We are enjoying a sermon series at church on Paul's letter to the Romans . It is probably Paul's most important letter, because it explains the brokenness of humanity, how that brokenness separated us from God, and what it takes to bring healing to that relationship. It also explains many of the technical aspects of the salvation process and lays the ground work the thousands of theology text books that followed.
To say that what Paul wrote was abundantly clear, would be easy, but it might also be incorrect. Over the last two thousand years there has been much disagreement. There was the battle between Augustine and Pelagius and later between the theologies of John Calvin and Jacobus Arminius. There are many, many more.
Most of my life, I have come down between the two major arguments of these men, seeing truth in the writings of all these men. However, as study expands my outlook, I have come to believe that Pelagius was indeed a heretic. He posited that it was possible for a man to always choose not to sin; that a perfect life was within the realm of possibility.The fact that no one besides Jesus had ever done it, did not phase him. The perfect man would never need Jesus. The sinful one does need Him.
Pelagius is clearly wrong. I do not believe it is possible for humans to live in this world and not sin. It is impossible. We cannot not sin.
This is not to say that I agree with Calvin or Augustine before him. I am much closer these days to Jacobus Arminius.
Let's just say that we inherit a propensity to sin from our ancestors and that , in spite of a will to do something else, we will still eventually sin. Adam and Eve made their fateful choice in full knowledge of what God's perfect will was and this resulted in the bending of the spiritual and physical gene pool of humanity until the end of time. We are not totally depraved as Calvin would have it, but we are partially depraved, being able to respond to the truth when it is presented to us. This does not mean that the response will always be positive. It is possible to resist in disbelief and choose to do so. Indeed, it is possible for us to walk away from the Spirit working through the Word of God when it is presented. In other instances it may not have any effect at first or it may be a slow eroding process in which the spirit of the hearer is slowly broken or convinced, but be assured that when conversion happens, it is entirely the choice of the hearer. God would not have it any other way. He wants us to choose Him of our own free will. He could have made automatons to serve Him, but He did not. He made us. All of our choices, both good and not so good (bad), bind us to Him. Now, when we fail as His children, we can go to Him without fear.
When the process of conversion is complete, God's Spirit dwells in us. We have been regenerated and made more able to resist sin, but we have also been justified before God. We also enjoy an immediate sanctification and we take on His righteousness because of our faith. There is also a long term sanctification process that begins. This will take a lifetime. We are slowly remade in His Image and in His likeness as we submit and conform to His Word and His Spirit within us. We do become better people, but the only reason we might become perfect is because of the righteousness He imputes to us for our faith. We will never be without sin in this life. I do not say this to discourage you. It is just a fact. As long as we live in these bodies bent by sin, we will always be weak. On the day the new body is received, all of that will change. Perfection will be in our grasp. But until that time we will continue to be dependent on God's grace. We are still sinners, but sinners saved by His grace.
“There is no one righteous, not even one;
11 there is no one who understands;
there is no one who seeks God.
12 All have turned away,
they have together become worthless;
there is no one who does good,
not even one.”[b]
21 But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness is given through faith in[h] Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement,[i] through the shedding of his blood—to
be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness,
because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand
unpunished— 26 he
did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to
be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.
We are saved by grace through faith, There is no other way.
So did God create us as flawed beings from the beginning? Were we bound to fail? When given a choice, do we always choose our own short term interests over God's will? Possibly. We will never know the answer to these things in this life.
What we do know is this. God has always loved us. His interest was always to have a people that choose to serve Him voluntarily out of love for Him and faith in Him. This has not changed. The law showed us His standard which no one has achieved except Christ Himself. The gospel shows us His grace that is available to all that believe in Him. His grace is waiting. Come to Him now.