2008 John H Mattox

    The importance of this question cannot be overstated. If men are unable, in the sense that they have not the ability, or power, to respond positively to God's demands, then the irresistible conclusion is that man is made as a sort of biological robot, divinely programmed to do nothing but evil. No one denies that man has the power, or ability, to do evil, but many so-called theologians maintain that he has no ability to do good. According to this theology, man is required to do that which is good; but having no power to do so he naturally fails, and is then dealt with as a sinner, or spiritual criminal, of the worst kind.
    We will examine this matter in some detail and attempt to answer the question raised in our subject. We will begin with the consideration of what God requires of men, especially as exemplified by his Law.
    The word dikaioma is used by Paul in several passages; two of which, Rom 1:32, and Rom 8:2-4, are pertinent to our present discussion. In the first passage dikaioma is translated judgment and in the second, righteousness. While dikaioma is certainly related to the idea of righteousness, it is not the word which is used to denote righteousness as an abstract quality. That word is dikaiosune. In its discussion of dikaioma the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Vol. II, Page 221, says:

"That the sense of statute, requirement or ordinance is the most common in the NT accords with the close link between the language of the NT and the LXX."

The one sense which seems to fit most if not all of the passages where it is used is that of righteous requirement. Thus, Romans 1:32 would read:

"Who, knowing the righteous requirement of God that they which commit such things are worthy of death...",

while Romans 8:4 would be rendered:

"That the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit."

    It is the belief of this writer that the righteous requirement of God, especially as embodied in the Law, is two-fold. First, God requires that men live lives of righteousness and full obedience to his law. Second, those who fail to render such obedience are required to die. It is the writer's firm conviction that the law was given to be kept, not to be broken. The fact that no one was willing to keep it does not nullify the intent for which it was given. It is only when the law is rejected as a way of life that it becomes an instrument of death.
    The following Scriptures indicate that the law was given to be kept as a way of life and that God's primary requirement is that man be righteous. The reader is invited to read these excerpts in the light of their full contexts.

  1. "Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant..." Exodus 19:5. Such a proposal makes sense only if the people had the power to keep the covenant and if God truly was sincere in his proposal for them to do so.
  2. "But if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments." Matt. 19:17. This would certainly have been an evasive and deceitful answer to the rich young ruler if no possibility of his keeping the commandments existed.
  3. "He hath shewed thee, 0 man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?"
    Micah 6:8.
  4. "For I spake not unto your fathers, nor commanded them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt-offerings or sacrifices: But this thing commanded I them, saying, Obey my voice, and I will be your God." Jer. 7:22-27. In other words, the primary requirement of the law was not sacrifice, but obedience.
  5. "And the commandment which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death." Rom 7:10.

    The following scriptures show that the secondary requirement of the law, that which comes into view when the primary requirement has not been fulfilled, is that the person who has thus failed, or disobeyed God, must die as a result.

  1. "For in the day that thou eatest threrof, thou shalt surely die." Gen. 2:16-17.
  2. "The soul that sinneth, it (he) shall die." Eze. 18:4.
  3. "Who knowing the judgment (righteous requirement) of God, that they which commit (practice) such things are worthy of death..." Rom. 1:32.
  4. "For the wages of sin is death." Rom. 6:23.
  5. "And the commandment which was ordained unto life, I found to be unto death." Rom. 7:10.
  6. "For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son into the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin (as a sin-offering) condemned sin in the flesh that the righteousness (righteous requirement) of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit." Rom. 8:3-4. Christ, in our stead has fulfilled both the primary and secondary requirements of the law: that we be righteous in order to be acceptable to God and that we die for being sinners.
  1. The Difference Between Power and Willingness.
    1. The nature of power and will.
      1. Power (or ability) denotes the capacity to perform given acts. Will denotes the willingness of the individual to perform given acts.
      2. Without external coercion, an individual will exercise his power (or ability) to perform a given act only if he wills to do so.
      3. The difference between power and will is well illustrated by the leper who said to Jesus: "If thou wilt, thou canst make me clean." Matt. 8:1-2.
        Notice that the leper did not doubt the power, or the ability of Jesus to cleanse him, but questioned his willingness to do so.
      4. In the Bible, and especially in the O.T., power or ability to perform a given act is symbolized by the organ of the body which be used to perform such an act. The hand, the foot, the ear, the mouth are used as symbols of the power to act, to work, to walk, to hear, to speak, etc.
      5. On the other hand, purpose, will (or volition) and motivation are symbolized usually by the heart.
      6. The consistent teaching of Scripture is that a man's heart is so evil that he will not comply with the will of God.
      7. While some passages appear to teach that a man does not have the power to comply with God's will, it will be shown that such inability stems from the lack of willingness.
    2. Importance of the Distinction Between Power and Willingness.
      1. If a man lacked the power to respond positively to God's will, such a condition would not be his fault. He has only the power that God has seen fit to give him. Not even God can justly hold a man accountable for failing to do what he had no power to do.
      2. This truth is illustrated by the conversation between Moses and God in Exodus 4:10-16:
        "And Moses said unto the LORD, I am not eloquent, neither heretofore, nor since thou hast spoken unto thy servant: but I am slow of speech and of a slow tongue. And the LORD said unto him, who hath made man's mouth? or who maketh the dumb, or deaf, or the seeing, or the blind? Have not I, the LORD? Now therefore go, and I will be with thy mouth, and teach thee what thou shall say. And he said, 0 my Lord, send I pray thee, by the hand of him whom thou wilt send. And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Moses..."
        Here, Moses displayed his unwillingness to go as God's spokesman to Pharaoh, claiming a lack of ability. God then reminded Moses that he was the author both of ability and inability. This reminder, in the form of a series of rhetorical questions was equivalent to saying to Moses: "Since I am the one who gives or withholds ability, you are charging me with sending man to do a task to whom I have not given power to do the task." Moses' answer in vs. 13 is a continued attempt to evade the mission. His words have the sense of:"Send anyone you wish so long as it isn't I." It was because of Moses' unwillingness, rather than his supposed lack of ability, that the anger of the Lord was kindled against him. Moses was implying that God was calling upon him to do something that he did not have the power to do. God emphatically denied that this was the case, saying in verse 12a: "Now therefore go, and I will be with thy mouth."
      3. Now, if a man has the power to obey God, but is unwilling to do so, the fault lies in him, not in God.
      4. It is often the case that cannot is used when the meaning is clearly will not. This usage is found in the Bible as well as in our colloquial speech. The word dunamai which is used in John 6:44 does, in fact, denote ability or power. However, the identical word is used in the following N.T. passages where the meaning is unquestionably not power (or ability) but willingness. The word dunamai is given a two-fold definition in the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Vol. II, p. 284: "a. To be able, to be capable of. It is mostly used in a very weak sense... b. To be able, with specific reference to the subjective spiritual or moral attitude which either makes able or not. In this sense it may even mean to will or not to will." Another Greek word ischuo means to be able in a more nearly absolute sense. If Jesus, in John 6:44 had wished to state the objective impossibility of one's coming to him he could have done so by using the word ischuo with the negative which would have denoted objective impossibility. Using dunamai with the negative indicates that the impossibility is subjective (i.e. of the will) rather than objective (not having the capacity). Note these examples:
        1. Matt. 9:15 - "Can the children of the bride chamber mourn?"
        2. Mark 2:19 - "Can the children of the bride chamber fast?"
        3. Mark 6:4-5 - "And he could there do no mighty work."
        4. Mark 9:38-39 - "No man...can lightly speak evil of me."
        5. Luke 11:7 - "I cannot rise and give thee."
        6. Luke 14:20 - "I have married a wife and therefore I cannot come."
        7. John 6:60 - "This is an hard saying, who can hear it?"
        8. John 7:7 - "The world cannot hate you."
        9. John 8:43 - "... ye cannot hear my word."
        10. Acts 10:47 - "Can any man forbid water?"
        11. Heb. 3:19 - "They could not enter in because of unbelief."
      5. The failure of the Jews to come to Jesus, which in John 6:44 is attributed to inability, is attributed to unwillingness in John 5:39-40. These passages and similar ones can be harmonized only if it be understood that the inability in John 6:44 is not a matter of incapacity or lack of power, but a basic unwillingness on the part of the individual.
      6. Jesus, in John 7:16-17 asserts: "My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me. If any man will do his will (is willing to do his will) he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.
    continued at top of next column

Have Men The Power To Do What God Requires? (cont)
  1. The Nature of Sin.
    1. Sin originated in the universe when Satan said, "I will."
      "How are thou fallen from heaven, 0 Lucifer, son of the morning! How thou art cut down to the ground which didst weaken the nations. For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the North: I will ascend above the heights of the clouds: I will be like the most High." Isa. 14:12-14.
    2. This description of Lucifer's sin shows that it was essentially a matter of asserting his own will in opposition to the will of God.
    3. Other passages from both the Old and New Testament show that sin is still a matter of saying "I will" when God says "thou shalt not", and of saying "I will not" when God says "thou shalt". As an outward expression of that inward intent sin is a matter of walking, speaking, acting, etc., after one's own heart.
      1. Proverbs 4:23 - "Keep thy heart with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life."
      2. Jeremiah 6:16-17 - "Thus saith the LORD, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall fmd rest for your souls. But they said, we will not walk therein. Also I set watchmen over you, saying. Hearken to the sound of the trumpet: But they said, we will not hearken."
      3. Jeremiah 9:13-14 - "And the LORD saith. Because they have forsaken my law which I set before them, and have not obeyed my voice, neither walked therein; but have walked after the imagination of their own heart..."
      4. Jeremiah 13:10 - "This evil people which refuse to hear my words, which walk in the imagination of their heart, and walk after other gods to serve them, and to worship them, shall even be as this girdle, which is good for nothing."
      5. Matthew 15:19 - "For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies."
      6. Matthew 22:2-3 - "The kingdom of heaven is like unto a certain king which made a marriage for his son, and sent forth his servants to call them that were bidden to the wedding; and they would not come.
      7. Matthew 23:37 - "0 Jerusalem, ..how often would I have gathered thy children together...and ye would not."
      8. Luke 6:45 - "A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good: and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil; for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh."
      9. Luke 19:14 - "But his citizens hated him and sent a message after him, saying, We will not have this man to reign over us."
    4. Sin is written upon a man's heart, and he is responsible for that writing. He is also responsible for removing his heart (himself) from God so as to bring about a separation between himself and God.
      1. Jeremiah 17:1 - "The sin of Judah is written with a pen of iron, and with the point of a diamond it is graven upon the table of their hearts..."
      2. Proverbs 3:1-3 - "My son, forget not my law; but let thine heart keep my commandments: For length of days, and long life, and peace, shall they add unto thee. Let not mercy and truth forsake thee: bind them about thy neck; write them upon the tables of thine heart."
      3. Genesis 6:12 - "And God looked upon the earth, and behold it was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted his way upon the earth."
      4. Isaiah 29:13 - "Wherefore the LORD said, forasmuch as this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honor me, but have removed their heart far from me..."
      5. Isaiah 50:1 - "Thus saith the LORD, where is the bill of your mother's divorcement, whom I have put away? Or to which of my creditors have I sold you? Behold, for your iniquities have ye sold yourselves, and for your transgressions is your mother put away."
      6. Isaiah 52:3 - "For thus saith the LORD, Ye have sold yourselves for naught; and ye shall be redeemed without money."
      7. Isaiah 59:1-2 - "Behold the LORD'S hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy that it cannot hear: but your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear."
    5. The present state of the natural man is declared by Paul to be the result, not of inheritance of a sinful nature from Adam, but of a series of selfish and rebellious acts of his own doing. He details the steps men have followed from the knowledge of God to their present evil condition for the purpose of proving that "they are without excuse".
      1. Romans 1:18-32:
        1. God's wrath is revealed against those who hold down (suppress) the truth in unrighteousness, vs. 18.
        2. "That which may be known of God is manifest in (or among) them, for God hath shewed it unto them." vs. 19. His eternal power and godhead, vs. 20.
        3. They once knew God. vs. 21.
        4. They glorified him not as God. vs. 21.
        5. They were not thankful, vs. 21.
        6. They became vain in their imaginations. vs.21.
        7. Their foolish heart was darkened, vs. 21.
        8. They professed themselves to be wise but became fools, vs. 22.
        9. They changed the glory of God into an image of some creature, vs. 23.
        10. Wherefore God gave them up. vss. 24,26, 28.
        11. Their present evil condition, vss. 29-32.
        12. Their inexcusability. Rom. 2:1-5.
    6. Paul further asserts that God will render to every man, not according to his nature, but according to his deeds. See Romans 2:6.
  2. The Age of Accountability
    1. There are a few passages of Scripture, which if separated from the rest of the Bible, would appear to teach that an infant, as soon as it is born, is considered to be an accountable sinner. In order to use those passages to demonstrate that people are born sinners, we have to ignore the fact that children, by definition, do not understand as adults do the difference between right and wrong. We also have to ignore the words that Jesus spoke just before he held infants in his arms and blessed them.
    2. There are far more passages which teach that an individual is considered to be a responsible sinner only from his youth up, and that a person was normally expected to display devotion to God and to the law only from his youth up.
      1. Genesis 8:21 - "And the LORD smelled a sweet savour and the LORD said in his heart, I will not again curse the ground any more for man's sake; for the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth..."
      2. Jeremiah 22:21 - "I spoke unto thee in thy prosperity; but thou saidst, I will not hear. This hath been thy manner from thy youth, that thou obeyedst not my voice."
      3. Jeremiah 32:30 - "For the children of Israel and the children of Judah have only done evil before me from their youth."
      4. I Kings 18:12 (last Clause) - "But I thy servant fear the LORD from my youth."
      5. Ezekiel 4:14 - "Thou said I, ah, LORD God! behold my soul hath not been polluted; for from my youth up, even till now, have I not eaten of that which dieth of itself..."
      6. Matthew 19:20 - "The young man saith unto him, all these things have I kept from my youth up; what lack I more?"
    3. The arrival of a child at the age where he knows to reject the evil and choose the good is referred to in Isaiah 7:16:
      "For before the child shall know to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land that thou abhorrest shall be forsaken of both her kings."
    4. The teaching of a generally recognized age of accountability is further reinforced by passages which show that the Israelites were recognized as responsible members of the congregation from twenty years old and upward.
      1. Exodus 30:14 - "Every one that passeth among them that are numbered, from twenty years old and above, shall give an offering to the LORD."
      2. Exodus 38:26 - "A bekah, that is, half a shekel, after the shekel of the sanctuary, for every one that went to be numbered, from twenty years old and upward..."
      3. Numbers 14:29 - "Your carcases shall fall in this wilderness; and all that were numbered of you, according to your whole number, from twenty years old and upward, which have murmured against me."
    5. It thus appears that the few passages (of paragraph 1) must be interpreted in the light of the many passages of which only a representative number have been cited.
  3. Man Has the Power to Choose Between Good and Evil -- To Obey God or Not to Obey Him.
    1. Genesis 2:16-17 - "And the LORD God commanded the man saying, of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it; for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die."
      1. It is freely admitted by all commentators and theologians that in his unfallen state, Adam had the power either to obey the above commandment, or to disobey it. Yet there is no statement made to the effect that Adam was able to obey; theologians merely infer his ability from the simple fact that God put the choice before him and thereby implied his ability either to obey or disobey. The same implication was made when the law was given to Israel, yet many theologians deny that Israel truly had the ability to keep the law.
    2. After Adam's fall, there is no evidence to show that he, personally, had lost that power. The evidence is rather to the contrary. Instead of losing a power which he already had, he had gained an additional one, the power to distinguish between good and evil. Adam, after his fall, obviously had the power and the will to put forth his hand and take of the fruit of the tree of life and so live forever. To avoid this outcome. God deprived him of the opportunity to do so, by expelling him from the Garden of Eden.
    3. That Adam's son, Cain, was also possessed of the power to choose either to do good or not to do it, is clearly implied by God's words to him in Genesis 4:6-7:
      "And the LORD said unto Cain, why art thou wroth, and why is thy countenance fallen? If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? And if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee shall be his desire and thou shalt rule over him."
      The last clause, "And unto thee shall be his desire," etc. is identical, except for the difference in person, with God's statement to Eve, "And thy desire shall be unto thy husband, and he shall rule over thee." The natural inference is that as the husband has the power to rule over the wife, so an individual has the power to rule over the sin that crouches at his own door.
    4. But did not both Jesus and Paul state that men are the bondslaves (douloi) of sin? We would have to answer that question with a qualified affirmative. Neither Jesus nor Paul asserted that a man is a bondslave of sin by nature or by some other means beyond his control. Jesus said:
      "Whosoever committeth (Greek present tense, denoting habitual action - therefore practices) sin is the bondslave (doulos) of sin." John 8:34.
      Thus a man becomes a bondslave of sin by yielding to the practice of it. This statement is in full accord with Paul's teaching on the subject in Romans 6:19:
      "For as ye have yielded your members servants (doula) to uncleanness and to righteousness unto holiness."
      Yielding, when it denotes surrender rather than fruit- bearing, is an act of the will.
    5. According to many passages of Scripture, man has the power to choose whether he will walk in an evil way or whether he will be obedient to God. It is made clear in such passages that a man's failure to obey God is due to his stubborn and rebellious will; not because he is of such a nature that he cannot do otherwise.
      1. Jeremiah 18:11-12 - "Now therefore, go to, speak to the men of Judah and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, saying, Thus saith the LORD, Behold, I frame evil against you, and devise a device against you: return ye now every one from his evil way, and make your ways and your doings good. And they said, there is no hope: but we will walk after our own devices, and we will every one do the imagination of his evil heart."
      2. Jeremiah 23:21 - "I have not sent these prophets (referring to false prophets - see context), yet they ran: I have not spoken to them, yet they prophesied."
      3. Jeremiah 44:15-17 - "Then all the men which knew that their wives had burned incense unto other gods, and all the women that stood by, a great multitude, even all the people that dwelt in the land of Egypt, in Pathros, answered Jeremiah, saying. As for the word that thou hast spoken unto us in the name of the LORD, we will not hearken unto thee. But we will certainly do whatsoever thing goeth forth out of our own mouth, to burn incense unto the queen of heaven, and to pour out drink offerings unto her, as we have done, we and our fathers, our kings and our princes, in the cities of Judah, and in the streets of Jerusalem: for then had we plenty of victuals and were well, and saw no evil."
    6. The covenant of the Mosaic law was presented to Israel with the clear implication that they had the power either to keep it or to transgress it.
      1. Exodus 19:5 - "Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine."
    7. The power of Israel to keep the Mosaic covenant and thereby bring forth good fruit is undeniably asserted in Isaiah 5:1-7:
      "Now will I sing to my well-beloved a song of my beloved touching his vineyard. My well-beloved hath a vineyard in a very fruitful hill: and he fenced it, and gathered out the stones thereof, and planted it with the choicest vine, and built a tower in the midst of it, and also made a winepress therein, and he looked that it should bring forth grapes and it brought forth wild grapes. And now, 0 inhabitants of Jerusalem, and men of Judah, judge, I pray you, betwixt me and my vineyard. What could have been done more to my vineyard, that I have not done in it? Wherefore, when I looked that it should bring forth grapes, brought it forth wild grapes?...For the vineyard of the LORD of Hosts is the house of Israel and the men of Judah his pleasant plant: and he looked for judgement (justice), but behold oppression; for righteousness, and behold a cry."
    Note that Israel had both ability (the choicest vine) and opportunity (a very fruitful hill) to bring forth good fruit. It was obviously the will which must be blamed for the bringing forth of worthless fruit!

John H Mattox

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