In my devotions this morning, I was reading from Deuteronomy 30, and was startled by words in verses 11 and 14 that sounded almost like a Pelagian declaration of human ability:
"This commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off...."The word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it."
Can you comment on a proper understanding of that passage?
Isolated, the Deuteronomy Text has every appearance of a "Pelagian" declaration, but in the context of the passage you quoted it actually reveals quite the opposite. What does it say? Just prior to your quote from Deut 30:11, 14 it declares a promise of God to them: "And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live." (Deuteronomy 30:5-7). It is in the indicative (grace) that this imperative (commandment) was grounded. Their obedience springs from God's prior action in them. The Word is near to them and where you find the Word, the Spirit is also working in the children of promise. The Israelites had been set free from Egyptian bondage and were in covenant with God. The promises of grace, mind you, were just as valid for Old Testament regenerate believers (though as shadows) as New Testament regenerate believers, otherwise, like us, none of them would have had hope. Remember, just before the statement made in your quote, God declares to to them what they were like without this promise: "But to this day the Lord has not given you a mind that understands or eyes that see or ears that hear." Deut 29:4. So the promise of heart circumcision or regeneration is necessary for eyes to see, ears to hear and a heart to understand .... and as a consequence, any love, faith or obedience that takes place.
Those who are regenerate have been set free by the Spirit of Christ to the bondage and captivity of sin which we call "total depravity" (John 8:36, Romans 6:18). Bondage to sin is a characteristic of those not yet born from above. Now that you have been born from above and the Spirit works in you, the apostle John says in the New Testament, "God's commands are not too difficult for you, for everyone born of God overcomes the world." (1 John 5:4). This parallel passage to the one you have quoted in Deuteronomy reveals a new holy affection granted to the regenerate.
A further key to understanding that this verse is in the broader context of salvation history is Romans 10:5-13 where Paul quotes it. It is clear that this verse is a reference of faith secured through Christ. The application of this promise to Israel is found in the fullness of the new covenant promise of salvation by Grace through Faith.
In the New Testament other related passages might be found in 1 John 2:29, 1 John 3:9; 1 John 5:18.
"Can you say, ‘We will first walk in His righteousness, and will observe His judgments, and will act in a worthy way, so that He will give His grace to us’? But what good would you evil people do? And how would you do those good things, unless you were yourselves good? But Who causes people to be good? Only He Who said, ‘And I will visit them to make them good,’ and, ‘I will put my Spirit within you, and will cause you to walk in my righteousness, and to observe my judgments, and do them’ (Ezek.36:27). Are you asleep? Can’t you hear Him saying, ‘I will cause you to walk, I will make you to observe,’ lastly, ‘I will make you to do’? Really, are you still puffing yourselves up? We walk, true enough, and we observe, and we do; but it is God Who He makes us to walk, to observe, to do. This is the grace of God making us good; this is His mercy going before us."
Augustine - Against Two Letters of the Pelagians, 4:15
"In some places God requires newness of heart [Ezek 18:31]. But elsewherre he testifies that it is given by him [Ezek. 11:19; 36:26]. But what God promises we ourselves do not do through choice or nature; but he himself does through grace."- Augustine
"Does it follow from: 'turn ye' that therefore you can turn? Does it follow from "'Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart' (Deut 6.5) that therefore you can love with all your heart? What do arguments of this kind prove, but the 'free-will' does not need the grace of God, but can do all things by its own power....But it does not follow from this that man is converted by his own power, nor do the words say so; they simply say: "if thou wilt turn,telling man what he should do. When he knows it, and sees that he cannot do it, he will ask whence he may find ability to do it..." - Martin Luther