Q14: Did God create us unable to keep his law?
ANSWER: No, but because of the disobedience of our first parents, Adam and Eve, all of creation is fallen; we are all born in sin and guilt, corrupt in our nature and unable to keep God’s law.
Original sin. It's one of the most controversial and disliked doctrines of orthodox Christianity. The Christian theologian Paul Tillich once observed that "even Christian teachers shy away from the use of the word sin . . .We try to avoid it, or to substitute another word for it." But the truth is, we can't avoid it, because our own lives testify to its reality and power. Better for us to understand what sin is.
For that, we can look to Romans 7, where the Apostle Paul stresses the reality of every human being's experience of sin. He writes, "I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. . . . For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me."
We can all remember circumstances in our own lives when we knew the right thing to do—and maybe even meant to do it—but nonetheless failed. What Paul does here is bring to light something fundamental to our human experience, something resident deep within the human heart. Paul understands that our problem is not merely one of moral knowledge, as the classical philosophers believed, nor is it a problem of intent or desire. If it were, then moral education and moral exhortation would suffice to ensure our success in overcoming sin. But of course, our strategies for sin management fail, because the real human problem that Paul pinpoints is that our wills are not our own.
And if we are truly honest with ourselves, each one of us can recognize the internal experience that Paul describes. Think for a moment of the ways in which even our best and finest achievements carry the taint of internal division. For example, many of us work hard to meet the expectations at the office and achieve our career goals, but sometimes we’re really spending so many late nights at the office to avoid being at home. And we can all relate to the experience of uttering awful words in the midst of our anger and then realizing later, when the time comes to apologize and make amends, that “I didn’t mean to say those hurtful things. But yet I did mean them.” With the remorse comes the recognition that “it was me who said—and at some level even meant—those very things I now claim I didn’t mean.” If we honestly examine our own hearts, we must grudgingly admit to ourselves that our motivations are profoundly mixed; we discover an exact confirmation of Paul’s description of the internal experience of sin in Romans 7. We are compelled to acknowledge that in ourselves, we are powerless to finally control our sin. We just can’t help ourselves.
Why, ultimately, does this matter? It matters because it compels the further conclusion that we need to be rescued by another, stronger power. With Paul in Romans 7:24, we can cry out “Oh wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” We discover our desperate need for grace--our need for the Gospel. Once we understand the reality of sin in our own hearts, and our inability to keep God's law, then--and only then--can we truly appreciate the magnificent gift of Christ's work on the cross.
Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.
Romans 7:14 - 8:11
For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.
So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.