Can We Keep The Law?
Have you ever thought about where different rules and standards come from? For instance, maybe you have read the warning labels on something like the silica packets that come in packages of beef jerky that warn you not to eat them? Or perhaps how almost all grocery store plastic bags have a warning on them that the bags are not toys and can be a choking hazard. My personal favorites are the warning on coffee cups, such as Mcdonald's or Starbuck's, that warn that the hot coffee is hot, and California prop 65 warnings. If you are not familiar with this one it is a label that says this product is known to cause cancer in the state of California and can be found on almost anything made of plastic these days. The point here is that these standards are retroactive and most of the time a reminder of something that should be a matter of common sense. They are simple and are made with the idea we not only can understand and abide by them but that to do so is easy. You might be asking at this point how this applies to what we have been looking at in the Heidelberg Catechism. So let us dig right in.
Out Question for the Day
Question five asks "Can you keep all this perfectly?" (Q. 5) This is in reference to the previous question that reminds us that the Law of God is summed up in the first and second greatest commandments. That we are to Love the Lord with all that we are, heart, mind, and strength, and that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves. So can you keep this perfectly? The catechism answers "No, I am inclined by nature to hate God and my neighbor." (Q. 5, A. 5) We will come back to the scriptural references for this in a moment, first, we need to tie in our intro. You see the laws, standards, and warnings that we have made as human beings, even those that are based on moral law, are put in place with the idea that they are easy to keep. Most of them in fact involve not doing something. This creates within us the idea that every standard or rule that we are given is something that we have the ability to keep. Our brains make the logical leap to say that if someone asks something of us we must be able to do the thing in order for it to apply to us. But we have to ask is that really the case? Are there standards that we are given that we are not able to obtain? In the created world this happens all the time because each person has different abilities but we do not often think of these as being moral issues. So we do not spend much time on them. We instinctively know that not everyone can be an Olympian because there is a set of standards that most people cannot live up to. But what about when God sets the standard or gives us a command, does that mean that we have the ability to fulfill that command?
This is something that requires some thought and brings into question what we know about the nature of salvation. In order to see this, we need to look at a couple more questions. Can you obtain salvation on your own? What is salvation? Is the sacrifice of Christ necessary or merely beneficial? A long time ago there was a debate between some men on these very questions. The first argued that God would not command things that we were not able to do on our own. He took this to it logical conclusion to say that Christ was not necessary but was there to help when we fell down. The second argued that God commands what is right and just regardless of our ability. He argued that we are not able in our fallen nature to do what God commands and this is why we need a savior. This is the basis of the question, it is a question of nature. Are we by nature good or evil? If we are by nature good then we are able to do what God commands perfectly, but if we are by nature evil, then we will be at constant odds with God and need a savior.
It is important to look at this question in scripture, Can we keep the law? Romans 3:10-12 tells us an emphatic no. "As it is written: None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one." We cannot keep the law of God because our nature is to reject God utterly. It is my nature from birth to reject God and to put myself in his place, to make myself first. The Apostle John reiterates this same point when he writes, "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us." (1 John 1:8). This past week on Sunday morning we look at some passages that talk about the heart of a man or the nature of man. We looked at Genesis 6:5 and Jeremiah 17:9 which teach us that the heart of man is wicked above all else. Our nature is to reject God because we are born with wicked hearts. We are unable to live up to God's standard because we want to reject the heart of that standard. We reject that God has the right to rule and be glorified.
Where does this leave us? It leaves us in desperate need of a savior. We cannot save ourselves. We cannot live up to God's standard of perfection. But God being gracious and merciful set us a savior who brings us from death to life. We are not just sick, we are not drowning. We are dead, we have already drowned. We do not need a life preserver that is thrown to us so we can grab on, we need a savior who jumps in the water and caries us to shore. There is hope in no other name but that of the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the one who saves us. Even when our nature is to reject him at every turn. He saves us for his own glory, that we might know him and be known by him. So when you are overwhelmed by this idea of not being able to live up to God's standard. When you are tempted to make much of yourself. Remember Christ. Remember Christ who we are to make much of. Who is the only one who has ever or will ever fulfill the law? Rest in his righteousness and give thanks to him for bringing you back to life.
Soli Deo Gloria
Rom. 3:23; I John 1:10. Gen. 8:21; Rom. 7:23; 8:7; Eph. 2:3; Tit. 3:3.