Can anyone perfectly follow the Law? No they can’t. Not one. Life experience shows us this and God’s Holy Word confirms it, time and time again (Galatians 3:10-14). Faith, faith in God, faith in what Jesus accomplished for us, faith that Jesus is our righteousness. I could quote numerous Scripture verses but this is beyond basic. Not by works, lest any should boast (Ephesians 2:8-10).
Yet we are also told, time and time again, not to sin, to walk in the Spirit, to die to self, to do in so many cases, the exact opposite of what our human nature often compels us to do. Does anyone actually walk in the Spirit, 24/7, as in all the time, without ceasing? Do you know anyone who does this? I certainly don’t. These Scripture verses that seem to compel us to continually walk that fine fine line, in perfect accordance with God’s expressed will, all of the time, is this a reality that God would have us literally achieve here, while we are in these earthly bodies, or is this a goal that we are continually to work towards, until we at last see God face to face, and are finally brought to completion in His image? And if this is a goal, what is the purpose behind it?
I’M GOING TO TRY TO ANSWER THESE QUESTIONS, IN THIS POST. I know this will be a little on the lengthy side, but bear with me if you would. I am acutely aware that what follows is a partial answer, not because of the choice of the subject that is being covered, but in actuality, because of the wide scope of the subject that is being addressed. Nevertheless, join with me as we explore what Paul has to say to us in Romans, about whether this is a reasonable expectation or a goal to work towards.
We are told in Galatians 3:24 NASB that “Therefore the Law has become our guardian to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith.” The KJV words it this was: “Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.”
The whole purpose of the Law was to reveal the holiness of God and show us that we, in and of ourselves, are utterly incapable of perfectly following it, OR BEING HOLY, LIKE GOD IS HOLY, hence our utter dependency on Jesus, who alone, perfectly followed the will of God our Father, in all that He said and all that He did. As a moth is drawn to a light in darkness, we are drawn to the realization of our utter dependency of faith in God, to do for us, that which we in and of ourselves cannot do.
FAITH IN GOD, even before the Law, has always been the means whereby our righteousness is established with God. Think Job (Job19:25), think Abraham (Genesis 15:6). And I also want to draw your attention to the reality that God commanded Israel, throughout the entirety of the Old Testament, while they were under the Law, to be Holy, as He was Holy (Leviticus 19:2). WHY would God command this, if He already knew that they were incapable of being holy as He is holy? I’m thinking one word, “DEPENDENCY“, to bring us to the awareness of our utter dependency on God, and ultimately culminating in our utter dependency on His Son Jesus. There is that “schoolmaster” or “guardian” element being factored in. It’s almost like God is saying “HERE IS MY STANDARD, YOU CAN’T DO IT. WHAT IS THE RECOURSE THAT I AM SHOWING YOU?”
The Apostle Paul addresses this question, in his letter that he wrote to the Christian Church of believers in Rome. Calling upon your patience, I’m going to briefly go through his letter.
In Chapter 1 Paul addresses the reality of salvation that is available in the Gospel, contrasting faith in God with those who follow ungodliness and unrighteousness and suppress the truth in unrighteousness.
In chapter 2 Paul addresses the impartiality of God, as it pertains to the Gentiles, who are not under the Law, and those who are Jews, who are under the Law.
In chapter 3 Paul addresses how all the world, both Jew and Gentile, is guilty of violating the holiness of God (falling short), how justification with God comes via faith and that ultimately, faith establishes or validates the Law.
In chapter 4 Paul addresses how Abrahams belief or faith in God established his righteousness and the reasoning behind it, specifically in Romans 4:16-17 which reads as follows: “For this reason it is by faith, in order that it may be in accordance with grace, so that the promise will be guaranteed to all the descendants, not only to those who are of the Law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, (as it is written: “I have made you a father of many nations”) in the presence of Him whom he believed, that is, God, who gives life to the dead and calls into being things that do not exist.” and Romans 4:23-25 “Now not for his sake only was it written that it was credited to him, but for our sake also, to whom it will be credited, to us who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, He who was delivered over because of our wrongdoings, and was raised because of our justification.” Emphasis is mine. Notice how the scope includes not only those who are of the Law, but also those who are of the faith of Abraham, believing in or trusting in God, to do for us what we in and of ourselves, cannot do.
In chapter 5 Paul addresses the results of our justification, having obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we celebrate in hope of the glory of God, with the reasoning behind it, especially in Romans 5:20-21 which reads: “The Law came in so that the offense would increase; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, so also grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
In chapter 6 Paul addresses the fallacy of thinking that we can continue to sin because we are no longer under the Law but now under grace. I’m tempted to quote the whole chapter but please do read it all. Pay particular attention to Romans 6:17-18 which reads: “But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were entrusted, and after being freed from sin, you became slaves to righteousness.” and Romans 5:20-23 “For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in relation to righteousness. Therefore what benefit were you then deriving from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the outcome of those things is death. But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gracious gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Emphasis is mine. Becoming obedient from the heart means we do not and will not continue to habitually sin. We may slip, we may fall, but we confess our sins (1 John 1:9) and get back up again and continue on. We continue to go forward, not backwards. Wanting to be obedient from the heart does that. When our hearts are changed by God’s Holy Spirit within us, it causes us to grieve when we do slip, when we do fall. And if it doesn’t, we have a very serious problem.
And then we are given chapter 7 which deals with the conflicts within. Bear in mind the context that has already been covered. Bear in mind who this is being addressed to. This is where the rubber hits the road and Paul does not avoid it, he addresses it head on, with honesty and his response to the way ahead. The long and the short of it is that if we truly belong to Christ, we are new creatures in Him. Now we serve in newness of the Spirit, obedient from our hearts in following the will of God in our lives. Paul gives us the reasoning behind the Law and verse 13 summarizes the reality of the purpose. It reads: “Therefore did that which is good become a cause of death for me? Far from it! Rather it was sin, in order that it might be shown to be sin by bringing about my death through that which is good, so that through the commandment sin would become utterly sinful.” One doesn’t really comprehend how difficult the Ten Commandments are to follow, until one earnestly tries to do them. God wanted us to begin to comprehend the nature of His being and the extent to which we differ from Him. The difference is deeply buried within us, and without God’s grace, we can’t even begin to scratch the surface of the magnitude of the difference between His ways and thoughts and our ways and thoughts. Paul then breaks it down for us, starting in verses 14-20. Read it please. The sin that dwells within. That’s our old nature, it’s still there, it no longer rules our existence but it is still there. Paul recognizes it for what it is. Paul summarizes it in verses 21 to 24. It reads as follows: “ I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. For I joyfully agree with the law of God in the inner person, but I see a different law in the parts of my body waging war against the law of my mind, and making me a prisoner of the law of sin, the law which is in my body’s parts. Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?” Tell me who hasn’t thought those words many times! If Paul had stopped here we’d all be in trouble, but he doesn’t. The following verse is Paul’s response to this reality. Verse 25 reads: “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin.” Paul acknowledges his sinful nature for what it is, part of Him, but no longer sentencing Him and his no longer being a slave to his old nature. The consequences of this reality are dealt with, through great thanksgiving, through Jesus Christ our Lord! Jesus, as always, is indeed, God’s focus point.
Paul continues in chapter 8. Paul even breaks it down for us, further. I’m sorely tempted, yet once again, to quote the whole chapter. Read all of this chapter too please. Verses 1 and 2 are paramount and read as follows: “Therefore there is now no condemnation at all for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.” Emphasis is mine. Our faith in Jesus is the qualifier that trumps the reality of us having been slaves to sin. Why? Because of our faith in Jesus, God’s Holy Spirit now lives within us and we have His guidance and strength to draw on, even when our old nature sometimes draws us in the old direction. Two different laws at play within us, but if our focus is on Jesus, and our reliance is in Him and not ourselves, and the desire of our hearts is to be obedient to His will, we are progressively transformed into His image, even though we still have that old nature within us. Is this obedience that we now walk in always perfect? Are we always holy as God is holy? The answer is no, just like Israel in the Old Testament, we are not. BUT . . . God’s answer to addressing our old nature has now been addressed by Jesus, when He hung on that cross, for our sins and paid the price that we owed, for us. AND . . . because Jesus paid that price and rose again, showing that God accepted His sacrifice for us, and because Jesus now lives, we also shall live. “Death, where is your sting.” has been realized (1 Corinthians 15:55). But then, continuing on in Romans chapter 8, Paul continues to break it down for us further in Romans 8:3-8. Read it, it’s right there. The mind set on the Spirit is life and peace. That doesn’t mean that the conflict ends, it means that the imperfect fruit of that conflict has changed course. We are no longer slaves to sin. Our path has been changed to being slaves of righteousness, God’s righteousness, which is found and realized in Jesus. Romans 8:9 through 11, breaks it down even further. If the body still didn’t have that old nature, to sin, it wouldn’t need to die, but it does. Verses 12-17 breaks it down even further. Notice who this is addressed to, the brothers and sisters of the Church of believers in Rome. Our obligation has now changed, we have a new course to follow, via the Spirit and not the flesh. It’s still there, still focused on self, but our inner focus has changed, now we have fixed our eyes on Jesus. Excuses fall to the wayside, obedience becomes our new norm, progressively, revealingly, continually. We are being changed into His image. The journey starts here and ends when we are completely changed into His image, when we see Jesus face to face. In the twinkling of an eye. Paul shares with us God’s reasoning, the objective, behind all that has been spoken of previously, in verses 20-21, which reads as follows: “For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” I’d like to paraphrase this to “so that we might see and willingly move back to our dependency in and on God”. Romans 8:18-25 speaks of that which we yet hope for, the redemption of our bodies, instantly changed from what they are to what they will be. And this is a hope that we hold onto by faith, because we have not received this “bodily redemption” yet. In verses 26-39, Paul speaks of our ultimate victory and the assurance we have in Christ and Paul literally covers everything. In chapters 9 through 11, Paul then shifts his focus to Israel and then from 12 to 15 Paul expounds upon dedicated service, being subject to government, our conscience and self-denial for others. His letter to the Roman Church was no small accomplishment!
So why did I write this particular post?
Because becoming perfect, while in these bodies is not the reality, it is not the real objective, that God lays before us. It wasn’t for Israel and it isn’t for us. Consider also when Jesus forgave the woman caught in adultery and said to her (John 8:11) “I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on do not sin any longer.” Do you think that was a viable option for her? Did Jesus know this? Yes He did, but He said it anyway. Why? Because Jesus knew that she also needed to depend on Him and her trying not to sin any longer would or should bring her to that conclusion. Even with God’s Holy Spirit within us, because we live in these bodies, we still will be imperfect, precisely because of these bodies. That’s not to say that becoming more like Jesus is a goal that we put down or ignore, we should always be seeking to be holy like God is. But the expectation of accomplishing that, completely, while we are in these bodies, is unrealistic. I believe the true goal that God lays out before us is to recognize God for who He is, Holy, and place our trust and faith in Him, to bring to completion, that which He has begun in us. And that is exactly what God did and does, through His Son Jesus. But while in these bodies, we still wait for the promised redemption of these bodies. Are we to continually seek to walk in the Spirit, absolutely! Is our expectation realistic that we will always be successful? I don’t think it is.
Do we still sin? Yes we do. Every single day. Some sins may be intentional and some not intentional, yet we still sin. Consider Hebrews 12:1-3 where it mentions the sin that so easily entangles. Consider the fact that the body that Jesus walked in was not fathered by Joseph, but was brought about by God’s Holy Spirit.
I should clarify what I am NOT saying. I am not advocating that we deliberately sin. I am not advocating that we stop trying to be holy. I am not advocating that we cease trying to continually walk in the Spirit. Those are unquestionably our continual goals. Each and every one of these goals will bring each of us to the realization that we still fall short and confirms yet once again, our absolute dependency in God. But our expectations need to be brought into line with the reality that lives within us. If only our absolute perfection is the requirement, none of us will see God. Jesus met that requirement, we don’t, that is why Jesus is our righteousness. That is why Jesus is Lord.
Each and every one of us is different, not one of us is exactly the same as someone else, be it our thoughts, the words we speak or the reasons behind why we do what we do. Very few of us are exactly at the same stage or level in Christian maturity in the Lord, as others. I do know that God looks at our hearts. He knows what I do not know, He sees what I do not always see and He and He alone knows what our hearts rest in. I also know that the Apostle Paul and I are not even on the same ball field. I savour what he says because I look up to him, as a model of what I would hope to be.
And then there are these words of the Apostle Paul to consider as recorded in Philippians 3:12 NASB “Not that I have already grasped it all or have already become perfect, but I press on if I may also take hold of that for which I was even taken hold of by Christ Jesus.” If Paul can say that, I think we can too. God knows our hearts, whether we are earnestly striving to become more like Him. Whether we are striving to follow God’s will and whether we rest and hope in Him. We are told in God’s Word, to press on, even if we slip, even if we fall, we get back up and we recommit ourselves to being more like Him rather than less like Him. We don’t go back, we more forward. And somehow, I believe, if we are focused on Jesus, that is all that God asks us to do.
I wrote this because it grieves me when I see the expectations that we sometimes place on ourselves and also others. I like Paul, haven’t grasped it all, and I like Paul have not already become perfect. Truth be known, probably not even close. But I do know in whom I trust and I do know on whom I depend. And it is enough.
Worthy is the Lamb! Blessings!