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What We Can't Do, He Already Did

posted Aug 4, 2016, 2:20 PM by Kelly Griffin
A rowdy friend of Mark Twain once announced, “Before I die I’m going to climb Mt. Sinai and read the Ten Commandments aloud at the top.” Twain replied, “I’ve a better idea. You could stay home in Boston and keep them!”

Is it good to keep the Ten Commandments? Of course – good for all of us. But there’s a deeper question. Can a person make peace with God by keeping them? Is that the way to eternal life? Most people think that’s what the Bible teaches. Actually, it warns against such thinking. “For all who rely on works of the law [Ten Commandments] 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’” (Gal 3:10). In other words, “If you choose to approach God by keeping the Law, all you have to do is – be perfect!”

That’s why Jesus said things like: “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:20). And, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt 5:48). That’s a pretty high standard. That’s an impossible standard.

The fact is, we don’t break the Law, the Law breaks us. I have a cousin who loved hang-gliding. It was a lot of fun – right up until the moment when a wind shear stalled his glider and he plunged 100 feet to the ground. He survived only after six painful months of recovery. He didn’t break the law of gravity. The law of gravity remains intact to this day. But the law of gravity broke him.

So it is with God’s Law. We don’t “break” it. It remains in force because it is not just a random collection of “dos and don’ts”. It is a statement of God’s holy character! We don’t break it, but it breaks us. So is there no hope of us engaging with a perfect God? Yes, there is hope. But the hope is in God, not in us.

That’s what the Law is telling us. You can’t – but He can! What God demands, God provides. “Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith” (Gal 3:24). When God gave the Law, He also gave a sacrificial system. Grace! He was saying, “I know and you know you can’t keep this Law. So here’s your solution. A sacrificial substitute to pay your penalty.” And since everyone knows no sacrificial lamb could actually remove guilt, those lambs were pointing to a greater, ultimate Lamb who would come later.

And come He did! John the Baptist pointed to Jesus of Nazareth one day and said, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). The symbol had become reality which is why after dictating an impossible standard, Jesus pointed to this solution: “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life (John 5:24).

The solution could never be my righteousness; it’s always been His righteousness. He lived the life I could not live and paid the penalty I could not pay, so by grace through faith (Eph 2:8) I could have the life I could never earn. That’s the gospel.

A man went to buy a 47-cent stamp from a vending machine one day, but encountered two signs. The first read: “This machine takes exact change only.” The second read: “No pennies!”

God’s Law presents us with the same impossible challenge. But what we can’t do, He’s already done. It’s just up to us to accept it by grace through faith.

Dave McNeff is Pastor of Eaton Congregational Church, a member of the Conservative Congregational Christian Conference,

Published in the Tribune on July 9, 2016.