Posts Tagged ‘Righteousness

22
Feb
13

i am crucified with christ (2)… dead to law

If we are dead and our life is hid with Christ in God we will discover that this death is not simply to sin. Our death, in Christ, has even farther-reaching implications.   We have died not only to sin but to every power and authority that would seek to control us in a fallen world.  Death severs all relationships in this world. 

If in Roms 6 we are said to be dead to sin, then in Roms 7 we have died to the law for law, like sin, is an authority in the world.

Dead to the Law

 Questions

  • Is the law the ‘rule of life’ for Christians?
  • Where does the NT regularly direct us for the source and shape of our sanctification?
  • Should Christians have certain ‘holy days’ and observe festivals such as lent?
  • Are candles, impressive buildings, and other aesthetic and sensory stimulation an aid to (an advance in) Christian worship?

In Romans 7, Paul tells us that we are dead to the Law, that is, to God’s Law, the Mosaic Covenant and its commandments (and we may safely say, by implication, to all other rudimentary morality codes as binding authorities  Cf. Gals 4:9).  In Ch 6 he hinted at this when he said,

 Rom 6:14 (ESV)
 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.

His point is that the Law has no authority in the life of the believer, he is not ‘under it’ rather he lives in another realm, the realm and reign of grace (Roms 3:21-30, 5:2,15-21).  Grace and law are different realms with opposing principles of rule.  In Romans 7:1-6 he makes  essentially the same point through the metaphor of marriage.

Rom 7:1-6 (ESV)
Or do you not know, brothers-for I am speaking to those who know the law-that the law is binding on a person only as long as he lives? For a married woman is bound by law to her husband while he lives, but if her husband dies she is released from the law of marriage. Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she marries another man she is not an adulteress.
 
Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.

In the patriarchal culture of the C1 a woman submitted to the authority of her husband and did so until he died.  Paul uses this analogy to show how Christian obedience (particularly Christian Jews to whom the law specifically applied 7:1) is no longer to the law but to Christ for death has brought about a change in authorities (or husbands).  Jewish believers were ‘married to the law’ (the Mosaic Covenant had been the authority that controlled their lives) but in death (and the analogy is inverted in that it is the woman who dies not the husband) they have been freed from this marriage to marry another, namely Christ.  Consequently, their former husband has no rights or power over them.  They are not obligated to him any more.  Why?  They have died and no longer live in the realm or world where law has authority and rights.  Indeed, as those married to Christ, to subject themselves to the requirements of the law would make them bigamists.

Now the function of the Law in redemptive history is a big one that generates much controversy.  We cannot hope to deal with it at any length in this post.  Let me sum up briefly the two main functions of the Law as I understand them (as Paul outlines them in Romans).

  • The Law was given to reveal the reality of sin
Rom 3:19-20 (ESV)
Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.
 

Sin always existed in a fallen world but the law revealed its nature and true power.  Law  (an explicitly articulated command generally accompanied by a sanction) made explicit what was previously implicit and so increased the gravity of the offence; sin became more sinful for it became an infraction or transgression of a legal demand.  Further, because fallen human nature meant none could keep the law, indeed all railed against it, sin is seen in its true colours as an evil malignant destructive enslaving power (Cf. 4:15, 5:13,14, 5:20, 7:7-12; Cf. Gals 3:19).  Law came in to increase the trespass (Roms 5:20) by exposing, exaggerating and exciting it.  

Rom 5:13-14 (ESV)
 for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.
  • The Law was given to point to Christ
Rom 3:21-22 (ESV)
 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it- the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction:

It pointed to Christ a) by showing the moral bankruptcy of humanity and so the need of a Saviour b) by foreshadowing the coming Saviour and salvation in various ways.  Other functions of the Law may be added, such as being a hard taskmaster that would contrast more clearly the liberty in Christ (Gals 3:23-25), but these are subsidiaries of the main two functions, namely to give knowledge of sin and knowledge of Christ.

Most evangelicals will happily agree that the Christian is not ‘under law’ as a means of justification.  The Law (many will agree, though not all) was a covenant of works.  Life was promised for a life of law-keeping righteousness; law’s premise was ‘this do and live’ (Ex 24:7; Lev 18:5; Deut 8:1; Lk 10:28; Roms 10:5; Gals 3:12 Cf. Roms 7:10; Gals 3:21).  Law offered ‘life’ on the basis of obedience, it did not assume life, in fact it assumed the absence of life (thus, this do and live).

However, although the Law promised life upon obedience, life by law-keeping was impossible because law-keeping for sinners under it was impossible.  Addressed as it was to fallen humanity, it was only a counsel of despair (Roms 7:7-10).  Instead of providing life it became a vehicle of death; the curse of a broken law fell on the law-breaker and all under it were law-breakers (Deut 11:26-28, 27:26, 30:15-20; Gals 3:10).  From its inception it was clear that the revelation of law, although promising life, could only purvey death (Ex 19:12, 20:19).  We need only read the many death threats explicit in the law to see its danger to sinful people.  It is probably not without significance that the Law-giver, Moses, dies outside the Promised Land; typically it confirmed the inability of law to bless.  Thus, what offered life, because of the corruption of human nature, became an administration of death (Rom 7:10; 2 Cor 3:6,7).  By the works of the law no flesh would be justified for by the law came only knowledge of sin (Rom 3:20).  The Law only condemns and brings wrath (Rom 4:15).  Humanity under law needed to be rescued from it.  This is, in fact, what happened in Christ.  As Paul says to Jewish Galatian believers (in Galatians ‘us’ and ‘we’ refers to Jews and ‘you’ refers to gentiles)

Gal 3:11-14 (ESV2011)
 Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.

Law and faith, like Law and gospel-promise, are opposite in principle (Gals 3:12, 18).

The majority of the above will have unanimous consent among evangelicals.  However, while many will happily affirm that we are not ‘under law’ for justification some (many) will just as vehemently affirm that we are ‘under law’ for our sanctification.  The law, they say, takes us to Christ for our justification but Christ takes us to the law for our sanctification.   The law they will insist is the believer’s ‘rule of life’.  Such assertions are entirely mistaken.  Paul does not imply we are not under law for one aspect of salvation but under it for another; Christ is the source of both justification and sanctification for the Christian.  Christ, not the law, is the believer’s rule of life.  We ought to walk as he walked (1 Jn 2:6).  Christ is sufficient for all things.

For Paul, we are either married to the law or we are not married to the law.  He makes no subtle nuances or qualifications here.  Theologians,and theological systems may do so, but Paul does not.  There is no half-way house regarding Law, we are either under it or not under it, either obligated to it or not obligated to it.  We are not free from the law for justification but married to it for sanctification.  The relationship is absolute and admits of no exceptions.  If we are married to Christ then we are not married to the law and vice versa (Gals 5:4).  We are not bigamists and even less are we encouraged by Christ to be such, the very suggestion is blasphemous.  The second husband never sends us back to the first saying ‘obey him’.

The law is not the means or measure of our sanctification, Christ is.  Indeed the law can no more sanctify than justify.  Paul is clear and emphatic on this.  Romans 7, where Paul discusses the believers relationship to law, is less concerned with the question of justification than it is with that of sanctification.  The law produces only ‘the fruit of death’ (7:5).  It is a wife-beater demanding love but unable to either create or provoke it.  Only by being freed from it (through death) and married in resurrection life to Christ can we produce ‘fruit for God’ (7:4).  All of this is sanctification and it is Christ who is its source not law, decidedly not law.

Yes, we are told, but the law is how Christ sanctifies believers?  He sends us back to the law as our rule of life.  Implied bigamy aside, why do you say this?  Where does the NT teach this?  Paul says something quite different.

Rom 7:6 (ESV)
 But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.

And what does the Spirit do?  Does he send us back to the law and say follow that code?  Does he tell new believers that the Christian life is a whole series of rules and regulations that they must learn and observe – for that is what the law is?  Does he say, ‘go back to the Ten Commandments and keep them’?  Does he say, ‘grow in grace by growing in the knowledge of the law’?   No he doesn’t.  Only rarely in the NT is the Mosaic Code explicitly cited in the context of moral living and never as an absolute authority requiring obedience.  The new way of the Spirit is not to send us back to the old way of the written code. This is palpable contradiction and folly.

We are not directed to the law for holiness but to the gospel.  The measure of a holy life is Christ not the law.  We grow in grace and in the knowledge (not of law) but of Christ Jesus.  The work of the Spirit is to floodlight Christ.  He points us to Christ and the grace and truth in him (Jn 15:26).  In the gospel we have the means, motive and measure of sanctification.  It is grace, not law that saves a wretch like me.  Grace teaches our heart to believe and relieves our fears.  It is grace that brought me safe thus far and grace that will lead me home.  Married to Christ we learn from Christ and are sanctified by him (Eph 4:20, 5:25-27). Living by the Spirit we walk by the Spirit (Gal 5:20).  Under grace, we are taught by grace.

Titus 2:11-14 (ESV2011)
 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.

And here is highlighted precisely the difference between the method of the Law and the method of the Spirit.  The law makes us look inside ourselves and examine our lives.  It suggests righteous living comes through keeping a long list of rules and regulations and so inevitably engenders introspection and despair as we self-analyse and constantly find ourselves falling short.  Look at the person under law in Roms 7;  he is constantly looking within, constantly focussing on the ‘I’ and constantly finding only failure and frustration.  The Spirit by contrast takes us outside of self.  He focuses our attention on Christ.  He sets our mind and affections on things above.  He gives us a vision of Christ and as we gaze on a glorified Christ we are changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another.

2Cor 3:18 (ESV)
 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

We never need more than Christ.  In him, God’s fullness dwells (Cols 1:18).  In him are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Cols 2:3).  We are complete/filled in him (Cols 2:10).  What draws our hearts to hate sin is not a set of rules but a growing love for Christ.  What teaches us the ugliness of sin is the beauty of Christ.  It is the clean fresh air of heaven that makes us conscious of the foul air of earth.  We do not focus on mere restraints that when all is said and done outline only the basic rudiments of morality, but on Christ and all he has accomplished, and it is this that gives our soul power to live with God’s sentence of death upon the flesh and so produce fruit for God (7:5).

An imperfect illustration

Suppose you are driving along the road and you keep seeing road signs saying drive at thirty.  Do you obey them?  You see speeding cameras too.  You may break but it will be an external obedience – your heart won’t be in it.  Your heart resists them and wants to find ways of thwarting and outwitting them.  The law and its sanction only creates the desire to breach.

But supposing you have just viewed a beautiful sunset, or just got engaged to the girl you love, or just met and been bowled over by the person who made the road rules – will you still want to break them?  Will your heart filled with glory by the sunset, the love of the woman you adore, the worth of the one who created the rules, not find itself driving in such a way as reflects these experiences.

Let me say, if you have been taken up with Christ you will drive differently behind the wheel than if you’re simply focussing on road signs.

To the Colossian Christians who were in danger of adopting a gospel that added a number of things to Christ, including OT law, Paul says,

Col 2:6-7 (ESV)
Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.

Everything for life and godliness resides in Christ.  Mark this well.  If you need to go beyond Christ you are on dangerous ground.  These Colossian believers were in such danger.  They were in danger not simply of adopting the law as a rule of life for sanctification but as a rule for religious observance.  They were creating a religious calendar of OT rituals and regulations such as were found in the law.  They were being encouraged to observe days, months, seasons as well as abstaining from certain foods that were to do with ritual holiness.  Paul is perplexed and appalled.  They have not grasped the significance of the cross.  Notice what he says

Col 2:8-23 (ESV)
See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.
 
And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.
 
Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.
 
If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations- “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)-according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.

Do you see his point?  The cross ended all this form of externally imposed religious observance.  We have died to the world in which this kind of religion had place. Law was a religion designed for man in the flesh not in the Spirit (Gal 3:2, 4:21-31).  Its very basis is sensuous or fleshly.  It focuses on externals and on sensory and aesthetic experience.  It placed great emphasis on impressive buildings (the temple) religious clothing, smells and bells; candles and altars, rituals and regulations.

But all this belongs to the old age before Christ.  In Christ we died to this.  Now we must grasp this today for evangelicalism is rushing headlong down the route of religious paraphernalia.  At one time the observing of liturgical calendars, special religious feasts like lent, the use of candles, incense and icons were denounced by evangelicals now they are embraced.  Evangelicals want a religion of ‘flesh’.  We want the sensory and aesthetic mistakenly thinking a sensory or aesthetic experience is an authentic gospel-driven spiritual experience (Hebs 12:18).

We must understand that magnificent buildings, stirring music, impressive oratory, and ethereal rites do not bring us closer to God.  They will not produce the slightest knowledge of God nor lead us into a holy life.  They are, says Paul, of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh, instead they feed it.  Christ, and Christ alone, the Christ seen by the eye of faith, leads us to God.  We come to the Father through him (Jn 14:6).  That is why Paul says,

Col 3:1-4 (ESV)
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Instead of a focus on what is earthly (buildings, altars, incense, music, oratory, rituals, ascetic practices etc) we must seek what is in heaven.  We must focus on Christ.  He is the source of our life.  He is our satisfaction.  He is our food and drink.  He is our vision.  He is our altar.  He is our High Priest.  He is our sacrifice.  He stirs and satisfies the heart.  As Robert Murray McCheyne used to say, ‘No man can ever need more than is freely given in Christ’ We live by faith not sight.  We like Moses endure seeing him that is invisible.

No, law, in all its forms, is an authority for men in the flesh, for people ‘alive in this world’ but we are not in the flesh we are in the Spirit if the Spirit of God lives in us.  We do not live by and in the shadow we live by and in the substance; we do not seek the things of spiritual infancy but of spiritual maturity.  Christ not law is the source of our life; Zion not Sinai is the mountain to which we come (Hebs 12:18-24)

None of this is to say we cannot learn from the law nor even less that there are no obligations or responsibilities in the Christian life; we can and there are.  All Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for instruction, reproof, training in righteousness… (2 Tim 3:16).   However, it is one thing to read OT Scripture (through the prism of redemptive history) and learn from it, it is quite another to say that the law is a ‘rule of life’ for the believer for to say this is to make the law an authority we must obey.  Let me summarise some of the problems such a mistake creates.

  • It obliges us to qualify Paul’s insistence that we are not under law.  This is exegetically indefensible.
  • It emasculates the law.   If we accept its authority then we must also accept its sanctions (Gals 3:10).  To try to ‘draw its teeth’ is to demean it.  Sanctions (blessings and cursings) lie at the heart of the covenant; they give it glory (Ex 19:18-25, 20:18, 24:16,17; Deut 5:24, 28:58-68; Hebs 12:18-21)  We cannot reject the Law as a route of justification and embrace it as a rule of sanctification for the covenant does not give us this permission.   It is a covenant which cannot be altered.  We must accept it totally on its own terms or not at all.
  • It means living culturally as a Jew.  If we are obliged to keep one command of law we must keep them all.  Law is a covenant agreement.  We cannot be obliged to keep some but free to ignore others (Matt 5:19; Gals 3:10, 5:2,3; Jas 2:10).  We cannot enforce the Ten Commandments and jettison or modify the many other commands of the covenant.  The covenant demands obedience to all or it is broken (Ex 19:8, 24:3; Deut 27:26).  Accepting the covenant means accepting a Judaistic lifestyle.
  • It means keeping the Sabbath. The Sabbath was the seventh day and not the first day and to change the day to another day was unacceptable and covenant-breaking.  The Sabbath was the sign of the covenant (Ex 31:13; Ezek 20:12, 20). That Christianity focuses on another day strongly enforces that we are not under law; to abandon the Sabbath was by implication to be free from the covenant.
  • It means embracing what belongs to infancy and is ‘weak and beggarly not intended for sons (Gal 4:1-11) . Law is a rudimentary moral code that Christians ought to have no need to hear anyway.  We should not need to be told not to steal, commit adultery etc.  The works of the flesh are obvious (Gal 5:19).  Christian holiness should be beyond these prohibitions (1 Tim 1:6-11).  

Life under grace, by the Spirit, married to Christ, produces a morality in excess of laws demands.  Law expressed the demands of relationships existing in this life and no more. It did not require that a man lay down his life for his friends, far less that he lay down his life for his enemies.  It did not conceive or demand pure self-sacrificial love motivated by nothing other than pure love.  This is a life modelled only by Christ who reveals the Father’s heart.  Such Christ-modelled, grace-induced, Spirit-enabled love is the heart of Christianity.  Such love fulfils the law (Roms 8:4, 13:8,10; Gals 5:14) and fulfilment in Scripture usually eclipses/excels the original expectation.  Or to put it another way, against such Christ-like, Spirit-produced love there is no law (Gals 5:23).

Gal 5:1-14 (ESV)
For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery… For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.. For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

The cross means an end to law-keeping religion.  For Paul and for the early Jewish converts this was precisely its offence (Gal 5:11) and the reason why they were being persecuted by their fellow Jews (Gal 6:11-16).  The world will tolerate religion that makes much of ‘the flesh’ but it will not tolerate Christ. Christ and all who follow him it will crucify.  We must live as those crucified with Christ, as those who having received the law’s own sentence of death, have died to it.  Such is the effect of the cross in Christian living.

Gal 5:1 (ESV)
For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

22
Jan
13

the righteousness of god in the gospel (2)

Our previous post argued that when Paul speaks of ‘the righteousness of God revealed in the gospel’ (Roms 1:17) he means precisely that; in the gospel God reveals himself acting righteously, that is, acting consistently with all he is in himself (Roms 3:21-26).  Among the ways God reveals himself acting righteously is in declaring righteous those who are ungodly; he passes a verdict of righteous (justifies) on people who are unrighteous.  How he does so righteously remains to be explored, however, what ‘justifying the ungodly‘ (Roms 4:4) does underline is that the righteous standing of sinners is not one they deserve but one God gifts.  Thus Paul speaks of ‘the gift of righteousness’ (Roms 5:17), in fact, lest there is any doubt he speaks of, ‘the free gift’ of righteousness (Roms 5:15,16,17), indeed ‘a free gift by grace’ (Roms 5:15,17; 3:24).  In this sense our righteousness is truly ‘of God’.  It finds its source, initiative, and quality or nature in God.  Paul writes,

Phil 3:9
…and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness of God that depends on faith.

But how can a righteous God declare righteous the unrighteous?  How can he render a righteous verdict on lives that are unrighteous?  On the face of it, such an apparently false verdict does not glorify God’s righteousness but shames and disgraces it.  Where is God’s righteousness in imputing (reckoning or counting) righteous those who are ungodly?

Scripture tells us faith is imputed or reckoned as righteousness (Roms 4:4).  Does this mean that faith itself is the righteousness that God requires to declare us righteous?  No, for this would make righteousness ‘of man’ and not ‘of God.  Understood in this way faith becomes a form of works and the righteousness procured ‘my own’ (a righteousness which Paul repudiates) and not a righteous standing sourced in God. Besides faith itself does not deal with the problem of human unrighteousness; faith cannot cancel existing guilt and is not said to so do.  No, while faith is reckoned for righteousness it is not because faith is itself righteous. The reason faith counts as righteousness must be found elsewhere?

Is, as some say, the righteous life of Christ imputed to the believer as his righteousness?  Well, certainly Scripture does not say it is.  Scripture does not say that God takes the righteous life of Christ and reckons it to us as righteousness.  To be sure the righteous life of Christ gives value and worth to Christ’s death nevertheless the life of Christ it is not said to be imputed.  We must let Scripture speak and not our traditions. Again and again Scripture locates the basis of God’s justifying verdict in the death of Christ.  It is there and there only God finds a basis to declare the ungodly righteous.  The death of Jesus is God’s great initiative to establish a righteousness sourced in him and displaying his glory.

Rom 3:21-26 (ESV)
But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it- the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

Notice, we are ‘justified by his grace as a gift‘.  Why?  How?  ‘Through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus whom God put forward as a propitiation [mercy-seat, propitiatory] by his blood’.  Here, is God’s righteousness in the gospel.  Here is solved and unveiled the justifying verdict of the unrighteous. Here God finds an adequate moral motive to ‘justify the ungodly‘.  In sinners there is none, in the blood of Christ there is.

Redemption was necessary.  Sin had created a debt that must be paid. It is an offence that must be addressed.  Left unpunished sin impugns God’s righteousness.  God’s glory is at stake where sin is unjudged. The debt of sin must be met. The price must be paid.  It could of course have been paid by God simply wiping out humanity.  But such a way of displaying his righteousness is not where the heart of God truly lies.  He wishes to righteously bless not curse, save not destroy.  Thus the glorious wisdom of the cross. Here God’s heart of love and grace is displayed in all his righteousness in salvation.  Here the debt of man is paid in full and in such a way that God is perfectly glorified in who he essentially is.  

How is this redemptive debt paid?  By faith? No.  By Christ’s life imputed? No. It is paid by the value of the blood of Christ.  Christ’s blood is the ransom price (Rev 5:9).  In the words of Romans again, ‘ and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation [mercy-seat, propitiatory] by his blood, to be received by faith.’

This language is alien to us unless we are familiar with the ceremonies of the OT law (intended as models of what would  be realized in Christ). To these we must turn if we are to understand the basis of our justification.

the mercy-seat

When Israel left Egypt they travelled through the desert living in tents.  God resided among them in his own tent (the tabernacle); it was his travelling palace and sanctuary.  In the innermost tent of this travelling palace was the ark of the covenant.  The ark was a box containing (among other things) the two tablets of the covenant, the law. Covering the box was a slab of pure gold called ‘the mercy-seat’ above which were cherubim (symbols of rule and authority). Although God could not be contained by heaven and earth, the ark was God’s designated throne in the world. From it he ruled Israel and in fact the nations. He ruled righteously, the tablets of law below the throne expressing what he required of man.  If they were flouted then God’s righteous anger would necessarily be aroused for he hates all unrighteousness.  It defies him and destroys all that is good and right.  His throne is dishonoured  and everything defiled by it.  Where sin erupts  under his rule (a defiance of all that God is) his glory (all that he is) must be upheld thus judgement and cleansing/purging must take place.  

And the reality, of course, is that Israel did sin and did arouse God’s anger.  Their sin both defied and defiled yet in grace God provided for sin.  Mercy was available from the very seat of his throne.  It was called, as we noted, ‘the mercy-seat’ or ‘covering’.  Its title hints at its function; although the seat of God’s throne from which he ruled it suggested that God’s rule in a sinful world, although righteous, would be merciful and would provide a covering for broken law.  But it could not be merciful per se.  The slab did not cover sin just by existing.  It functioned in mercy and became a covering for a broken law only when sprinkled with blood.  The blood of an animal sacrificed as a sin offering must be splattered on the mercy-seat and it was the value that God placed on the blood of the sacrifice that enabled him to forgive sins and cleanse from unrighteousness.

The blood meant the High Priest and people (both sinful) did not die, instead the judgement was borne by the sacrifice and God’s holy justice satisfied*.  The blood provided purification.  It cleansed. It made a sinful people clean before God (Lev 16:16, 30).  The blood of a slain goat apparently satisfied God’s moral nature enabling him to accept as righteous an unrighteous people; it (along with the scapegoat) made atonement (Lev 16:16). Blood enabled a throne that must otherwise, because of sin, be a throne of righteous judgement, become a throne of righteous mercy; God could justly justify.

The basic principle of the OT is that it is blood that atones and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins (Hebs 9:18-22).   However, these OT sacrifices were of mere dumb animals, in reality they had no atoning worth.  It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins (Hebs 10:4). These sacrifices were not pleasing (of moral value) to God (Hebs 9:8).  Their fragrance was merely sensory and not spiritual. Their value was symbolic and not substantial.  They had no intrinsic moral virtue that could deal with the problem of sin.  They but pointed forward to blood of a different value; the blood of Christ.  When Scripture speaks of the blood of animals it simply speaks of ‘blood’ but when it speaks of the blood of Christ it is always identified distinctly with him; it is ‘his blood’ (Roms 3:25), ‘the blood of Christ’ (1 Cor 10:16), ‘the blood of the Lord’ (1 Cor 11:27); ‘his own blood’ (Acts 20:28), ‘Jesus blood’ (Hebs 10:19), for it is ‘precious (valuable) blood’ (1 Pet 1:19)

It is the value of this blood, his blood, that enables righteous mercy.  Here was not the blood of an uncomprehending animal but the blood of a Son who voluntarily came to do the will of he who sent him. Animal sacrifices though chosen carefully by men were worthless, Christ’s body, fashioned by God for the express purpose of sacrifice, would be the sacrifice to fulfil and finish all sacrifice (Hebs 10:5).  Every aspect of his full and selfless obedience in life prepared him to be the perfect flawless sacrifice for sin. Every step in life was one of intentional consecrated obedience in the direction of the cross where he would be the sin-bearer.  The cross with all its awful implications of sin-bearing and divine judgement was willingly embraced because it was the will of God.  Here was immeasurable obedience.  Here was a righteous act of surpassing moral worth – the Holy One willing to be made sin and become a curse, bearing our sin in his own body on the tree, the one who had life in himself entering death and dismissing from his body, his spirit.  Here in this conscious and deliberate act of self-immolation, intended that God may act in and through it and be perfectly glorified in all that he is - his truth, wisdom, power, holy wrath, grace, love and righteousness – a ransom was found that redeemed.  The debt of sin was cancelled and indeed so great was the glory that this bloody selfless sacrifice bought to God, God was in turn indebted.  If Christ in an intentionally sin-bearing death (ordained by God and undertaken by his Son) brought such glory to God then God was in righteousness obligated to honour this intent.  He must show mercy for mercy is that for which this righteous blood cries.  Mercy is God’s only righteous response.  And, of course, he does, for the mercy which this blood demands is the same mercy that the throne upon which it lies splattered delights.   Blood, the blood of Christ, is the great basis of justification (Roms 5:9). Hear once more the words of Romans 3

Rom 3:25-26 (HCSB)
God presented Him as a propitiation through faith in His blood, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His restraint God passed over the sins previously committed. God presented Him to demonstrate His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be righteous and declare righteous the one who has faith in Jesus.

Here then, is the basis of the justifying righteousness of God, apart from law-keeping, though both law and prophets bore witness to it. It is as simple and plain as it is sublime.  The infinite value of Christ’s atoning blood is reckoned to us, and reckoned for righteousness by faith.   When God sees Christ in death he sees a mercy-seat covered in blood, the blood of sacrifice for sin, blood that pays debt and cleanses and thus he can be righteous and declare righteous those who have faith in Jesus.  This is the righteousness ‘of God’; he who knew no sin became sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in him.

Thus with Horatius Bonar we say

I hear the words of love,
I gaze upon the blood,
I see the mighty sacrifice,
And I have peace with God

’Tis everlasting peace,
Sure as Jehovah’s Name;
’Tis stable as His steadfast throne,
For evermore the same.

And with Isaac Watts

Not all the blood of beasts
On Jewish altars slain
Could give the guilty conscience peace
Or wash away the stain.

But Christ, the heav’nly Lamb,
Takes all our sins away;
A sacrifice of nobler name
And richer blood than they.

 

 *  Controversy rages as to whether atonement simply expiates (removes sin) or also propitiates (removes wrath).  It appears to do both.  Wrath after all is simply the divine reaction to sin.  Thus, if the blood does not atone the High Priest and nation die. Death here, as always, is punishment, it is judicial wrath.  In fact, the institution of the Day of Atonement is a direct result of God’s wrath erupting in fiery judgement, a symbol of consuming wrath, because of disobedience (Lev 16:1).

Lev 10:1-7 (ESV)
Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized fire before the Lord, which he had not commanded them. And fire came out from before the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord. Then Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the Lord has said, ‘Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.’” And Aaron held his peace.

And Moses called Mishael and Elzaphan, the sons of Uzziel the uncle of Aaron, and said to them, “Come near; carry your brothers away from the front of the sanctuary and out of the camp.” So they came near and carried them in their coats out of the camp, as Moses had said. And Moses said to Aaron and to Eleazar and Ithamar his sons, “Do not let the hair of your heads hang loose, and do not tear your clothes, lest you die, and wrath come upon all the congregation; but let your brothers, the whole house of Israel, bewail the burning that the Lord has kindled. And do not go outside the entrance of the tent of meeting, lest you die, for the anointing oil of the Lord is upon you.” And they did according to the word of Moses.

Fire consuming is a symbol of purifying judgement.

Exod 15:6-7 (ESV)
​​​​​​​​Your right hand, O Lord, glorious in power, ​​​​​​​your right hand, O Lord, shatters the enemy. ​​​ ​​​​​​​​In the greatness of your majesty you overthrow your adversaries; ​​​​​​​you send out your fury; it consumes them like stubble. ​​​

Deut 4:23-24 (ESV2011)
Take care, lest you forget the covenant of the LORD your God, which he made with you, and make a carved image, the form of anything that the LORD your God has forbidden you. For the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.

Lam 2:3 (ESV2011)
He has cut down in fierce anger all the might of Israel; he has withdrawn from them his right hand in the face of the enemy; he has burned like a flaming fire in Jacob, consuming all around.

Thus the fire that consumes the sacrifice implies righteous wrath and judgement, propitiation.

Lev 6:8-13 (ESV)
​The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Command Aaron and his sons, saying, This is the law of the burnt offering. The burnt offering shall be on the hearth on the altar all night until the morning, and the fire of the altar shall be kept burning on it. And the priest shall put on his linen garment and put his linen undergarment on his body, and he shall take up the ashes to which the fire has reduced the burnt offering on the altar and put them beside the altar. Then he shall take off his garments and put on other garments and carry the ashes outside the camp to a clean place. The fire on the altar shall be kept burning on it; it shall not go out. The priest shall burn wood on it every morning, and he shall arrange the burnt offering on it and shall burn on it the fat of the peace offerings. Fire shall be kept burning on the altar continually; it shall not go out.

Lev 6:24-30 (ESV)
The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, This is the law of the sin offering. In the place where the burnt offering is killed shall the sin offering be killed before the Lord; it is most holy. The priest who offers it for sin shall eat it. In a holy place it shall be eaten, in the court of the tent of meeting. Whatever touches its flesh shall be holy, and when any of its blood is splashed on a garment, you shall wash that on which it was splashed in a holy place. And the earthenware vessel in which it is boiled shall be broken. But if it is boiled in a bronze vessel, that shall be scoured and rinsed in water. Every male among the priests may eat of it; it is most holy. But no sin offering shall be eaten from which any blood is brought into the tent of meeting to make atonement in the Holy Place; it shall be burned up with fire.

 

09
Jan
13

the righteousness of god in the gospel (1)

This is the first of an intermittent series of posts that reflect on aspects of what is involved in the righteousness of God revealed in the gospel.  The subject of God’s righteousness is large and has been the focus of fierce debate in recent years.  These short posts can only hope to be snapshots of  some aspects that I hope will stimulate reflection and worship.
When the gospel speaks of ‘the righteousness of God’ the fact we should note before anything else, before any discussion about imputed righteousness in justification, is that the righteousness in the spotlight is God’s righteousness.  In this respect, Gospel righteousness exists in direct contrast to the righteousness of the Law (or the Sinaic covenant).  In the old covenant the righteousness that was ‘revealed’ was man’s righteousness and not God’s*.  The Law promised blessing of every sort to Israel if the people lived righteously.  It’s  focus was on human righteousness.   The Law revealed what human righteousness looked like.   It was human righteousness that was under the microscope and it was human righteousness that the law, if obeyed, displayed.   Had the law been kept then human righteousness would have been the object of praise and glory for it would have been human righteousness that would have been placarded and achieved life.

Of course, human righteousness did not triumph.  The Law, far from revealing human righteousness, revealed human sin, as God both knew and intended it should (Roms 3).  It could not be otherwise.  It could not be otherwise for human sinfulness is such that even privileged Israel, given every opportunity and incentive possible, could not live righteously; the human heart is inveterately given to rebellion and evil.  It could not be otherwise for God must be God and cannot allow any to glory in his presence.  It is unthinkable that humanity should bring about regeneration and a new heavens and earth and have  occasion to boast that it had been achieved by human righteousness, ingenuity and wisdom.  We do not know God if we have not grasped this elementary fact.  None may glory of their achievement in God’s presence, God alone must be glorious.  No flesh can boast before him; it would be morally incongruous, and repugnant to all right thinking.

1Cor 1:28-31 (ESV2011) God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are,so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.  And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption,so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

Humanity’s failure in righteousness is not only a given predicated on human sinfulness but predicated also on God’s own being and purpose.  No flesh shall glory before God. It cannot, must not, shall not be.  Thus redemption, renewal, and blessing, must come through the gospel for the gospel is a revelation not of the righteousness of man but of God.  God is the actor in the gospel.  It is what he is and does and provides that is in the spotlight.  It is his wisdom, his grace, his righteousness that is on display.  Thus Paul writes of the gospel,

Rom 1:16-17ESV2011 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.For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”

In the gospel, righteousness ‘of God‘ is revealed’.   This is not in the first instance a righteousness from God (though it surely includes this) but God’s own righteous activity.  If I want to see God’s acting righteously (consistently with all he is in himself) then it is to the gospel pre-eminently I must look.  Under Law, God is seen to act righteously when he punishes disobedience (Roms 3:5) but such righteous action is not the kind of righteousness that most precisely reflects his nature.  God is righteous when he judges but judgement is his ‘strange work’.  His righteous judgments are glorious but he does not wish to be simply known as a God who punishes.  Punishment is not where his heart lies.  God has a heart of love that wishes to bless and to be gracious.  It is the glory of his righteousness in grace that reveals his righteousness most perfectly.  At the cross God acts righteously in grace and thus reveals the glory of his heart as it truly is.  He is a God who is slow to judge and quick to bless.  He is not keen to condemn rather he is keen to declare righteous.  He does not desire that any perish but that all come to him and live, thus it is his righteous saving action in the gospel that best displays his heart.  What was perhaps brief and abstract in Romans Ch 1 is unpacked and specified in ch 3

Rom 3:21-26ESV2011 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction:for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

Note the last lines, ‘This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just (righteous) and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.’  Twice we are told the gospel shows (reveals/proves/exhibits/demonstrates/displays) God acting righteously.  It shows he acted righteously in passing over sin in the past.  By his sin-bearing death we now see how forgiveness was possible in the past without God’s mercy compromising his righteous need to punish sin.  We see how ceremonial animal sacrifice was not simply a moral whitewash  but was acceptable because God saw in it a preview of the real sacrifice that would deal with sin – the sacrifice of Christ.  Furthermore, if God forgives in the present and declares a man righteous we see that this is not a fiction but is God acting righteously for it is the only righteous response he can make to the one who believes in Jesus since Jesus’ obedience in death was specifically to provide a basis for God to righteously declare righteous the ungodly. Indeed, in this text the sacrifice of Jesus is God’s doing.  Undoubtedly, Jesus came of his own volition and offered himself, but that is not the point here; the point is that ‘God put Jesus forward as a propitiation by his blood’.  The action is God’s.  He takes the initiative in the provision of righteousness, a righteous initiative.

We could look elsewhere and see how the gospel reveals God acting righteously at the cross in judging sin and in overthrowing Satan.  He acts righteously when he raises Christ from the dead and places him at his right hand in glory for how else could God righteously act when Christ had so glorified him in death (Jn 13:31,32).  Again and again the gospel reveals God acting righteously in blessing.  Thus the gospel glorifies God’s righteousness for it reveals it in action. The gospel is not only God acting wisely, powerfully, graciously, mercifully, and lovingly, it is God acting righteously; the consistency of God’s character to its true nature is seen fully in the confluence of of righteous acts at the cross and the subsequent resurrection to glory of Christ and those united to him, who in turn become ‘the righteousness of God in him’ (2 Cor 5:21). Thus God’s righteousness shines in unrivalled brilliance in the gospel and the eyes of faith see, live, wonder, and worship.

*  We often hear that the Law reveals God’s righteousness.  It doesn’t.  It reveals the standard of righteousness that God demanded of man.  It does not reveal anything about what righteous behaviour in God looks like.  It would be ludicrous to apply these commandments to God (whether the Decalogue or the wider covenant stipulations).  God is not called to love his neighbour as himself.  Righteousness in God is not abstaining from committing adultery or stealing etc.   These are meaningful demands upon the responsible creature (and a sinful one at that) but not the Creator.  Thus the Law reveals the behaviour that God demands of man if he is to be righteous (live consistently with all the relationships he is placed in by God) but it does not reveal God in righteous activity (except when he punishes disobedience), the gospel, however, does.  The law shows the righteous behaviour God demands of man but not what righteousness looks like in him.

05
Jun
12

stellman, roman catholicism, and reformed inadequacies

Jason Stellman, a fairly prominent American Reformed Presbyterian has resigned his position and the signs are he is river crossing to the Roman Catholic Church.  Why?

Well, no doubt the ‘why’ is multifaceted. There are, however, two reasons that loom large involving both the formal and material principles of the Reformation (sola scriptura and sola fide).

Stellman has clearly become increasingly disaffected by some Presbyterian teaching on justification that he had personally and enthusiastically defended   – a definition of justification that distanced it from godly living.  The flaws in his definition evidently  became too big to ignore – the theological gap between justification by faith and justification by works became just too wide in the face of Scripture creating cognitive dissonance. Sola fide must have a place for works.

Furthermore, high churchman that he is, Stellman increasingly struggled with sola scriptura (the Bible as ultimate authority) perhaps fueled by the way the Bible is given a wax nose by modern evangelicals, reformed and otherwise, that seems to mean it is not an authority to which one can turn for certainty; Stellman hopes to find this authority and certainty in the church of Rome (in tradition and presumably papal infallibility).  I hope, I am representing him fairly, if perhaps a little too simply.

My aim is not to critique Jason Stellman’s decision but to remark briefly on these two reasons for swimming Romewards, whether by Stellman or others.

soteriological weakness – an inadequate shaping of justification and sola fide

There is a quasi-lutheran view of justification currently popular in some Presbyterian Reformed enclaves in the States (in particular) that virtually cuts the umbilical cord between justification and sanctification.  Justification implies, for some, no moral imperative.  Indeed, any talk of self-effort is ridiculed as pietistic, legalistic or Romish; Jesus has done everything, including keeping the law for us and therefore talk of aspiring to holiness is simply humbug and a denial of grace.  Of course, this flies in the face of Scripture.  It is little wonder that some who subscribe to this deeply circumscribed view of justification eventually find the biblical evidence to hard to ignore and perhaps end up over-reacting.

Justification, properly understood, is not as in Presbyterian theology, Jesus’ imputed life and death: his death for our sins (passive righteousness) clearing our guilt augmented by his life of law-keeping (active righteousness) giving us a positive law-keeping righteousness.   The whole structure here is flawed.  Justification is not based on Jesus life and death but on his death and life, that is his resurrection life.

Justification involves me in his death.  In his death I die. I die for the only possible end for a sinner is death.  The soul that sins must die and this admits of no exceptions.  Thus I and my sins were nailed to the cross.  The penalty was enacted and God’s justice satisfied. The debt was paid in full.  My history as a man in Adam came to an end.

But justification does not end here.  Christ could not stay in death.  It would be unrighteous of God to leave in death someone who had glorified him in life and death as Jesus had.  God must vindicate Jesus.  He must declare him righteous, hence resurrection.  In resurrection, Christ is vindicated as righteous.  Men said he was unrighteous and deserved to die but God said he is righteous and must live, as must all who are united to him by faith.

I (we who believe) share in this resurrection verdict and standing, the righteous verdict of the Father.  I am raised with Christ and have a new life,  resurrection life.  Justification is ‘unto life’ (Roms 5:18).  Christ was raised ‘for our justification’ (Roms 4:25).  Thus justification is inextricably linked with a new life and new lifestyle.  We must never separate justification from life and righteous living.  Godly living, living in the resurrection life of Christ, is always the vindication of justification.  Justification is to a life no longer ruled by sin, Satan, the world, law and death, a justified life.

The tendency in some modern Reformed circles to make an absolute disjunction between justification and sanctification puts an intolerable strain on reading Scripture with integrity.  It is impossible to read Scripture and pooh-pooh aspirations after godliness as legalistic and an attack on justification.  Any honest believer cannot help but reckon with James’s assertion that a person is in some sense ‘justified by works’.  Our works affirm and approve our justification, they attest to it and to God’s righteous judgement.  Justifying faith produces justifying works, works that are the proof of life and bring reward on the day of judgement.

Skewed and imbalanced theologies of justification may create reactions that lead to Rome.  They seem to have done so with Stellman.

ecclesiological weakness – an inadequate shaping of authority and sola scriptura

Stellman asks the age-old question – where does authority lie, in Scripture or the church?  The allied question is which comes first the Word or the church?

The answer to the second should be easy – the Word comes first.  The Word always comes first for it is by his Word God creates all things.  Not only does creation come by the Word but new creation comes by the Word.  We are born ‘by the word of truth’ (Jn 1:18).  The church is the product of the word and not vice versa.

However, the question still remains, who declares what this word is?  Who has authority to declare and delineate truth?  Although in one sense the Word or Truth is self-authenticating and has its own authority in another sense we can quite happily say the church declares and delineates the Word.  The church is the repository of the truth.  But which church?  The apostolic church.  The NT church.  It was the apostles and prophets (instructed by the risen Christ through the Spirit) who were entrusted with declaring and defining the Word.  They laid the foundations – namely Jesus Christ.  Thus, when I look to the church for truth I look to them.  John affirms concerning his witness and that of the other apostles,

1John 4:6 (ESV)
We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error. 

The apostles taught and revealed, ‘that which was from the beginning’ and all who had the indwelling the Spirit of truth listened to them.  Thus I find in Scripture, the only apostolic and so divinely authoritative word we have.  I listen to John… and Peter… and Paul…. and Matthew… and James… and whatever aligns with them I accept as the spirit of truth and whatever contradicts them I reject as the spirit of error.

How am I, a mere ordinary believer competent to so discern?  Don’t I need a guide, an interpreter?  Indeed I do.  I am instructed by the Spirit of truth who indwells and teaches.

1John 2:20-27 (ESV)
But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all have knowledge. I write to you, not because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and because no lie is of the truth… Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you too will abide in the Son and in the Father. And this is the promise that he made to us-eternal life.  I write these things to you about those who are trying to deceive you. But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie-just as it has taught you, abide in him. 

Stellman longs for certainty.  The only certainty lies in the apostolic word understood and interpreted by the indwelling Spirit.  The only message that has weight and divine imprimatur is ‘that which is from the beginning’.

In the great house of professing Christianity there is confusion and darkness mingled with that which is holy.  We should not be surprised at the chaos and that many who claim to follow Christ make a wax nose of Scripture and the apostolic teaching – such, after all,  was predicted by the Lord and his apostles (Matt 24:11; Acts 20:29; 2 Pet 2:1).  False prophets/teachers abound and deceive.   However, the way forward is not Rome, a church whose teaching cannot stand before the test of the apostolic word.  The answer is much more mundane and not terribly attractive or grandiose.  It is found in the instruction of the apostle Paul as he anticipates the apostasy of the visible church

2Tim 2:20-22 (ESV)
Now in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for honorable use, some for dishonorable. Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonourable, he will be a vessel for honourable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work.  So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.

The way forward is to separate oneself from all that is evidently doctrinally and morally corrupt and fellowship with small groups of like-minded believers who ‘call upon the Lord from a pure heart”.  In the context of false teachers and churches which have corrupted the gospel Paul says,

2Tim 2:19 (ESV)
But God’s firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity.” 

God knows who is real and who is unreal.  We cannot pontificate on this.  Our responsibility is to keep ourselves distant from all iniquity whether of belief or behaviour and leave the question of whether those who embrace it are truly Christian to the Lord.

Stellman hopes to find in the Roman Church what belongs only to the early church (apostolic certainty).  He has not grasped that the ruin he finds in secession runs through Rome too.  Stellman, high churchman that he is, is making the tragic mistake of seeking certainty in an institution and in a structure rather than in the Spirit.  He is confusing a human organisation with a spiritual organism and is doomed to disappointment as he substitutes a defective view of justification for one which is more defective and seeks divine authority where it does not reside.

In the age of the Spirit, the Spirit is Christ’s vicar on earth (Jn 14:16).  He led the apostles into truth (Jn 14:16).  When believers hear the true Spirit-breathed apostolic word expounded the indwelling Spirit authorises it to their hearts and minds and ecclesia fellowship in the Spirit ensues (we are, after all, a spiritual temple or house offering up spiritual sacrifices).  We may fully trust the Spirit.  When we don’t, like Stellman we look for certainty elsewhere whether it be, like him, the Westminster Confession of Faith or the Roman Magisterium.

26
Nov
11

works of law and works of grace

In a recent blog I argued that Christianity is all grace.  The OT Law, by contrast, was a covenant of works.   It did not function on the premise of grace or faith but human achieving.  Paul makes this crystal clear in Galatians.

Gal 3:10-14 (ESV)
For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us-for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”- so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.

And this is no isolated verse, though if it were it would be sufficient.  Other texts reveal the same teaching (Deut 27:26; Lev 18:5; Ezek 20:11; Roms 10:5; Lk 10:25-28). I underline this for many attempt to tell us, in the face of ample and clear biblical witness, that Law was a covenant of grace.  Emphatically, not so.

The simple fact is that the Mosaic Law was a covenant of works depending for its success on a righteousness achieved by man rather than a righteousness given by God; obedience brought blessing and life while disobedience brought curse and death.  It proved to be an abysmal failure leading ultimately to the curse of exile.  Thus, OT hope, realising the weakness of the OC, looked to a future when God himself would ‘work righteousness’ (Ps 103:6; Jer 51:10; Isa 33:5, 45:8) and ‘bring salvation’ (Isa 46:1).  This future salvation arrives of course in Messiah (Lk 1:67-80, 2:29-32, 19:9; Acts 13:23-51).  Today, is the day of salvation (2 Cor 6:2; 1 Pet 1:10).  Now is the realisation (at least in part) of the eschatological (end-time) salvation (1 Pet 1:10), righteousness (Roms 1:16-18), faith ( Gals 3:23, 25), and grace (Jn 1;17; 1 Pet 1:10; Tit 2:11) which the OT anticipated.  The Law may well have come through Moses but grace and truth comes through Jesus Christ (Jn 1:17).  Christianity is Christ and Christ is grace.

So stark and clear-cut is this contrast between old covenant law-works and new covenant gospel-grace that Paul can write:

Rom 4:4-5 (ESV)
Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift [or, not counted as of grace] but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness

Rom 11:6 (ESV)
But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.

and again

2Tim 1:9 (ESV)
who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began.

Law and Christ are different in principle.  Now it is just at this point that the question arises: does this mean that there are no ‘works’ that are expected (even demanded) of a Christian?  Has the gospel no obligations?  If God saves me by grace can I live as I like (Roms 6:1)?  Paul’s answer is ‘God forbid’  (Roms 6:2).

And it is as well we hear this apostolic consternation and denunciation and grasp it, for some Christians in their zeal to say that ‘works’ have no place in the Christian gospel go quite wrong at this point.  In their well-intentioned effort to maintain the biblical distinction between ‘law and grace” or ‘works and faith’ they teach ‘doing or works’  is always law and ‘done and faith’ are always gospel; works, they say, have nothing to do with gospel.  This, however well motivated, is a false dichotomy.  It is not the biblical paradigm.  Paul clearly expects the gospel to produce righteous living (Roms 6).  Paul’s opposition is not to ‘works’ per se, but to ‘law-works’.  And by ‘law-works’ he means specifically the ‘works’ of the Mosaic Covenant and more generally ‘works’ that rest on the same premise as this covenant.  And the premise is all important.  The ‘law-works’ Paul opposes are those that are undertaken as a means of gaining a righteousness before God that will merit eternal life.  The Mosaic Law offered life through righteousness achieved (this do and live).  And it did so by demanding obedience but offering no grace to obey.  It laid the responsibility firmly on unaided humanity, humanity ‘in the flesh’.

The Law ever assumes man in the flesh; life is not the starting point of the Law, it is the goal (Lev 18:5; Gals 3:10-14; Roms 7:14; Cf. Gals 3:3).  However, that which ‘promised life’ brought only death, for flesh, to which law was addressed, could not and would not obey (Roms 7:9-11) indeed the Law simply provoked flesh to sin all the more (Roms 7:5, 7-9).  Thus, Paul asserts:

Rom 3:20 (ESV)
For by works of the law no human being (better, ‘flesh’) will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.

Thus, the ‘works’ that Paul condemns and opposes are works that proceed on the basis of human nature seeking by its own righteousness to inherit (merit) eternal life.  Such are ‘the works of the law’.  When by my own ‘goodness’ I seek to gain a place in heaven, my ‘goodness’ is mere worthless ‘law-works’.  When I think I can ‘earn’ or ‘merit’  or ‘gain’ God’s favour by my own efforts, or believe I can somehow work my passage to heaven, I am attempting to ‘justify myself’ and  ‘trusting in myself’ before God.  I am looking for a way to put God in my debt (Roms 4:4).  And God will have none of it.  Quite apart from the futility of any efforts by me to achieve the righteousness God’s glory requires (Roms 3:23) God will simply not allow any man to have a basis for boasting before him (1 Cor 1:29; Roms 3:27; Phil 3:3).  And so we read:

Eph 2:8-10 (ESV)
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Yet, note carefully, this very text, which excludes all ‘works’ from salvation and insists instead that we are God’s ‘workmanship’ goes on toobserve that those saved by grace through faith are ‘created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them’.   ‘Good works’ are the very substance of the life that God has mapped out for those saved by grace.  And this text in Ephesians is by no means an isolated reference to the ‘good works’ of the believer.  Even if we limit our scan of the NT to the specific phrase ‘good works’ we find it is demanded and designated of Christians no less than twelve times (Acts 9:36; 1 Tim 2:10,5:10,5:25, 6:18; Tit 1:16, 2:7,14, 3:8,14; Hebs 10:24; 1 Pet 2:12).  Now, these are not ‘works’ that are dismissed and denounced but ‘works’ that are decreed and demanded.  In a word, these are not ‘law-works’ but ‘gospel-works’.  They are not ‘dead’ works of the flesh but the living fruit of the Spirit (Cf Acts 13:2).  They are ‘works of faith’ (Cf. Gals 5:6; 1 Thess 1:3; 2 Thess 1:11; Jas 2:18,22).  That is, they are ‘grace-works’ (2 Cor 9:8; Acts 14:28; Eph 3:7).  Once again Paul expresses clearly what ‘grace-works’ are:

1Cor 15:10 (ESV)
But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.

The differences between ‘works of the law’ and ‘works of grace’ now become obvious: law-works find their source in man whereas grace-works find their source in God; law-works base their hope in man whereas grace-works base their hope in God; law-works seek to gain life through works whereas grace-works express a life already possessed by grace; law-works have life as their goal while grace-works have life as their ground; law-works seek to earn salvation while grace-works seek to express salvation; law-works are our workings to impress God whereas grace-works are God working in us to please him.

The differences between the two are as wide as eternity.  One works for salvation and the other works from salvation.  In one the source is man and his arrogance and in the other the source is God and his grace.  One damns and the other saves.

Allow me, in conclusion, to make one final important observation.  We can only produce ‘grace-works’ if we stand entirely confident in our justification by grace through faith.  If our ‘works’ do not arise from the assurance that we are God’s children being simply the faith-response of gratitude to grace, then our ‘works’ will inevitably be law-works; if they not arise from the assurance of standing in grace then they must inevitably arise from an attempt to earn that standing.  To make the same point in another way: if we do not stand strong in our initial justification by grace through faith then our fitting justification by works (Jas 2), that is grace-works, will collapse into a  false justification by law (Gals 5:4) that is, law-works’; we will be ‘severed’ from grace (Gals 5:4)

Christianity is Christ and Christ is the gospel of grace.  Christianity is grace from first to last, including ‘grace-works’.

25
Oct
11

the obedient life of christ was not vicarious

I know we should not use the weakest expression of a position to criticise it.  I know it is easy to knock straw men.  The following example is both.  However, it is a view that I hear echoed regularly online; it may be a weak expression of a belief but it is certainly a prevalent one.  Here’s the quotation:

‘The believer is lukewarm, his/her Saviour was consumed by zeal. The believer is prayerless, but Christ continued all night in prayer to God. The believer is sluggish in obedience, but Christ delighted to do the will of the Father. All this and more – he is our peace, he is our wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption – when the law comes asking for obedience, believers can point to the Substitute in their law place.’

This is a belief founded on the view that the life of Christ is vicariously ours.  We are told that Christ’s active obedience to the law is our righteousness before God.  His death is not enough to declare us righteous, we also need an ‘active’ righteousness, a life lived.  I have tackled some of the better expressions of this position elsewhere in detail, here I am simply observing the absurdity of a popular expression of ‘imputed active obedience’.

I hope the absurdity of the quotation is obvious to all.  A Christian woman fails to dress modestly but Jesus dressed modestly on her behalf!  Is the corollary true?  I am not a good father and as Christ was never married he cannot have kept the law for me in this area.   The whole line of reasoning is monstrously inappropriate.  Christ’s life does not cover every situation believers over the ages have found themselves in an provide a corresponding ‘law-keeping’ for our ‘law-breaking’.  Yes indeed, Christ has glorified God in a life lived entirely in obedience.  Yes this life was necessary for our justification for the justifying death of Christ required a perfect sacrifice; the value of the death is in the life.  But it is not his life that atones but his death.  In the law the sacrifices that atoned were blood sacrifices.  Scripture could not be clearer:

Lev 17:11 (ESV)
For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life.

Without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sins.  Substitution lay in a death died not a life lived.  Consequently, we are said to be justified by Christ’s blood but never by his life (other than his life in resurrection which is something different).  The Law demands death for the law-breaker.  No amount of law-keeping by another can make a guilty man righteous.  Christ is my substitute by taking that death upon himself.  He took the curse of a broken law and so redeemed me from the law.  If I live now, I live on the other side of death in a resurrected Christ.  I stand in his righteous position before the Father.  It is a position that is beyond law and not answerable to law.

The great tragedy of this emphasis on IAO is that it takes atonement away from the cross and places it at the incarnation.  Notice how the writer finds his peace in Christ’s life rather than his death: ‘when the law comes asking for obedience, believers can point to the Substitute in their law place.’  The glory of the cross is occluded.  Yet in heaven the song of the redeemed is to the lamb, the one who has purchased men to God by his blood’.  It is at the cross that substitution takes place (Isa 53).  There redemption is accomplished (Roms 3).  It is Christ lifted up who draws all men to him.  The cross is the place of propitiation and where God’s righteousness in salvation is displayed (Roms 3).  It is in being justified by his blood we have peace with God (Roms 5:1).  We are reconciled to God through the death of his son (Roms 5:10; Col 1:10).  It is on the cross he suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he may bring us to God.  In the words of an old hymn concerning the cross:

Bearing shame and scoffing rude
In my place condemned he stood
Sealed my pardon with his blood
Hallelujah, what a Saviour.
 

The lesson for us all is – let the Bible speak and not theological constructs.  When we adopt constructs and then extrapolate on them, we end up with positions that are risible.  Moreover, it seems to be a rule that the construct eventually supplants the truth.

23
Mar
11

romans, and the righteousness of god (2)

Rom 1:16-17 (ESV)
I am not ashamed of the gospel… for in it the righteousness of God is revealed…

A world that is right is what is needed.  Creation groans eager to birth a world right in every way,  a new world suffused with righteousness where righteousness is the plumb-line (Isa 28:17),  flows like the waves of the sea (Isa 48:18), ​​​​​​​and like an ever-flowing stream (Amos 5:24).   The yearning of the righteous is for a creation where the clouds rain down righteousness (Isa 45:8) and righteousness sprouts from the ground like a fruit (Isa 45:8), and where all the people are oaks of righteousness before the Lord (Isa 61:3).

But…  the reality is far from this.

Unrighteousness is the reigning paradigm.  Creation’s steward has despoiled it with unrighteousness and its fruits.  This anatomy of human unrighteousness Paul lays bare in Roms 1:18-3:20: absurd idolatry (1:18-22); unnatural sexuality (1:24-27); brutish behaviour (1: 28-31); permissive morality (1:32); and, perhaps worst of all, moral and religious hypocrisy, epitomised most clearly in the Jewish nation, God’s chosen people (2;1-29).

The Jewish nation believed themselves a cut above all other nations, and they were.  They were God’s chosen people.  They alone had been given God’s Law.  They were God’s chosen mouthpiece to the nations (2:17-20).  Yet Paul is unambiguous – they too have failed and failed abysmally (2:21,22).  The Law was of little value if they did not keep it; the unrighteousness of the supposedly righteous, is the greatest unrighteousness of all (2:23).

The conclusion is as inevitable as it is chilling; if  the most privileged nation on earth (Israel) was pervasively and incorrigibly unrighteous what hope had any other – every mouth is stopped and the whole world is guilty before God (3:20). Because of wilful unrighteousness, the wrath of God is announced from heaven and is inevitably coming (1:18, 2:5-11).  What humanity need fear is not its destructive self, nor even on-going tsunamis, earthquakes and famines awful though they may be, but the final, dreadful, terrifying cataclysmic judgement of a God whose patience has finally ended and who is determined to purge his creation of its moral filth, consigning the unrighteous to Gehenna, the eternal burnings.  Such righteous judgement is the only righteous way for a righteous God to act.

Or is it?  Is a vision of a righteous universe where all the people are ‘oaks of righteousness’ and ‘justice flows like rivers and righteousness like an ever-ending stream’ no more than a prophetic pipe dream?  Is it merely a Seer’s romantic fancy? Is God’s righteousness something we must inevitably fear for it means we must perish?  Thankfully, it is not.

The glory of the gospel is its declaration that God has found a way to be merciful in righteousness, a way to righteously declare the unrighteous, righteous,  a way to establish righteousness by saving not destroying.

The  previous post noted four points about this gospel righteousness implicit in Roms 1:17.  It is… eschatological righteousness … God’s righteousness… saving righteousness… and righteousness received by faith.  In Roms 3;21-26 Paul expands all four aspects.  In five key verses of compressed theology Paul explains the central elements of the saving righteousness of God.  Any attempt to understand what the Bible means by ‘righteousness of God’ must grapple with this text.  I shall comment on a number of its expressions hoping to unpack some of its meaning.

Rom 3:21-26 (ESV)
But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it- the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

But now…

Paul’s ‘But now‘ signals a contrast.  The contrast is not simply a change in his exposition but more particularly a change in eras -  a change in God’s working in history.  The previous era of Law which condemned by exposing human unrighteousness  has given way to a new era of gospel which saves by exhibiting God’s righteousness.  The eschatological age of salvation-righteousness predicted by the OT prophets has now arrived.  As J R W Stott writes,

The ‘Now seems to have a threefold reference – logical (the developing argument), chronological (the present time), and eschatological (the new age has arrived).

Israel believed that its salvation and that of the world lay in the Law of God (2:17-20); in law-keeping lay righteousness and life.  It was a profound mistake.  The Law, even before it had properly embedded, was exposed as inadequate to establish righteousness.  Even as the tablets of the covenant were being given by God to Moses on Sinai, they were being broken on the plains below as the people worshipped an idolatrous golden calf (Ex 32).  This incident portended the future.  The Law would not keep the people from being just as depraved as the surrounding nations who had no such Law.  It was clear that the Law could not deliver righteousness or deliver from wrath, all it could do was expose sin.  As Paul writes,

Rom 3:19-20 (ESV)
Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.

If righteousness (and so life) was to be established then it would need to be from another source than humanity.  And so the prophetic voice, informed by the Lord, announced a righteousness sourced not in man but in God (3:21).  It anticipated a time when God himself would act in salvation and righteousness and establish both.  It spoke of the ‘good news’ of God’s coming saving righteousness, this saving righteousness Paul says has now arrived, or ‘been manifested‘.  (Of course, God’s saving righteousness always existed.  From Adam sinners were always justified by God’s righteousness received by faith, but now this righteousness is ‘revealed’, that is, the death of Christ has accomplished and exhibited it.  The gospel, once anticipated, has now been realised and fully revealed.)

righteousness of God apart from law (without law)…

We should reflect deeply on this expression.

  • Paul does not say the Law is one example of God’s righteousness and the Gospel is another.  For Paul, the Law never reveals God’s righteousness, what it reveals (if kept) is man’s righteousness.  It is only and always the gospel that reveals ‘righteousness of God’.  We create a non-Pauline paradigm and so confusion when we speak of the Law as revealing God’s righteousness.  I repeat, for Paul, only the gospel does this.
  • Paul does not say, ‘In the gospel righteousness is established not by you keeping the Law but by Jesus keeping the Law in your place and on your behalf’.  If this is what gospel righteousness is then here would have been the ideal and obvious place for Paul to have said so.  But he doesn’t.  Instead he insists on the opposite.  He states unequivocally, that the ‘righteousness of God’ has nothing to do with law-keeping.  Indeed, it has nothing to do with the Law.   It is righteousness ‘apart from law’ or ‘without law’, that is, it is righteousness different in premise and principle, and in fact belonging to a different period of redemptive history altogether.   This is a critical point to grasp for failure to appreciate this contributes to mistaken ideas in justification that plague much Evangelical thinking, particularly Reformed Evangelical thinking.  Gospel righteousness is not simply law-righteousness gained for me by another (IAO). It is not merely law-righteousness by another route, by the back door.   It is righteousness of a different kind, of a different epoch, and of a different source altogether.  This is precisely why Paul emphatically refers to this righteousness as... ‘righteousness of God apart from law’
  • The old era of Law put the emphasis on human responsibility; it looked for righteousness in man.  The righteousness of Law was predicated on ‘do this and live’.  It promised life for righteous living.  Yet, though this was its promise it was not its intent.  God did not give the Law hoping to establish righteousness through fallen human beings but to prove conclusively the futility of such a route to righteousness; he gave it to expose sin (3:20).  Only when all human attempts at righteousness have been exposed as the abysmal and abject failure they are, establishing beyond doubt humanity’s incorrigible unrighteousness and moral bankruptcy (Roms 3:9-20), does God reveal the glory and grace of his own saving righteousness.  Only when it is  established in history that humanity cannot be the architect of its own salvation will God’s salvation-righteousness be revealed.  God will have it crystal clear that if there is to be a saving righteousness then it will be and must be his and not man’s, and that the only ‘righteousness’ celebrated and boasted eternally will be God’s; boasting and glorying in any other is anathema (2:23, 3:27, 4:1,2; 1 Cor 1:28-30).  The gospel reveals God’s righteousness and in it he is glorified and no other.

Of course humanity refuses to learn the lesson of Israel and the Law.  It still seeks to establish its own righteousness.  But it does so against the damning evidence of history.  If Israel failed under Law all have failed (3:20).  Humanity post-cross is pronounced ‘dead’ in trespasses and sins (Eph 2:1)  There is no hope in human righteousness; hope of averting God’s wrath (1:18) lies only in the gospel, in ‘righteousness of God’.

I would add one further comment here.  We should not confuse ‘God’s righteousness‘ and ‘Christ’s righteousness’.  When Romans speaks of ‘God’s righteousness‘ it means just that, ‘God’s‘ righteousness.  It does not mean the righteousness of Christ.  God’s saving righteousness of course intimately involves Christ as the text we are considering shows but we confuse Paul’s thought if we conflate Christ’s righteousness and God’s righteousness.  They are distinct and should be kept distinct.  That Paul means ‘God’s‘ righteousness is emphatic in the text.  Three times in five verses we read of  ‘God’s righteousness‘  (3: 21,22, 25. Cf. 1:17, 10:3; Phil 3:9; 2 Cor 5:21) and once of  ‘his righteousness’ , meaning God’s (3:26).

The text could hardly be more emphatic; in the gospel the eschatological age of salvation has dawned.  It is an age where God’s righteousness is the focus and no other (Cf 3:27).  When we have established that Paul’s focus is God’s righteousness, not man’s, not even Christ’s, we have established something profoundly important and we are thinking across the synapses of the gospel.

witnessed by the Law and prophets

I have already alluded to this expression above.  If there is discontinuity between the Law and the gospel (both different epochs based on different sources of righteousness) then there is also continuity.  The continuity lies in the predictive element of both the Law and the prophets (often a term that covers the whole of the OT).

How did the Law predict the gospel?  Principally and specifically, the gospel is predicted in the sacrificial system of the Law.   Thus the following verses speak of redemption, sacrifice and the mercy-seat as the means by which God’s righteousness is revealed and administered (22-25).  The prophets, as we have already seen, regularly anticipated the Age of Salvation when the righteousness of the Lord would be revealed (  E.g. Isa 46:13; 51:5,6,8).

And so, in 3:21 Paul begins to put in context the ‘righteousness of God‘.  In the verses which follow he unpacks the meaning of the expression.  We shall consider these verses in a further blog.  For now let me re-assert we have understood nothing of the rationale of the gospel if we have not grasped this fundamental truth – the gospel is nothing if it is not ‘righteousness of God’.

02
Mar
11

romans, and the righteousness of god (1)

Righteousness gets a bad press in life.  In fact, it is a word rarely used today (we may speak of justice, or right, but not righteousness).  If used or conceptualised it tends to suggest ideas of a moral uprightness devoid of love.  We connect it with assumed moral superiority; righteousness for us means self-righteousness.   Even in biblical times such impressions of righteousness were current.  That is why Paul says,

Rom 5:7-8 (ESV)
For one will scarcely die for a righteous person-though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die- but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

But righteousness is not a cold charity, it is all that is good and right.  Imagine a world where everyone does from the heart what is right in every situation.  Imagine fathers who always act just as a father should or husbands who always are proper husbands.  Think of leaders who are utterly responsible in their role as leaders.  Leaders who care passionately about true justice and the rights of those they lead.  Imagine all creation giving the Creator the glory and worship that are rightly his.

Righteousness is right-living flowing from hearts that love what is right and hate what is wrong.  It is behaviour (in motive, thought and action) totally consistent with what ought to be.   While righteousness requires a holy nature or heart it is probably better, at least in the strictest sense, not to speak of inherent or intrinsic righteousness.  Righteousness is always in reference to something.  In God, righteousness is all that is consistent with who he is in himself; in us, it is consistency with the demands of the created relationships  in which he has placed us.  I may be inherently holy (God is) but I am righteous if I do what is required of me (1 Jn 3:7).

And so, righteousness means a world where everyone is right and everyone receives his rights;  and so too, it is a vision of a world without guilt (for there is no wrong-doing) and without grief (for there is none and nothing to harm and none who deserve to be harmed).  Such a utopian world is the stuff of dreams. It is the kind of society that many labour to achieve but never do.  Men are always frustrated not simply by the unrighteousness of others but by the unrighteousness of their own lives. This is the anxiety of the human condition.  No matter how hard we try we cannot begin to come close to achieving the kind of personal righteousness far less societal righteousness that we know should exist.  We are stymied at every turn by endemic unrighteousness.  When we know what is right we so often simply don’t do it even at the most rudimentary and basic level.  The chaos and injustice of life is ample evidence of this even if we are unaware of our own hearts.  We cannot even achieve a modicum of personal or societal righteousness that may satisfy us as human beings and make for a fairer world, even less can we achieve the deep and radical righteousness of motive and action that would be heaven on earth and be pleasing to God.  There is none righteous, no not one.

Yet such a world will one day exist.  The Bible anticipates ‘a new heavens and new earth where righteousness dwells’, or, ‘where righteousness is at home’ (2 Pet 3:13).  Romans is the primary book in the Bible that tells us how this cosmic and radically righteous creation will be achieved.  It reveals the basic building blocks on which it is founded.  In fact, the establishing of righteousness is the ‘good news’ that constitutes the Christian gospel.

In Romans 1 Paul introduces this gospel.  He describes it like this.

Rom 1:16-17 (ESV)
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. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”

  • the righteousness of God  is saving righteousness or gospel righteousness

The gospel is about ‘salvation (Roms 1:16) and it is in this context of ‘salvation’ that ‘righteousness of God” is revealed. God will of course be righteous in his final judgement on the wicked just as he has been righteous in all his judgements in history but this is not the righteousness referred to here.  Here it is saving righteousness, or gospel righteousness.  Of course, saving righteousness can only take place in the context of judging and overthrowing wickedness, nevertheless we should keep firmly in our minds the locus in which God’s righteousness is revealed in Romans, is saving (1:16).

We should note too it is gospel righteousness as opposed to legal righteousness, or law righteousness.  The Law of Sinai was a revelation of the righteousness that God required of man whereas the gospel is a revelation of righteousness that is all of God .  In Romans, law righteousness and gospel righteousness exist largely in contrast (Roms 3:21a) though the law does witness to gospel righteousness (Roms 3:21b).

  • the righteousness of God is eschatological righteousness

The OT regularly anticipated a day when the saving righteousness of God would be revealed.  The prophets of Israel saw the sin and suffering of Israel and envisaged a future when idolatry, unfaithfulness, injustice, unrighteousness, oppression and all the entail of these would be no more.  They spoke of it as the day of salvation and righteousness. Some time ago I  posted tracing God’s righteousness in Isaiah.  Below are a few examples.

Isaiah speak of a time when the Lord would say,

Isa 45:8 (ESV)
“Shower, O heavens, from above, ​​​​​​​and let the clouds rain down righteousness; ​​​​​​​let the earth open, that salvation and righteousness may bear fruit; ​​​​​​​let the earth cause them both to sprout; ​​​​​​​I the Lord have created it.

Isa 46:12-13 (ESV)
“Listen to me, you stubborn of heart, ​​​​​​​you who are far from righteousness: ​​​ ​​​​​​​​I bring near my righteousness; it is not far off, ​​​​​​​and my salvation will not delay; ​​​​​​​I will put salvation in Zion, ​​​​​​​for Israel my glory.”

God’s salvation righteousness while first to Israel is not, however, limited to Israel, it is for all peoples.

Isa 51:5 (ESV)
My righteousness draws near, ​​​​​​​my salvation has gone out, ​​​​​​​and my arms will judge the peoples; ​​​​​​​the coastlands hope for me, ​​​​​​​and for my arm they wait.

And so when Paul says the righteousness of God  is now revealed (1:17) or manifested (3:21);  he is saying this End-Time salvation long anticipated has now arrived.

  • the righteousness of God is exactly that, ‘righteousness of God’.

In each of the above Isaian references salvation and righteousness are accomplished by God.  He speaks of ‘my righteousness’ and ‘my salvation’.  This is critical to understanding the gospel.  The gospel is all about ‘righteousness of God’.  It is God’s righteousness in specific contrast to man’s righteousness.  The OT is the story of human unrighteousness in the fall and beyond.  From Adam’s sin the history of humanity has been desperate and despairing.  Humanity is incapable of righteousness. God proves this conclusively in the story of Israel.

Israel was chosen and privileged of God.  She was like a vine especially cultivated and cared for by God (Isa 5).  She is given God’s Law and promised life upon obedience (this do and live).  Such righteousness if achieved would be human righteousness, a righteousness of works, man’s righteousness.  However Israel did not keep the Law, indeed it was never God’s intention that she would.  God knew human righteousness was impossible.  The Law was really given not to effect human righteousness but to expose human unrighteousness; unrighteousness in fallen man in the most favourable of circumstances.  Israel failed utterly.  She proved to have a rebellious heart, and the Law which promised life and which Israel promised to obey only demonstrated this rebellion as it was repeatedly and pervasively flouted.  The law which promised life produced death.  Israel’s guilt, humanity tested under the most favourable conditions in a fallen world, served only to establish the guilt of the whole human race.  As Paul says in Roms 3

Rom 3:19-20 (ESV)
Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.

Human righteousness by law had proved a complete failure.  If there was hope for the world it must lie outside of man and outside of the law; it must lie in God.  Humanity could not save itself, God must save it.  Humanity had no righteousness and could not make itself righteous, righteousness must be sourced in God.  In Isaiah 59 God says,

Isa 59:3-21 (ESV)
For your [Israel's] hands are defiled with blood ​​​​​​​and your fingers with iniquity; ​​​​​​​your lips have spoken lies; ​​​​​​​your tongue mutters wickedness. ​​​ ​​​​​​​​No one enters suit justly; ​​​​​​​no one goes to law honestly; ​​​​​​​they rely on empty pleas, they speak lies, ​​​​​​​they conceive mischief and give birth to iniquity. ​​​ ​​​​​​​​They hatch adders’ eggs; ​​​​​​​they weave the spider’s web; ​​​​​​​he who eats their eggs dies, ​​​​​​​and from one that is crushed a viper is hatched. ​​​ ​​​​​​​​Their webs will not serve as clothing; ​​​​​​​men will not cover themselves with what they make. ​​​​​​​Their works are works of iniquity, ​​​​​​​and deeds of violence are in their hands. ​​​ ​​​​​​​​Their feet run to evil, ​​​​​​​and they are swift to shed innocent blood; ​​​​​​​their thoughts are thoughts of iniquity; ​​​​​​​desolation and destruction are in their highways. ​​​ ​​​​​​​​The way of peace they do not know, ​​​​​​​and there is no justice in their paths; ​​​​​​​they have made their roads crooked; ​​​​​​​no one who treads on them knows peace. ​​​ ​​​​​​​​Therefore justice is far from us, ​​​​​​​and righteousness does not overtake us; ​​​​​​​we hope for light, and behold, darkness, ​​​​​​​and for brightness, but we walk in gloom. ​​​ ​​​​​​​​We grope for the wall like the blind; ​​​​​​​we grope like those who have no eyes; ​​​​​​​we stumble at noon as in the twilight, ​​​​​​​among those in full vigor we are like dead men. ​​​ ​​​​​​​​We all growl like bears; ​​​​​​​we moan and moan like doves; ​​​​​​​we hope for justice, but there is none; ​​​​​​​for salvation, but it is far from us. ​​​ ​​​​​​​​For our transgressions are multiplied before you, ​​​​​​​and our sins testify against us; ​​​​​​​for our transgressions are with us, ​​​​​​​and we know our iniquities: ​​​ ​​​​​​​​transgressing, and denying the Lord, ​​​​​​​and turning back from following our God, ​​​​​​​speaking oppression and revolt, ​​​​​​​conceiving and uttering from the heart lying words. ​​​ ​​​​​​​​Justice is turned back, ​​​​​​​and righteousness stands far away; ​​​​​​​for truth has stumbled in the public squares, ​​​​​​​and uprightness cannot enter. ​​​ ​​​​​​​​Truth is lacking, ​​​​​​​and he who departs from evil makes himself a prey.

The Lord saw it, and it displeased him ​​​​​​​that there was no justice. ​​​ ​​​​​​​​He saw that there was no man, ​​​​​​​and wondered that there was no one to intercede; ​​​​​​​then his own arm brought him salvation, ​​​​​​​and his righteousness upheld him. ​​​ ​​​​​​​​He put on righteousness as a breastplate, ​​​​​​​and a helmet of salvation on his head; ​​​​​​​he put on garments of vengeance for clothing, ​​​​​​​and wrapped himself in zeal as a cloak. According to their deeds, so will he repay, ​​​​​​​wrath to his adversaries, repayment to his enemies; ​​​​​​​to the coastlands he will render repayment. ​​​ ​​​​​​​​So they shall fear the name of the Lord from the west, ​​​​​​​and his glory from the rising of the sun; ​​​​​​​for he will come like a rushing stream, ​​​​​​​which the wind of the Lord drives. ​​​ ​​​​​​​​“And a Redeemer will come to Zion, ​​​​​​​to those in Jacob who turn from transgression,” declares the Lord. ​​​ “And as for me, this is my covenant with them,” says the Lord: “My Spirit that is upon you, and my words that I have put in your mouth, shall not depart out of your mouth, or out of the mouth of your offspring, or out of the mouth of your children’s offspring,” says the Lord, “from this time forth and forevermore.”

I have quoted the whole of this chapter for even a cursory reading reveals how heavily Paul draws from it in Roms 3-8.  The first paragraph establishes Israel’s unrighteousness.  Paul parallels it in thought and quotes it in terms in Roms 3:1-20.  There is no hope for Israel or humanity in personal righteousness.  Humanity has feet ‘swift to shed blood, innocent blood‘ (expressed most damningly in the blood of Messiah).  But precisely when ‘there is no man‘ and universal guilt is established (Roms 3:20) ‘then his own arm brought him salvation, ​​​​​​​and his righteousness upheld him. ​​​ ​​​​​​​​He put on righteousness as a breastplate, ​​​​​​​and a helmet of salvation on his head’. In the moment when hope is lost God works salvation.  He establishes righteousness, but it is not righteousness sourced in man and on the principle of law through works but righteousness sourced in God and upon the principle of grace through faith (Roms 3:21-30).

A Redeemer shall come to Zion (Cf.  Zech 9:9; Roms 3:24) bringing redemption not only for Israel but to the nations, ‘they shall fear the name of the Lord from the west, ​​​​​​​and his glory from the rising of the sun’ (Roms 3: 22, 29,30).  He shall come ‘like a rushing stream which the wind of the Lord drives‘ (stream and wind are both images of God’s powerful and refreshing Spirit of God) and the Spirit of God will be upon them and mouths that once ‘spoke lies… wickedness… lying words… where truth stumbled’ now overflow with the word of the Lord (Cf John 7:37-39; Acts 2:17,18; Roms 5:5, 7:6, 8:1-30, 10:5-13).

Righteousness is established, but we must underline again, it is ‘righteousness of God’ (an expression, though not an idea, exclusive to Romans save for 2 Cor 5:21).  Notice, in 1:17 there is no definite article.  It is not ‘the righteousness of God’ but ‘righteousness of God’.  It is an abstract term deliberately contrasting righteousness which has its source and value in man with righteousness which has its source and value in God.  It is emphatically ‘God’s righteousness and not man’s.  In the gospel God in grace acts ‘right’ and is seen to act ‘right’ in righting all that is wrong.  The gospel will achieve righteousness in our standing before God, in a life given by God, and ultimately in a new heavens and earth where righteousness will reign.  But it will be all  ‘of God’.  In God’s salvation man shall never have anything to boast about, all will be to the glory of God (Roms 4:2; 1 Cor 1:29-31). In the gospel it is emphatically ‘God’s’ righteousness that is revealed and God that is revealed as righteous; that is, it is not simply righteousness ‘from’ God, though it is this gloriously, but it is righteousness ‘of’ God.  In the gospel God not only vindicates but is vindicated.  The glory of the gospel is that it glorifies God’s righteousness.  God is true when every man is a liar; any boasting can only be in God (Roms 1:17).

Rom 3:27 (ESV)
Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law [principle] of faith.

For by grace we are saved through faith and that not of yourself it is the gift of God, not of works lest any man should boast (Eph 2).

  • the righteousness of God is by faith

Rom 3:21-22 (ESV)
But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it- the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.

For our purposes at the moment there are only a few brief points to underline; God’s righteousness is embraced ‘by faith’.  Paul says it is ‘through faith for faith‘ or if you like gospel righteousness is received ‘on the principle of faith by people of faith‘.  Faith here we will see as Paul’s argument progresses is in explicit contrast to ‘works’ or attempts to be righteous by our own efforts.  Faith is simply the acknowledgement that it is all of God.

There are two corollaries:

  • God’s saving righteousness is universal in scope

Unlike law it does not particularize the covenant people as Israel and those who have Law, rather it is for ‘everyone who believes’ (1:16), ‘to the Jew first and also to the Greek’.

  • God’s saving righteousness starts with the individual

There is much emphasis today on the cosmic elements of salvation.  We are told that God intends to renew the whole of the Cosmos; he intends to create a new heavens and new earth in which righteousness dwells.    And this is gloriously true.  However, the only way into the new heavens and new earth in which righteousness dwells is to be declared personally righteous by faith.  All too often this cosmic salvation is presented in a way that denigrates and even denies individual salvation.  The requirement of ‘faith’ gives the lie to this view.  Faith is emphatically individual.

Thus from Roms 1:17 we can deduce that ‘righteousness of God’ is God’s righteous activity as he intervenes in history to vindicate and save. The unpacking of this takes place throughout the letter.  In a future blog we will consider 3:21-26.

17
Feb
11

murray and double imputation

All Protestant Christians believe in imputation.  That is, they believe we are constituted righteous by God on the basis of  the propitiatory sacrifice of Christ; righteousness is from without.  Many Reformed Christians, however,will not allow that it is simply the death of Christ that justifies; they insist Christ’s death only cancels our guilt it does not constitute us righteous.   Righteousness only comes through a law-keeping life imputed.  Hence the term ‘double imputation’.

John Murray, in his generally excellent book ‘Redemption Accomplished and Applied’ puts it like this:

The real use and purpose of the formula (active and passive obedience) is to emphasize the two distinct aspects of our Lord’s vicarious obedience. The truth expressed rests upon the recognition that the law of God has both penal sanctions and positive demands. It demands not only the full discharge of its precepts but also the infliction of penalty for all infractions and shortcomings. It is this twofold demand of the law of God which is taken into account when we speak of the active and passive obedience of Christ. Christ as the vicar of his people came under the curse and condemnation due to sin and he also fulfilled the law of God in all its positive requirements. In other words, he took care of the guilt of sin and perfectly fulfilled the demands of righteousness. He perfectly met both the penal and the preceptive requirements of God’s law. The passive obedience refers to the former and the active obedience to the latter.

Murray’s point is that a law-breaker will not be vindicated and righteous before the law simply by paying the broken law’s penalty he must add to that a life of perfect law obedience.  His argument is wrong on a number of levels that we can’t address now (not least his assumption that all are answerable to a covenant made only with Israel).  I want simply to ask two questions.

  • How does this stack up with what you know of natural systems of justice?

Suppose you break the law and are sentenced to five years in prison.  At the end of the five years your sentence is over and you step outside of the prison a free man.  What is your status before the law?  Should someone accuse you again of the crime for which you were imprisoned what would the law say?  The answer is self-evident.  Before the law you are cleared.  You are righteous.  You have no guilt.  You do not need to go and earn the right to be part of society again.  Before the law a person is either guilty or righteous and there is no in-between.  A man whose sentence has been paid is not guilty before the law, he is righteous.

  • How does the Bible say a law-breaker can be declared righteous?

As far as the Bible is concerned what law-breakers need is not someone to keep the law’s precepts on their behalf  but someone to bear the law’s penalty in their place; their need is not a surrogate life but a sacrificial and substitutionary death. The law promised life to those who kept it and death to those who broke it.  Law-breakers needed someone to undertake their death penalty.

There is simply no clause in the law allowing a sinless life to merit righteousness for a sinful life or  a law-keeper’s righteousness to be transferred to a law-breaker.   The only provision in the Law for sin lay in blood-sacrifice.  Forgiveness (which is tantamount to justification – a clean slate before the law) lay in sacrificial death.

Thus we read,

Heb 9:13-14 (ESV)
For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.

Heb 9:15 (ESV)
Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance,
since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant.

Heb 9:22 (ESV)
Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.

Heb 10:10 (ESV)
And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

Heb 10:14 (ESV)
For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.

The blood of Christ completely purges, purifies, redeems, sanctifies, and forgives every transgression of the law. It is gloriously and completely efficacious.  No ‘added’ law-keeping righteousness is necessary to ‘top-up’ the cleansing/purifying/justifying value of the atoning death of Christ.  What Murray says sounds plausible but it isn’t biblical.

It’s good to read people like John Murray.  I have read a great deal he has written and benefitted from it.  However, it is important with Murray as with everyone else to bring their logic before the bar of Scripture.  What is clearly taught in Scripture hold on to, what is not, discard. 

15
Feb
11

imputed active obedience (IAO), a must or a misdirection? (12)

The intention of the last couple of posts (here and here) on this topic has been to demonstrate that the Bible does not support the reformed construct of IAO.  We have seen that the OT  knows nothing of a law-keeping life lived on behalf of another.  In the OT, when the law is broken only a blood sacrifice can atone (Hebs 9:22).  The gospels tell the same story.  Jesus indeed keeps the Law, but his obedience to Law is not the emphasize of the gospels.  The gospels’ gospel’ is Christ introducing the Kingdom of God (eternal life in John’s gospel) through his saving mission demonstrated in liberating works and words, his ransoming death, and his subsequent resurrection. There is simply no hint in the gospels that integral to the ‘good news’ is a life of law-keeping obedience conferred on others.

What of the rest of the NT?

The emphasis thus far is entirely consistent.  In unison the music of the NT celebrates  the death (not the life) of Christ as the basis of atonement.  Justification, redemption, reconciliation and acceptance with God are always on the basis of death.  Below are most of the NT texts that unpack the basis of acceptance with God.  I ask simply that you scan these verses and with honesty and integrity judge whether what they unpack is acceptance with God based on a law-keeping life imputed to others.  I recommend you read through the whole of the NT with the express purpose of inquiring whether such a theory is evidently one the NT champions.  I submit any such honest inquiry, free of presuppositions, will leave the dogma of IAO dead in the water.  I believe you will find, as the following texts reveal, that acceptance is never based on the merit of Christ’s life  imputed (that is his life lived on earth) and always on the value of his vicarious death and our union with him in his death and his subsequent resurrection.

Acts

What do the early apostles preach?  They did not preach in Acts a developed theology of atonement but they did focus on the mission, death and resurrection of Christ.  Peter’s message is typical:

Acts 2:22-24,28 (ESV)
“Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know- this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it… “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Notice, there is not a hint of vicarious law-keeping obedience, even to a Jewish audience.  The focus is squarely on messianic credentials of mighty works, the  designed death of Christ, his rejection by the people, and his subsequent resurrection.  Essentially the same message repeats itself in the early Acts (3:11-26; 4:7-12, 23-31; 5:29-31; 8:51-53).  In Ch 9 Philip meets a gentile (the Ethiopian eunuch) who is reading Isa 53 (the death of Christ) from which Peter preaches to him ‘the good news about Jesus’.  In Ch 10 the message Peter taught in Acts 2 is substantially repeated to Cornelius a gentile God-fearer (10:34-42).  The same message is taught by Paul (13:26-42).

Acts presents for belief a Messiah who has revealed his credentials in wonders and signs, who has died and risen again.  But what is entirely absent is a gospel of vicarious law-keeping righteousness.  The church of God has been purchased by blood (Acts 20:34-42) not law-works, even law-works by Christ.

Romans

Rom 3:21-26 (ESV)
But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it- the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

I intend to consider this text in detail in a future post.  At the moment I want simply to note that God’s saving righteousness (and this is the key text in Romans and indeed the whole of Scripture on the topic) is located firmly in the redemptive and propitiatory death of Christ.  Of all places for Paul to have developed IAO this would be it, but there is not a scent; it is conspicuously absent. Note too, that the ‘righteousness’ discussed is specifically ‘God’s’ and not ‘Christ’s’.

Rom 4:24-25 (ESV)
…. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.

Note again the focus on death.  Where justification is concerned in Romans, we are justified by grace (3:24), Christ’s blood (5:9), Christ’s resurrection (4:25), and our faith (5:1).  Never by his law-keeping life.

Rom 5:6-11 (ESV)
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person-though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die- but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

The death of Christ is again the focus of justification.  Notice ‘we shall be saved through his life‘.  On more than one occasion past reformed exegetes have employed this text in support of IAO (John Owen, defending IAO, interpreted it,  ‘we are saved by that perfect Obedience which in his life he yielded to the Law of God’).  It shows something of their desperation (or poor exegetical skills) for the expression clearly refers to Christ’s present life in resurrection not his life on earth.  Notice it is those already reconciled by his death who are saved by his life.  The expression is an evident allusion to ‘raised for our justification’ (4:25) and Christ’s present King-priest intercession at the right hand of God for his own (Roms 8:33,34)

Rom 5:18-19 (ESV)
Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.

Perhaps the favourite text used to ‘justify’ IAO.  Again, I hope to consider it more fully in a later post.  Note: a) the text must be considered in the context of all that has gone before and all that has gone before has located the death of Christ as the place of justification b) it is ‘one act of righteousness’ paralleling Adam’s ‘one trespass’.  The whole section parallels two acts not two lives c) one man’s ‘disobedience’ refers back to the ‘one trespass’ and ‘one man’ obedience’ refers back to the ‘one act of obedience’.  Whether your context is immediate or the whole of Romans the conclusion is the same; the propitiatory death of Christ is the place of ‘justification and life’.

Rom 8:3-4 (ESV)
For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

Condemned sin ‘in the flesh’.  Commentators agree ‘in the flesh’ is a reference to the condemnation of sin (not sins) in the death of Christ.  Christ’s death was the end of sin (as it was the end of Satan, death, and Law).

Rom 8:33-34 (ESV)
Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died-more than that, who was raised-who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.

Notice the key twin focus of death and resurrection in the matter of justification.  Accusation and condemnation cannot stand before these and a God who has determined to justify in the light of these.  But no mention of a law-keeping life.

Corinthians

Paul begins and ends 1 Corinthians with a statement about his gospel.  In neither case is the focus the law-keeping life of Christ but his death and resurrection.

For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

1Cor 15:3-6,11 (ESV)
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep… Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.

In the Second letter we read

2Cor 5:18-21 (ESV)
All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

This text is of course one that some believe teaches Christ’s righteous life is imputed to us.  Now I intend to examine the four or five verses that it is said teach IAO in a later post but I simply point out two things at the moment.  One, the text says nothing about Christ being our righteousness rather it says we are in some sense, through Christ, God’s righteousness.  More of this later.  Two, and this is important, the focus of the text is the clearly the death of Christ.  It is his ‘made sin’ death, nothing more and nothing less that enables us to become ‘the righteousness of God in him’.  There is absolutely nothing here about imputed active law-keeping obedience.  It is a foreign idea that has to be imported into the text.

Galatians

Gal 1:3-5 (ESV)
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

Gal 3:1 (ESV)
O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified.

Gal 3:13-14 (ESV)
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us-for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”- so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.

Gal 4:4-5 (ESV)
But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.

Notice that the redemptive gospel focus is once again the cross and Christ’s death.  Note too how Jews (for Paul’s ‘we’ refers to Jewish believers) under the law are ‘redeemed’.  It is not by Christ’s keeping of the Law but by him bearing the curse of the Law.  Here again, in the very context of redemption from law, was a perfect opportunity for Paul to tell us that Christ lived a law-keeping life for us and it is necessary to our justification.  But there is no suggestion of such a thing; we are redeemed not through him keeping its commands but through him bearing its curse.  It is through cancelling the curse of the law in his sin-bearing death and redeeming us from law that the blessings of justification by faith promised to Abraham may be realized. Language could scarcely be clearer.

Ephesians

Eph 1:7 (ESV)
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace,

Eph 2:12-16 (ESV)
remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.

The comments made about many a text above could equally be said here.  Forgiveness, redemption, acceptance, reconciliation and peace are all through the blood of the cross.

Colossians

Col 1:19-22 (ESV)
For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.  And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him,

Col 2:13-15 (ESV)
And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.

Reconciliation and forgiveness of trespasses (broken laws) at the cross.  The ‘legal demands’ are met in full at the cross.  There is no life of law-keeping obedience simply a debt cancelled at the cross.

Pastorals

1Tim 2:5-7 (ESV)
For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time. For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.

Titus 2:13-14 (ESV)
waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.

Hebrews

Heb 2:14-15 (ESV)
Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.

Heb 9:11-15 (ESV)
But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.  Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant.

Purification (cultic image tantamount to legal image of justification) is through blood-sacrifice.  Consciences are completely cleansed by Christ’s blood sacrifice.  Note carefully the final words: since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant. Death redeems from all transgressions.  No ‘added’ life of law-keeping is required.

Heb 9:22-28 (ESV)
Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.  Thus it was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.

Heb 10:10-14 (ESV)
And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.  And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.

Heb 10:19-20 (ESV)
Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh,

Heb 13:10-12 (ESV)
We have an altar from which those who serve the tent have no right to eat. For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy places by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood.

The message of Hebrews is clear purification, definitive sanctification, perfection, acceptance are all accomplished in toto at the cross.

Peter

1Pet 1:18-20 (ESV)
knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you

1Pet 2:24 (ESV)
He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.

1Pet 3:18 (ESV)
For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit,

John

1John 1:7 (ESV)
But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.

1John 2:1-2 (ESV)
My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

Revelation

Rev 5:9-10 (ESV)
And they sang a new song, saying, ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​“Worthy are you to take the scroll ​​​​​​​and to open its seals, ​​​​​​​for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God ​​​​​​​from every tribe and language and people and nation, ​​​ ​​​​​​​​and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, ​​​​​​​and they shall reign on the earth.”

Rev 7:13-14 (ESV)
Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

Where are robes washed?  In the blood of the lamb.  What is the eternal song of heaven?  Worthy… for you were slain and by your blood you ransomed.  Of course we will consider eternally every aspect of what God in Christ has accomplished but the emphasis of the song of heaven is the worth of the ‘blood of the lamb’.

Machen’s dying note to John Murray is often lauded. ‘I am so thankful for the active obedience of Christ.  There is no hope without it’.  Formally of course Machen was right.  The obedience of Christ along with his incarnation, death, resurrection, ascension, present session, second coming etc are all vital for salvation.  But that was not Machen’s point.  Machen in his dying moments was placing his trust in a life lived more than a death died.  In this light, these words of Machen so saluted are appalling.  He misses completely the thrust of the NT hope.  It is a hope unambiguously centred in the death and resurrection of Christ.

The doxology of Revelation is far more biblically balanced:

Rev 1:5-6 (ESV)

To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood ​​​ and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

20
Jan
11

imputed active obedience (IAO), a must or a misdirection? (11)

I return after a few weeks gap to the topic of IAO.   NT Wright has a gripe with conservative evangelicals (among whom I firmly place myself).   His gripe is that too often we approach theology through thought categories of the C16,17 reformation rather than through those of the Bible.  Now I don’t always agree with Wright, but when it comes to the matter of justification and IAO, I believe he hits the nail on the head; IAO is a construct of the C16,17 more than it is a construct of the Bible.

Those who support the idea that the active obedience of Christ (his law-righteousness) is imputed to believers as their righteousness before God face a difficulty.  The difficulty is that the Bible (in my view) nowhere construes salvation righteousness in terms of IAO.  In the last post on this topic we argued that IAO is not part of the OT gospel paradigm.  We search the OT in vain for a principle, or a developing idea, or a framework, that teaches the righteous life of one person can be imputed to another.   Indeed the opposite is true; the basis for forgiveness lay in blood-sacrifice; a death died rather than a life lived is the OT basis of forgiveness and righteousness.   The NT commentary on the OT is this:

Heb 9:22 (ESV)
Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.

In this post. I wish simply to observe that the IAO  paradigm is also absent from the gospels.  Unfortunately, when disproving IAO it is necessary to keep pointing to its absence.   This is the case with the gospels.  If IAO is integral to the gospel then it is missing from the gospels themselves.

Let me say, there is no question that Jesus was born as a Jew under the Law, nor that he kept the Law.  The Law revealed the life of righteousness and God’s Servant would not rest until he brought righteousness, not only to Israel but to the ends of the earth (Isa 42:1-4).  In his life, God’s Servant, the true Israel, would ‘magnify the Law and make it honourable (Isa 42:21) where the nation had brought only shame upon it.  Thus in his life Jesus undoubtedly displayed the glory of a life that fulfilled the law.  He jealously upholds the Law in his teaching.  No aspect however small of the law could be ignored until all it required was accomplished (Matt 5:17-20).

However, the relationship between Jesus and the Law (the new covenant and the old covenant) is a complex one.  While we note that Jesus at the fulness of time was born as a Jew under the Law, honoured it and insisted that others honour it (Matt 15:3,6; 22:38), yet, even in fulfilling it, he dismantled it.  There are questions about this that need not concern us here but they are incipient in the gospel records; for example, we are told that Jesus, contrary to the teaching of the Law, declared all foods clean (Mk 7:19) and when asked regarding divorce he pointed behind Law to creation itself juxtaposing ‘Moses said’ with ‘but I say’ (Matt 19: 8,9; Cf.  Matt 5-7).  The sabbath was the sign of the old covenant (Ezek 20:12-20) yet Jesus declared himself Lord of the sabbath (Matt 12:28).  By implication he is superior to the Law itself.  He is indicating his right to bring to an end the whole period of Law.  The temple (another symbol of the old covenant) will be replaced by the temple of his body for one greater than the temple had arrived (Matt 12:6).  New wine requires new wine-skins (Lk 5:33-38).  The Law comes through Moses but grace and truth through Jesus Christ (Jn 1:17).  In other words, the thrust of the gospels is not that Christ came to keep the old covenant but rather that he came to introduce the new covenant (Matt 26:28), not to focus on Law but  preach the gospel of the Kingdom (Mk 1:14,15).  I note this to obviate simplistic notions about Jesus and the Law that often intrude into discussions about IAO.

Our question is twofold:

  • do the gospels emphasize the law-obedience of Jesus
  • do the gospels teach that Christ’s obedience was vicarious

The answer to both questions is negative.

The gospels (particularly the gospel of John) emphasize the obedience of Jesus but it is rarely (if ever) construed in terms of law-obedience.  Jesus’ obedience is based on a higher obedience than merely law-obedience.  His obedience is the obedience of a Son to a Father.  He had come to do all that his Father had sent him to do.  His food was to do the will and accomplish the work of he who sent him (Jn 4:34).   As an obedient son the things he saw his Father do he emulated (Jn 5:19, 36).  The commandments he followed were not sourced in the Law but his Father… ‘For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment-what to say and what to speak.‘ (John 12:49).

The Law was a covenant of works.  It offered life to those who kept it (Lk 10: 25-28).  When his Jewish contemporaries ask him how they may earn eternal life they are thinking in terms of humanly achieved righteousness by law-keeping and he answers them on their own assumptions agreeing that life, at least theoretically, may be gained by perfect law-keeping  (Lk 18:18-20; 10:25-28).  Jesus however never speaks of ‘life’ as something he hopes to earn’ or achieve.  He comes with ‘life’ already his, granted from his Father (Jn 5: 26).  He had no need to gain life or ‘earn’ life, he had life in himself (Jn 5: 25,26).  He was the giver of life (Jn 1-4).  His obedience did not gain life it gained his father’s approval and kept him in the centre of his Father’s love (Jn 15:10).  His Father’s command was not that he obey so that he may gain life but that he obey in giving his life.  His charge was a charge to die, not live…

John 10:17-18 (ESV)
For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”

Unlike the command of the Law the commandment of the Father results in eternal life (Jn 12:49,50).  Jesus’ obedience in John’s gospel is described in terms of  life-giving ‘words’ and ‘works’ (miraculous signs  Jn 5:20).  These words and works that belong to the Father he has given to his Son (Jn 14:10).  These ‘salvation’ words and works are not what the Law demanded they are what the Father through the Son in grace supplies.  The Law did not reveal the Father’s glory (indeed it hid God’s glory behind a veil), it is Jesus who does this (Jn 1:14-18, 14:8-10).  And so in Jesus we find one who pleases the Father (Jn 8:28, 29), reveals the Father (Matt 11:27; Jn 1;14-18), and brings glory to the Father (Jn 12:28).  All of this he does, not through the power of the flesh by which Adam obeyed and which Law addressed (Roms 7:1-6), but by the power of the Spirit the hallmark of new covenant (Jn 1:32,33).  He did not keep the old covenant that he may win new covenant status.  He was ‘new covenant’.  He lived as ‘new covenant’ and died that we may share in his new covenant life and receive forgiveness of sins (Matt 26:28).   As Hebrews points out,

Heb 9:15 (ESV)
Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant.

The gospels reveal many gospel threads.  Jesus is the King, the Son of David, who will inaugurate Kingdom of God (Matt 1).  By his life-giving liberating words and accompanying works he will overthrow the Kingdom of Satan (Lk 11:14-23; Jn 12:31).  He is Isaiah’s Servant who comes with new covenant power in salvation with “The Spirit of the Lord upon him, anointed to proclaim liberty to captives and oppressed, good news to the poor, and sight for the blind (Lk 4:18 etc).  He is the Son of Man who sows the good seed of God’s word (Matt 13:37) and has authority on earth to forgive sins (Matt 9:6).  Jesus is the true Vine, the one true Son, who would bring pleasure and joy to the heart of God (Jn 15).  We could go on. Yet, wherever we read in the gospels, and however carefully we scrutinize them, we will not find a hint  that the life of Christ or the obedience of Christ earns a righteousness that will be imputed to others. Not a trace of such a notion is to be found.  It is conspicuously absent.

On the one occasion when Jesus’ speaks plainly about the way a man may be righteous it is to make a stark contrast.  Righteousness he insists is not to be found in trusting one’s own works  (we may even say law-works) but in casting oneself entirely as a sinner on the mercy of God (Lk 18:9-14).

No, the salvation hope presented in the gospels is not in law-keeping, not even the law-keeping life of Christ; it is in the sacrificial death of Christ.  He had come to give his life a ransom for the many (Mk 10:45).  He is the good shepherd who will lay down his life for the sheep (Jn 10); the living bread whose ‘flesh’ is given for the world at the cross (Jn 6:48); the Son of Man lifted up that those who look may live (Jn 3:14); the seed that unless it dies abides alone but if it dies it produces much fruit (Jn 12:48); the sacrificial lamb of God who bears away the sin of the world (Jn 1:29); the temple who would be destroyed and in three days rebuilt (Jn 2:19); the one man who should die for the people (Jn 11:50-52); the stone the builders reject (Mk 12:10); the prophet who must perish at Jerusalem (Lk 13:33-35); the obedient Son who says, ‘the cup that the Father has given me to drink shall I not drink it’ (Jn 18:11); and the ‘new covenant’ mediator whose  poured out blood would bring forgiveness of sins (Lk 22:20; Matt 26:28)

He is all this and more… but he is not the law-keeping Israelite earning life to be imputed to others.  In the gospels as in the OT there is not a whiff of IAO.  The whole thrust of the gospels is opposed to it; Christ comes not to keep the old but introduce the new, and through death establish new and end the old.  Gospel is not Law achieved, it is something entirely new in power and nature, namely Christ.  Christ is not life merited by obedience but the life of the Father revealed and remitted (given) by grace.

IAO, as N T Wright says, is the brainchild of systematics not of Scripture.

13
Dec
10

do this and live

The Law, that is, the Sinai Covenant,  in the words of the NT, is ‘not of faith’ (Gals 3:11).  God’s covenant with Abraham relied on God’s promise for its fulfilment received simply by faith (Gals 3:17-19, 22).  Law, by contrast, depends on human ‘works’.  It is a covenant of works and so Paul  speaks regularly of ‘the works of the law’ (Gals 2:16; 3:2, 5, 10; Roms 3:20).  Law and promise are not merely two different covenants they are covenants based on two different principles (Gals 3:18).  Promise rests entirely on righteousness  and life gifted from God while Law depends on righteousness and life gained by man.  Promise requires only faith in the Promise-Maker; Law demands faith in self.    And so Paul juxtaposes ‘the works of the Law and the hearing of faith’ (Gals 3:2)

Despite the NT consistently and clearly presenting the Sinai Covenant as a works covenant many doubt that it is.  It is hard to understand why.  The evidence seems overwhelming.  For instance at the inception of the covenant we read,

Exod 19:1-8 (ESV)
On the third new moon after the people of Israel had gone out of the land of Egypt, on that day they came into the wilderness of Sinai. They set out from Rephidim and came into the wilderness of Sinai, and they encamped in the wilderness. There Israel encamped before the mountain, while Moses went up to God. The Lord called to him out of the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the people of Israel: You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.”  So Moses came and called the elders of the people and set before them all these words that the Lord had commanded him. All the people answered together and said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do.” And Moses reported the words of the people to the Lord.

The Lord makes clear that the covenant with all its promised blessing (you shall be my treasured possession…) depends on their obedience and faithfulness to the covenant laws.  Israel understood this, for the people rather too self-confidently affirm, ‘All that the Lord has spoken we will do’.  The covenant depended on works; it was a covenant of ‘he who does shall live’.  That is precisely the point made in Lev 18.

Lev 18:1-5 (ESV)
And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, I am the Lord your God. You shall not do as they do in the land of Egypt, where you lived, and you shall not do as they do in the land of Canaan, to which I am bringing you. You shall not walk in their statutes. You shall follow my rules and keep my statutes and walk in them. I am the Lord your God. You shall therefore keep my statutes and my rules; if a person does them, he shall live by them: I am the Lord.

The covenant did not assume obedience as the consequence or effect of life rather it promised it as the cause or means of life.  This law-works perspective of the covenant is repeated regularly through the OT.  When Moses repeats the covenant to the generation of Israel about to enter the Land we read,

Deut 4:1 (ESV)
“And now, O Israel, listen to the statutes and the rules that I am teaching you, and do them, that you may live, and go in and take possession of the land that the Lord, the God of your fathers, is giving you.

and again,

Deut 8:1 (ESV)
“The whole commandment that I command you today you shall be careful to do, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land that the Lord swore to give to your fathers.

Life, and life in the Promised Land depended on ‘doing’ the covenant commands.  Moreover, it depended, not in keeping them approximately, but completely.  They must be careful to do, ‘the whole commandment’. The curses of a broken covenant fall on those who fail to do ‘all‘ the commandments of the Lord (Ex 15:26; Lev 26:14,15; Deut 5:29; 6:2; 13:18; 27:26; Gals 3:10).

Ezekiel reiterates the covenant conditions to those of his day.  That life depends on obedience could scarcely be clearer.

Ezek 18:5-9 (ESV)
“If a man is righteous and does what is just and right- if he does not eat upon the mountains or lift up his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel, does not defile his neighbor’s wife or approach a woman in her time of menstrual impurity, does not oppress anyone, but restores to the debtor his pledge, commits no robbery, gives his bread to the hungry and covers the naked with a garment, does not lend at interest or take any profit, withholds his hand from injustice, executes true justice between man and man, walks in my statutes, and keeps my rules by acting faithfully-he is righteous; he shall surely live, declares the Lord God.

Indeed, Ezekiel states a principle that Paul reiterates in the NT – that judgement (life or death) is according to works (Roms 2:6-10).

Ezek 18:21-24 (ESV)
“But if a wicked person turns away from all his sins that he has committed and keeps all my statutes and does what is just and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die. None of the transgressions that he has committed shall be remembered against him; for the righteousness that he has done he shall live. Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live? But when a righteous person turns away from his righteousness and does injustice and does the same abominations that the wicked person does, shall he live? None of the righteous deeds that he has done shall be remembered; for the treachery of which he is guilty and the sin he has committed, for them he shall die.

In Ezekiel 20, the Lord tells how Israel had been warned in her infancy that God’s blessing depended on obedience – ‘if a person does them he shall live’ – yet Israel had disobeyed and God’s judgements had fallen on them in the wilderness – that generation did not enter the Land.  In Ezekiel’s day similar failure meant exile from the land; life in the land was contingent on obedience… this do and live.

Ezek 20:10-13 (ESV)
So I led them out of the land of Egypt and brought them into the wilderness. I gave them my statutes and made known to them my rules, by which, if a person does them, he shall live. Moreover, I gave them my Sabbaths, as a sign between me and them, that they might know that I am the Lord who sanctifies them. But the house of Israel rebelled against me in the wilderness. They did not walk in my statutes but rejected my rules, by which, if a person does them, he shall live; and my Sabbaths they greatly profaned. “Then I said I would pour out my wrath upon them in the wilderness, to make a full end of them. (Cf Ezek 20:21)

So unable are Israel to keep the covenant and thus gain life that Ezekiel foresees (as did Moses in Deut 30) a new covenant.  In this New Covenant God would allot by grace what Israel could not achieve by works.

Ezek 37:14 (ESV)
And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the Lord.”

The key point of the New Covenant is that any ‘doing’ that is required, God does it.

Sometimes it is suggested that the life promised in the OT is simply temporal life in the land and not eternal life.  In one sense, this mistake is understandable for the OT perspective on life and death is in the main physical and this-worldly.  However, by the NT, the understanding of life and death has considerably enlarged.  Life in its fulness is ‘eternal life‘ and likewise death, is ‘eternal death‘.  Jesus’ discussion with the lawyer who hoped to trip him makes this plain.

Luke 10:25-28 (ESV)
And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.

Notice the context.  It is clear the discussion is framed within the terms of the OT Sinian Covenant.  The lawyer is thinking of life earned through law-keeping.  He speaks in the language of the Law – ‘what must I do’. That he means ‘do‘ in the sense of law-keeping is clear, for Jesus asks what the Law requires and cites the Lev 18 text ‘do this and live’ (Cf. Matt 19:18).  Yet, the lawyer conceives this law-life not merely as temporal but as ‘eternal life’ (cf. Matt 19:16-25).

Furthermore, in the NT letters, when law-life and faith-life are contrasted, the contrast is not that one is temporal and the other eternal but that one is possible and the other impossible.  Righteousness and the ensuing life cannot be attained by Law for law-keeping is impossible.  The Law does not effect righteousness rather it  exposes and excites sin (Roms 3:20; 7:5).  Righteousness and life are always gifts from God (Roms 3:21-26; 5:17) and come only through faith.  And so Paul writes,

Gal 3:11-12 (ESV)
Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.”

and,

Rom 10:5-13 (ESV)
For Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandments shall live by them. But the righteousness based on faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) or “‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

This last text is an important one.  For here, in NT language, we have the difference between the old covenant and the new covenant to which Ezekiel alluded (Ezek 37) and of which Jeremiah spoke.

Jer 31:31-33 (ESV)
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

Obedience is no longer an impossibility (who shall ascend…descend) but entirely possible (the word is near and in your mouth and heart).  In the Roms 10 text, Paul takes a text from the OT (Deut 30) that refers to the Law (old covenant) and speaks of it as gospel (new covenant). How he can do this must wait a future blog.  The purpose of this post is simply to establish, by glancing at the OT, the truth of Paul’s contention that

Gal 3:12 (ESV)
… the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.”





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