According to Genesis 6:5 (NIV)

every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time.

According to Genesis 8:21 states similarly

... every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood.

According to Jeremiah 17:9

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?

According to Proverbs 15:26

Evil plans [imagination] are an abomination to the LORD, But pleasant words are pure.

According to Matthew 15:19

For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders.

Similarly according to Mark 7:21

For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries...

According to Romans 8:7

[Bad thoughts or pictures can come from our sinful carnal minds.] Because the carnal mind is enmity [hostile] against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.

Yet the EXACT same human mind is capable of solving problems, finding cures to diseases, rescuing abused animals, housing the homeless, feeding the needy, digging wells and performing needed surgeries in 3rd world countries – all of which are done by those without God/Christ in their lives, and if asked those so involved many times they will simply say that they are doing so because they saw the need and were moved to do something about it.

If man's literal every inclination is evil without Christ, then from a Lutheran (more specifically the LCMC synod) perspective, how can anything even remotely good come out an unsaved person's actions?

  • Welcome to Christianity.SE. For a quick overview, please take the Site Tour. Your question, though a very good one, is far to broad and opinion-based for this site--which is about the beliefs of particular Christian denominations, and the biblical basis for those beliefs. See: What topics can I ask about here? If you wanted to ask what a particular denomination thinks on this subject, that would be on-topic here. Commented Sep 12, 2016 at 22:43
  • @LeeWoofenden I've grown up lutheran, but the pastors I've had don't talk about that much or in depth, so I've tagged it appropriately Commented Sep 12, 2016 at 22:47
  • 1
    Does this question really presume that Lutheranism has a a unique doctrine on this, or is it really a broader opinion-seeking question? Commented Sep 13, 2016 at 3:31
  • 1
    @Dick I'm assuming the question was asked in good faith, and does indeed presume that Lutheranism has a single doctrine on the question. Commented Sep 13, 2016 at 10:48
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    @DickHarfield I am a lifelong lutheran and it doesn't seem to be discussed that much. But maybe it's something I missed in the Catechism or something in Luther's writings I missed. Commented Sep 13, 2016 at 11:47

1 Answer 1


This issue is addressed in the Augsburg Confession, which the LCMC accepts as "normative for our teaching and practice," like many other Lutheran groups. First we'll briefly look at the "evil human imaginations" part of this, before looking more closely at why unsaved people can accomplish good things, which seems to be the main point of your question.

Evil imaginations

You've actually provided plenty of evidence for "why the human imagination is considered evil" by Lutherans; they cite similar passages as well as the writings of the church fathers to defend the statement found in AC II:

since the fall of Adam all men begotten in the natural way are born with sin, that is, without the fear of God, without trust in God, and with 2] concupiscence; and that this disease, or vice of origin, is truly sin, even now condemning and bringing eternal death upon those not born again through Baptism and the Holy Ghost.

"Concupiscence" is not a word we normally use, but the Defense of the Confession explains that it is that "which seeks carnal things contrary to God's Word" – that is, the natural desires of man tend naturally toward sin. These things are "abiding defects"; our hearts are "naturally destitute of love, fear, and confidence in God." The full defense of article II cites 1 Corinthians 2:14, Romans 7:5, and other passages, as well as several church fathers.

Good things done by the unsaved

So how, then, is anything "good" done by unbelievers? This issue is addressed in Article 18. It opens by accepting that even sinful man can do "civil righteousness," but not "spiritual righteousness":

Of Free Will [our churches] teach that man's will has some liberty to choose civil righteousness, and to work 2] things subject to reason. But it has no power, without the Holy Ghost, to work the righteousness of God, that is, spiritual righteousness;

This is because the "natural man," or man in his unsaved state, cannot be spiritually righteous without the Spirit of God:

since the natural man 3] receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, 1 Cor. 2:14; but this righteousness is wrought in the heart when the Holy Ghost is received 4] through the Word.

The Confession appeals to Augustine on this point, and quotes him as arguing that it is "reason" that allows men to perform many "good" "works of this life," and that category includes many positive things that are accomplished by the unsaved:

We grant that all men have a free will, free, inasmuch as it has the judgment of reason; not that it is thereby capable, without God, either to begin, or, at least, to complete aught in things pertaining to God, but only in works of this life, whether good 5] or evil. "Good" I call those works which spring from the good in nature, such as, willing to labor in the field, to eat and drink, to have a friend, to clothe oneself, to build a house, to marry a wife, to raise cattle, to learn diverse useful arts, or whatsoever good 6]pertains to this life.

We might ask, what is the source of these "good" things? Augustine (and Augsburg) continue by saying that it is the providence of God:

For all of these things are not without dependence on the providence of God; yea, of Him and through Him they are and have their being.

This is an expression of the doctrine of common grace, which teaches that God bestows many blessings (like nature and human reason) widely on mankind, not just on those that are saved. But nature and reason have limits – because the unsaved "are born in sin" (AC II), these blessings can produce the "outward work," but

cannot produce the inward motions, such as the fear of God, trust in God, chastity, patience, etc.


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