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None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one. (Romans 3:10-12)

Exposition

There are two decisions everyone must make with regard to God’s Law. First, we must decide whether or not we should obey the Law. This is an ethical question which we have addressed plainly in the previous six catechism questions. God’s Law remains the standard of all righteousness. Taking into account certain alterations which God Himself has made in the New Covenant, we should say, “All men should obey God’s Law.” Second, we must decide whether or not we can obey the Law. It is something we should do, of course – but is it possible?

First, all men have the endowment necessary to obey God’s Law. There is no command binding upon man which man is not physically able to obey. There are no commands to jump fifty feet in the air, or swim to the bottom of the ocean. God commanded we refrain from carving idols (Exodus 20:4), and all men are versatile enough to oblige this command. Jesus commanded forgiveness (Luke 17:3-4), and all men have the requisite faculties for this task. For every command of God, God has given the necessary equipment. This ability is traditionally called our natural ability. Jonathan Edwards wrote, “We are said to be naturally unable to do a thing, when we can’t do it if we will, because what is most commonly called nature [doesn’t] allow… it, or because of some impeding defect or obstacle that is extrinsic to the will.”[1] So if all men are naturally capable of obeying God, why are we all sinners? Why has no man ever obeyed God’s Law perfectly?

Second, all men lack the desire necessary to obey God’s Law. The problem is not with our hands or our feet, with our eyes or with our ears – the problem is with our heart. We have a moral inability to obey God.[2] We technically canobey God, but we hate God, and so we won’t obey God. Paul teaches this in Romans 3:10-12. Speaking of Jews and Gentiles (i.e. all people), Paul says “none is righteous, no, not one” (v.10). This may just refer to our record of deeds in the courtroom of heaven, but Paul continues: “No one seeks for God. All have turned aside… no one does good, not even one” (vv.11-12). The claim is extensive both in scope and depth. Not only are all men guilty of disobeying God, but they aren’t even looking for God (i.e. they don’t want to obey God). The picture we are presented with is a human race whose heart is inclined away from the Creator. We like to think of the world as being full of people who want God but can’t find Him, but God says otherwise. The problem is not that God is hiding Himself – He reveals Himself in every square inch of creation (Psalm 19:1)! God isn’t playing hide-and-seek. Rather, the problem is that no one is looking for God. Man has sought his own gods, whether or not in explicit religion.

So can anyone keep the law of God? We must say, “No.” This isn’t because God has not given us the necessary tools, but because we hate God. We call this hatred the bondage of the will. Man’s will is not free to obey God’s Law; it is bound by evil desires. Man can do whatever he wants, but he only ever wants to do evil. Every human is born with a will in bondage to sin, with a heart inclined against God. This is original sin, which we inherit from our federal head Adam. People do not become sinners, they are born sinners. “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Psalm 51:5).

There are two main questions that arise from our conclusion. First, “You say no man has ever obeyed God’s Law perfectly, but didn’t Jesus do this?” Jesus indeed obeyed God’s Law perfectly, and in His perfect obedience are the grounds of all the benefits we enjoy in Him. A more probing question might be, “If Jesus was truly born a man, then why wasn’t He born with the God-hating heart we were all born with?” The answer is found in the miracle of Christ’s virgin birth. We are born under the headship of Adam, and therefore we inherit Adam’s sin. Christ was born of a woman, but He had no human father. He was born with no human head, so He Himself becomes a second Adam. Therefore, He did not inherit Adam’s sin.

Second, “If we are born hating God, then why do some people love God?” This is a good observation. Paul says no one seeks for God (Romans 3:11), but doesn’t God have a covenant people? What are churches doing, if not seeking their Creator in worship? The question is not whether, but why there are people who love God. The answer is found in the Gospel, in the redemption our second Adam has secured for us. In redemption, God not only forgives our sins, He delivers us from our sins. He doesn’t just wipe away our record of wrongs, He makes us so that we will stop sinning. This transformation is complete in glorification, but is begun in regeneration. Regeneration is the sovereign act of God whereby a man’s stony, God-hating heart is re-created into a heart of flesh that loves God.[3] On our need for God’s regenerating grace, Luther wrote, “‘Free-will’ without God’s grace is not free at all, but is the permanent prisoner and bondslave of evil, since it cannot turn itself to good.”[4]


Question: Can anyone keep the law of God perfectly?
Answer: Since the fall, no human has been able to keep the law of God perfectly.


[1] Freedom of the Will, 159.

[2] Edwards is again helpful: “Moral inability consists not in [natural ability]; but either in the want of inclination; or the strength of a contrary inclination; or the want of sufficient motives in view, to induce and excite the act of the will, or the strength of apparent motives to the contrary… moral inability consists in the opposition or want of inclination” (Ibid.).

[3] For further study on Regeneration, see Ezekiel 36:26, John 3:1-15, and the book of 1 John.

[4] Luther, Bondage of the Will, quoted in Dillenberger, Martin Luther, 187.

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