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A Christian apologetics ministry dedicated to keeping the "false" out of doctrine
The Law and the Gospel

Concerning man’s well being, a more pertinent question could not have been asked than that of Job’s: "How can a mortal be righteous before God?" (Job 9:2) The answers to this timeless question have been numerous and varied.

Some believe the sins they have committed are "not all that bad." "After all," they say, "I haven’t murdered anyone or committed adultery; therefore, God will accept me."

Others propose that God grades on a "curve." "If I’m better than most people," they theorize, "surely God will not reject me."

Then there are those who consider themselves to be without sin altogether, but admit to occasionally making a "mistake." Jesus told a parable about just such a person:

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: "two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men - robbers, evildoers, adulterers - or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted." (Luke 18:9-14)

While one might speculate on how a person can be right with God, this question is far too important to be left to conjecture or theory. God’s infallible word, the Bible, speaks clearly and without ambiguity on this vital subject, rendering guesswork unnecessary.

While it is quite common for people to "compare themselves with themselves" (1 Corinthians 10:12), there is only one biblical standard of measurement, that of the Father:

Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:48)

Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrong... (Habakkuk 1:13)

For the wages of sin is death... (Romans 3:23)

In the Greek, which is the original language of the New Testament, the word translated into English as "sin" means "to miss the mark." The "mark" that Jesus spoke of was perfection, and anything short of that is sin. Since sin keeps us from being in a right relationship with God, what exactly constitutes "sin" or "missing the mark"?

Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness. (1 John 3:4)

Since "sin" or "missing the mark" consists of breaking God’s law, what is it that comprises His law? While most people are aware of the ten commandments in the Old Testament, God’s law extends to our thoughts and words as well. Note the words of Jesus:

You have heard that it was said to people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment. But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment... (Matthew 5:21, 22)

You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Matthew 5:27, 28)

But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean.’ For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. (Matthew 15:18, 19)

In summary, the answer to the question "how can a mortal be righteous before God"? is this: Keep God’s law which consists of words, thoughts, and actions from the time you are born until the time you die without fail! What is even more discouraging is the biblical record of man’s failure to achieve this standard of perfection. Both the Old and New Testament concur:

If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand? (Psalm 130:3)

There is not a righteous man on earth who does what is right and never sins. (Ecclesiastes 7:20)

As it is written: "There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one." (Romans 3:10-12)

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23)

Due to our fallen, sinful nature which we inherited from Adam (Romans 5:12), man’s attempt to keep God’s law perfectly always results in failure. In fact, attempting to obey God’s law as a means of gaining a right standing with Him is tacit denial of our sinful condition. It is saying, in effect, "I have the moral capability of keeping God’s law and can stand before God on the basis of my own righteousness." Such arrogance will only meet with God’s condemnation:

All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: "Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law." Clearly, no one is justified before God by the law, because, "The righteous will live by faith." (Galatians 3:10, 11)

For whoever keeps the law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. (James 2:10)

Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin. (Romans 3:20)

As Paul stated, through the law we become "conscious of sin." In other words, God’s holy law reveals man’s unholy nature. Elsewhere, the apostle tells us of another reason for the law:

So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. (Galatians 3:24)

While the Bible speaks of the law as being "glorious" (2 Corinthians 3:7-11), it is "bad news" for fallen, sinful humanity. Because of God’s holiness, which results in His perfect justice, God’s law remains the unchanging standard of righteousness which must be fulfilled perfectly and continuously. Our sinful condition does not abrogate the law or its penalty for moral failure.

But there is "good news" for our seemingly hopeless dilemma. Jesus Christ met the requirements of the law by fulfilling it perfectly and continuously, in thought, word and deed. This is what is called the "Gospel" or "good news" of Jesus Christ. He accomplished this in two ways. First, because of the penalty for breaking God’s law is death, Christ paid this debt of sin by dying on the cross:

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)

He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree... (1 Peter 2:24)

For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit. (1 Peter 3:18)

Secondly, Christ fulfilled the law by keeping it perfectly and continuously:

Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. But John tried to deter him, saying, "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?" Jesus replied, "Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness." Then John consented. (Matthew 3:13-15)

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. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, or the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. (Matthew 5:17, 18)

The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him. (John 8:29)

Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes. (Romans 10:4)

But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. (Galatians 4:4)

For the Christian, the righteousness of Christ is credited to him. From a judicial standpoint, God sees the Christian as having fulfilled the law perfectly and continuously in thought, word, and deed:

"The days are coming," declares the Lord, "When I will raise up to David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. This is the name by which he will be called: The Lord Our Righteousness." (Jeremiah 23:5, 6)

Since they (the Jews) did not know the righteousness that comes from God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes. (Romans 10:3, 4)

It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God - that is ,our righteousness, holiness and redemption. (1 Corinthians 1:30)

God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21)

How does one receive the "righteousness of Christ that makes us rightly related to God? God chose the instrument of faith as the means of receiving this righteousness:

Through him everyone who believes is justified from everything you could not be justified from by the law of Moses. (Acts 13:39)

... and found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ - the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. (Philippians 3:9)

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8, 9)

Notice in Ephesians 2:8, 9 that the Apostle Paul speaks of faith as being "not from yourselves" but rather, "the gift of God."

In conclusion, how will the Father see you on Judgment Day, clothed with the righteousness of Christ or found attempting to enter into heaven on your own righteousness. The Prophet Isaiah gives us two vivid and contrasting pictures of righteousness; that of our own:

... all our righteous acts are like filthy rags. (Isaiah 64:6)

and that which comes from God:

I delight greatly in the Lord; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness. (Isaiah 61:10)

The spirit and the bride say, "Come!" And let him who hears say, "Come!" Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life. (Revelation 22:17)

Written by John Payne