Is “keeping the law” the same as sinless, perfect obedience?

Obviously not, but here is what is true:

  1. Everyone sins.
  2. God must punish sin.
  3. Sin is a failure to obey God’s will.

A fourth point could be added to this: Sometimes God’s revealed will is referred to as God’s law.

But if we strike through the “sometimes” we can come to this elegant and false conclusion: It is impossible for anyone to claim to have kept God’s law.

But it is hardly honors God’s law to insist on such a point. For the Law also says:

Abraham obeyed my voice and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.
(Genesis 26:5 ESV)

And if you will walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments, as your father David walked, then I will lengthen your days.”
(1 Kings 3:14 ESV)

Moses and Aaron were among his priests,
Samuel also was among those who called upon his name.
They called to the LORD, and he answered them.
In the pillar of the cloud he spoke to them;
they kept his testimonies
and the statute that he gave them.
(Psalm 99:6-7 ESV)

I am a sojourner on the earth;
hide not your commandments from me!
My soul is consumed with longing
for your rules at all times.
You rebuke the insolent, accursed ones,
who wander from your commandments.
Take away from me scorn and contempt,
for I have kept your testimonies.
Even though princes sit plotting against me,
your servant will meditate on your statutes.
Your testimonies are my delight;
they are my counselors.
(Psalm 119:19-24 ESV)

In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, of the division of Abijah. And he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord.
(Luke 1:5-6 ESV)

So the position of the Bible is that the Law of God can be kept by believers who sin. It does not demand sinless perfection as a condition for being right with God.

This only makes sense since the Law of God commands all people to trust in Christ alone for justification, sanctification, and eternal life.

Of course, it is still the case that God must punish sin. God cannot simply overlook it. God can only forgive our sins because Jesus suffered and died. God can only regard us as righteous or just if we are included in the justification Jesus received at his resurrection (1 Timothy 3.16). Justice “will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification” (Romans 4:24-25 ESV). The three propositions listed above are indeed at the heart of the Bible’s teachings as well as of Protestant teaching.

But the insistence on the terminology of “God’s law” needs more attention.

All this become highly important in interpreting Romans or Galatians. For example, consider Galatians 3.10:

For all who rely on  are of the works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them (Galatians 3:10 ESV, corrected).

There are current debates about what this means and why some people are under a curse. I’m not going to contribute to that debate, except to point out that those arguing for the common and traditional idea that Paul is claiming that people are cursed because no one can perfectly keep the Law need to admit to the problems with that argument. How could Paul claim and convince people who knew the Scriptures that this was how the Law was supposed to function?

There may be ways to substantiate the traditional view, but what I have seen thus far makes me think that people don’t want to really admit the difficulties with the view. Nor do they seem willing to acknowledge that other views could be compatible with the three points listed above. One must either insist that the law demands perfect obedience as a condition of acceptance with God or must claim that God is soft on sin. This simply is not a reasonable dilemma.

Here is an essay that, while not addressing the interpretation of 3.10 specifically, provides a good framework for looking at the message of Galatians.

RELATED: Who has kept the Law?

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