Since the Fall, no mere human has been able to keep the law of God perfectly, but consistently breaks it in thought, word and deed.
“As it is written:
‘There is no-one righteous, not even one;
there is no-one who understands;
there is no-one who seeks God.
All have turned away,
They have together become worthless;
There is no-one who does good,
not even one.’” (Romans 3:10-12)
There is no-one righteous
In his letter to the Romans, Paul begins by describing the idolatry and immorality of pagan society. But then he goes on to point out that God’s own people are no better – because although they have the Law, they don’t actually keep it. Who can honestly say that they have always obeyed every single one of the Ten Commandments, not only in action, but also in thought? (Matthew 5:21,22) When Jesus declared to the Pharisees who wanted to condemn a woman for adultery, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7), there was not a single volunteer.
We may consider ourselves ‘good’ by human standards, but we can never measure up to God’s. “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.” (James 2:10) “Indeed, there is no-one on earth who is righteous, no-one who does what is right and never sins.” (Ecclesiastes 7:20) So the Law condemns us all: we have all failed.
The incurable problem of humanity
This ‘epidemic’ of sin has infected the whole human race from early times (Genesis 6:5). There are no exceptions. Instead of seeking the true God, man instinctively turns away from Him (Isaiah 53:6). Paul clinches his argument by quoting from Psalm 14, which gives God’s view of us – and it is not a pretty sight. Sin has distorted our thinking (Jeremiah 17:9) and permeated everything that we do. We moan about ‘the state of the world’, but do we recognise that the problem is in us? Evil is rooted deep within us; it may be buried under a veneer of ‘civilisation’, but given the right circumstances it will emerge – as it has done, time and time again in the course of history.
And there is nothing we can do to change our inner nature. New Year resolutions, psychotherapy, even religious exercises do little more than scratch the surface. “Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me.” (Romans 7:21) We don’t want to admit it, but we are all helpless sinners.
O God, cleanse me, a sinner, for I have done nothing good in Your sight. Deliver me from the cunning of the devil. May Your will be accomplished in me; may I without condemnation open my unworthy lips and praise Your holy name. Amen.
(St Macarius the Great)