Monday, May 19, 2014

GOD WILL NEVER GIVE YOU A COMMAND YOU CANNOT KEEP... REALLY?

"God will never give you a command you cannot keep." Whether it has been in sermons, at Bible studies, in small groups; I have heard this said a number of times. It is the notion that God would never give a person more responsibility than he or she could bear. Theologies concerning sanctification have been formed around this very thought. Think of Charles Wesley and Christian perfection. Worse yet, theologies concerning justification have been formed around this notion. Think of Pelagius and his denial of total depravity. Is it true that God would never ask of His people to do something that He knows they are incapable of doing? Let us test this idea against Scripture.

Think about the way God commanded the Israelites when they came out of Egypt. He gave to them the ten commandments and many other laws to follow. (Exodus 20-23) The people claimed that they would be obedient to the law. (Exodus 24:3) Afterwards, Moses went back up the mountain where God gave him instructions on how to build the tabernacle and establish the priesthood. (Exodus 24:12 - 31:18) Why did God do this? Because He knew that the people would not obey. He knew that the people of Israel would need to make sin offerings before Him. Moses was up on that mountain for only 40 days, yet during that short span the people had already prostituted themselves by creating a golden calf to worship. (Exodus 32)

Again and again throughout the Old Testament we read stories about sinful people breaking the commandments of God. Even David, the man after God's own heart, committed adultery and murder. He tried to cover up his sins with a web of lies, but God graciously humbled His chosen king. (2 Samuel 11&12) There is not one person in those first thirty-nine books who could claim to have the ability to keep the commandments of God. 

Although this argument strongly supports the idea that God does give His people commands they cannot keep, this really doesn't answer the question of if they were capable of doing it or not. Maybe there were examples of people not recorded in scripture who did obey God fully. Let us look now to the New Testament to see what it has to say on this matter.

Fast forward to the first century AD. Jesus had now stepped onto the scene and He gave His most famous sermon, the Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew chapters five, six and seven we read exactly what God expects of His people. Not only are worshippers of Yahweh not suppose to commit murder, but they should not even have anger in their hearts towards their brothers. (Matthew 5:21,22) Not only are they to refrain from committing adultery, but they are not even allowed to look at a woman with lust in their heart. (Matthew 5:27,28) They are to serve their enemies and allow themselves to be abused further if their right cheek is struck. (Matthew 5:38-44) Their righteousness must exceed that of the pharisees and scribes. (Matthew 5:20)

If all of that were not enough, Jesus decided to raise the bar just a little higher with these words, "You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." (Matthew 5:48 - ESV) I know there are some perfectionists out there who are cheering Jesus on right now, but seriously? Be perfect like God is perfect? What kind of standard is this? Who is capable of doing this?

If the ten commandments were not enough, Jesus upped the stakes for us by condemning our own thoughts and feelings. The standard is perfection, and nothing short will do. Is this attainable? From the stories we read in the Old Testament, none before Jesus could do this. If you are honest with yourself, you will realize that you are incapable of fulfilling God's commands for your life. The Apostle John states this very fact in his epistle. "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us." (1 John 1:8 - ESV)

If God has given us commands that we are incapable of keeping, then what is His reasoning behind this? Why would Jesus lay out a way of life that is impossible for us to live? What purpose is there in the law if all fail at it? The Apostle Paul articulates the answer to this question beautifully in his letter to the Church in Rome. "Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin." (Romans 3:19,20 - ESV)

The main purpose of the law is to show human beings just how sinful they really are. It is a taskmaster that holds people accountable to God. Is this the only purpose of the law? No, but it is the preeminent purpose. This is why basic Christian doctrine teaches that man is not saved by works, but by grace through faith. (Ephesians 2:8,9) Yet, even after a person has been regenerated by the Holy Spirit, they still contend with their sinful flesh. Every time a Christian sins, it is a reminder of their need for a savior. (Romans 7)

The next time you hear someone say that God will never give you a command you cannot keep, gently rebuke that brother or sister out of love. While it may seem like a wise teaching, it only puts a heavy yoke on the hearer. God has given us many commands that we cannot and do not keep this side of Christ's return. Do we strive to obey God? Yes. But we do so out of a knowledge that God has freed us from the law. We do so with the help of the Holy Spirit. We do so out of thankfulness for the one who did keep all these commands perfectly for us.

Jesus is the only sinless man. Yet He is also the creator God. He died on the cross taking upon himself the wrath of the Father in man's stead. He bore the sins of the world and in exchange gave to those who believe this good news His righteousness. He rose from the dead three days later and now reigns at the right hand of the Father. No longer do you have to live in bondage to a law you cannot keep. Repent and believe the gospel message and you will be saved.

5 comments:

  1. Is it wrong to say that God will never give you something that His grace is not sufficient to get you through? I guess I would like to follow up the gospel proclamation to point the person to the path of sanctification, which does involve us following Christ's law in the power of His Spirit.

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    1. Ryan, thanks for the comment. I guess I would have to understand what you mean by God giving us something. Do you mean a command, trial, gift, etc.? I think the danger when talking about sanctification comes in when we expect to be capable of no longer sinning this side of glorification. This is where I feel Wesley got into trouble theologically. He taught that Christian perfection was attainable in this life, meaning that a person would no longer intentionally sin. I believe that Romans 7 and 1 John 1:8 debunk that notion. As Christians we are no longer under the law, but are lead by the Spirit. The law still acts as a guide, giving us knowledge of what a good work is and informing us when we do sin. When we stray from God's law, we should repent and confess it to the Lord. This is a sign that the Holy Spirit is working to sanctify us.

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  2. Cory, I had a conversation with someone on Sunday about this very topic. Incidentally, he claimed to have arrived at the point of no longer sinning. It's a dangerous doctrine; it leads to pride (which, ironically, is sin) and, as you pointed out, places an unrealistic expectation on those who receive the teaching.

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    1. I would hate to have claimed to have arrived at the point of no longer sinning and then feel the weight of having to live up to that claim.

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    2. Richard MohrbachJuly 10, 2014 at 5:41 AM

      Claiming to have arrived at the point of no longer sinning while living on this earth, or teaching that this is possible is indeed a dangerous doctrine; it is heretical. It does not lead to pride, but is in fact pride. The Apostle John through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit tells us that such a teaching or belief means, "we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us." 1 John 1:8 This type of teaching has led many away from the faith thinking they are not saved because of the failures they, we, encounter every day of our lives. Sadly, some have even taken their own lives because of their failure to live up to an impossible demand. False teaching is rampant in the professing church, and many who hold to these doctrines are taking this false gospel, as well as the false gospel of prosperity into the mission fields throughout the world. We must be on guard, and faithful to the Word of God for our battle is against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Thank God we can stand firm against such forces by putting on the full armor of God which is found in the person and work of His Son, Jesus Christ.

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