Summary: Written and Published February, 2020: Often human error is held from traditions, without seeing and realizing all that such a line of reasoning implies, often worse than it first appears. For the Christian, there is nothing to be believed but the word of God. From Scripture alone we may have the unwavering conviction that God is true, and therefore the means of exercising true faith. This article is a brief correction of errors that are taught in Christianity today involving the relationship between life and law. (For a more detailed treatment of this topic, read articles #2 &3 on the article page)
Here we will be discussing the relationship of eternal life with the law. We see so many Christians making the tragic mistake of somehow connecting the performance of the law with their receiving salvation and life. Here again Scripture is clear:
Galatians 3:21 (NKJV)
Is the law then against the promises of God? Certainly not! For if there had been a law given which could have given life, truly righteousness would have been by the law.
There never has been a law which, by the doing of it, could give life. Even though the founding principle of the law was “do this and live”, nevertheless, the doing of the law was impossible for fallen mankind as a sinner to do. The above verse holds a double negative concerning the law. Not only it couldn’t give life, but it couldn’t produce righteousness – not the righteousness of God, nor even an acceptable righteousness of man. The law is the perfect measure or standard of human righteousness, but when given to man in his miserable state it only creates a conundrum, an impossibility – as a fallen sinner, mankind could never do it or keep it.
Romans 3:19-20 (NKJV)
19 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. 20 Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin.
The above verses are fairly straightforward. The Jews were given the law by God. They were always the ones “under the law.” God’s purpose for giving the law to Israel was so He could prove the quilt of the entire world before Him. As I’ve said many times, during the Jewish dispensation the Jews served as a test-case representing all mankind. They were chosen, separated, and privileged by God in as many ways as it was possible for God to bless fallen man. But the Jews miserably failed in their attempts at keeping the law. Because of this, it is a proper and just conclusion to be reached – the entire world is guilty before God.
This second passage proves the same conclusion as the first one did at the top of the article – eternal life can never come from performing the law. If “no flesh” can be justified by the deeds of the law, then certainly eternal life does not come by them as well.
And now we will take this one step further. There never has been a law which could give life, regardless of who was keeping it. The sinless life of Christ cannot be vicariously transferred to us as law keeping for righteousness and life. Scripture knows nothing of such a teaching. In contemporary Christian doctrine this is referred to as the “active obedience” of Christ – but it is a different gospel, another gospel, a false gospel, and worthy of condemnation (Gal. 1:6-12). Those who teach this doctrine fail to realize its full implications and results – they are patching up the old man, attempting to make him presentable to God, instead of allowing him to die with Christ (Rom. 6:6). Are we in Jesus Christ, the last Adam and born of God as His new creation? Or are we still in the first man, born the children of Adam and part of God’s first creation? Concerning a true believer, which of these states does the testimony of Scripture support?
Blessed truth it is that Jesus, as a Man, lived a sinless life of perfect obedience to God. This enabled Him to become the sinless sacrifice when the time came for the cross, the time when He would be offered up to God. But it is on the cross He becomes the sacrifice, not in His life before this point. It is the death and shed blood of the sacrifice that alone is atoning for sins. And Scripture is clear that it was after God made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. On the cross, God condemned His Son to death, and this is where Jesus endured all the wrath and judgment of God.
Romans 8:3 (NKJV)
For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh,
The law couldn’t do any of the things which Jesus accomplished for us in becoming the slain Lamb of God. The law could not justify us from our sins, could not make us the righteousness of God, and could never give eternal life. And this includes the thought of the life of Jesus in the flesh before the cross fulfilling the law for us in some type of vicarious, substitution method. His life before the cross, although perfect and sinless, was not atoning, did not justify us, does not transfer the righteousness of God to us, and is not the means of our receiving eternal life. Whether it was Jesus or not, eternal life is never by the deeds of the law.
This is what Christ has accomplished for us personally. He put Himself under the sentence of the cross, and by His death I am crucified with Him. My previous life in which I was responsible and in which I had sinned, no longer exists. This makes such a difference. My previous life as a child of Adam in which God saw me a sinner, the life to which sin is attached and consequently condemnation and death, no longer exists.
Galatians 2:19-21 (NKJV)
19 For I through the law died to the law that I might live to God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. 21 I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain.”
It is no longer a question of whether I can gain God’s favor by keeping the law; for I died to the law and this ended any relationship I might have had with it. As a Christian, I no longer live according to my former life, but in the life of Christ who loved me. He has become the object of my faith, my affections, my life. Christ has loved me, and loved me as I am. The relationship I have with Him is the only one I know, the only one that matters. I am sure of His love. It is the work of Jesus Christ on my behalf which has provided me eternal life. It was no part of my own.
It is true that I have failed; but I have died with Christ. That former life has ended. And my present responsibility, as a believer, flows from the truth that Christ has loved and saved me, and from the relations which exist between Him and me – I am a son of God through faith in Jesus Christ. If my mind has not understood my responsibility before God as a Christian, I have not understood the gospel. But certainly, it isn’t any more a question of what I ought to be according to the requirements of the law, but of what Christ has done, and done for me. What I find is, that He has loved me as I was. I find in Jesus the manifestation of the God who chose me, loved me, and gave me eternal life. With this I have the full assurance before God that I have no longer anything to do with my previous life, the life of the first Adam; but that I live now in another life, communicated by the second Adam, even Christ. And I can say with Paul, that I no longer live, but now, it is Christ living in me – this is eternal life.