Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Is it "not too hard" to avoid sin?

If anyone is without sin they can get into heaven. If anyone was to obey the law fully, not sinning even once they could earn their way into heaven. But no one can do that due to fallen human nature. It is impossible for anyone to earn their way to heaven because we are fallen. Thus came Christ and he was sinless and his sinlessness is imputed to us if we believe.


At least, that's a widely taught view.
But what then do we do with passages such as Deuteronomy 30 - where Moses announces that the law isn't too difficult to keep?

11 Surely, this commandment that I am commanding you today is not too hard for you, nor is it too far away. 12 It is not in heaven, that you should say, "Who will go up to heaven for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?" 13 Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, "Who will cross to the other side of the sea for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?" 14 No, the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe. 15 See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. 16 If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. 17 But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, 18 I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. 19 I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, 20 loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the Lord swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. (Deut 30:11-20)


Is the law impossible to keep or isn't it? Moses seems to think it is eminently keepable... "it is not too hard for you" (30:11). In light of this is it reasonable to challenge some of the assumptions implicit in the statements of doctrine above? Should we strive to find ways of understanding Paul's thought that avoids contradiction with Moses?

9 Comments:

Blogger john chandler said...

Good thoughts. I started to respond here, but it was getting too long, so I posted a response on my blog: http://www.subvergence.org/wordpress/index.php?p=155

21/12/04  
Blogger Nathan said...

I would tend to disagree with the paragraph, in that sin isn't about individual sins, but is a bigger problem. This might be more consistent

Could it be that to a non-sinful human (not a son of adam?) the law is easy, but humans are corrupted, so our nature makes sin a reality?

Other thought - Could it be that the instruction here applies only to this life "... so that you may live in the land that the Lord swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob." Living an upight life is possible, and this leads to God having mercy on them.

Just a couple of thoughts, for what they're worth.

21/12/04  
Blogger Andrew said...

Hi John, and welcome.

As most Jews still seem to think, the Law was not meant to show us to be imperfect, but to guide us to what full life looked like.

I think that is the answer that most Jews would have given initially. On the other hand it seems to me that Paul does seem to say that the Law was meant to show the Jews as imperfect. And then on top of that we must bear in mind that many 1st century Jews seem to have seen the law as showing the division between the Elected Israel and the unholy gentiles.

As I understand it, the promise of keeping the law was not heaven, but the benefit of a full life that would come through keeping the law.

I think you are totally correct here. As far as I can see, in neither the New or Old Testament is there any hint that anyone thought that the law had been given so that they could have something to obey in order to get into heaven. The Jewish thinking about heaven when it developed seems to have been that God would judge everyone based on "total life" (as Wright puts it) and give them whatever he reckoned they deserved based on the total summary of all their deeds, thoughts and intentions.

If the people would follow [the Pharisees'] difficult laws, then that would also mean that they follow the Law, which was actually [not] as strict. It was this corrupting of the law that Jesus came and spoke against.

Agreed. Jesus is often depicted criticising the Pharisees for putting extra loads on people's backs, or for trivially disobeying the law by eating grain on the sabbath. But I think this is just part of a wider idea, which you may not have fully grasped, is that Jesus' point was that what matters is the intention/heart and not literal obedience to the letter of the law. It is Paul's letter vs spirit thing. What God cares about is people's hearts. He doesn't mind whether the law is observed to the letter since the true point of the law is summed up in "Love God and your neighbour". And yet the Pharisees were asking "Who is my neighbour? Just the person who lives next door, so I should go out and be extra nice to them?" They were striving for obedience to the letter and ignoring the spirit. And this is where all of Jesus' hypocrisy charges tie in: They were not right with God in spirit, even though they looked to be right because of their merticulous obedience to the letter of the law.

Paul's point like Jesus', is that being right with God in ones heart is a complete fulfillment of the law. That's what the law was trying to point us to. Thus when we are devoted to God in our hearts we paradoxically fulfil the whole law even if we do not follow its rules and regulations.

22/12/04  
Blogger Andrew said...

Hey Nath, you must be back by now from the great metropolis, come round some time.

I would tend to disagree with the paragraph, in that sin isn't about individual sins, but is a bigger problem. This might be more consistent.

That's very vague, can you elaborate?

Could it be that to a non-sinful human (not a son of adam?) the law is easy, but humans are corrupted, so our nature makes sin a reality?

That doesn't seem to be a good solution... unless Moses had momentarily confused the disobedient Israel he knew so well with sinless humanity...?

Other thought - Could it be that the instruction here applies only to this life "... so that you may live in the land that the Lord swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob." Living an upight life is possible, and this leads to God having mercy on them.

Yup, I agree with that. But then where does heaven fit into the equation?

22/12/04  
Blogger john chandler said...

But I think this is just part of a wider idea, which you may not have fully grasped, is that Jesus' point was that what matters is the intention/heart and not literal obedience to the letter of the law. It is Paul's letter vs spirit thing. What God cares about is people's hearts.I think we are in total agreement here, and this is what I was trying to say in my final paragraph. Perhaps you hadn't read that yet when you typed this, or even more likely, perhaps I didn't say it that well. :)

22/12/04  
Blogger incognito said...

Hi Andrew, it seems you have blurred the line between the Law and sin... to such an extent they are suggested to be synonymous here. Of course, they are not, as I'm sure you well know.

The law included what needed to be done in the event of sin - sacrifices etc. Thus, IMHO, one could sin and still keep the law by doing the required things to set things right again after that sin.

It seems to me God is entirely reasonable with our tendancy to sin, just as a father is patient with his son. I don't think he expects us to be perfect, and I don't think Moses was saying "it is not too hard to never sin". Rather, he said "it is not too hard to keep the Law", which, to draw the analogy, is saying it is not too hard to remain in God's family.

This is a big issue, and I've run out of motivation to write here...

27/12/04  
Blogger Andrew said...

I totally agree Reuben.

This reminds me of something I read recently which claimed that the provisions that the law makes is for unintentional sins only and that it makes no provision for intentional sin... is that true?

27/12/04  
Blogger Nathan said...

Yeah, Sorry I didn't post a reply comment. The first bit of my comment was making a similar statement to what Reuben was saying. Yeah. I don't have a lot to add now that Reuben has commented - kudos to him.

That last comment of yours is also insightful - kudos to you.

Also lacking motivation....

9/1/05  
Anonymous home equity line of credit said...

A

29/11/05  

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home