that they are the fundamental problem in the world. Most people think they are basically good people with basically good hearts and basically good intentions. Most people believe the same about others and ascribe the bad that happens to outside forces and influences.
This way of thinking is not only terribly naive but also terribly unbiblical, and it is held even in the church. Much of the church does not have a high enough regard for the depravity of man and, consequently, does not have high enough regard for the grace and character of God. While we confess that man in his natural state before God is totally depraved apart from Christ, we can be grateful that because of the restraining grace of God, man does not always act as bad as he actually is.
From the first pages of his Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin strives to help us grasp the relationship between knowing God and knowing ourselves, arguing that if we do not know God rightly, we cannot know ourselves rightly. This is precisely what the problem is when it comes to the commonly held perspective that humanity is basically good. When our view of God is even slightly skewed, our view of man and everything else will be severely skewed. This is one of the primary reasons for so many of the sociocultural and ethical problems and evils of our day. If we don’t know God according to His Word, we certainly will not rightly know that man was made in the image of God, that all of mankind possesses dignity given by God, that in Adam’s sin all mankind fell into a state of sin and enmity with God, and that all men are without hope for reconciliation with God except for the intervening and regenerating grace of God. The only way to be reconciled to God is through the life and work of Jesus Christ, by whose righteousness imputed to us by faith alone we can be counted righteous. We can then stand before our holy, just, and gracious God simul justus et peccator, at the same time justified and sinful, worshiping Him coram Deo, before His face, and for His glory now and forever.