I actually prefer the original answer to this one which is, “The sinfulness of that estate whereinto man fell, consists in the guilt of Adam’ s first sin, the want of original righteousness, and the corruption of his whole nature, which is commonly called Original Sin; together with all actual transgressions which proceed from it.”
Malcolm Muggeridge has written, “The depravity of man is at once the most empirically verifiable reality but at the same time the most intellectually resisted fact.” One does not have to work very hard to find evidence that something is very broken in the world. If we are honest with ourselves, we have to admit that there is something very broken inside of us.
The Christian explanation is that what is wrong with the world is that men (and women) start out broken because we have inherited a sin nature from our first parents. In other words, we are born in a state of rebellion against God and it is only an act of God’s grace that can overcome this state.
Yes, I realize that this is not a popular idea. We would all like to believe that men are basically good and that given the right conditions, they will do the right thing and life will be lovely. But history does not bear this out. I just heard on the news yesterday that in the City of Philadelphia, deaths from opioid overdose have quadrupled in the last few years. While our culture is moving further toward personal freedom, it seems that this freedom is not bringing the intended result. Despair seems to be on the increase.
This answer does not teach us that all men are as bad as they could be. There are many people who are loving, kind upstanding citizens who don’t believe in God or identify themselves as Christians. The idea of the depravity of man does not deny that men retain some desire to pursue good ends.
Nor does it teach us that those who come to believe in Jesus Christ will no longer struggle with a sin nature. The Apostle Paul has a lot to say about this in Romans 7.
What this idea does teach us is that we are in need of a Savior to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. A proper understanding of original sin reveals that while we do things that look good on the outside, we do them for all the wrong reasons. If the proper goal of life is to glorify God and enjoy him forever, then everything must be done with that motivation. The problem is that we can do good things for selfish reasons.
I am constantly reminded that Christianity is not a moral code of behavior. It is not a set of rules to be obeyed. Christianity at its center is trusting in Jesus Christ to do for us what we could not do for ourselves. It is trusting that Christ’s righteous life is accepted by God on our behalf (See 2 Cor. 5:21).