- NO RIGHEOUS PERSON:
If we seek to earn grace through law-keeping, and thus guarantee payment by God through our added performances of rites, ceremonies and good works, then we are spiritually dead in the water. Paul wrote, “But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested … even the righteousness of God that is by the faith of Jesus Christ” (Rm 3:21,22). This of necessity is true because “there is none righteous, no, not one” (Rm 3:10). We are all continual sinners, regardless of our superficial self-righteousness in the performance of law. It seems that some have forgotten what the Holy Spirit said through Paul in Romans 4:4: “Now to him who works [in order to earn his salvation], the reward is not credited according to grace, but according to debt.”
In our frustration to live perfectly in reference to law, all honest people will confess as Paul,
Therefore, has that which is good [law] become death to me? Certainly not! But sin, that it might be manifested to be sin [through law], was working death in me through what is good, so that sin through the commandment might become exceedingly sinful (Rm 7:13).
So Paul concluded, “For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold into bondage to sin” (Rm 7:14).
The more we come to the reality that we are forever doomed to the bondage of sin without grace, the more we are driven to grace. Therefore, recognition that the law of God reveals sin in our lives drives us to grace. If we were honest with ourselves, then we would understand that law is indirectly a driving force to grace because we realize, as Paul, that we are all lawbreakers, and thus, held in the bondage of sin. We are held in bondage because we cannot keep law perfectly in order to deliver ourselves. This is what Paul meant when he wrote, “For without law, I was once alive. But when the commandment came, sin revived and I died” (Rm 7:9).
- Law reveals that we must be saved by grace because we cannot keep any law perfectly in order to save ourselves.
In the context of this point we might conclude that if law reveals sin in our lives, then it would be good to live without law. But Paul wrote, “I would not have known sin except through law” (Rm 7:7). It may seem to be a glorious theology to believe that we are not under law. Or, we might be as the antinomian who believes that we are saved by faith alone, regardless of any obedience to moral or social laws of God.
But the theology of antinomianism (faith only) actually leads one into bondage. Though we might believe that there is no law by which we should live, our sense of religiosity would still drive us to create our own scriptures of “law.” We would invent laws to guarantee that we were not under law. The curse of those who believe that we are not under God’s law is that in maintaining some identity of their faith, they must establish for themselves religious codes and catechisms that would identify their faith.
Of course, such thinking is quite hypocritical, and thus contradictory. The fact is still true that God’s law brings freedom. It frees us from bringing ourselves into the bondage of our own self-imposed laws, while deceiving ourselves into believing that we are right with God on the basis of our own religious inventions. Therefore, as a charter statement of freedom, Paul wrote, “The law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good” (Rm 7:12).
- God’s law is holy, just and good because it delivers us from the bondage of establishing our own religious laws.
- REVERSING THE ORDER:
As all religious leaders who impose obedience to human religious rites and ceremonies, the Jewish religious leaders of Jesus’ day had reversed the order of obedience, and thus contradicted the very purpose of the Sinai law on the Sabbath. They made the Sabbath, and the keeping of their assortment of attached laws associated with it, the means by which one would be judged a faithful “Sabbath keeper.”
Instead of a day of rest for the people, the Sabbath, with the added assortment of over one hundred rites that the Jews surrounded the Sabbath, was relegated to a show of religiosity. Keeping the Sabbath, therefore, became an attempted means of self-justification before God. When the Sabbath was combined with all the invented religious rites that surrounded the Sabbath, then one could boast that he was a faithful Sabbath-keeper.
The same takes place in the religious world today with those who have little or no knowledge of the word of Christ. This is often the reason why assembly-defined “Christianity” has become so popular. However, when we identity the church by the performance of fulfilled religious rites and ceremonies on Sunday morning, between an opening and closing prayer, then we have a flawed definition of God’s people.
All such performed assembly rites and ceremonies are often promoted by religious leaders who view grace through their obedience to their legal assembly ceremonies. Theirs is thus a distorted message that is no different than the Sabbath-keeping zealots who confronted Jesus about His violations of their Sabbath rites and ceremonies.
- Our definition of church by obedience to prescribed assembly rites and rituals on Sunday morning relegates the members’ faith to an empty, and often spiritually sterile, if not emotionless, legal performance of assembly rules during the supposed “hour of worship.”
[Next in series: Articles 7,8]