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Catechism Class – Lord’s Day 44B


Can we perfectly keep the commandments, and if not, why are we required by God to Preach the Law?

Simul Justis et Peccator.

Text.  Philippians 3:12-14. 

The Catechist has walked us through the Ten Commandments explaining and expounding upon their meaning, comparing them with other Biblical passages and applying them in a very practical manner to our own lives.  But before we can leave the subject of the Law of God, there is a serious problem, that we ought to address.  How many of us can say, as Christians, that we have perfectly kept the law?  

The Catechist deals with this in Q114 and 115.  Let’s look at Q114 first.

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1 Can We Keep the Commandments

Q114 But can those converted to God keep these commandments perfectly?  A. No. In this life even the holiest have only a small beginning of this obedience. Nevertheless, with earnest purpose they do begin to live not only according to some but to all the commandments of God. 

Certainly the law is perfect, and if we could keep it perfectly, we would be able to be perfect in the sight of the Lord.  Psalm 19:7   But there was only One Person in the while of human history who could keep the law, perfectly, and He was God’s sinless Son, Jesus.  Even when we are converted, we still are unable to keep the law.  The catechist is firm in his belief that we are sinners, and we will never achieve perfection in this life.  He teaches us:-

No matter how holy or close to the Lord we become, the most faithful of believers, the most enthusiastic prayer warriors, the most circumspect Christian, will slip, and fail and let the Lord down.  The best of us, as believers are still well short of perfection.  Ecclesiastes 7:20   In Romans 7, Paul examines himself, as a Christian, and he confesses,  Romans 7:14-15 For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin. 15 For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do.   1 John 1:8  To say that you have not sinned is a sin!  Romans 7:22  

But we do have within us the Holy Spirit, and that’s what makes us very different from unbelievers.  We recognise sin when it occurs and we learn to avoid those sins. The catechist says it will take ‘earnest patience’ for us to learn to live by even some of the Laws of God.  We will have to work hard at it, all the way through our lives, as long as we are in this sinful flesh we inhabit.  There is no magic bullet to make you holy, or sanctified, or cleansed, or filled, no amount of praise, no supernatural experience, no spiritual baptism, no higher life…. Just get on with it, live the life and seek after godliness. 

Psalm 1:1-2,  (Tune: Creator)

1 Blessed is the one who turns away
from where the wicked walk,
Who does not stand in sinners’ paths
or sit with those who mock.

2 Instead he finds God’s holy law
his joy and great delight;
He makes the precepts of the LORD
his study day and night.

3 He prospers ever like a tree
that’s planted by a stream,
And in due season yields its fruit;
its leaves are always green.

4 Not so the wicked! They are like
the chaff that’s blown away.
5 They will not stand when judgment comes
or with the righteous stay.

6 It is the LORD who sees and knows
the way the righteous go,
But those who live an evil life
the LORD will overthrow.

Martin Luther has a phrase to describe this situation, where a person is at one time a sinner, yet at the very same time a saint.  He called it ‘Simul Justis et Peccator.’  Simultaneously, we are both sinners and saints.  We are justified before God, even though we are prone to sin, and temptation.  That’s because our relationship with God doesn’t depend on MY righteousness, but on Christ’s Righteousness.  At the Cross, Jesus took upon himself MY SIN, but he also imputed to me HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS. – we are CLOTHED in the Righteousness of Christ. 2 Corinthians 5:21  So when God who is thrice holy looks upon a sinner like me, he sees the righteousness of Jesus, whose perfect obedience fulfilled the Law for me.  RC Sproule explains this very simply… “In and of ourselves, under the analysis of God’s scrutiny, we still have sin; we’re still sinners. But, by imputation and by faith in Jesus Christ, whose righteousness is now transferred to our account, then we are considered just or righteous. This is the very heart of the gospel.”*

2 Why Preach the Law?

So we are faced with an obvious question.  If we cannot hope to attain perfection in this life, we do we preach the law?  What teach children the Ten Commandments?  And why do we preach the Law with such sternness?  This brings our instructor to Q115. 

Q115. If in this life no one can keep the ten commandments perfectly, why does God have them preached so strictly?  There are two reasons,…

  1. To make us conscious of our sinful nature.  First, so that throughout our life we may more and more become aware of our sinful nature, and therefore seek more eagerly the forgiveness of sins and righteousness in Christ. 
  2. To create in us a spiritual desire for perfection.  Second, so that, while praying to God for the grace of the Holy Spirit, we may never stop striving to be renewed more and more after God’s image, until after this life we reach the goal of perfection. 

We commonly speak of the ‘three uses of the law.’  

  • The law teaches us that we are sinners and brings us under conviction so that we can repent of those sins and be forgiven.  How would you even know that God was displeased with your thoughts and actions, if they law had not taught you?  Romans 3:19  
  • The law is our standard, what we aim for in our Christian life and character.  1 Corinthians 9:24   1 John 3:2  
  • The law is the basis of how a godly society should be ordered.  

So, while we are well aware of our own shortcomings, our failures as Christians, our sins of omission and commission, we enthusiastically read and preach the Law, bringing ourselves under its tutelage, and repenting when we become aware that we have broken it.  Psalm 32:7  I acknowledged my sin to You, And my iniquity I have not hidden. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,” And You forgave the iniquity of my sin.   1 John 1:9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

In our next lesson, with the help of our instructor, we shall see why prayer is an important part of the Christian life, the true nature of prayer, and what our prayers should include.   

© BobMcEvoy December 2020


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