Dedicated to the devotional, exegetical and philosophical study of theological paradox in Conservative, Thoroughly Biblical, Historically Orthodox, Essentially Reformed theology . . . to the glory of God alone!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Blamelessness and the Law

One of my old posts about the Rich Young Ruler recently received an interesting challenge from a commenter. The commenter pointed out an apparent contradiction between my statement (that it is impossible for anyone to keep the Law perfectly) and Luke 1:5-6.
Luke 1:5-6 - In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah; and he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. They were both righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly [Gk. ANEMPTOS] in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord

The commenter went on to draw this conclusion:
Unless you say you can be righteous in God's sight via IMPERFECT obedience to the Law, the only reason you can give for why these two people's obedience made them righteous in God's sight, is because God regarded their obedience as perfect.
Which means Luke 1:6 proves that sinners CAN (and often did) perfectly obey the Law of Moses.
So if you find some passage by Paul that says no sinner can keep the law perfectly, you've either misunderstood, or Paul is wrong, or Luke is wrong.
I answered as follows:

 You've brought up an interesting point that deserves attention. I think there is another alternative to your either/or scenario - is it possible we commonly misunderstand the meaning of "blameless"? You defined it as perfect obedience to the law, but I'm going to make a Biblical case that this is not the true meaning. We are naturally legalistic in our thinking, so we often impute shades of meaning to Biblical words that are not actually there. Open-hearted Bible study is the cure for this, and it's a cure we all need. The Bible is a document with amazing continuity and thematic resonance throughout its pages. God doesn't make mistakes, so things that appear contradictory can't be truly contradictory, and these seeming contradictions (a.k.a. paradoxes) often lead to a deeper understanding as we work through them. We are forced to look at things the way God does, and not with our man-made ideas. If we won't to do this, we can only distrust the Bible.

The approach you have taken is probably very similar to that which was taken by the early Judaizers who opposed the apostles. The Judaizers believed obedience to the Law was the way to righteousness. The tone of the whole New Testament, and indeed the entire Bible, is actually opposite to this, as I am about to show with regard to this word, "blameless."

First, let's consider three verses from David (not generally considered a "sinlessly" righteous man or a "blameless" man in terms of keeping all the requirements of the Law).

2 Samuel 22:24 - "I was also blameless toward Him, and I kept myself from my iniquity."

NOTE: He says my iniquity. So David's blamelessness did not equal sinlessness. David describes himself as both blameless and sinful. Or, better, blameless in spite of being sinful. We can and should carry this connection over to Luke 1:5-6.

Psalm 18:32 - "The God who girds me with strength and makes my way blameless?"

NOTE: David's blamelessness did not come from his own sinlessness or observance of the Law. It came from God's direct intervention in his life. He was depending on God, not his own performance (which obviously fell short at various times in his life - yet he said he was blameless toward God).

Psalm 19:13 - Also keep back Your servant from presumptuous sins; let them not rule over me; then I will be blameless, and I shall be acquitted of great transgression.

NOTE: Here blamelessness is described in terms of forgiveness rather than perfection or Law keeping. If blamelessness is a result of forgiveness, then it actually requires one to be a sinner prior to becoming blameless or righteous. This is a strong theme in the book of Matthew, where it is said that heaven rejoices more over one sinner who repents than it does over 99 who don't [think they] need to repent. Paul makes a similar point in Galatians 2:16-17. Again, Scripture has an amazing cohesiveness that can never be broken by any human reason - though many have tried.

Now let's trace blamelessness into the New Testament for some further examples.

Philippians 3:6 - as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless [Gk. ANEMPTOS].

NOTE: This is Paul's testimony of the life he lived before Christ rescued him. He was externally "blameless" and "righteous" in regard to the law, and yet that wasn't good enough. Later he says, "
not having a righteousness OF MY OWN derived from the Law, but that which is THROUGH FAITH in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith" (Php 3:9). Romans 7 shows us that somewhere along the line, Paul had a major battle with covetousness, to the point of calling himself "wretched." So, outwardly he may have been blameless all his life, but inwardly there was sin, and the Law provided no resources to change this. Even if there is perfect outward obedience (and apparently there was in the cases of Zechariah and Paul), there can never be perfect inward obedience because every person covets. It's impossible for any fallen human being to completely avoid breaking the 10th commandment, given enough time and opportunity. It happens all the time, but nobody else knows about it.

I Thess 3:12-13 - and may the Lord cause you to increase and abound in love for one another, and for all people, just as we also do for you; so that He may establish your hearts without blame [Gk. ANEMPTOS] in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints.

NOTE: Here Paul gets to the heart of the matter, which is the heart. Rather than perfect outward obedience, Paul indicates that it is love - as it is given increase by God Himself - which makes our hearts blameless in holiness before Him. As Paul says elsewhere, "Love is the fulfillment of the Law." And love, I daresay, is the exact opposite of covetousness. So it is love, not perfect obedience, that fulfills the Law. And this does not happen SO WE CAN BE saved; it happens BECAUSE WE HAVE BEEN saved, by grace through faith on the basis of Christ's perfect inward and outward obedience.

"Blameless" outward observance of the Law is certainly achievable, but it cannot justify a person in God's sight. This is the limitation of the Law to which I am referring in the post. It is when the inward aspects are applied, e.g. the 10th commandment, that we see our need for a Savior who died for our sins. I do not deny that one can outwardly observe the Law, but with Paul I deny that any person can thereby please God or become righteous in His sight. It is faith alone that saves, by the grace of our loving and kind God, through the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Notice also, later in Luke 1, Zechariah was struck mute because he did not believe the angel's message. So, while he was outwardly blameless in observing the Law, he did not have the perfect and blameless heart that would trust the God Who must Himself sanctify all of our obedience, forgive all of our failure, and perfect all of our works. This is the Gospel, and it is continuously interlaced through the whole text of Scripture. I pray you may know the power of it, and be found truly blameless by Him on that day.

Thanks again for commenting. One quick question: the picture on your profile looks like a demon - is there some significance to this? I know that apart from Christ, I could never be anything more than a devil, with or without the benefit of the Law. 


Here's what ANEMPTOS means according to Thayer's Lexicon:

Here is an illuminating bit of insight from Tony Hayling:

We know that Zechariah and Elizabeth were righteous in God's eyes in the same way that Noah was. Noah found grace in the eyes of God. They, too, were righteous through faith by grace. They were looking for the Hope of Israel. The rest is the fruit of the grace of God towards them. The operative word is GRACE.

Similarly, their observances and their obedience were fruit of the faith that the grace of God granted to them. The reason they were walking in all the commandments (moral law) and ordinances (ceremonial law) BLAMELESS is not because they were perfect and without blame, but because they were free from the weight of blame, being justified by faith in the promised Savior.

In other words they were as all believers are. They were sinners justified and regarded as blameless in God's eyes because of what God did (or, in their case, was about to do) and not because of what they did or would do.

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