Modern justice views the justness of condemnation as directly related to the ability of the individual to choose a course of action. Children are not usually considered responsible for crimes they may commit because they are unable to fully understand the consequences of their actions. Those with biological mental disorders are generally punished less harshly when they commit a crime. A person’s ability to understand and exercise a choice directly affects how much responsibility they bear for their participation in criminal actions.
God’s justice does not operate in the same way. The modern view of justice has its roots in Biblical jurisprudence, but Divine justice has one great distinction that should not be applied to human courts. God holds sinners responsible for that which they did not decide and over which they have no control. This sounds incredibly unfair. However, God’s justice is not unfair, but merciful.
The Bible teaches that all people are condemned in Adam’s disobedience. “By one man’s disobedience many were made sinners.” (Romans 5:19) Every descendant of Adam was condemned for what Adam did. Every person is counted guilty by God before anyone has the ability to consciously choose sin. David recognized he was born guilty and was a sinner at conception. “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me.” (Psalm 51:5) Furthermore, every descendant of Adam is born with a natural, uncontrollable desire to sin. “The imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth.” (Genesis 8:21) Even if a person lives a life without ever committing a conscious or unconscious act of sin the Bible says each person guilty and condemned by God. The person who lives a basically good life is condemned by God before he ever starts out on that life. Though this truth may offend many today the Bible decrees that all people are by nature disobedient and under God’s wrath. (Ephesians 2:2-3)
Every person has inherited from Adam a deep seated desire to sin. The core of the person’s being is not basically good, but is essentially wicked. From that heart of sin comes all sinful behavior. In other words, no one is a sinner because they sin. All sin because they are sinners in their heart and nature. In Mark 7 Jesus calls man’s natural, inborn desires defiling evils. He said, “What comes out of a man that defiles a man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications . . . foolishness. All these evil things come from within.” (Mark 7:20-23) The last item in the list, foolishness, will serve to prove that all are inherently sinful. Proverbs says that foolishness is bound in the heart of the child. (Proverbs 22:15) Folly is natural to every person. Foolishness is entangled, attached and knotted tightly in the heart of every young child. This thing which is so natural to everyone and which resides in the deepest part of the human being is a defiling evil, even though the child cannot help but be foolish. Sin is natural, pervasive and present in the heart of every person at the earliest stages of life.
To make matters worse the Bible also says sinners are enslaved to their sin. (Titus 3:3) In John 8 the Pharisees spoke a sentiment many still believe. They protested when Jesus promised freedom. They denied their need to be free because they had never been in bondage. Jesus said to them, “Whoever commits sin is a slave of sin.” (John 8:34) The slave imagery indicates each sinner is bound so tightly to sin that he cannot escape its bondage. Thus, God condemns sinners for their involvement in something they did not choose, cannot control and cannot escape.
Despite this sinners are commanded to repent of their sin (Acts 17:30) and will be condemned by God if they refuse to do so (Luke 13:3). However, the sinner is blinded and unable to see the truths of the gospel. (2 Corinthians 4:4) No one seeks after God. (Romans 3:10) No one can come to God unless God first draw the person to Himself. (John 6:44) The person is condemned for a sin he did not commit, commanded to repent of something he cannot escape and judged for not doing what he cannot do. Where is the justice in that?
That is the wrong question.
This all sounds incredibly hopeless, but it is in fact the only hope. If any one is required to do something, anything, to be saved, then salvation would be the work of the individual. If salvation is the work of the individual it’s continuance is also dependent on the person’s ability to continue to keep doing what brought him salvation. By condemning all people before they do anything God brings all under the same guilt and is consequently able to save them through the same Savior. God’s condemnation of all hopelessly bound sinners is not injustice, but mercy. “But the Scripture has confined all under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.” (Galatians 3:22)
Though God condemns all in sin He does not command sinners to stop sinning in order to be saved. He mercifully gives salvation to those bound in sin. “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) God does not command reformation for salvation. He commands faith. Believe His testimony of Himself and He will save. His command to turn to Him is not impossible. Saving faith is not a matter of ability, for all are unable to do anything. God has done all that is necessary for sinners to be saved. Saving faith is an acknowledgment of inability that depends on Him who is able to take away all sin. God’s mercy condemns all in Adam so He can save all who trust the Second Adam, Jesus, for forgiveness.
This is Gods mercy. Only when the individual is condemned in sin can they find salvation. Only when the sinner repetns of that which enslaves him can he be delivered. The sinner has no power to extricate himself from the bondage to sin or remove the condemnation of God. When the helpless sinner cries out to Jesus for salvation his condemnation is removed and Divine power is given to begin to conquer that which once enslaved.
“For God has committed them all to disobedience, that He might have mercy on all. Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out!”