How God’s Will Is Impossible for Fallen Man to Do
And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled… Colossians 1:21NKJV
This morning we look at Westminster Larger Catechism Question 192, which asks, “What do we pray for in the third petition?” It gives the answer, “In the third petition (which is, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven,) acknowledging, that by nature we and all men are not only utterly unable and unwilling to know and do the will of God, but prone to rebel against his word, to repine and murmur against his providence, and wholly inclined to do the will of the flesh, and of the devil: we pray, that God would by his Spirit take away from ourselves and others all blindness, weakness, indisposedness, and perverseness of heart; and by his grace make us able and willing to know, do, and submit to his will in all things, with the like humility, cheerfulness, faithfulness, diligence, zeal, sincerity, and constancy, as the angels do in heaven.”
How does Scripture show that all fallen human beings are by nature “wholly inclined to do the will of the flesh, and of the devil”? First, we must see that the will of the flesh here refers to the will of the sinful nature. Before conversion every Christian had only one nature: the nature he received in the likeness of his father Adam. Scripture describes this nature as not merely sick or dying, but dead in sin (Eph. 2:1, 5). Here the death referred to is a spiritual death, meaning that we have no life toward God in our spirits or souls. God created man body and soul. The body is the physical part: all atoms, molecules, cells, and matter comprise the body. The soul or spirit is the nonphysical part: it includes all that we are in our nonphysical beings. Our thoughts, wills, judgment, memory, intellect, and also our emotions and feelings all arise from what the Scripture refers to in various places as the soul, spirit, heart, mind, or strength. In Adam and Eve before the Fall, this spiritual part had life. That is, our first parents had motions and affections towards God and His will. In the day that they sinned this spiritual part wholly died in all of its Godward activity. From that point on the spiritual nature of every human being, in and of itself apart from the grace of God, cannot exert any energy towards God. Unconverted people can keep God’s commandments outwardly in their bodily actions, but none of that “obedience” comes from any true love for or reverence to God in the heart. Every motion of the soul, every thought of the mind behind an outwardly obedient act is entirely for reasons other than to glorify God. Scripture describes it this way: “Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5).
This text allows for no exceptions. Every human being in each purpose or intention of every single thought does not seek to obey God and so he necessarily aims at what can only be evil continually, or “all the days” of his life is the literal Hebrew text. And lest we think this referred merely to the generation washed away in the flood, we have Scripture’s assessment of man’s spiritual state immediately after it: “And the LORD smelled a soothing aroma. Then the LORD said in His heart, “I will never again curse the ground for man’s sake, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth; nor will I again destroy every living thing as I have done” (Gen. 8:21). Here we must understand that the phrase “from his youth” does not lessen the sinfulness indicated by the phrase “all the days” but strengthens it. For in Genesis 6:5 you could understand “man” to refer exclusively to adults, but Gen. 8:21 disallows for that limitation when it says that this evil intention in man is from man’s youth, that is to say from the very beginning of his purposeful, rational thought.
Moreover, the Scripture at the head of this article shows us that man’s mind cannot be the solution, as is so often taught by moralists and even some Bible teachers. Educating, informing, or reforming the mind cannot bring any spiritual life to man. For the mind is the problem! The fallen mind is the enemy of God; it is alienated from God. The mind, which is to say the heart and the soul, is where sin begins. Thus, Eve transgressed the command when she saw and judged in her mind that the forbidden fruit was pleasing and desirable (Gen. 3:6). Accordingly, we see how necessary it is for us to pray to our Father that His will would be done on earth. If sinners are going to do God’s will, the power and ability must come wholly from God, for apart from His enlivening, enlightening, and empowering, we would never do it.