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Do or Do Not

by Tim O'Hearn

“Do or do not. There is no try.” (Yoda)

The theology of Star Wars is not necessarily compatible with the theology of the Bible, but there are some similarities. There is, for instance, a sense in which Yoda’s maxim hold true. God doesn’t give points for trying. “Therefore shall ye keep my commandments, and do them: I am the LORD.” (Lev 22:31)

Keep and do. There is no try. If a couple was caught in adultery they were stoned under the Law of Moses. All that was required were two witnesses. They couldn’t argue, “But we went for weeks wanting to, but tried to overcome our desires.” Stone them both, no matter how hard one of them tried. A sacrifice was to be without blemish. “I tried to find one, but this is the best I could find, even if he has a bad hoof and rotten teeth.” Malachi had an answer for that.

And if ye offer the blind for sacrifice, is it not evil? and if ye offer the lame and sick, is it not evil? offer it now unto thy governor; will he be pleased with thee, or accept thy person? saith the LORD of hosts. (Mal 1:8)

But what does God mean when he demands that His people “keep my commandments, and do them?” What is the difference between keeping and doing?

The doing part is easy. Do or do not. When God says to do something, you take a specific action to do it. When He says not to do something, you specifically refrain from doing it. In computerese it is as simple as 1 and 0, yes and no. Did you do it (1) or did you not do it (0)? No other choices. The only question is whether you were supposed to do it or to refrain.

Keeping God’s commands is apparently a different matter. It should be pointed out that this is not the same word used about keeping (sanctifying) Sabbath. Rather, the word used here literally means to plant a hedge of thorns around it. By extension, then, it carries the idea of guarding or preserving. The Pharisees in Jesus’ day built up traditions to “build a hedge around the Law.” Paul mentions having received from the Jews “forty stripes save one.” (2 Cor 11:24) This was to prevent accidentally exceeding the law limiting the number of lashes to forty. In that sense, they were following what God said. (The problem came when the hedge became more important than the law it surrounded.) The most effective way, though, to “keep” (preserve) God’s word is to teach it. Read the Bible to know what it says, and read it to our children and others so that they know what it says. Keeping the word means knowing it, and avoiding traditions that would water it down. To that end, keeping the commands includes quoting “book, chapter, and verse” so that people can find it themselves. A preacher who says “the Bible says” or “God says” without telling you where is probably not keeping the commands.

With God there is no try. Trying and failing is the same as failing. Fortunately, though, He has always provided forgiveness for failure to do. Under the Law of Moses there was the sin offering. The writer of Hebrews acknowledged God’s forgiveness under the Law, saying, “the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh.” (Heb 9:13) They were efficacious, but with a limited efficacy. So the writer goes on to explain God’s eternal forgiveness.

How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? (Heb 9:14)

There may be some advantage to trying to follow God’s commands. Any weightlifter knows that attempts at the next weight goal eventually lead to lifting that weight. Ultimately, though, none of us can keep or do God’s commands perfectly. That is why we all need the blood of Jesus. Do or not do, we need to know that Jesus has us covered.