I recently ran across an interesting statement. “Sin is not just breaking the law but imagining you can keep it.” Wasn’t that the problem with the Pharisees? If anybody “kept” the law it was them. They defined it so carefully that they determined things like how many steps a person could walk on the Sabbath before it constituted work. They were obsessed with keeping the law.
Therefore it surprises a lot of people to see that Jesus reserved his harshest rhetoric for them. This even startled Jesus’ disciples. “Then came his disciples, and said unto him, Knowest thou that the Pharisees were offended, after they heard this saying?” (Matthew 15:12) Jesus responded by describing the Pharisees as the blind leading the blind.
They were blind because they didn’t see the deadly folly of imagining that they could keep the law. This also holds true for Mormonism. Here are just a few examples from the first few chapters of Gospel Principles.
“By keeping His commandments we can become like Him.” P. 6
“Obey all His commandments as best we can (see John 14:21-23).” P 7
“He, like our Heavenly Father, wanted us to choose whether we would obey Heavenly Father’s commandments.” P.13
“As we obey each of our Father’s commandments, we grow in wisdom and strength of character.” P. 19
“If we keep His commandments and make right choices, we will learn and understand. We will become like Him. (See D&C 93:28).”
Paul, as he states in Philippians 3, was one of the most zealous of all Pharisees. He describes himself this way: “Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.” (v. 6) He then says all that he now considers dung. He continues: “And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith.” (v.9)
The righteousness that is acceptable to God is not any righteousness cultivated by man. The only righteousness that God accepts is Christ’s righteousness – the righteousness we make our own by giving up on our works and trusting only in Jesus’ works. That is what Paul discovered. That is what, I pray, many LDS people will discover.