With verses like Jeremiah 17:9 & Psalm 14:3, 'The heart [ is ] deceitful above all[ things ], and desperately wicked; who can know it?' & '[ There is ] none who does good, no, not one' ringing in their ears, it is no wonder that some Christians today feel that they themselves, even though they believe they house the Holy Spirit, are not good, even worthless! The apostle Paul, in his letter to the Church at Rome ( Romans 7:15 ), writes, 'For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do'. Although it may seem difficult, in this corrupted world that we inhabit, to say these verses no longer apply today; even among Christians, one would be hard-pressed to say this is no longer the case. The desires, the longings that all of us, if we're honest with ourselves, feel on a daily basis, make us feel that the words above apply to every human being ever born!
The funny thing about context is that it must be correctly understood, in order to correctly understand any certain verse! Both historically & covenantally speaking, context determines interpretation, so when we read in Scripture, '[ There is ] none who does good, no, not one', we can see, in context, that the Psalmist is saying that there is no such thing as a good fool, in particular, one who says, '[ There is ] no God' ( Psalm 53:3 ) When the prophet Jeremiah seemingly denigrates the 'heart' of humanity, the context makes clear he is speaking of a specific people; In speaking of 'The sin of Judah', using similar language to that of the Psalmist, Jeremiah decries the fact that the heart of these people ( Psalm 53: 4 ) is 'deceitful above all[ things ], and desperately wicked'. This is not to say that every thought of our 'heart' is now completely pure ( in a puritanical sense), because, as we can all attest to, everyone has an 'impure' thought at least once a day, whether it's sexual in nature, or just wanting to take an unwarranted jab at someone!
Reading the words of Jesus, in Matthew 19:17 above, those who carry a more modern ( or ancient, as the case may be ) version of the Bible, rather than seeing Jesus denigrate His Humanity, might rather understand that He was reminding the rich young ruler that the Jewish Law told him how to be good: it was their own law that told them to love God & their neighbor as themselves! The apostle Paul, seemingly on the other hand, writes about what most deem his personal struggles in Romans 7:13-25; however, context again must determine our interpretation of his words! Paul, although like the rest of us understood his natural longings & desires, nevertheless was warning his contemporaries against their main adversaries, as he did in all his letters. It was not Roman, but Jewish Law that told them, 'You shall not covet'. As with the rich young ruler, Paul pointed out that it was their own law that condemned them, not their inherent nature. Previously, in the same passage, the apostle had given them this caveat; 'But now we have been delivered from the law, having died to what we were held by, so that we should serve in the newness of the Spirit and not [ in ] the oldness of the letter', much like he wrote later ( 8:1 ) to the same Body, '[ There is ] therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus,[a] who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit'.
Because of the glorious fact that 'Christ lives in me' ( Galatians 2:20 ), the apostle Paul realized that, though the Body of Israel had become dead through their own law, those who walk 'according to the Spirit', were no longer under that law & thus its condemnation! In this day & age, one might argue, the corruption that the apostle mourns in his letter to the Romans is alive & well on planet earth. It would seem that they are right, because we bear witness to much depravity that is sounds very similar to what they witnessed in Paul's, even Jesus' own day! However, we understand through context, both historical and covenantal, that we, particularly as Christians, living in the 21st century, are not under that law. While common sense tells us still that to covet another's belongings will only get us in trouble, it is no longer the Law that condemns us, but we ourselves!
While Christians traditionally have well understood the glorious fact that we are not under the condemnation of the Law; it seems there are many who fail to realize the gravity of 'Christ lives in me'! Going back to Romans 7, Paul lamentingly states that 'I am carnal, sold under sin': as a representative of the Body of Israel, Paul realized that, even though they had the Spirit, the Comforter ( John 8 & 14 ), as long as they were under the thumb, so to speak, of the Jewish economy & while the Temple still stood, they were still in captivity, according to the flesh. Once Jesus had been revealed as the very Son of God from Heaven & having ended the Jewish economy with their reign of terror, even that Law which had plagued the Body of Christ was taken out of the way, having proven to be contrary to the Israel of God ( Colossians 2:14 ). With, as I call it, the Marriage of Heaven & Earth, we have become One with our Heavenly Father, not in the sense that we have become Him, as in the Creator, but as in marriage itself, wherein we are consumed by the same desire!
Although we still fail, to one degree or another, to fulfill the Law of Love, this is not to say that we have failed our humanity! Because the Spirit of Him who 'loved the world' ( John 3:16 ) lives in us, we have been empowered to do what is right; we WANT to do right, not that we always do. Even so, as the apostle wrote to the Church at Rome, 'now, [ it is ] no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me', he realized that, with the Revelation of Jesus as the Christ & the destruction of the Jewish economy, the dwelling of God was now with man ( John 14:23 ), no longer would sin dwell with him or his brethren!
Our desires, even as Christians, seem to often bring us in conflict with the Law of God! However, we must ask ourselves; 'do we really flout the Law of Love, or do we simply fail to live up to it, condemning ourselves in the process?' If the Law does not condemn us, even the Law of Love, then why should we? We are not fools, to deny the Creator & we do not, as Israel according to the flesh, persecute His people. Our failure to always love as we are Loved does not denigrate our humanity; rather, through our failure, we understand our weakness, our finiteness, our physicality!
As we strive, in our humanity, to love our God ( Creator, Father ) & our neighbor as ourselves, we can be sure, even as Paul was, that we serve in the Spirit, bet even more, we live, not in the old 'flesh', but in the new biology, one that relies, not on laws, but on the Spirit! With the apostle, let us live in the Spirit, for we do not live in the flesh; we never have!
Charles Haddon Shank