Impossible Commands

There are one of two ways a guy can approach commands like “be holy,” “be perfect” and “be merciful” with God as our example.

1) Legalism. OH, OK, no problem. I’ll get right on that. I’ll memorize Scripture and do everything it says and point out how you don’t. Got it.

2) Licentiousness. Hey, I can’t do that. But I’m under grace, God forgives me so who cares! Whoohoo party time! Let us sin that grace may abound!

Scripture has a problem with both approaches. Surely there is another way.

Illustration: A little league player asks his coach “Coach, what’s the point of being up to bat?” Coach says, “There’s only one reason for batting: get on base.”

When this little league batter strikes out, does the coach kick him off the team? “You’re horrible! Don’t you ever listen to me? I said to get on base!”

Is he giving him an impossible standard that will doom him to eternal cubdom? Should all prospective little leaguers say, “You know, that really doesn’t seem worth it. That coach says I’m supposed to get on base every time, I can’t do that. Never mind.”

Here’s the point: What’s God supposed to say? “Hey guys, I know you’re sinners, nothing I can do about that. Just muddle in mediocrity. Shoot for being slightly better than Judas.”

Trying to do something that is impossible is pretty much life on earth, from little league baseball to making the perfect kitchen table to having the perfect conversation with your wife to spiritual perfection.

We look unto Jesus, He’s who we are being formed into. Our goal, our desire, and our command is to be like Him as much as possible even now. That’s why we’re told to be perfect, to be holy and to be merciful: that’s what Christ is.

It is also what we are becoming through the power of the Holy Spirit and the renewing power of God’s grace if we indeed decide to labor in that direction.

14 thoughts on “Impossible Commands”

  1. I agree! We all have our strong points and our weak ones. Our job is to strengthen the good and mature ones, and allow Jesus to take care of the weak ones. Faithful is He who called tou, Who will also do it!!

  2. I would agree we need a standard to attain to, a water mark of moral value. But people really need good news, and not good advice. In hearing the gospel we are called to believe, and not to behave. The spirit within us draws to perfection in Christ, not out of duty, but out of love.

  3. Barry — LOL

    Excellent article again, Jeff. When are you coming to Australia to convert all us colonial heathen types???

  4. I disagree.

    That Sermon on the Mount was not meant to spur us on…but to kill us off.

    It was meant to lay down the law and lay it down hard.

    That after hearing it we would have no place to go (to our efforts, to our seriousness, to our righteousness)…but to Him and Him alone.

    And then we hear the gospel. The leper approaches him (right after the Sermon on the Mount) and lepers were figured to be the least righteous of all, and he says , “Jesus, heal me if you will.” Jesus says, “I will.” That’s the law/gospel paradigm.

    Law that condemns and kills, then gospel that forgives and raises again.

    To preach the SoM as something that we can handle, ot to just do the best we can, keeps the Old Man/Woman alive and creates pride and self -righteousness, or phoniness, or despair.

    This is a huge mistake made by preachers all the time.

    It puts the onus, the focus on us and what we do, instead of Christ and what He has done, is doing, and will yet do.


  5. The law is not a bad thing, but it’s a mirror we gaze into that shows us the imperfections within us. The law reveals our death, not because of an evil intention, but because of it’s ability to expose our hearts. Because of the law, I know of my complete sinfulness. I stand before God guilty, and condemned. But the good news of the Kingdom of God is, we are no longer under the penalty of the law. We now have a redeemer, one who has purchased us from the power of the law to kill. And that’s good news. indeed.

  6. The problem still remains then: why are we told to do things then? Why does Paul say to perfect holiness? Why are we told to be perfect? Why are we told to be holy? Why are we told to be merciful? To say this is letting us know we can’t seems to rip things out of context.

    To me the view is both: this is what Christ made me: now I will do this. If we are dead to sin why do we live in it? We act on what we are in Christ. To say we can’t do good is to have to throw out most of the Bible which tells us we can, makes God very deceptive, and leads to weak-kneed lives of faith.

    Living by faith means doing what I cannot do. I trust in Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit to work in me to accomplish the things He wants me to do: His good and perfect will, which is possible by me doing it.

    I appreciate your desire to point out mistakes preachers make all the time, however, maybe they are consistent for a reason: Paul constantly says in the pastoral epistles that a primary function of pastors is to convince people to maintain good works, to grow into the perfect man Christ Jesus. Doing good works does not keep the old man alive; doing flesh stuff keeps it alive (Col. 3). Categorically saying that doing good is really sin and actually keeps your old nature alive, misses the point and trivializes many scriptures. On judgment day the onus IS one us. Every judgment is based on works.

    There is still personal responsibility. Salvation never leads to, “OK, I’ll wait here then. I’ll just sit because I can’t sin and I can’t do good so I’ll just wait for heaven.” To whom much is given much is required. I dare say we’ve been given much in Christ, I imagine much will be required of us.

  7. Nobody (a believer )says, “I’m just gonna sit here and wait.”

    The Holy Spirit works His will in us. “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion…”

    What is it to ‘DO’ the work of the Father (they asked Jesus.

    “Believe in the one whom the Father has sent.” Jesus said.

    It’s a matter of emphasis.

    You can say, all day long, that “we are saved by grace, through faith ,not of works lest anyone should boast”… but then you can one time that ‘real Christians ought be doung X,Y, and Z, and you now have placed a drop of poison in the glass of pure water. Now no part of that water is fit to drink.

    Christian encouragement is fine (St. Paul does this), but specifics, ‘you must do this, you need to do that’ can be a dicey proposition.

    Then you give the gospel with one hand, and take it away with the other.

    Try and find a book by Gerhard Forde titled ‘Justification, and matter of Death and Life’. It speaks about our sanctification being a matter of “getting used to our justification”.

    It really goes a long way in battling ‘Christian schizophrenia’ – I’m considered righteous by Christ, but I just never feel as though I have arrived.’

    Thanks, my friends.

  8. Could we sum up the commands to be Holy, perfect, and merciful, as to strive to be like Christ? Is our efforts to be “perfect” to be self glorifying, or to be reflection of Christ to others? Am I working on my own behalf, or am I working for Christ’s. The encouragement to have these attributes working in our lives, is to be a sign to unbelievers. It’s not for our benefit to have works evident in our lives only, but it’s for the advancement of the Kingdom.

  9. After reading these comments, I come to the an understanding of why there is such an emphisis Paul puts on Fighting the Good Fight of Faith. We have to rely on Jesus all the time! He is our Victory!

  10. “Did that which is good, then, become death to me? By no means! But in order that sin might be recognized as sin, it produced death in me through what was good, so that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful.

    “We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

    “So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!

    “So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.” (Romans 7:13-25)

    theoldadam — it’s easy to coach the team from those cheap seats way up the back! “This is a mistake preachers make all the time” is a criticism that should only ever proceed from the mouth of one who actually IS called to teach the flock. Uunless you are … ssshhhh!

    Now to the Scripture: Paul says there are a couple of things at work right at the same time, here. Our bodies (which will die as a result of sin despite our salvation and Scriptures telling us we’ll never die) CONTINUE to be bound by the Law and must therefore continue their journey to eventual destruction. Our newly born spirit, on the other hand, is free from the Law in this sense and thus may inhabit the corrupt body while at the same time looking forward to an incorrupt one in glory.

    IMHO we modern-day humans tend to want everything broken down into little obvious bites. Even Scripture says that some of the apostles’ teachings are hard and difficult to understand. Viva!

    Christ was both God and man; God is at once one and three; and we are at the same time walking dead and alive in Christ. I therefore have no difficulty with “be holy, perfect and/or merciful as I [God] am” because this is not an either/or situation.

  11. Andrew,

    As a Christian, I have every right to defend the gospel and the clear teaching of Scripture. That includes critiqing preachers who confuse people (and themselves) with a misunderstanding of law and gospel.

    If more people would take the time to point out areas where these prachers could improve, then maybe we wouldn’t have so many self-righteous, phonie, or despairing Christians running around.

    I don’t point out these things to say, ‘I am better than they’, but only that we can see how watering God’s law and His gospel down is doing a great diservice to the church.

  12. Sure, theoldadam whatever.

    I’m always fascinated how “defenders of the Gospel” such as yourself are always so certain that their own interpretation of Scripture is “clear” and correct while those who are called by God to preach/teach and are held accountable by eldership (or other denominational body, as appropriate) always seem to be “watering down the Gospel”.

    Almost without exception you guys seem to be above review and/or accountability, yet you impose your own views on others who hold to another understanding with no room for discussion.

    I am so over this antinomianism. It nearly killed me and my family, our church, and it certainly put an end to our ministry. If you want “more people to take the time to point out areas where … preachers could improve” then step up to the plate, submit yourself to biblical review and accountability, and then open your own preaching up to the same level of scrutiny.

  13. Preaching the law in order to convict of sin, and so that we get along together in society (what I advocate) is not antinomian.

    In fact, we preach the law harder, more uncompromisingly.

    The ones that water it down are the ones that do not understand the depth of our sinfulness.

    They put people on a “religious treadmill” wherein the believer never quite “arrives” and is always wondering if he/she has done enough.

    That’s no good. Preach the law hard (to kill off) and then hand Christ over with no strings. The Holy Spirit will go to work for those that have ears to hear. They won’t need to be goaded into ‘doing good’ by the law (which will only be a filty rag anyway).

    I am not above criticism, and I do not always get everything right. But I do know what the gospel is.

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