THE FIRST GREAT MISTAKE—
NOT KNOWING WHAT MAN IS
Why would man say that he can be saved by the works of the law when he does not even know what he is? It is because man does not know how evil he is; he does not know that he is fleshly. Since man has become fleshly, there are three things in him that are unchangeable: his conduct, his lust, and his will. Because man is fleshly, whatever he does is sin and evil. At the same time, his lust within is actively tempting him, provoking him to sin all the time. In addition, man’s will and desire reject God. Since man’s conduct is against God, his lust is provoking him to sin, and his will is rebellious against God, there is no possibility for him to have the works of the law and be obedient to God. Therefore, it is impossible for man to satisfy God’s requirement by the righteousness of the law. Not only do we have our outward conduct, but we also have the lust in our body. Not only do we have the lust in our body, but we also have the will in our soul. You may be able to deal with your conduct, but the lust stirring within you, even if it is not successful in precipitating sinful, outward conduct, exists and provokes you all the time. And even if you hate your lust and do your best to deal with it, your will is altogether not compatible with God. Deep in his heart, man is rebellious against God and wants to crucify the Lord Jesus. On the one hand, the cross signifies God’s love; but on the other hand, it signifies man’s sin. The cross signifies the great love God has in dealing with man; but it also signifies the tremendous hatred man has toward God. The Lord Jesus was crucified on the cross not only by the Jews, but also by the Gentiles. Man’s will toward God has never changed. Man’s will is totally at enmity with God.
Romans 8:7-8 says, "Because the mind set on the flesh is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, for neither can it be. And those who are in the flesh cannot please God." The mind set on the flesh is enmity against God. Those who are in the flesh are not subject to the law of God, neither can they be. We do not understand man enough. We think that man is still curable and useful. Hence, we say that the works of the law can still save man. But man can never be subject to the law of God; it is just not in our nature. In our conduct there is not the power to be subject to the law, and our nature cannot be. Not only are we unable to be subject to the law, we simply are not willing to be. Being unable to be in subjection is a matter of our nature and our lust; being unwilling to be in subjection is a matter of our will. Basically, man is not subject to God in his will.
Therefore, the law will manifest nothing except man’s weakness, uncleanness, and sinfulness. It will not manifest man’s righteousness. If one says that a person can have life and be justified by the works of the law, he really does not know man. If man were not fleshly or sinful, the law could perhaps give him life. This is why Galatians 3:12 says, "He who does them [the works of the law] shall live because of them." Unfortunately, human beings are all sinners. They are fleshly and powerless in being subject to God, and they have no heart to be subject to God. Man does not have power to do the works of the law, nor does he have the heart to do the works of the law. The law is good but the person who does the works of the law is not. We all must admit this.
(Gospel of God, The (2 volume set), Chapter 4, by Watchman Nee)