Man is Not Perfectible, Nor Can He Save Himself

The following is part 11 in a series of excerpts from my book, With Christ in the Voting Booth. In a previous installment, I discussed two lessons about sin as a foundation to discuss politics from a Biblical perspective: (#1) We Have All Sinned, and (#2) We Are All Sinners.

Lesson #3 Man is Not Perfectible, Nor Can He Save Himself

Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? Then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil.   Jeremiah 13:23

But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away. And there is none that calleth upon thy name, that stirreth up himself to take hold of thee: for thou hast hid thy face from us, and hast consumed us, because of our iniquities.                                                                       Isaiah 64:6f

Because we are sinners, we cannot save our own souls by good works. It is not only the things we have done that keep us from serving God, it is because of who we are and what we are like. We cannot change ourselves. Those who have already committed acts of treason cannot put themselves in good graces with the king simply because they start acting like good subjects. Many Nazi war criminals tried to blend in with society after WWII. Those discovered decades after the close of WWII were held accountable, no matter how much they seemed to be model citizens at the time of their discovery.[1]

This inability to save ourselves is why we need a Savior (rather than just a good example), why we need grace and why we need to have our eyes opened. The Bible describes our condition as “dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1).

What Can the Justice System Do?

The American system regularly goes through changes as our leaders and the people themselves seem to look at the world through different eyes. Our Supreme Court struck down the use of the death penalty in 1972; then just 5 years later overturned its own ruling, granting states “permission” to carry out capital punishment. Mass murderer Gary Gilmore was the first person executed in the new era.

What is the purpose of the criminal justice system? The names we use tell us what we think. A penitentiary implies that the goal is to have a prisoner repent for the things they have done wrong. A correctional facility is intended to correct the criminal behavior. A reformatory is supposed to reform the behavior. However, when prisoners are released and resume committing crimes, it shows that outward conformity to the strictures of prison life does not necessarily indicate a change of heart.

Governor Mike Huckabee’s view of the criminal justice system came under scrutiny particularly because of clemencies he granted while he was governor of Arkansas to two high-profile criminals: Wayne Dumond and Maurice Clemmons. The latter went on to murder four police officers in cold blood after being released by Washington State’s justice system.[2] Huckabee’s position is that he could not know what Clemmons would do in the future, and that Clemmons’ original sentence was way out of line compared to others who had committed similar crimes.[3] These cases, nevertheless, raise legitimate questions. How should governors and presidents use pardon and clemency power? To correct an injustice? To reward good behavior? When a prisoner has been converted to Jesus?[4]

Lesson #4 Misery is Sin’s Company

It is important to see the difference between a sin and the results of that sin. The two main results of sin in this life are misery and scandal, the latter which I discussed at the beginning of this chapter. Misery includes the guilt feelings or personal shame that accompanies sin (Gen. 3:8), the “natural” consequences to sin, the breach that corrupts all of our relationships, the physical pain, suffering and temporal curses[5] for our own sins, and finally, death and eternal punishment (2Th. 1:6-10).

Much of our time in society is spent dealing with the misery of our sins: Poverty, divorce, sickness and disease, miscommunication, the ravages of nature and wild animals, and death itself are a result of sin in the world. Almost all of the discussions and debates about the right size and best kind of government center on problems caused by sin: the death penalty, fighting terrorism, racism, etc.

Mike Huckabee has pointed out that we cannot separate the economic issues in our country from the moral ones: “People say this is not a year where we ought to be talking about social issues…. [but] we need to understand there is a direct correlation between the stability of families and the stability of our economy.”[6] Welfare exists, in part, because of the breakdown of the family due to divorce and abandonment, for example.

Lesson #5 The List of Sins is Long

I have been hinting all along that we are tempted to see sins only when they are associated with particular results. But the fact that we are sinners suggests that every aspect of our lives is tainted with sin. Sin is more than crime, vice or scandal. Many of our sins are invisible to the human eye, though the consequences of those sins change our lives every day. The so-called “Seven Deadly Sins”[7] (lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy and pride) are just some of the sins of the heart that destroy us inwardly and sometimes break out into scandal.

Christians recognize that the Ten Commandments were published on two tablets. Sometimes we focus solely on the Second Table of the Law (sins against men) and ignore the First Table (sins against God). This is a form of humanism we must reject. God requires devotion to Him in His Person and prohibits idolatry, profanity and Sabbath-breaking. We are commanded to not only love our neighbors as ourselves but to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, Though many of these sins are not forbidden as part of our criminal or civil law; nevertheless, we may consider them when examining the fruit of the politicians who would lead our country.

Just as we began this chapter talking about scandal and politics, so we conclude it by discussing the relevancy of how sin is dealt with in the public arena. President Clinton’s defenders suggested that sexual sins are nobody’s business though they are lied about under oath, while Governor Sanford of South Carolina appeared to glory in adultery, rather than repent of it.[8] During the Nixon years, it became an axiom that it is not the crime that brings politicians down, it is the cover up. How we deal with sin is as important as the sin itself.

Lesson #6 The Wages of Sin is Death, But the Gift of God is Eternal Life.

Sin is ugly and deadly from the very beginning. It is an affront to our Maker. Every sin is worthy of death in the sight of God. God says “the soul that sinneth, it shall die” (Eze. 18:20, see also Gen. 2:17) and “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 3:23).

Thankfully, God has not treated Christians as our sins deserve. By God’s grace we repent. By God’s grace we are also forgiven. Jesus made the great exchange. The Sinless One took upon himself our sins and paid the penalty for them, and by grace gave us sinners His righteousness.

He paid a debt He did not owe;

I owed a debt I could not pay;

I needed someone to wash my sins away.

And, now, I sing a brand new song: “Amazing Grace”.

Christ Jesus paid a debt that I could never pay.[9]

Hope and Change You Can Believe In

If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable. But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept. For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive…. Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. (emphasis mine) I Corinthians 15:19-22, 51-52

In a world full of sin and misery, there is only one source of hope and change that you can count on. People will fail you. You will fail yourself. Governments and politicians are doomed to fail both you and your family. Perhaps you find yourself “most miserable” as the text above explains. Let me assure you that Christ has come to redeem you, both for this life and the life to come. He is someone trustworthy to whom you can attach your hopes.



[1] New York Times, 2/04/09, Uncovering Lost Path of the Most Wanted Nazi by Souad Mekhennet and Nicholas Kulish

[2] For a balanced and Christian view of the role of retribution in our system, read Joe Carter’s Huckabee and the Limits of Compassion at First Things Blog.

[3] The current Governor of Arkansas, Mike Beebe and the Washington justice system had a greater culpability in the Clemmons case, according to Caleb Hannan (Seattle Weekly, October 21, 2010).

[4] Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson failed in their efforts to persuade then Governor George Bush of Texas to stop the execution of Karla Faye Tucker, who had committed a brutal murder in 1983 but later become a model prisoner after accepting Christ. She was put to death in 1998.

[5] The word “curses” seems medieval to our ears. I am not referring to the practice of people putting hexes on each other, or other things associated with witchcraft. But rather, I am referring to God’s just acts of punishing sin in this life (sometimes as a means of discipline).

[7] Every sin is deadly: “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Rom. 6:23)

[8] In a press conference, Sanford called the other woman his “soulmate” and said it was more than an affair, it was a “love story.” New York Daily News, 6/30/09

[9] Lyrics by Ellis J. Crum

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