[From my post here.]
Following the exposition of the decalogue, the Heidelberg Cathechism asks the question that perhaps many (if not all) Christians ask when they realize that though sin’s power has been defeated by Christ, struggling with it (and often failing) remains a reality. The logic in our mind goes something like this: Christ defeated sin so that sin no longer has mastery therefore I should no longer sin. Such reasoning is sound, and true, but fails to take into consideration the aspect of the “already” and the “not yet” of Christian eschatology. The kingdom of heaven has arrived and yet is still coming, we have died and been raised with Christ, but have yet to die and be raised. In a similar way, sin has been defeated but we continue to fight with it.
Question 114. But can those who are converted to God perfectly keep these commandments?
Answer: No: but even the holiest men, while in this life, have only a small beginning of this obedience; (a) yet so, that with a sincere resolution they begin to live, not only according to some, but all the commandments of God. (b)
(a) 1 John 1:8; 1 John 1:9; 1 John 1:10; Rom.7:14; Rom.7:15; Eccl.7:20; 1 Cor.13:9; (b) Rom.7:22; Ps.1:2; James 2:10.
The writers of the HC understood that whether Christian or not, anyone under the Law of God is absolutely unable to keep it. Our best works are as filthy rags before a holy God. Only those ignorant of the law’s demands would ever think that they could keep it perfectly.
Naturally, when we are told that we are unable to do something we wonder why it was ever commanded in the first place. This is the Arminian’s argument, namely, that God would not command what we cannot keep. And it is a valid point. It is not just for God to expect man to do what he is or was not able to do. Yet, those who believe that Adam was a federal head, know that man was originally created with the ability to obey. The HC addresses this very issue in question 9:
Question 9. Does not God then do injustice to man, by requiring from him in his law, that which he cannot perform?
Answer: Not at all; (a) for God made man capable of performing it; but man, by the instigation of the devil, (b) and his own wilful disobedience, (c) deprived himself and all his posterity of those divine gifts.
(a) Eph.4:24; Eccl.7:29; (b) John 8:44; 2 Cor.11:3; Gen.3:4; (c) Gen.3:6; Rom.5:1; Gen.3:13; 1 Tim.2:13; 1 Tim.2:14.
It’s settled then, those under the law cannot keep the law. God is just in his requirements and all men are under condemnation. For many Christians, though, this is insufficient. There are those who would maintain that since Christians are no longer under the law, it’s power being destroyed, they are now able to keep it. Christ was crucified so that “we might no longer be in bondage to sin,” God predestined and saved us for good works, didn’t he? These things are truly and really accomplished, and yet until we die we will struggle with sin. Until we are glorified we walk by faith, not by sight. The HC is clear that none, not even the converted, are able to keep the law perfectly and while it is tempting to assume an overrealized eschatology, we must trust that Christ’s work, apart from our own, in both justification as well as sanctification, is sufficient. Yes, we begin to live to all the commandments of God, but this is a “small beginning” according to the HC, and by no means a perfect keeping of the law.
Getting to the point, why are Christians commanded to keep the law? This question is especially pertinent because, for one, we acknowledge are inability to keep it and second, we are justified by faith in Christ. Question 115 addresses this issue:
Question 115. Why will God then have the ten commandments so strictly preached, since no man in this life can keep them?
Answer: First, that all our lifetime we may learn more and more to know (a) our sinful nature, and thus become the more earnest in seeking the remission of sin, and righteousness in Christ; (b) likewise, that we constantly endeavour and pray to God for the grace of the Holy Spirit, that we may become more and more conformable to the image of God, till we arrive at the perfection proposed to us, in a life to come. (c)(a) Rom.3:20; 1 John 1:9; Ps.32:5; (b) Matt.5:6; Rom.7:24; Rom.7:25; (c) 1 Cor.9:24; Philip.3:11; Philip.3:12; Philip.3:13; Philip.3:14.
Question 1. What is thy only comfort in life and death?Answer: That I with body and soul, both in life and death, (a) am not my own, (b) but belong unto my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ; (c) who, with his precious blood, has fully satisfied for all my sins, (d) and delivered me from all the power of the devil; (e) and so preserves me (f) that without the will of my heavenly Father, not a hair can fall from my head; (g) yea, that all things must be subservient to my salvation, (h) and therefore, by his Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life, (i) and makes me sincerely willing and ready, henceforth, to live unto him. (j)
(a) Rom.14:7; Rom.14:8; (b) 1 Cor.6:19; (c) 1 Cor.3:23; Tit.2:14; (d) 1 Pet.1:18; 1 Pet.1:19; 1 John 1:7; 1 John 2:2; 1 John 2:12; (e) Heb.2:14; 1 John 3:8; John 8:34; John 8:35; John 8:36; (f) John 6:39; John 10:28; 2 Thess.3:3; 1 Pet.1:5; (g) Matt.10:29; Matt.10:30; Matt.10:31; Luke 21:18; (i) 2 Cor.1:20; 2 Cor.1:21; 2 Cor.1:22; 2 Cor.5:5; Eph.1:13; Eph.1:14; Rom.8:16; (j) Rom.8:14; 1 John 3:3.