The Doctor: Obligation and Ability

Concerning Romans 7:9:

[T]here is no more complete misunderstanding of the Law, and of ethics and morality, than to think that ‘obligation implies ability’.  That is a very familiar argument.  Most people today who think at all, and who reject the gospel of salvation, do so for this fundamental reason, that in their view obligation implies ability.  They believe that God would never command us to do anything unless we were able to do it.  So, they argue, the fact that God has given us the Ten Commandments and the Moral Law implies that we are able to carry them out and observe their dictates.  And they further believe that they can obey them and that they are actually doing so.  The final answer to such persons and claims is that the very Law that ‘came’ to Paul and said ‘Thou shalt not covet’, the very Law that reminded him of his obligation was the very thing that proved to him that he could not perform it!  ‘Sin revived and I died’ when ‘the commandment came’.  Far from the obligation implying ability in this realm, the exact opposite is true.  The whole function of the law is not to enable a man to justify himself, but to show him that he cannot do so; it is to bring out ‘the exceeding sinfulness of sin’, as the apostle will tell us later.  But that misunderstanding of the law is the popular view today.  The moral man says,  ‘Ah yes, here are the ethical demands of the gospel.  They address me; very well, I rise up and do them.  The fact that they come to me means that I can carry them out.’  But the whole function of the Law was the exact opposite of that; it was to ‘kill’ you, to show you that you cannot do it, to take pride and self-confidence out of you, to take the ‘life’ out of you, to make you feel that you are weak and helpless and hopeless.  – D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Romans Volume 6, pp. 143-144

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