Either saved Christians must keep the (moral) law or we are released from keeping the (moral) law.
A. If saved Christians are released from the requirements of the (moral) law then are we free to blaspheme, fornicate, disrespect authority, murder, lie, cheat, steal and covet (etc)? Most would rather not live in such a world. Paul certainly encouraged the keeping of the law (Rom 13:1-7)
B. If saved Christians are required to keep the (moral) law then why does the NT make such a fuss about being saved by grace (Eph 2:8-10) and not being justified by the deeds of the law (Rom 3:21, 22) and faith?
Indeed, Paul spends all of Rom 7 on this very question, anticipating it by saying in Rom 3:20:
Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in
This much-quoted verse is true on several levels:
- The law is completely humanly impossible to keep perfectly
- In Jesus sermon in Matt 5, 6, 7, He eulogizes the moral law and extends it by saying that keeping the law involves more than just action but also thoughts (note His comments about fornication, anger, love for enemies, etc). Thus, even if we could keep the law perfectly (we cannot), our actions would invariably be tainted by impure thoughts
- The fact that a converted Christian might even accomplish keeping the law perfectly, even in thought, does not provide justification for past sins before conversion. Such is equivalent to robbing a bank and then never robbing again and suggestion that never robbing again justifies (or forgives) the person's earlier crimes.
Thus, Paul was (obviously) correct to suggest that keeping the law is impossible. It cannot be done and any attempt to do so is an act of futility.
The Yoke of Jesus
The yoke in Matt 11:29, 30 is the same word used in Acts 15:10 - in the latter case it clearly alludes to keeping the law which included the ceremonial law symbolized by circumcision which the Jerusalem conference was called to discuss.
The yoke of Jesus is easy precisely because it is the yoke of Jesus. The metaphor is that of a double bullock yoke in which an older well-trained bullock is yoked with a younger untrained bullock. The older animal takes the load and effectively teaches the younger how to work. That is, when we take the yoke of Jesus, it is HIS power that enables us to do what we cannot do ourselves - be righteous (= right doing).
We see this countless times in the NT:
- John 15:4, 5 - Remain in Me, and I will remain in you. Just as no branch can bear fruit by itself unless it remains in the vine, neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in Me. I am the vine and you are the branches. The one who remains in Me, and I in him, will bear much fruit. For apart from Me you can do nothing.
- Phil 2:13 - for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.
- 2 Peter 1:3 - His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.
- Heb 13:20, 21 - Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with every good thing to do His will. And may He accomplish in us what is pleasing in His sight through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.
- Eph 3:20 - Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us
- 2 Tim 1:17 - For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.
- Heb 8:10 - I will put My laws in their minds and inscribe them on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they will be My people. see also Heb 10:16.
- Gal 5:22, 23 - But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law.
- Rom 15:13 - May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
- Acts 1:8 - But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
- 2 Tim 1:8 - So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God.
- Rom 1:16 - For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.
- Matt 17:20 - He answered. “For truly I tell you, if you have faith (= trust) the size of a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”
- 2 Cor 4:7 - But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.
- Matt 7:7, 8 - Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.
- Mark 9:24 - Immediately the boy's father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” Or, better, Immediately the boy's father exclaimed, “I do trust; help me overcome my lack of trust!”
Finally, notice the order of Eph 2:8-10 -
For it is by grace you have been saved through faith, and this not
from yourselves; it is the gift of God, not by works, so that no one
can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do
good works, which God prepared in advance as our way of life.
Thus, our good works cannot earn salvation and God's love. Good works come as a result of being saved, not as its cause. Again, good works are the FRUIT and not the ROOT of Christ's salvation.
APPENDIX - Law and the Christian life
We often see the NT encourage us to keep the law because we are saved. Indeed, there are many of Christ's commandments in the NT that are required for Christians which directly quote the Torah. For example: Eph 6:2, 3 = Deut 5:16, Ex 20:12; James 2:11 = Ex 20:13; Rom 13:9 = Ex 20:13-15, 17; Rom 7:7 = Ex 20:17; Acts 23:5 = Ex 22:28; Heb 9:20 = Ex 24:8; 1 Peter 1:16 = Lev 19:2; Matt 22:39, James 2:8, Gal 5:14 = Lev 19:18; 2 Tim 2:19 = Num 16:5; Matt 19:18, 19 = Deut 5:16-20; Mark 12:32 = Deut 6:4; 2 Cor 13:1 = Deut 19:15; Matt 5:31, 19:7 = Deut 24:1; 1 Cor 9:9 = Deut 25:4; Rom 12:19 = Deut 32:35; Heb 10:30 = Deut 32:35, 36; etc.