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Since we cannot keep the law, why should we try to do so?

Nov 15, 2005

This is sort of like giving up ahead of time because it is impossible to be perfect. Should we stop striving for excellence in sports just because we know that we will probably not win the Olympics?

All Americans break the law at times, even if it is only driving above the speed limit or jaywalking. I find it impossible to keep America’s laws. Is that, then, an excuse for me to murder, steal, or commit adultery? Shall I throw away ALL the laws just because I find it impossible to keep all of them? Or shall I pick and choose which laws I want to follow (such as the laws against murdering my neighbor or stealing his car), but then toss out the ones I disagree with or simply don’t want to keep? Such an attitude is lawlessness.

The implication of this common question is that we should only strive to be obedient to God if our salvation depends upon it. But since our salvation is based upon our faith, rather than upon our obedience, then obedience becomes “unnecessary.”

But “unnecessary” for what? Just because something is not a component of justification does not mean it should be discarded. Works are not a component of justification (Passover), but they certainly are a component of sanctification (Pentecost).

Paul makes it clear that justification is by faith alone, and not by works (i.e., obedience to the law). However, Paul never tells us to sin that grace may abound. Nor does he ever allow Christians to be lawless. John says, “sin is lawlessness” (1 John 3:4). However, our ability to be obedient is something is learned over a period of time, as we “grow up” and mature spiritually from being children to full-grown. Obedience is a function of our Sanctification, not our Justification. We are justified by faith (i.e., Passover experience), but our level of obedience is the measure of our Sanctification (i.e., Pentecost). Obedience (works) naturally follow one’s Justification, for they are the fruit of it.

What are the good works that God looks for in a Christian? Ah, that is where the law comes in, for “by the law is the knowledge of sin” (Rom. 3:20). The law tells us what sin is, and God tells the Christian, “Do not be enslaved to sin any longer.”

I certainly agree that (1) we are incapable of keeping the law—simply because we are not perfect yet, and (2) if our salvation were based upon our ability to keep the law, then no man could be saved—simply because no one is capable of keeping it.

However, our inability and imperfection is OUR problem—not a problem with the law itself. The problem we face is that the law is perfect, while we are not. It forms a higher standard of righteousness than we are capable of fulfilling—even as Christians. But that is no excuse to throw out the law as if it were “bad.”

I set a standard of righteousness for my children as they were growing up. I taught them that stealing their brother’s toys was bad, and I would discipline them for it. I taught them not to do violence to their brothers or playmates, and I would discipline them for doing such violence. I did this, realizing that while they were yet young, they were incapable of fulfilling these rules. I set these standards, knowing from the beginning that I would have to discipline them for breaking my laws until they learned obedience.

The problem was not my rules (laws). The problem was their immaturity and the fact that they were incapable (yet) of fulfilling the law. But what if I had said, “Well, I know my kids cannot keep my law, so therefore, I will have no rules at all. I will let them do what they please, because, after all, they are my children regardless of whether or not they obey me.”

Would that solve my problem? Would that make them perfect?

Well, without rules to break, they would never be disobedient! If I never told them what to do, never issued them a “commandment,” then they could never violate that commandment (law). As Paul says in Romans 4:14, “Where no law is, there is no transgression.”

How would such children turn out? Would they be good citizens and know how to love their neighbor? Or would they turn out as criminals, not knowing the difference between right and wrong?

I know the answer by observation. I look at some other people’s children and see how they were never taught properly the difference between right and wrong at an early age. Then parents attempt to “catch up” when the children are older, but the children are not used to such rules. They prefer their freedom to do as they please. So the imposition of rules in later life often results in rebellion and disobedience, because those moral standards are not written on their hearts.

If we, then, know that children must have rules in order to learn right from wrong, how is it that we think God would not do the same in raising His children to maturity? Our obedience may not be the basis of our salvation, but it certainly has to do with our relationship with God. God has many rebellious children. Don’t be one of them.

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Category: God's Law
Blog Author: Dr. Stephen Jones