Does regeneration mean we are now able to “keep” God’s Law?

Have you ever heard a Christian say, “Now that we’re regenerated, we can keep God’s Law”?  I have.  Usually this is based on the new covenant promise of Jeremiah 31.   In fact, I’ve heard well-meaning Reformed believers say such.  Is such an idea true / biblical / Reformed?  Well, it all depends on what you mean by “keep.”

The following is from a sabbatical report to my session in August of 2010.  I used my (much-appreciated) sabbatical to think, among other things, about the Law & Gospel hermeneutic in Lutheran & Reformed theological traditions.  (This is when I really began to “love-me-my-Lutherans” for their clarity on Law & Gospel – a biblical & Reformational heritage we Reformed need to recover and reemphasize once again for the sake of the church.)

I have heard some Reformed folk say to this effect, sometimes alluding to Jeremiah 31: “Because we have the Holy Spirit, we are now able to keep the Law.”  Indeed, our regeneration causes us to love the Law we once hated.  It reveals to us not only God’s perfect will for our lives, but the beautiful & holy character of the God who has redeemed us – even God incarnate, Jesus, the perfect image of God in not only His divinity, but His humanity [as the perfectly righteous Law-keeper].   The Law shows us the image in which God created us and to which He is progressively conforming us in Christ – and to which He will fully conform us in our glorification.  In short, the Law is the standard & goal of our sanctification, but not the means of our sanctification.  Our obedience is never perfected in this life, and the Law always reveals our sin.  We are still sinners, and thus our best works (graciously wrought in us by the Holy Spirit and acceptable to God only through Christ’s mediation for us) are tainted by our sin – as Scripture makes clear in places like Isaiah 64:6, Romans 7:13-25 & Galatians 5:16-18 and the Reformed faith consequently confesses (for example, see WCF 16.4-6 and HC 114 & 115).

So as you can see, I am convinced the biblical & Reformed answer is “no” – not if you mean “keep God’s Law the way God intended it to be kept, i.e., perfectly.”  Regenerated Christians should have no confidence in themselves and their works – and all confidence in their crucified Redeemer who is their righteousness.  It is this Christ-centered faith which then works through love.  You think less about your “performance.”  You are completely justified by God’s deliciously free grace, and therefore freed from the despair-inducing demand of perfection from the Law.

So stop looking into the mirror of the Law for God’s approval.  You will either deny the ugly, sinful reflection you see staring back at you – or you will once again despair of ever pleasing God with your ugly mug.  Look instead into the mirror of the Gospel and see the perfect righteousness of Christ staring back at you.  You are justified in Him.  He is your righteousness.  God is well-pleased with you, as you are united by faith to His Beloved Son.  As a result, you are free.  You can forget about yourself, and quit your narcissistic obsession about how you look before God and others.  You can begin to give yourself more fully to your neighbor in love – to the glory of God.  And lo and behold, by means of the Gospel, the Holy Spirit generates the fruit of self-giving love – the essence of God’s holy Law.

2 thoughts on “Does regeneration mean we are now able to “keep” God’s Law?

  1. I think that some of the confusion comes from the different ways we use “able”. We are able to keep the law in the sense that it is not physically impossible. God does not command us to do things that would be physically impossible, such as jump over the Empire State Building. But there is also the idea of what is morally possible– what can I want to do? The unregenerate person is morally unable to keep the law– they don’t want to. Those who are regenerate and being sanctified are morally able to keep the law at some times: “posse non pecare”. But we are not morally able to keep the law at all times, because we are changeable in our desires.

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  2. Thanks for your comment, dwsnoke. I’m placing the accent on “keep.” What does it mean to truly “keep” God’s Law, in the way that God intends? God intends for us to love Him with the totality of our being, and to love our neighbor as ourselves, 24/7/365. The law is spiritual, but we are unspiritual (in our flesh), as Paul says in Romans 7. He’s speaking as a regenerate man there (at least that’s the classic Reformed understanding). We can indeed keep the outward duty of the Law – and as Christians, we are motivated to do so out of sincere gratitude for God’s grace to us in Christ. But only Jesus has truly “kept” God’s Law perfectly – and that is our only righteousness before God. We NEVER completely and perfectly keep any of God’s commandments. That’s the classic Reformed understanding, as articulated, for example, in Heidelberg 60. We will only be perfectly “posse non pecare” in our glorified state.

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