Afternoon Sermon: Is Any Man Able Perfectly To Keep The Commandments Of God? Baptist Catechism 87

Baptist Catechism 87

Q. 87. Is any man able perfectly to keep the commandments of God?

A. No mere man, since the fall, is able in this life, perfectly to keep the commandments of God, but daily break them in thought, word, or deed. (Eccles. 7:20; Gen. 6:5; Gen. 8:21; 1 John 1:8; James 3:8; James 3:2; Rom. 3:23)

Scripture Reading: 1 John 1:5–10

“This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” (1 John 1:5–10, ESV)

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Please excuse any typos and misspellings within this manuscript. It has been published online for the benefit of the saints of Emmaus Reformed Baptist Church but without the benefit of proofreading.

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Did you know that we spent 23 weeks considering God’s moral law? 

First, we learned that God’s moral law was written on the heart of man at the time of creation. 

Next, we learned that the Ten Commandments are a summary of God’s moral law.   

After that, we learned that the sum of the Ten Commandments is to “love the Lord our God, with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our strength, and with all our mind; and our neighbor as ourselves.”

And then we proceeded to consider each one of the Ten Commandments, what it is that they require and forbid. 

As we progressed through our study it became clear that the first four commandments have to do with our relationship to God. What are the first four commandments?

  1. You shall have no other gods before me. 
  2. You shall not make for yourself a carved image.
  3. You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain.  
  4. Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 

The first four commandments have to do with our relationship to God, and the last six have to do with our relationship with our fellow man. What are commandments five through ten?    

  1. Honor your father and mother. 
  2. You shall not murder.
  3. You shall not commit adultery.
  4. You shall not steal. 
  5. You shall not bear false witness.
  6. You shall not covet. 

And where are these Ten Commandments found? Two places: Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5.

It is so very important for us to know these Ten Commandments, brothers and sisters. 

Yes, there are some things said in these Ten Commandments that were unique to Old Covenant Israel. 

One, Israel was to rest and worship on the seventh day. We are to honor the Sabbath day on the first day of the week because Christ is risen. The abiding moral law is that one day in seven is to be set apart as holy to the Lord. But the day itself is ceremonial and symbolic. A Sabbath keeping remains for the people of God, but the day has changed.

Two, what is said after the second commandment regarding God “visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments”, has also changed. In Old Covenant Israel physical descent meant a lot. To descend from Abraham physically meant that you were a part of the Old Covenant. Men and women were born into the Old Covenant, therefore. And this Covenant has sanctions attached to it. If the people obeyed God they would be blessed in the land. If they disobeyed God, they would be cursed and vomited out of the land. And because of this, the fathers would sin and their children would pay the price. But it is not so under the New Covenant. No one is born into the New Covenant. To partake of the New Covenant one must be born again and have faith in the Messiah. This generational principle has melted away, therefore. Jeremiah the prophet spoke of this change ahead of time when he spoke of the newness of the New Covenant. In Jeremiah 31:29 we read, “In those days they shall no longer say: ‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.’ But everyone shall die for his own iniquity. Each man who eats sour grapes, his teeth shall be set on edge” (Jeremiah 31:29–30, ESV). If anyone tells you that there are “generational curses” in the New Covenant you should warn them that they have believed false teaching and are demeaning the power of Christ and the salvation that he has earned for us by his death and resurrection. 

So whenever we read the Ten Commandments we should remember that they are indeed a summary of God’s moral law (which does not change), but there are these two things mentioned which were unique to Old Covenant Israel:  The seventh-day Sabbath (which corresponded to the Covenant of Works), and the principle of national guilt. 

God’s law is good. Amen?

But remember what Paul wrote to Timothy: “Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully…” (1 Timothy 1:8, ESV). 

That is a big “if”.  

Whenever we handle God’s law we must remember that it is possible to misuse it. The law is good, but it is easy to misuse. And when it is misused, that which is good becomes bad. 

And how is God’s law misused? It is misused when men and women think that they can stand before God as righteous by the keeping of it. 

This error is so very common. All of the religions of the world with the exception of orthodox Christianity make this error. They believe that they will stand right before God on the last day because of their good works and obedience.  Many who are non-religious make the same mistake too. They reason like this: If God exists then he will accept me because I am good. But this is a grave mistake. Those who think this way have not understood what God requires of them. They think they are righteous but they are not.  

So common is this error that Paul Apostle calls it the stumbling stone. In Romans 9:30 he says, “What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith; but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone…” (Romans 9:30–32, ESV). What is the stumbling stone? It is the false notion that men and women may stand before God right by keeping the law. The scriptures say otherwise. The scriptures teach us (from Genesis 3 onward) that the only way to be right before God is by the grace of God and through faith in the Savior that God has provided.

As we studied the Ten Commandments I tried to remind you of this over and over again. God’s law is good but be very careful not to misuse it! 

God’s law is good because it is used by the LORD to restrain evil in the world today. 

God’s law is good because it functions as a light to the feet of the faithful as they sojourn in this world. It shows us the way that we should go, it makes us wise and is used by the Lord to sanctify us further in Christ Jesus.

And God’s law is good because the Spirit of God uses it to convict us of sin and to cause us to flee to Jesus for refuge from the wrath of God which our sins deserve. God used the law to drive us to Christ initially, and God uses his law to drive us to Christ continuously. 

1 John 1 warns us of the stumbling stone, doesn’t it? “ If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” And John does also exhort us to run to Jesus for refuge, saying, “ If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:8-9, ESV)

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Baptist Catechism 87

Notice that our catechism also guards us against trusting in our own righteousness. Immediately after a long consideration of God’s moral law, our catechism asks, “Is any man able perfectly to keep the commandments of God?” The answer is very helpful. “No mere man, since the fall, is able in this life, perfectly to keep the commandments of God, but daily break them in thought, word, or deed.”

Notice a few things, briefly:

One, notice the word “mere”. “No mere man… is able in this life, perfectly to keep the commandments of God…” Why the word “mere”? It is to leave room for the obvious exception of Jesus Christ. He was a man, and he did perfectly keep the commandments of God. But he was no mere man, was he?

Two, notice the phrase “since the fall.” Why this phrase? It is a matter of precision. Adam before the fall was able to perfectly keep the commandments of God, but he was also able to sin, and this he did. Now the children of Adam are born in sin and with corrupt natures. We sin because we are in Adam. 

Three, notice that the catechism does not say that we are not able to keep the commandments of God at all. That is not true. Those who are in Christ do in fact have the ability to obey God from the heart, for they have been renewed. Corruptions remain though. And so it is true. “No mere man, since the fall, is able in this life, perfectly to keep the commandments of God…” 

Four, notice the phrase “in this life”. With these three little words we are reminded of the life to come and the fact that in the life to come we will no longer be able to sin if we are in Christ Jesus. Lord Jesus, come quickly!

Fifth, and lastly, notice the phrase “but daily break them in thought, word, or deed.” If we understand what God’s law requires of us and what it forbids then we will confess that not a day passes wherein we do not violate God’s holy law in some way. It may be that we violate it in deed, in word, or in thought. Certainly, all will confess that we daily fail to love God as he deserves, and also our neighbor as yourself. 

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Conclusion 

Aren’t you grateful for Jesus Christ? 

Isn’t God’s grace truly marvelous?

Yes, our appreciation for the love of God in Christ Jesus will grow as we consider the gospel. But the gospel can only be truly understood and appreciated when we see it against the dark backdrop of God’s law and our violation of it in thought, word, and deed. 

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