Thesis: Regenerate Christians can, to some extent, begin to keep the Law in this life. This is done very imperfectly, however, since even the regenerate Christian lives in the flesh. Nevertheless, it would be wrong to say that a Christian absolutely cannot keep the Law.
This thesis has support both in the Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions. For example, it is obvious that the Apostle Paul expected the Christians in Rome to avoid sin and to live as those who have died to sin in Romans 6:1-11. “What shall we say, then, shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means…” Jesus Himself, in teaching the Sermon on the Mount to His disciples, assumed that these things would be done by baptized Christians. “Whoever relaxes one of the least of these commands shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever does them and teaches them will be called great…” (Matt. 5:17-26).
The Augsburg Confession clearly states that those who are regenerate begin to keep the Law in this life:
4] Because, indeed, faith brings the Holy Ghost, and produces in hearts a new life, it is necessary that it should produce spiritual movements in hearts. And what these movements are, the prophet, Jer. 31, 33 shows, when he says: I will put My Law into their inward parts, and write it in their hearts. Therefore, when we have been justified by faith and regenerated, we begin to fear and love God, to pray to Him, to expect from Him aid, to give thanks and praise Him, and to obey Him in afflictions. We begin also to love our neighbors, because our hearts have spiritual and holy movements [there is now, through the Spirit of Christ a new heart, mind, and spirit within].(Apology, Art. III: Love and fulfilling the law).
Of course, the Confession makes it clear that no one is to trust in his fulfillment of the law for his acceptance by God.
Why is this important? On occasion, I have heard people say things like, “We cannot keep the Law” or “We cannot do anything that Jesus did.” Such statements are well meant, namely, to emphasize the problem of sin. And our fulfilling of the Law in this life is only a beginning, and we do so ever so imperfectly and with great weakness. Nevertheless, to say that we cannot do what Jesus did (in loving His neighbor) or that we cannot keep the Law is simply wrong and unbiblical and needs to be corrected where it exists, even if it is being said for the right reasons (to defend Grace). The distinction needs to be maintained between regenerate and unregenerate sinners. Those who are baptized and have the Holy Spirit are capable of doing the works required of the Law to some extent. But we do not rely on these new spiritual impulses and good works for our standing with God.