If it’s “not fair” that we should inherit Adam and Eve’s sinful legacy, here’s something else equally yet more gloriously unfair: Jesus gives us His record of perfect obedience as a gift and takes our record of rebellion on Himself in love. We are scarred and marred by another’s sinful choice, but we are then redeemed by another’s righteous obedience. That’s the Gospel!
“Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” – Romans 8:8
” . . . apart from me you can do nothing” – John 15:5
“The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” – 1 Cor. 2:14
“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked . . . ” – Eph. 2:1-2
Can God really blame someone for failing to do what he or she is unable to do? The Bible teaches that, in our natural state apart from Christ, we are unable to do any good, are spiritually dead and cannot please God.
Yet the result of remaining in this state of spiritual death and inability is eternal condemnation. We are told that in our natural state we were “children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Eph. 2:3) and that “those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh . . . For to set the mind on the flesh is death . . .” (Rom. 8:5-6)
All this can and does lead to one of two different objections:
1. Some object to the doctrine of total inability and insist, despite what the Bible says, that people have free will and are able to do good.
2. Others have objected to the fairness of God’s judgment against sinners in the light of their inability to do good and please God.
The first objection is contrary to Scripture in many places, including Romans 3, Romans 8 & Ephesians 2.
The second objection sounds reasonable and needs to be answered carefully: How can God condemn people for failing to do what they are unable to do? To answer this objection, we need to understand the difference between a moral or spiritual inability and natural or physical inability.
I do not chastise my five year-old daughter for failing to read the Bible well. She is just learning to read and has a natural or physical inability to read well; it is a skill she has not yet developed. I do not blame my eleven year-old son for his inability to solve algebra or calculus equations. Likewise, hopefully you would not blame me if you came to me with serious car trouble and found I was unable to fix your car.
On a more universal human level, God does not hold us liable for our inability to fly or breathe underwater. He does not require us to create things ex nihilo (out of nothing) or to be able to lift thousands of pounds over our heads. All of these absurd examples are examples of natural or physical inabilities, things people are simple physically or mentally unable to do.
Moral or spiritual inabilities are different. Drug addicts are unable to simply stop using drugs of their own free will because they are hooked, addicted, trapped, enslaved by drugs. But we do hold them responsible for their own inability. They did it to themselves and they continually choose to remain in their self-made prison.
Adam and Eve were given free will in the Garden of Eden. They chose to rebel against God and, in so doing, they brought themselves and all of their descendants into a state of fallenness, brokenness and spiritual and moral bankruptcy and inability. They did it to themselves and to their family line. And so we are born with a sinful nature and are unable to please God in and of ourselves.
Yet we are not innocent victims of Adam and Eve’s decision. We choose to continue our rebellion against God, from the moment we are able to choose. It is true that we cannot do otherwise but it is equally true that we do not want to do otherwise- not apart from God’s grace transforming our hearts through Jesus Christ.
If it’s “not fair” that we should inherit Adam and Eve’s sinful legacy, here’s something else equally yet more gloriously unfair: Jesus gives us His record of perfect obedience as a gift and takes our record of rebellion on Himself in love. We are scarred and marred by another’s sinful choice, but we are then redeemed by another’s righteous obedience. That’s the Gospel! (Read Romans 5:12-21)
Jason A. Van Bemmel is a Teaching Elder in the Presbyterian Church in America. This article appeared on his blog Ponderings of a Pilgrim Pastor and is used with permission.