alien righteousness

Will We Ever Keep the Law Perfectly?

[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.
Having said all that, then, the implication is that our acceptance before God, whether we are recent converts or have been Christians for 50 years, is never based on our own law-keeping. By acceptance, I’m not only referring to our justification, but also God’s love for us. As long as Christ remains the same, our relation to God will not change. As long as we remain in our flesh, the law will be something impossible to attain. Does this mean we give up? If our justification depended on it, perhaps we should since we have already failed. But thanks be to God it does not! We seek to obey, not out of obligation or duty, but out of gratitude. And when we do fail, as we inevitably will, God is not surprised, nor does he condemn. This is why we have such freedom to preach the gospel, because we are saved in and from our deepest and darkest sins because of Christ and his righteousness imputed to us, not because we are now able to keep the law. This is why Luther said that we are simul iustus et peccator- simulataneously righteous and sinner. This all leads us back to the first question of the HC, which we will affirm confidently and consistently until we are glorified:
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.

3 Responses to “Will We Ever Keep the Law Perfectly?”

  1. inwoolee

    Thanks for visiting and reading.

    A hearty Amen to that post as well!

  2. Michael Spotts

    Many beneficial thoughts here. Thank you.

    I would only add that we are accountable to this fact: there is no temptation set before a man – that is, an opportunity to sin which is apparent to his reason and recognized as a temptation – which God will not provide a way of escape from.

    If the believer is aware that he is being tempted, than he must acknowledge that by God’s grace he is in no way bound to fulfill the lust stirred. In this way it is possible to be free from what is here called presumptuous sins, whether for five minutes or, in theory if not practice, five years.


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