Is God Unfair In His Commands?

“Grant what thou commandest and then command what thou wilt.” With those words Augustine enraged Pelagius. The idea that God would command something of men, of which they cannot do apart from Grace, on the surface enrages all of us, and perhaps rightly so. “That isn’t fair” or “I don’t believe in that God” and perhaps even “God would never do that” are some of the complaints we have made to the idea that God commands men to repent and have faith in Jesus, when no man is able or willing to do so. Thus we argue that either God doesn’t require it of all men, or men must be able to do what he requires apart from Grace.

To many of us this seems as absurd and evil as commanding a cripple man “walk or die”, and so it is in that light we look at God’s commanding of us to do what we cannot nor will not do.

My issue with the backlash against Augustine that Pelagius and the majority of Christians today are apart of, is that they are actually inconsistent. In reality their complaint is against a straw man, inconsistently applied. They wrongfully infer man’s inability to God himself, while inconstantly dealing with his commands. If you find yourself as upset with Augustine’s quote as Pelagius did, I ask you to patently hear me out as I attempt to explain further why perhaps you have been resisting a straw man all the while living inconsistently and how it can actually be that God would command of us what we cannot and will not do if left to ourselves apart from Grace.

Let me first start by using the cripple example. If I walked up to a cripple from birth, and put a gun to his head and said “walk or die”, I do not doubt that every person on this planet would think me a monster if not at least an extremely unfair person. But what if you heard more of the back-story.

For arguments sake lets say I am God, and I created this man, and the one command I gave him was: “walk and you shall live, if you stop walking you shall die and taking this pill will make you stop walking” and I created him with a perfect set of walking legs. For a while he walked and everything was ok, then one day he decided that it wasn’t fair of me to ask him to walk, he wanted to be his own boss, so he decided to disobey me (since he doubted that I would kill him and was sure that if he stopped walking his life would be much better off).

His desire to disobey me was taken advantage of (and perhaps even inspired by) my enemy an evil servant who betrayed me long ago and led man of my other servants in open rebellion against me, since he hated that I was God and he wasn’t. This enemy came to the man I created and told him, that if he disobeyed me, he could shake off my chains, be free, and be like me and do only what he wants to do and never again what I want him to do. My enemy told him the best way to do this would be to take the forbidden pill, and once it was taken there was no going back. The man thought this was a great idea and fit perfectly into his desires so he took the pill. His legs immediately became paralyzed, and he became my enemy that day.

Now after he crippled himself I came along and saw him sitting there. In that situation would I be justified to walk up to him and command him: “walk or die”? Was it I who crippled him? No, I made him perfectly able to walk, he crippled himself in his own rebellion. So why would anyone be mad at me for commanding him to do what I created him to do, which he made himself unable to do in the rebellion. Yes, it was I who made the forbidden pill cripple him, but that was part of the curse and punishment for taking that pill, besides he knew ahead of time what the consequences were for taking the pill. So, although I created the pill, he was really the one who crippled himself because he took the pill out of his own free will, under no compulsion or forcing from me.

To complain against my making the pill cripple him, is like jumping out of an airplane and complaining to God that your legs broke on impact because God created gravity and the ground.

In other words the real question is: does my requirements or treatment of him have to change because he rebelled, or am I allowed to keep requiring of him and treating him the same as I did before he rebelled? Does this make sense to you?

So, likewise (and please only take my story as far as I do, it isn’t meant to perfectly correlate to the real story of Adam’s fall, but just to point out some key parts), when Adam fell and was cursed by God with spiritual death and became the sworn enemy of God, did God have an obligation to treat Adam any differently or require of him anything differently? Of course not, God had every right to keep requiring of Adam perfect obedience, or whatever he wanted to require of Adam -which Adam would have been able to do before the fall- after the fall. In other words, Gods commands, and requirements of Adam didn’t change from pre-fall to post-fall. The covenant commands didn’t change, and God had perfect right to demand of Adam fulfillment of the commands or death.

But God didn’t kill Adam right away (although he and his race were cursed with spiritual death – separation from God and God had every right to kill Adam right there), He actually went beyond what was required of him (what was just and fair) and made away for Adam to be forgiven for his rebellion, and accepted back into His kingdom again – God eventually would come down as a man to die on a cross to take Adam’s sin (and everyone who trusts in God and not their own righteousness to make them right before God) so Adam could be forgiven, and this God/Man Jesus rose from the dead to seal Adam’s salvation for eternity.

The truth of the matter is, God has every right to require perfect obedience of every human being (which I do not think very many of you would say is actually possible of every person) under the old covenant or require them to have saving faith (something else no man can do in and of himself) in Jesus, under the new covenant.

Did you guys catch that inconsistency? I have yet to hear Pelagius or anyone I come into contact with complain that God cannot require holiness from us. Yet of those people, how many of them actually believe that man can be perfectly holy on his own? Pelagius actually might say that we could, although he might say he has never known anyone who actually has, but probably would put it up there as at least a possibility. So, if you believe that God is just in requiring holiness from all people, and yet you believe that no person can truly be holy, then aren’t you ok with God requiring of people what they cannot do? So, why would you not be ok with God requiring saving faith of people who cannot have it anymore than you wouldn’t be ok with God requiring perfect holiness of people who cannot achieve it? Isn’t this a double standard?

Don’t you also see how there is no unfairness in God here? God commands of people what they used to be able to do prefall, but what they cannot do now. They cannot do it now because Adam as our covenant representative got us all cursed, and on top of that we all participate with him in his sin by adding our own. If you think it isn’t fair that God requires of men what they cannot do, and yet he condescends himself to actually give what he commands to some men (saving some) and then leaving the rest to obey his commands themselves (which we know they cannot do), then you should perhaps rethink your position. If you really want God to be equally fair to all men, then you desire that He send all men to hell for their rebellion. There is no injustice or unfairness in God if he decides to save some and not others. Just as it is not an injustice for a governor to pardon one prisoner without having to pardon every prisoner, so God can pardon who he likes (give them grace), and give the rest justice.

To recap: God does in fact require of mankind what mankind cannot do. They cannot do it because they have made themselves that way through their rebellion; God didn’t make them that way. If God wants to give Grace to some so they can do what he commands, while leaving others to their own efforts, he has every right to do that.  The truth is: Scripture is clear that man cannot come to Jesus for salvation apart from Grace, because no one wants too and all are enslaved to sin. God commands that all men be holy like He is, but Rom 3 makes it clear that no man is holy and in fact no man desires to be holy. The reason they are not holy is because they are spiritually dead in the flesh, and the flesh profits nothing John 6:63. In order for man to enter the kingdom of God (be saved) he must first be born again and then he can enter through faith John 3:3. Our only conclusion therefore can be that God requires of man what man cannot do apart from the Grace of God, by which He regenerates those He is saving and they respond in Faith. If God is fair to require Holiness of all men, then he is fair to require Faith of all men too.

Here are a few verses for support:

Lev 11:45 “For I am the LORD who brought you up from the land of Egypt to be your God; thus you shall be holy, for I am holy.'”

1 Peter 1:16 “because it is written, “YOU SHALL BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY.””

Romans 1:21 “So they are without excuse. 21For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.”

Romans 3:9 “For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, 10as it is written:

“None is righteous, no, not one;
11no one understands;
no one seeks for God.
12All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good,
not even one.”
13 “Their throat is an open grave;
they use their tongues to deceive.”
“The venom of asps is under their lips.”
14 “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”
15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood;
16in their paths are ruin and misery,
17and the way of peace they have not known.”
18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

John 3:3 “Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

John 6:44: “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.”

John 6:63 “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life.”

John 10:26: “but you do not believe because you are not part of my flock.

Eph 2:1 “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient”

Col 2:13 “When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, 14 having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross.”

Mark 18:10 “And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone.”

2 thoughts on “Is God Unfair In His Commands?

  1. howard

    This also relates to the issue I was struggling with. In this case sometimes society and manners demand of us what we cannot quite do, as well. At least in terms of attitude and tone. Sometimes society is stricter than God! The state, much less so; civil law focuses on the externals unless it’s a real tyranny. C u Wed

  2. howard

    Actually I take that back. There are business regulatory regimes in many countries, and sometimes locally even in this country (“health and safety,” environmental protection) under which one cannot possibly provide for one’s family or run a small business in compliance with every possible interpretation of every regulation. Thus you have, instead of legal or illegal, three categories; legal, illegal, and “informal.”

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