by Mike Ratliff
For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes. 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. (Romans 10:4-9 ESV)
I grew up as a Southern Baptist in Oklahoma. Even before I was saved in 1986 I had heard from teachers and preachers that Christians are under a dispensation of Grace while Old Testament believers were under a dispensation of the Law. The work Christ did on the cross did away with any need to be concerned about keeping the Law. Now, while that statement, in a sense, is true it is not true in another sense. What am I talking about? As we study the Law of God in the Old Testament we find two distinct sections of the Law. There is the ceremonial Law that includes the very complex system of festivals or feasts and a very detailed system of sacrifices. All of the ceremonial law was intended to be a type or picture of Christ and His work of atonement on the cross. This is a very complex topic and out of topic for this post. Maybe later. The other section of God’s Law contains the Ten Commandments and all other commands that reveal God’s standards about sin.
What I was taught in my old denomination was that Christ’s birth, life, death, burial, resurrection and ascension fulfilled the Law and did away with it by establishing a new covenant. As I said earlier, this is partially true and partially false. Yes, Christ did come and establish a new covenant. Thank God! This covenant is a blood covenant that was “cut” with the shedding of Christ’s blood on the cross. Believers partake of this covenant by dying and being Born Again at salvation.
This new covenant abolished the part of the Law dealing with ceremony and sacrifice, but it did not do away with the part of the Law that reveals God’s standard of Righteousness for it is by this Law becoming apparent to our hearts contrasted with our utter lack of righteousness that God uses to draw us into repentance and belief. So, in this sense, Christ did do away with that part of the Law that was completed in Him, but the Righteous Law is fulfilled in Him with the salvation of each believer, as they are saved, being born anew unto perfect Righteousness being imputed to their account.
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:17-20 ESV)
As we look at that passage, taking our previous discussion into account, how can anyone believe that the Law has been done away with? A Gospel presentation is void of power without it. In fact, since the majority of churches these days believe the opposite, there are multitudes of people hearing only the good news part of the Gospel without the bad news of God’s Wrath against sin. Why bother getting saved if there is nothing to be saved from? The Gospel has been whitewashed and morphed into a sales pitch attempting to get people to join a church body or “try Jesus” so He can make their life better.
There is something to be grateful for in this mess, however. That is that God saves His people, His way, in His timing. I was saved “in spite of” being in a church that had it backwards. I’m sure that I am just one of millions in the same boat. If this is true, and I believe it is, then why bother about having the right doctrine and methods? This is what I believe. If we come to Christ in spite of bad theology, we will start our walk by believing it came about by something we did. We are sure that it is all up to us. We believe our salvation is a reward for simply having enough faith to make a decision. This causes us to have a walk that is a hunt for fulfillment rather than a one in which God’s glory in all things is paramount.
When God woke me up to this in 2004, I had been a believer since 1986. That’s a lot of years trying to be fulfilled and victorious by my own efforts. How successful was I in this? Not very. I was trying to be a mature Christian with very little help from God. Why? I was sure it was all up to me. This was born out of the theology I grew up in. I contend that if I had been saved, knowing that it came about by God regenerating my heart and saving me according to His will and for His glory I might have gotten started on my walk on a better footing. If I had been discipled to live for God’s glory alone I would not have wasted all those years chasing after the wind in church.
Now, do we see how important the Law of God is in our salvation? I was convinced that I was not under the Law. I was under Grace instead. While I am under Grace, God’s standards of Righteousness are still very much in effect. I heard a sermon today by C. Matthew McMahon of “A Puritan’s Mind.” In it, he contrasted God’s covenant of Works with His covenant of Grace. In this sermon, I learned that all people are in covenant with God. Christians are in the blood covenant of Grace. They will not be judged according to the Law at the final Judgment because Jesus Christ took that judgment upon Himself on the cross. However, all non-believers, being under the covenant of Works, are held accountable for every one of their sins. According to the Law of God, it only takes one to condemn any one of us outside of God’s Grace. These people will be judged according to God’s Law in every deed they have ever done. In this sense Jesus will have fulfilled the Law by being their judge.
Praise God that He saves us in spite of ourselves and the ineptness of the church leaders we are under. As the realization of God’s sovereignty hit me like a ton of bricks, I became so grateful that I really have a hard time expressing it. God is not passively sitting around hoping we will find our way to Him. He created the way to salvation for us. He does the work necessary to draw us to believe and repent. It is His work. As I said, I am more grateful than I can express and I love Him with my entire being. Oh Lord, I pray that you will be glorified in your servants!
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