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The Purpose of God's Law?
by David A. DePra
Why did God give His law? And what place is it supposed to occupy in the life of someone in Christ? This is not a new question. And yet answering it resolves so many issues.
God gave His law as a written revelation of His righteousness. He gave it to show that we are fully accountable to Him. But you see, those two reasons really add up to the third reason God gave His law: To expose us as sinners. To point us to Christ.
As you can see, God gave His law as an instrument of REDEMPTION. Now, by that I donít mean that if we KEEP Godís law that it will save us. In fact, the law was given to show our utter inability to obey God. And because of that, the law condemns us as dead sinners. But rather than bad news, this ought to be good news. For this is all unto Godís grace in Jesus Christ. It is all unto Redemption.
You will note that I did not say that the law exposes us as sinners in the eyes of God. No. God doesnít need to be enlightened as to our true condition. WE need to see ourselves as we are before Him. And the law will do that for us Ė provided we are honest and open. In short, the law doesnít MAKE us sinners. It shows us to BE sinners. In other words, the law is an instrument of Truth Ė it is a light that exposes our true condition:
Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; (Rom 3:19-23)
According to Paul, God gave the law to shut us up about our own righteousness, and to show us all as guilty. So if you think that your law-keeping is what commends you to God, or if you think that your law-keeping makes you righteous, holy, or better than others, you arenít reading the Bible. According to this verse, and dozens more, the law was NOT given, so that by keeping it, you would be ANYTHING. Rather, it was given to show you that you are NOTHING.
Perhaps you think God means that the law shows you as barren ONLY if you fail to keep it, but that if you DO keep it, well, then doing so proves you are a righteous, or holy person. Nope. To prove my point, we need only turn to John 3. There, one of the leaders of the Pharisees, came to Jesus. Nicodemus was one of the good guys among the Pharisees. You can be sure that Nicodemus, like Paul, was a, "Pharisee among Pharisees." But what did Jesus say to him? He said, "You must be born again." Period.
There are many people today, and some self-appointed Christian teachers, such as Bill Gothard, who continue to teach legalism. They lock Christians into a system of principles that are supposed to result in blessings from God, and supposedly teach them how to avoid Godís curses. They claim this is a higher form of Christianity with higher standards. But it is actually wrapped up in the spirit of unbelief. When will Christians finally learn that legalism is UNBELIEF? That it is ANOTHER GOSPEL?
Most of the time, legalist systems require principles that actually rob people of freedom in Christ. Most of the time, these legalistic principles are NOT in the Bible at all, but are derived FROM peopleís faulty interpretations of the Bible. But it really doesnít matter. Legalism isnít a matter of, "law-keeping," anyways. Rather, legalism is a matter of trying to make myself right with God Ė or MORE right with God Ė through my law-keeping. In other words, legalism isnít a theological problem, and it isnít necessarily an outward obedience problem. It is a FAITH problem. I am a legalist if I am trying to do for myself what only Christ can do Ė I am a legalist if, instead of faith in Christ, I have faith in my works FOR Christ.
Iíve never met a legalist who thought they were one. Most of them think they are holy, and, "one of the few that REALLY obey God." Sure. That is what a Pharisee DOES think, isnít it? Lost on them, as it was on Nicodemus, and Paul, before his conversion, is the fact that we must be born again to even GET STARTED with God.
The law was given to expose us as sinners Ė not to give us the means by which we could make ourselves righteous through our works. That sounds so obvious to say it that way, but how many of us have needed YEARS to see just that one, simple thing? No wonder so much is written in the NT about this very issue.
Christianity is based on the premise that man is dead spiritually and needs a Savior. And of course, as the flip side of the same coin, Christianity is based on the premise that God is sovereign and that He was violated. All of this must be put right. But you see, if I deny that, or am blind to it, or think that there is little wrong with man, nothing else will make sense. Indeed, if I deny this, there is NO possibility that I can see the Truth about much else.
Today there are many movements afoot, both in the church and without, to try to say that there are MANY ways to God. Some are even claiming that yes, there is ONE true God, but that He made many paths to himself Ė and you can reach Him through any number of methods. The recent surge in popularity of Oprah Winfreyís church is along this line. Indeed, even many Christians are having trouble answering this question.
Why is Jesus the ONLY way to God? Is this because God has narrow-mindedly issued a mandate that there will be only one religion that He will honor, and that the rest of mankind can go to hell? This is the argument often presented against Christianity. But it is flawed at itís premise.
Christ is the only way to the Father because, first, He alone was God become man. If Jesus wasnít God, then the rest of any argument falls. But He WAS God, and despite the claims of many people that He never claimed to be God, He certainly DID. So right off the bat, if we see that Jesus was God, we see that this sets Him apart from all other supposed saviors.
But there is more. If man REALLY IS LOST from birth, then Jesus alone bore the sin of the world. Thus, He alone can be the way to God. He is the only Savior because He alone bore our sin. Yet if I donít believe man is born IN SIN this wonít make any sense to me. Thus, we have the absolute essential of seeing that we are all born lost, and that we all NEED a Savior.
Most every movement that insists that there are many ways to God deny the Truth of manís condition through natural birth. And once that is denied, then the solution to manís ills doesnít need to be Christ crucified, it can be something else Ė just a religion of some sort. Today this denial of the Cross has even seeped into the church itself. Heretics like Joel Osteen, Rick Warren, Robert Schuller, and many others, deny the need for us to be born again through death and resurrection. They donít openly say that, of course. But they deny the Truth by refusing to tell people that they must repent of sin, come to the Cross, and relinquish their lives to God. They replace these Truths by preaching that Godís goal for you and I is to make us happy, and to help us, "discover the champion in ourselves." This is the gospel of Satan, and I offer no apology for saying so, because GOD says so.
So in order for you and I to see the Truth about Jesus Christ, indeed, the Truth about Christianity, we must see that we are all lost sinners by birth. Only then will the need for a Savior make any sense.
And yet even THIS is often distorted by the enemy. Millions of Christians, right now, continue to think that what we need deliverance from is the anger or punishment of God. We think that the problem between God and man is GOD Ė and that He needed to be appeased. And we think that Jesus appeased Him on the Cross. Thus, we assume, that through Christ we have been delivered from Godís anger. This is all wrong. Man does not need deliverance from God. We need deliverance from SIN.
Because of the sin of Adam, we are born spiritually dead. It is from this OLD CREATION that we need deliverance. But through Christ, through death and resurrection, we can see the death of the old, and be BORN AGAIN from above. But again Ė if you donít believe you are born a dead sinner, you wonít get this. You might believe it as a doctrine, but you just wonít see how it applies to you personally.
Thus, we MUST be shown that we are dead sinners. We MUST see this, and be convicted, not only of our sin before God, but convicted of our utter barrenness. This is a primary reason why God gave His law Ė to expose us as dead sinners. The moment I stand face to face with the law of God, I am facing righteousness. This will slay me.
The above passage says as much. Whatever the law says it says to those UNDER THE LAW. And what does the law say to those under the law? That you are a dead sinner. Sure. And the result is that the whole world is shown to be guilty before God. But again Ė all of this is UNTO something else Ė it is so that we will turn to Christ by faith.
Isnít it amazing that God gave His law to expose us as sinners, and yet so many Christians think God gave it to us to make us righteous through works? Christians by the millions continue to think that God gave us His law with the expectation that we could keep it -- and IF we keep it, then we will be saved Ė or, if not saved, then Christians think that by keeping Godís law we earn or merit something else from God. This may be nothing more complicated than believing that it is by our law-keeping that we avoid the curse of God, or keep on His good side.
But then there is the other side of the coin. There are many Christians who will easily admit that the law exposes them as sinners. And because they know the doctrine of grace, they comfort themselves when they sin by wrapping themselves in that doctrine. But many of these folks have really never repented and come to Christ. Thus, even the Truth of grace becomes nothing more than a religious routine to them. They may not be, "under the law," as thoroughly as a legalist, but they are not, "under grace," either. Instead, they are under a law they have created to deal with their true condition before the Lord, and it isnít the Truth.
A third group of professing Christians Ė and I say, "professing" Ė are those who really donít care one way or another. They go to church, serve on committees, but pretty much live as they please. This, "as they please," attitude is the law THEY are under. Indeed, many live in license, thinking that grace covers them. The trouble here is not that grace will not cover our sins. The problem here is these folks are not under grace. They have never repented and come to Christ. They have never come to the grace of God Ė not the way God defines it.
For sin shall not have dominion over you: for you are not under the law, but under grace. (Rom 6:14)
What does it mean to be, "under grace?" This term applies ONLY to Christians. In other words, to be, "under grace," means you must have embraced and received the grace of God in Jesus Christ. How could you, "be under grace," otherwise? If you arenít saved, you are OUTSIDE of grace, not under grace. So this term applies only to Christians. Yet what does it really mean?
First of all, the term, "under grace," does not refer to a TEMPORARY condition. No. It is an ETERNAL condition. A Christian is eternally UNDER GRACE. This is important to understand Ė we need to understand that we cannot pop in and out of grace, based on our works.
Now, if we COULD pop in and out of grace, based on our works, then the grace of God would absolutely depend upon our works. And we would then have salvation by works, for it is by grace through faith that we are saved. So we need to get it settled: The grace of God, by definition, is completely independent of any works. We cannot earn it. We receive it. And if we do, through repentance, then we are eternally UNDER GRACE.
Someone who demands that salvation can be lost once asked me this question: "If salvation is once and forever, then why do Christians continue to need the grace of God?" His thinking was that if eternal security is true, then we would never need grace again -- once we are saved, because there would be no need for grace to cover us. What about that?
Of course, I could have answered him by asking another question. I could have asked, "If salvation CAN be lost, then why bother receiving grace to begin with? For grace that can be lost is not grace." My point is this: Once you donít understand the grace of God, or salvation, everything else will suffer. Christians by the millions do NOT understand even the definition of salvation. If they did, many of the heresies that are in the church would be exposed for what they are.
Salvation is not a legal classification. It is not MERELY imputed righteousness. Nor is it merely a condition of being, "forgiven." It includes all of those. But salvation, by definition, is LIFE Ė it is life that has come out of death Ė salvation is resurrection life. Or, to put it more clearly, salvation is CHRIST IN US. He is the resurrection and the life. And if we are saved, it is only because He is in us, and we are in Him.
If you have Christ in you, you repented of the sin of being your own god, and relinquished yourself to Him. Iím not saying that you knew the height and depth of everything that means Ė no, the Christian life is when we find out what most of that means. But I am saying that in order to be saved you must, "repent and believe." You must at least, in your heart, want to forsake you life and your sin, and you must in your heart confess and embrace Jesus Christ as your Savior.
Now, if you have done that, you have passed from death to life. You are no longer IN ADAM, but IN CHRIST. You are born again a new creation. This is ALL TRUE before you do a single good work. Indeed, it remains eternally true to the complete disregard of works.
At this point ask: How does one LOSE this? How can you be born again backwards? How can you pass BACK from life to death? How can you once again become an old creation in Adam? You cannot. Now, you CAN become something ugly AS a saved person. You CAN forfeit inheritance AS a saved person. But once saved you are always saved.
Christians create CHEAP GRACE all the time. There are false conversions all the time. There are Christians who seem to be converted, and who seem to repent, but when this is tested by God, it is proven to be nothing more than a religious faÁade. All of these are possibilities Ė and surely all of these CAN BE LOST. Sure they can be lost Ė for they were never real. These folks never passed from death to life in Christ. So what we see in these cases is not a salvation that people can lose. Rather, we are seeing one that people have REFUSED. Or perhaps they never did see the Truth to begin with.
My point is this: Real salvation is forever. It cannot be lost. Neither will a truly converted person walk away from Christ and stop believing. This isnít because we lose our free will once we accept Christ. It is because BY DEFINITION when you pass from death to life certain things are forever sealed. They are forever sealed because you want them sealed, and because God, through the Holy Spirit, SEALS them. Thus, even if you and I have doubts, and testings, and at times reach the end of our rope, there is still LIFE IN US. And nothing can change that.
If Christianity were a religion we adopt, we could lose it. We could forsake it. Many people DO adopt Christianity as nothing more than a religion and this they DO forsake. But REAL CONVERSION Ė because it is a union between God and man through Christ Ė doesnít consist merely of doctrines and laws to follow. Real conversion results in incorruptible LIFE. This is beyond religion. It is forever.
A person who is UNDER GRACE is under grace forever Ė because if you are under grace you GOT THAT WAY through a tremendous transformation. Isnít that what conversion is? Sure. In other words, real conversion doesnít carry with it the possibility of losing salvation because those possibilities were forsaken and repented of in the conversion process itself. If you gave your life to Christ you repented forever of living outside of Christ. So you wonít ever want to live outside of Him again. Thus, we see that we retain our free will. But now we KNOW. We have been converted to Christ.
Thus, when we are told that Christians are UNDER GRACE, we are being told that we are UNDER GRACE because we are IN CHRIST. This isnít a matter of being under grace only when we sin, or being under grace only if we donít sin. No. Being under grace is the result of being IN CHRIST.
So to answer the person who asked, "If salvation is secure, then why do we need grace?," we can see that the question itself is flawed. It is based on a blindness to the real nature of salvation. Grace isnít a THING we need. Grace is bound up in the Person of Christ. Thus, if we are in Christ, we have all the grace of God. So if I am asking why I still need grace if I am saved, I might as well ask why I still need Christ if I am saved! I might as well ask why I need LIFE if I have LIFE! The answer isnít whether I NEED Christ Ė the answer is that I am IN CHRIST. HE is my life. Christ IS the grace of God in me. It isnít a matter of me, "needing grace," once in awhile, or of me needing it to keep me saved. Rather, the very definition of a Christian is one who is UNDER GRACE, and who is one in whom Christ Himself dwells.
Now, contrast this term, "under grace," to the other term Paul uses, "under the law." To be under grace means that Christ is in me, and that I am a new creation. To be under the law means that my works determine my eternal security, and really, Godís attitude towards me on all levels. Can we see that being UNDER GRACE speaks of an eternal relationship Ė that Godís heart is that of grace towards me? But that being UNDER THE LAW betrays a total blindness to the real nature, not only of salvation, but of God Himself?
Christians are eternally UNDER GRACE. But if there is one thing we often miss, it is seeing the Truth that we are. Christians can fall from grace Ė and live as if they are NOT under grace. Christians can do great sin to the grace of God. But my sin, at that point, is not that I forsake my salvation. It is that I am deceived Ė and I am to blame. This is the message of so much of the NT.
Read Galatians. They had fallen from grace by trying to keep themselves righteous through good works. But Paul never once questions their salvation. Indeed, he appeals to it and long for Christ to be formed in them! (Gal. 4:19) It is one thing to NOT be saved. But it is entirely another to have begun by grace, only to try to complete the job through works. (Gal. 3:3) This is the state of so much of Christianity.
Do you believe that by your works under the law that you can avoid some curse, punishment, or disfavor from God? If you believe that, you have it all wrong. In fact, the Bible says that instead of avoiding some curse, you are guaranteeing one. Think not? Read the words of the apostle Paul:
For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continues not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them. (Gal. 3:10)
This is quite clear. If you are trying to earn Godís favor through works, or avoid His disfavor Ė the two are the same thing Ė then you are, "of the works of the law." You are trying to use your works under the law as the means of establishing your righteousness, and as a result, as the means of staying in Godís favor. This is what you are doing whether the favor you seek through works is for this age, or for the eternal ages. But Paul is saying that the very system by which you seek to AVOID a curse has put you UNDER one. You think your works under the law are keeping you free from some curse. Paul says that those who are, "of the works of the law," ARE under a curse.
Why are they under a curse? Paul tells us: The more you try to obey, the more you are exposed, through failure, to be a sinner. He quotes the OT, which states that if you are on a works basis with God that you must keep perfectly all the law. You cannot. And your failure, if you want to be on that basis, will condemn you every time.
Of course, some people who live in legalism, which is really what we are talking about, often donít feel like they are under a curse. Thatís because many think they ARE keeping the law of God, and are righteous because of it. But you see, THAT IS a curse Ė that kind of terrible deception is a curse. Why? Because it is a lie, and because it blinds one from seeing the Truth in Jesus Christ. And of course, it cannot save anyone.
There are many others who try to live under the law who DO feel like they are under a curse. These are the folks who try to make themselves righteous through works by know they are failing to do so. So they sense they are under a curse Ė under the condemnation the law brings. But unless such a one repents and turns to Christ, they wonít be much better than those who think they ARE making themselves righteous. Both are standing aloof from Christ.
So one purpose for which God gave His law was to utterly and completely BURY us. He gave it to stop every mouth and show us as needy sinners. THAT is good! Why is it good? Because it is the TRUTH about us. And it is good because of where it will lead us IF we respond to God Ė it will lead us to the grace of Jesus Christ.
Under the Law
It doesnít take much study to figure out that the terms, "under the law," "of the law," and, "of the works of the law," are all equal. They essentially mean that your works determine your salvation, inheritance, or even Godís grace towards you. Indeed, in that case, your works determine everything for you before God. Sure. Your works are judged by the law, and the law pronounces Godís just punishment or reward. This is why you and I, in that case, are said to be UNDER the law, or OF the law. Our works weighed against Godís law determine everything for us.
Now, just in case there is any question in our minds, it is NOT a good thing to be, "under the law," or, "of the law. Read again Galatians 3:10 above and you will see this is so Ė those who are of the law are UNDER A CURSE. Why? Because the law will condemn us every time if we want our works to be judged by the law.
Incidentally, being under the law is not restricted to being under the Ten Commandments. Really, ANY law I create Ė any religious principle Ė that becomes the means by which I maintain my righteousness or Godís favor will do. Christians do this all the time. They create principles out of Godís Word and establish these as the law under which they live. But this is exactly what it means to be under the law.
There is usually ONE reason why Christians do this: They donít yet see their complete bankruptcy. And so they think trying to obey laws is higher ground. They are blind to the fact that it is LOWER ground Ė because they are trying to do for themselves what only Christ can do. This is unbelief.
The problem here is NOT primarily whether my law or principle is good Ė although many principles people create ARE ridiculous and NOT of God! No. The problem is that I am trying to MAKE MYSELF GOOD by keeping what I think are GOOD laws. Paul said, "The law is holy, just, and good." But he also says that this same law will expose me as unholy, unjust, and bad. Of course, we donít really believe that! But it is true.
The only solution is that I must be MADE brand new in Christ. I must turn to Christ by faith and receive Him. THEN obedience Ė howbeit, imperfect obedience Ė will result.
All obedience in the Christian life is supposed to be the OUTCOME of being rightly related to God through Christ by faith. But we try to make obedience the MEANS by which we become rightly related to God. This is largely because we donít understand what Christianity really IS.
If you follow where this leads us, it is quite amazing. It really means that Christians are completely free of any judgment by the law. Our works are NOT judged by the law, and therefore, the law does not mete out rewards and punishments FOR those works. Ever. This is easy to prove. Paul writes:
For sin shall not have dominion over you: for you are not under the law, but under grace. (Rom 6:14)
For the promise, that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith. For if they which are of the law be heirs, faith is made void, and the promise made of none effect: (Rom 4:13-14)
Paul states directly that Christians are NOT under the law Ė and therefore the law cannot pronounce judgment upon us. In addition, he says in Romans that our inheritance is NOT based on our works under the law, because if it were, then the entire promise of God would be void. In other words, our salvation, our inheritance, and our relationship with God is NOT determined at all by our works. It is determined by Godís grace.
Now, all of this brings us to a big question. It is not a new question, mind you, but an old one. If the law isnít used to determine ANYTHING about our eternal fate, indeed, about our temporal relationship with God, then doesnít this mean that we are free to sin? Does it mean that Godís law is done away?
The problem here is that the questions are flawed. They are based on a faulty understanding of what a Christian IS. Think not? Well, Paul the apostle actually asked and answered these questions directly Ė and did it in two verses:
What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, because grace abounds? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein? (Rom 6:1-2)
Now note: WHY did Paul say that Christians would not, "sin because grace abounds?" His answer is this: Because Christians are DEAD TO SIN. Get that: Those in Christ are DEAD TO SIN. When is the last time you heard that answer? My guess is that you have never heard it, or have seldom heard it. And just in case we still donít get it, Paul goes on to explain exactly what he means:
Know you not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. For he that is dead is freed from sin. Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him: Knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dies no more; death hath no more dominion over him. For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God. Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Rom 6:3-11)
We are DEAD TO SIN because we have been baptized into the death of Christ. Paul might add, "I am crucified WITH ChristÖ." In other words, yes, Jesus died FOR us. But it is because He died FOR us that we can die IN HIM. Through conversion we are fully immersed into the death of Christ. But His death means more than just legal forgiveness for us Ė His death means our death TO SIN. Sure. If you have died with Christ Ė been crucified with Christ Ė it MEANS something. It is the death of the old creation FOR YOU, and IN YOU.
Paul affirms this by saying, "Our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed." The result? That God might be appeased? That we might be merely forgiven FOR sin? No. The result of having our old man crucified with Christ is that, "we should not serve sin. For he that is dead is FREED from sin." Through Christ we are actually set free from the power of sin that is resident in the old nature because that old nature was crucified in Christ, and the new man in Christ is raised to newness of life.
It is here that we need to see something essential. When Paul says we are dead to sin, or set free from sin through that death, he is NOT saying that we are merely set free from the penalty FOR sin. Can we see that? No Ė although that is included. Paul does not say we are set free from the penalty for sin, but rather, he says we are set free from the power of sin itself over us. That makes all the difference in the world.
So many Christians focus on the fact that Jesus paid the penalty for sin in our place. Thatís a good start, but falls short of explaining the full work of the Cross. Jesus not only paid the penalty FOR our sin, but in doing so, set us free from sin itself. In other words, sure, we are free from all penalty FOR sin Ė but we are also free from the power of sin itself.
This is the only way it could work. God would never set us free from the penalty FOR sin, and make no provision to set us free from sin itself. For being free from the penalty ONLY would leave us IN SIN Ė and under itís power. We could say we are forgiven, but left in Adam. No. Jesus set us free from the power of sin itself, and because He did, we are DEAD TO SIN.
But what does it mean to be, "dead to sin?" It not only means we are freed from the power of sin Ė in that we do not have to sin Ė but it also means that we are freed from WANTING to sin. In the end, it must come down to that. For what good would it do for us to be set free from the penalty for sin, and from the power of sin, if we were not free from WANTING to sin? It would do no good. For WANTING to sin is really the essence of what sin IS Ė WANTING to sin is unbelief, and the core of what we need to repent of, and be set free from. Get set free from WANTING to sin and you will NOT SIN Ė this is progressive of course, but the Truth.
So how does God set us free from wanting to sin without violating our free will? Through the conversion process, of course. When God begins to call someone to Christ, and bring them to the end of themselves, He is really bringing them to the point where they will NOT want to sin any longer. They will be tired, yes, of committing outwards sin, but more importantly, they will want deliverance from the sin of owning themselves, and of trying to do for themselves what only God can do. They will want Jesus Christ as Savior and deliverer.
Repentance is a change of moral mind wherein I come to where I donít want to sin against God anymore. Even IF I sin Ė and I will -- I really donít want to sin. My flesh might like sin, and sometimes my emotions will like sin. But the real me, in my will, doesnít want to sin. God brings us to that point. And if we allow Him to get us there, we wonít want to sin. We will have seen LIGHT, and we will have asked Christ to come in. And if our conversion is real, then we are DEAD TO SIN Ė we are dead to it because of Christ. And we are alive to God.
THAT IS WHY Christians, despite being freed from the law, will not, "sin because grace abounds." They wonít use the grace of God as license because they passed through a conversion process of repentance such that they forsook wanting to sin. They were baptized into the death of Christ and are now dead to sin and alive to God.
I realize that this does not automatically mean Christians wonít sin. Paul gets into that through the rest of Romans 6 through 8. But the basis is there Ė a Christian is DEAD TO SIN and ALIVE to God. If conversion is real that is the case. And while there is a growing and learning process involved, as well as much struggle with the flesh, this does nothing to change the Truth about what a Christian really IS in Christ.
So you see, the law cannot pronounce judgment upon us at all because that has all been settled in Christ. The law condemns us all to death. But Christ died that death, and if we are born again, we have died in Him. Thus, the old creation to which the law applies is DEAD. The law cannot do much to that which is already dead! But in Christ we are raised to newness of life. The law cannot touch us there because in Christ IT IS FINISHED. Thus, despite our failings, in Christ the just requirement of the law IS fulfilled in us. We donít have to fulfill it to be right with God. We need only live OUT what God has put in Ė not to make ourselves right with Him Ė but because we ARE right with Him and ALIVE to Him.
What Christianity IS
Many Christians continue to assume that unless God puts us UNDER His law Ė under a legal system of rewards and punishments, based on our works Ė that He will not be able to control us. As mentioned, some assume that once rewards and punishments are removed due to conduct, Christians would, "sin because grace abounds." This is the most often stated objection to the Truth of grace Ė although those who do object wouldnít call it an objection to grace.
Another objection to the Truth of grace is that people assume that if we are not under the law that it means that God has done away with the law. But this is not true, and Jesus said so. The law stands forever. What God has done away with are the rewards and punishments associated with the works of the law. The law will forever be a written manifestation of the righteousness of God.
But of course the question once again pops up, as does the objection: If God did away with rewards and punishments based on works, then why should we obey God? Can we not sin because grace abounds?
We have begun to see the answer. We are seeing that the question itself is flawed Ė it is based on an ignorance of what Christianity IS. Sure, it is a fact that if rewards and punishments are done away, because Christians are no longer under the law, that someone could, "sin because grace abounds." But the real Truth is, once we embrace the grace of God, we wonít, "sin because grace abounds." Rather, we will OBEY because grace abounds. Get that. A truly converted believer will OBEY because grace abounds. And we have seen the basis for this Truth: Christians are DEAD to sin and ALIVE to God.
If Christianity were merely a list of rules and laws to obey, or a list of doctrines to which we give assent Ė if that were all that Christianity amounted to Ė then we would all sin once we heard that we were not under the law. Many would sin if they knew they could, as it were, "get away with it." But Christianity is CHRIST IN US. Christianity is a new birth. Christianity is a matter of the law of God being written on my heart. Thus, if my conversion to Christ is real, then, by definition, I will never sin as a license. I wonít want to do that. I will want to obey God.
If I am saved, then I GOT THAT WAY by realizing that I am fully accountable to God for all that I am Ė and I have repented of my sin of living independent from God. In other words, to COME to Christ, you have to repent of NOT having come to Him. To REPENT and BELIEVE you must repent of NOT believing. Thus, the definition of salvation includes the fact that I have repented of, "sinning because grace abounds." So AFTER Iíve repented of this basic sin, I will have a change of mind towards God. I will no longer want to, "sin because grace abounds." I will want to OBEY.
Repentance, if it is real, is a change of mind Ė a change of heart Ė towards God Himself. Get that Ė this is about our relationship with God Himself. That is where repentance centers. Fundamental to repentance is that I confess and forsake the sin of owning myself Ė I confess and forsake the sin of refusing accountability to God. But this isnít a matter of ME doing something to myself. No. It is a matter of me coming to Jesus Christ as, not only the solution to the old creation, but it is a matter of me coming to Christ for NEW LIFE. And if I do come to Christ in repentance, a miracle happens in me. I get a new nature with a change of mind and heart. The effect of this is that I wonít want to, "sin because grace abounds." I will want to obey.
This doesnít HAPPEN TO US against our will. Rather, it is something Christ does FOR us fully WITH our will Ė arenít we coming to Christ for deliverance FROM sin UNTO God? Yep. So when we emerge from conversion, it isnít a matter of us not being ABLE to, "sin because grace abounds." Rather, built into the very definition of conversion is the fact that we are giving our wills to Christ, and consequently, we donít WANT to sin. We want to obey.
None of this would be true unless God had brought us to the end of ourselves. Repentance is the result of being exposed for who you are and shown your total hopelessness as a dead sinner before God. Anything short of that and we still have a ways to go. Repentance isnít the outcome of merely wanting to escape hell, nor is it the result of getting religion. It is a turning away from the old life and the turning to God through Christ for new life. No one does that if they are still reasonably comfortable with the old life, or if they really donít know about the possibility of the new life in Christ. So repentance is absolutely initiated by God Ė God calls us to Christ through repentance. But never say we canít refuse. We can.
Once we repent towards God we still have our full power of free will. But if we repent, we have turned our wills towards Christ, and then the power of the Holy Spirit is behind us. A voluntary surrender of the will to Christ puts us in HIS hands for deliverance from the power of the old nature, and the whole package means, yes, we can and will still sin, but wonít want to sin. That is the miracle of the new birth.
If you are truly converted TO Jesus Christ, then you are devoted TO Him. Why? Because that IS the result of conversion. Sure. And if you are devoted to Christ, by definition, this means you donít want to sin against Him. Thus, even if you sin, you will repent and turn. Consequently, it is simply not possible for a Christian to sin using the grace of God as a license. Those who DO this, and still claim to be converted, are deceived.
Incidentally, when I speak of not wanting to sin, I am talking about your WILL. I am not saying that a Christianís flesh cannot want to sin Ė obviously SOME part of us wants to sin once in awhile or there would be no possibility of temptation. No. I am simply saying that if repentance unto conversion is a change of heart and will towards God, then by definition, those who wanted to sin now donít want to sin. Conversion must include that at the core, or little else would matter otherwise.
Once we understand what a Christian IS, most all of these questions are resolved. A Christian is not a devotee to a list of teachings about Christ, or a devotee to a list of rules to follow. Rather, a Christian is one born again IN Christ, and one who is devoted to Christ Himself. This changes EVERYTHING as far as motivation for living and obeying God.
O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin. There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. (Rom 7:24 Ė 8:4)
Read Romans 8:1, where it says there is NO condemnation for those in Christ, and begin to consider the ramifications. It means that there is no condemnation EVEN when you sin. Thatís right. What else could it mean? Do we think that there is no condemnation EXCEPT when we sin? If that is true, then there IS condemnation all the time, because when else would condemnation apply except when we sin? The conclusion is that there is never any condemnation for those in Christ Ė ever. EVEN when we sin.
What this means is that if you are in Christ, and have come under condemnation, you are in error. Sure. The Truth is that there is never any condemnation for those in Christ. So if you are in Christ, the condemnation cannot be coming from God. So why are you under it? One reason: You donít believe Romans 8:1.
Now, you might believe what Romans 8:1 says. But itís just that when you feel condemned, you believe how you feel MORE. And doesnít fear and condemnation tend to have a mind of their own? They are pretty strong dynamics. And yet for those in Christ they are lies. They do not reflect our relationship with God through Christ. In Christ, there is NO condemnation. Even when we sin. At some point we must believe this and refuse to be drawn under any spirit that would deny it.
I think it is amazing that Paul says there is no condemnation right after he says, "O wretched man that I am!" Paul was not blind to his condition without Christ. Paul did not take any sin lightly. But he knew that there is no condemnation because the righteousness of the law has been fulfilled in us through the death and resurrection of Christ.
No condemnation means NO condemnation. But do we realize what that REALLY means? It means that there is NOTHING you can do that can make God close the door between yourself and Him. There is NOTHING you can do to bring upon yourself eternal punishment. There is NOTHING you can do to lose your salvation. All of this is, of course, predicated upon the fact that those in Christ are not merely forgiven for sin, but delivered from the power of sin. We are new creations with a new nature Ė people who donít want to sin.
Consequences of Works
Of course, when I say that there are no rewards or punishments associated with our works, it sounds like I am saying that no matter what we do there are no consequences. That is NOT what I am saying. No. I am simply saying that we are not eternally judged by God based on works. Our access to God is not determined by our works. Godís attitude towards us is not determined by our works. But none of this means that our works have no consequences. Certainly not. They DO.
We must separate in our minds a punishment from God from consequences for sin. The two are not necessarily the same at all. We must also separate a blessing from God from the fruits of obedience. Likewise, there is a big difference between condemnation for sin and conviction of sin. What Iím saying is that much of the time we are going to reap what we sow through our works. God doesnít necessarily have to insert a blessing or a punishment.
For example, if I tell a lie, it will set off a chain of events. It isnít a matter of God setting these off Ė my lie will do so. The same thing goes for the Truth. If you tell the Truth, or preach the Truth, it has an impact. We always reap what we sow. Always. And technically speaking, this is a fact even if all God does is sit back and watch. What happens in the world of unbelievers testifies to this fact Ė our actions bring about results.
Now, for a Christian, God doesnít sit back and watch Ė not in the long run. If I tell a lie as a Christian, God takes that seriously. If I tell the Truth, He will honor it. But donít think of Godís reaction to our works in the sense of a punishment or a reward. No. Think of Godís reaction as the outcome of our relationship with Him as our Father. If I sin, God will want to convict me of that sin, and if I resist, He may chastise me. But this is much different than God sitting up in heaven and keeping score. It is much different that God condemning me and punishing me.
For whom the Lord loves he chastens, and scourges every son whom he receives. If ye endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chastens not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons. Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live? For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness. (Heb 12:6-10)
The attitude and motive of God here is the key. It is LOVE. It is for OUR GOOD. It is so that WE might be partakers of His holiness. This is much different than PUNISHMENT.
Eternal condemnation, or punishment, would be a judgment against us whereby God essentially BREAKS our relationship with Himself. Why? Because WE have broken our fellowship with God! God condemns us by giving us exactly what we deserve, and exactly what we have chosen Ė a severed relationship. Thus, any way you want to slice it, condemnation is not RESTORATIVE. No. It cannot be. It is past that possibility. God cannot restore to Himself those who have chosen separation from Himself. Thus, condemnation is really the outcome of our final refusal to be restored. So, if God PUNISHES, in the condemning sense, it means He is pronouncing JUDGMENT AGAINST us Ė that is what the Greek word, "condemnation," means Ė and this is because we have finally refused Him. We get what we deserve, and really, get what WE have chosen.
God doesnít condemn Christians in that way at all. EVERYTHING God does in the life of the Christian is FOR OUR GOOD. If we break our fellowship with God, God seeks to draw us back. If we refuse again at that point, God continues to convict and try to restore. This is really Godís attitude towards both believer and unbeliever. But a believer, by definition, has already repented of refusing God, and therefore, there is already a relationship. There is already just ground for God to restore.
Donít be deceived. What makes you a Christian is not a verbal profession of Christ, or adherence to a religion. Rather, what makes you a Christian is whether you are IN CHRIST. And you are NOT in Christ unless you have at least repented of the basic sin of refusing Christ. How could you be? You cannot refuse Christ and receive Christ at the same time. You cannot be in Christ all the while you stand outside of Him. The fact is, true conversion settles many basic issues between man and God. And if it settles nothing else, it settles accountability to God. This provides the basis of a new relationship.
For those who are IN CHRIST, there is no condemnation, because you wouldnít BE in Christ unless you had forever repented of the sin of refusing Christ Ė and the sin of refusing Christ is the one sin that could condemn you. This is why salvation is once and forever. If you repent forever of the one sin that can condemn you, then there can henceforth be NO condemnation, and NO possibility of losing salvation. But none of this excludes the possibility of God chastising us for other sins, nor does it mean that we wonít reap what we sow. It simply means the whole question is on another basis Ė we are sons and daughters of our Heavenly Father.
The confusion regarding eternal security usually results from a misunderstanding of what salvation IS. And then we apply that misunderstanding to people who profess Christ. Salvation is not my agreement to a list of truths. It is not my adoption of a religion focusing on Jesus Christ. It is not merely a legal agreement between myself and God. Rather, salvation is a passing from death to life Ė based on a complete surrender of the old life, and the embracing of Christ. It is a passing away of the old, and the birth of the new Ė salvation is a new birth. You cannot go back. You cannot be born again backwards. Once you receive new life in Christ, there is nothing that can bring death to it again. Iím talking here about REAL conversion and a REAL new birth. If salvation were all of those other things Iíve mentioned, then sure, you could lose it. And many people DO lose those things. They are not eternal. They are religious.
Usually people who think that you can lose your salvation muster up a whole arsenal of scriptures which they think proves their point. But in every case, those scriptures, and I know them well, are not talking about a Christian LOSING their salvation. Rather, they are talking about one who has been given light REFUSING salvation. It is entirely possible to be given light while still unsaved Ė how else could God call someone to Christ unless He gives them light while they are yet unsaved? If God doesnít give you light while you are still unsaved, you could never put faith in Christ. But if God gives light and a person refuses that light Ė and continually does so over a lifetime, then they KNEW, and they SAW, and they TASTED Ė but they refused. They were never saved. But they could have been.
The whole issue of eternal security is solved by Romans 8:1. If there is NO condemnation for those in Christ, then how can one LOSE his salvation? In that case, there could be condemnation for those in Christ. But Paul says there is NONE. Romans 8:1 is just one place among hundreds that proves this Truth.
I am not going to get into the nonsense of Calvinism at this point. Calvinism teaches that God FIRST saves you, and THEN gives you light so that you can believe and embrace the Christ who is apparently already in you. People donít want to hear this, but that is heresy. Pure and simple. Calvinism distorts the Truth on every single point of the Redemption Ė and so what could be worse? But I digress. If you want to believe Calvinism you will never see the Truth about the nature and character of God.
Again Ė you cannot LOSE your salvation. But you can REFUSE it Ė never receive Christ to begin with by your own choice. Calvinism denies this. But the Bible teaches it.
Other scriptures that Christians use to try to prove you can lose your salvation are usually not talking about salvation at all Ė they are talking about inheritance in Christ. You can be saved but lose your inheritance. This is a teaching all through scripture. This is a matter of being unfaithful with what God has given you in Christ.
It is not a happy thought, but there are many professing Christians who have never been truly converted to Christ. They have never repented and have never been taught. This simply adds to the confusion on this matter because it redefines what Christianity really is, and provides the basis whereby many scriptures are misinterpreted. This is what happens when the real gospel is not preached, and where religion about Christ, and, "having church," becomes more important than the Truth.
Works and Faith
Our works are ultimately a reflection of our faith. Obedience is supposed to be the outcome of faith. Disobedience will be the outcome of unbelief. In other words, our works are supposed to reflect our true relationship with God. But once I divorce my works FROM my faith, and make works the issue, I can do works to the disregard of my faith Ė and they will be DEAD WORKS. Just as faith without works is dead, so are works without faith dead. The former is license, and the latter if legalism. The Bible has plenty to say about both.
The fact is, all obedience is to be the outcome of being rightly related to God by faith. And thus, in the end, all disobedience is the outcome of NOT being rightly related to God by faith.
If you think about this, you will see that it is true. Of course, Iím not talking here about involuntary reactions of the flesh and such, for usually these arenít the outcome of believing or not believing. They come out of who we are, of course, one way or another, but obedience and disobedience, as conventionally defined, involve knowing choice. Thus, if you actually choose to disobey God, you are doing so because you first SHUT HIM OUT. You make the choice to turn away from God in a matter, and yield to someone or something. That is unbelief. Outward disobedience will follow. But LET GOD IN Ė in the sense of yielding Ė and you will obey.
Someone truly converted to Christ will WANT to obey God Ė in his heart he will Ė despite failures to do so. This is because when we get converted our, "want to," is what gets converted. You cannot turn to Christ and not want to turn to Christ. See what I mean?
Godís purpose is to make of us people who will WANT to obey Him, and WILL obey Him. But not because there is a reward for it, or because we want to escape punishment. He wants us to obey because we love Him, and because it is RIGHT to do so. Can we see, right there, that there is nothing about this that is possible for those in Adam? You can train any dog with a big enough reward, or whip, but to take a nature that is at enmity against God and turn it to one that VOLUNTARILY obeys and desires Him, well, that takes a miracle. It is the miracle of the new birth.
The miracle of the new birth makes this possible, not only because we have a changed heart, but because once born again, we begin to SEE JESUS. This is what sets us free from all of the errors and lies about God and makes voluntarily obedience possible. If you see Jesus you will love Jesus, and realize He loves you, and that will result in faith and obedience. It will result in a relationship with God that the demands of law under threat of punishment or promise of reward CANNOT produce.
Love fulfills Godís law because it gets behind the mechanical obedience to rules and principles and into the heart of God Himself. Weíve said that all REAL obedience is the outcome of faith, but we might just as well say that all obedience is the outcome of LOVE. If I obey God for reasons other than love, then itís probably NOT of faith. Itís probably not real. Iím probably obeying Him out of fear.
Herein we see the flaw in the question, "Are Christians required to keep Godís law?" The question here, however, isnít whether Christians are REQUIRED to keep Godís law. Rather, the question is, "What is a Christian?" A Christian is someone who is IN CHRIST, or, one in whom Christ dwells. On top of that, a Christian is someone who is growing to know Christ, and to know His love. Thus, we quickly see that the word, "required," isnít applicable. A Christian who is walking in love, and walking in the Spirit, is going to WANT to obey God. Get that: The DEFINITION of a Christian means that he is one who WANTS to obey God. He doesnít need to have a requirement upon him.
To be, "under the law," means that you are REQUIRED to keep the law, under threat of punishment, or promise of reward. That is precisely what it means. But to be, "under grace," means that you have received the life of Christ from above, and because you have, you are devoted to Him. Consequently, obedience flows. This doesnít mean there wonít be battles, or overcoming. It just means that the battlefield Ė where the battle is won Ė is faith, not works. Win the faith battle and you will obey. You just will.
Many Christians think that to be, "under grace," means that we can need not be accountable to God Ė for His grace will cover us regardless. But again Ė this is a flawed perspective, based in an ignorance of Christianity. For you cannot even come to BE under grace unless you repent of not being accountable to God. Indeed, conversion is a matter of becoming accountable to God. Sure. But not because of fear Ė but because of love. Indeed, we might even say that one definition of love is that we are voluntarily accountable to God Ė without any reservations or regrets. Without any fear. That transforms being under the law into a submissive fellowship with God, based in love and holiness.
Love obeys God to the complete disregard of rewards or punishments. Love gives ALL and leaves the results to God. This is not only love, but it is faith. And it is the relationship that God wants for us, and has possible through the new birth.
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