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People speak about a ‘moral law’, but they have only a vague idea of what is meant by the expression. They say, ‘Live by the ten commandments’ or, ‘Do to others what you would have them do to you’ (Matt 7:12 NIV). They quote scripture, but in so doing put themselves and others under bondage. That is not Christianity. The Christian has been delivered from the law.
There are expressions which are used by Christians, which as well as being unscriptural, convey a meaning which is also contrary to the truth as presented in scripture. One of these is ‘moral law’.
People speak about a ‘moral law’, but they have only a vague idea of what is meant by the expression. They say, ‘Live by the ten commandments’ or, ‘Do to others what you would have them do to you’ (Matt 7:12 NIV). They quote scripture, but in so doing put themselves and others under bondage. That is not Christianity. The Christian has been delivered from the law.
Christians under a so-called ‘moral law’ have set aside Paul’s teaching. They show a semblance of piety, but are effectively seeking to be justified by works. Even if the works were good ones, they are under a curse. (see Gal 3:10). A Christian, being of a fallen race, finds himself ruined by the law, deceived by it to his own sorrow. The law knows no mercy. He is spiritually dead.
Paul found that experimentally. Paul saw that the law condemned lust. So, because he lusted he was self-condemned. Lust was in his nature. The law claimed absolute obedience to God, but he found he did not have the power to keep it. He wanted to do what was right but couldn’t. In short, he coveted, and thus broke the law. What was ordained to life, he found to be to death (see Rom 7:10).
Christ and the Law
God gave the promise to Abraham. The law was given later. If the law could have given life, righteousness could have been by the law. But the law did not give either the motive or the power to do right. That is why in Galatians the law is treated as a schoolmaster. The law condemns sins. More than that, it condemns sin.
In Romans 7 Paul insisted that one cannot have two husbands at the same time. A Christian cannot cannot be under obligation to both Christ and the law. A Christian is ‘dead to the law by the body of Christ’ (Rom 7:4). If he (or she) is dead, he is no longer under the law. , ‘Sin shall not have dominion over you, because ye are not under the law, but under grace’ (Rom 6:14).
Somebody might say, ‘Yes; but the flesh is still there, so I need the law, not to put away sin, but that it might not have dominion.’ That is false – The Christian is to be consciously dead in Christ. If a person is dead, he is beyond the reach of law by death. The Christian has died with Christ and is resurrection: he is in newness of life – in Christ, not Adam.
I am ‘dead to the law by the body of Christ’ (Rom 7:4). The death that the law sentenced me to in my conscience has fallen on another — Christ. Otherwise I would have been left in everlasting misery. But in love Christ put Himself in my place. Now I am justified and have a right to reckon myself dead, because Christ has died and has risen again. I have received Him into my heart as life: He is really my life.
Godliness is walking with a risen Christ – that is Christian life. The measure of that walk is Christ, and nothing else.
The Divine Law
A true believer always holds difference between right and wrong, to be an immovable and fixed moral foundation. It is revealed by God in His word.
The Lord said ‘Keep my commandments’ (John 15:10) and John wrote ‘This is love, that we keep His commandments’ (1 John 5:2) . Some are afraid of the word ‘commandment’, as if it would weaken the ideas of love, grace and new creation. But keeping the commandments and obeying one we love is the proof of our love. Christ Himself said, ‘I love the Father, and as the Father hath given me commandment, so I do.’ (John 14:31). His highest act of love, in dying for us on the cross, was His highest act of obedience.
The Spirit will produce fruits against which there is no law.
‘But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law’ (Gal 5:22-23.
‘Be ye therefore imitators of God, as beloved children, and walk in love’ (Eph 5:1-2 Darby).
‘Put on therefore, as [the] elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, longsuffering; forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any should have a complaint against any; even as the Christ has forgiven you, so also do ye. And to all these add love, which is the bond of perfectness’ (Col 3:12-14 Darby).
A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. (John 13:34)
The first thing we see in this epistle is that it concerns God’s Son Jesus Christ’ (See v. 3). It is not primarily about ourselves. Romans is about the claims of Christ, the ‘author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey Him’ (Heb 5:9). People have lost sight of that.
In chapter 1 we see why justification is needed: ‘The wrath of God revealed against all ungodliness’ (v. 18). That is wrath against the sinner, because ‘all have sinned, and come short’ (Ch. 3:23). It does not say ‘of what we ought to be’, or ‘of the law’, but ‘of the glory of God.’ The glory of God involves the light. In Christianity we must walk in the light, or we can have nothing to do with God. It is as simple as that. God is in the light; He has not hidden Himself behind a veil. We are to walk in the light, as He is in the light, and even become ‘partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light’ (Col 1:12). Justification makes us fit for that. Christ’s work in grace fits us for glory.
Two things are found in the first four verses: promises and revelation.
People rest on promises. But the promises are fulfilled by Him. ‘For all the promises of God in him are Yea, and in him Amen, unto the glory of God by us’ (2 Cor 1:20).
God’s righteousness is revealed because there was none in man. ‘Therein [i.e. in the glad tidings] is the righteousness of God revealed’ ( 17). Faith receives God’s righteousness, whereas the law claimed righteousness from man. The gospel is the righteousness of God.
In chapter 1 the righteousness of God is revealed; in chapter 2, we have the proof of this; in chapter 3, having been brought under sin, we are given righteousness. ‘But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets’ (v. 21). The Lord our righteousness was witnessed in the prophets who were under law. However, He is now manifested without (or apart from) law. Righteousness is ‘through faith in His blood’ (v. 25). God sits as a Judge, and man is brought before Him and found guilty. The penalty is death. But the death of a sinful man could not glorify God. Only the death of Christ alone glorifies Him, and through it He puts away the sins of the old man. Now we see how God makes a new man.
Under the old system the law required man to establish his own righteousness. ‘The law entered that the offence might abound’ (ch. 5:20). It is not that sin might abound, but the offence. The law not only made sin more manifest, but also aggravated its character. The authority of God was despised, not because of the offence, but because of the people’s disobedience. In ch. 2:12, what is translated sinned ‘without law,’ is the same word (ἀνομία – anomia) as in 1 John 3:4, ‘transgression of the law’ – (KJV) or ‘lawlessness’ – (Darby and others).’ The Day of Atonement was necessary:-
The scape-goat – ‘Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many’ (Heb 9:28) – Part 1 above (sins)
The sin-offering – ‘He appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself’ (Heb 9:26) – Part 2 (sin).
The blood of the sin-offering was sprinkled on and before the mercy-seat. This is now the ground of God’s invitation to the sinner. In Leviticus 16, the sins of Israel were confessed over the head of the scape-goat. For us, Christ has died, and the blood is on the mercy-seat. Now I will be received if I come to Jesus. Not only has the Lord Jesus put away my sin, but He has borne all my sins, and confessed them as if they were His own: they are all gone. My sins are forgiven: past, present and future.
In chapter 4 we have, ‘Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin’ (v. 4). A man is faultless before God if Christ has made atonement for him. The first part of Romans, referred to above, has to do with sins and the remedy – Christ dying for our sins. (In Part 2 below, it is sin and the remedy, my dying with Christ). This whole work was settled on the cross, resurrection making it complete. In this chapter it is justification by faith. ‘If we believe in him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead’ (v. 24). We are justified, and Christ’s work is ratified.
Unless we see Christ in resurrection, we do not have the assurance of being justified. ‘If Christ is not risen, ye are yet in your sins… if in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable’ (1 Cor 15:17,19).
Chapter 5 begins, ‘Having been justified, we have peace’ (v. 1). We get past, present, and future:
Justified, as to the past
Having peace with God, and standing in the favour of God, as to the present
Rejoicing in hope of the glory of God, as to the future.
What more can I want? I may have all sorts of trouble, but what a mercy it is that God sees me as righteous! In God’s eyes I am a righteous man. Now I can boast in tribulation, knowing that this leads to patience, experience and hope (see v. 3). I am not ashamed ‘because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us’ (v. 5). I can rejoice, too, in God Himself (before whom, in ch. 3:19, I was guilty, and my mouth stopped). Not only do I know myself, but I know God as well – God in His own absolute goodness. Knowing that everything is settled, and that I am reconciled, I have peace. Peace is deeper than joy: I may have joy, but not yet know myself reconciled. The prodigal had some joy when he left the far country, but he did not have peace till he met the Father, and learned what is the Father’s heart was toward him.
Foreknown, predestinated, called, justified, glorified! No creature power can break that chain of five golden links, for it is purely of God.
From chapter 5:12, we come to man’s condition. Adam ruined us all. We are now dealing with the state of the race, not of the individual. I have a nature away from God, and without the knowledge of the grace of God, I would be driven to despair. But grace has put away my sin.
Even if I know that my sins are forgiven, I can be extremely troubled because of the sin that is in me. The remedy is not in the fact that Christ has died for my sins, but that I have died with Christ to sin. I am a sinner because of Adam’s disobedience. However by the obedience of One (Jesus) I am made righteous, with no condemnation: ‘There is no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus’ (ch. 8:1). If that is the case, can I live as I like? ‘No’, the apostle says, ‘You have died.’ How can I live in sin if I am dead? I am justified; I have life.
Sin is never forgiven. but condemned. ‘God, sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and by a sacrifice for sin, condemned sin, in the flesh’ (ch. 8:3). Sin is got rid of by death. If a man dies, that is the end. Adam received a commandment, and lived so long as he obeyed it. But from Adam to Moses there was no commandment or law, and death reigned over those who had transgressed. We find no forgiveness there.
In Romans 6, I am dead and justified from sin. I reckon myself dead. I have had enough of ‘I.’ Now Christ is ‘I’. ‘I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me’ (Gal 2:20). In Romans I am cleared from what I was as a child of Adam, and get the privileges of a child of God. I am perfectly free: what am I going to do with myself? I was once a slave to sin: now I am to yield myself to God.
In chapter 7 we have the same principle applied to law. We have died to the law by the body of the risen Christ, so now we are connected with Him in resurrection. We cannot have both the law and Christ. ‘We are delivered from the law, that being dead by which we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter’ (v. 6 (Darby). The law isn’t dead; I am dead. The law is the jailer; I am the prisoner. The mistake people are making is that they are killing the jailer instead of the thief. The jailer is not dead, the thief is.
In chapters 2 and 3 we saw what a man does. In chapter 7 we see is what he is. Many Christians do not know what verse 7 means – ‘When I was in the flesh’. It is my previous state. This chapter is experimental, not just a doctrine. We must learn the truth not merely as a theory, but experimentally. I can say that my sins are forgiven – that is doctrine, not experience, but if I tell you something about myself, that is experience. It is not just that I have done bad things, but I have found by experience that ‘in me, that is in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing’ (v. 18).
That in himself, that is, in his flesh, dwells no good thing ( 18).
That the flesh is not himself (he is not in the flesh) – he hates it ( 15).
That the flesh is too strong for him, and he cries out for deliverance. ‘O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?’ ( 24).
As to the flesh, there is no question of forgiveness. I do not forgive an offending power; I want deliverance from it. The more spiritual I am, the more I shall see the infinite value of the cross. I keep the cross before myself in faith, and hold it the to the flesh (because I am not in the flesh, otherwise I could not do it). That is what ‘Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body’ means. (2 Cor 4:10)
I have to learn what sin is. Christ, who has met the consequences of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, becomes the tree of life to me. Now, in Romans 5:1-11, I learn what God is in love to the sinner.
Now in Chapter 8 I learn my condition as a believer with God. The new man in Christ Jesus is in a higher place: God is for me, and I can say, ‘Abba, Father’.
Glory is certain through the promise of God. ‘Whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified’ (v. 30). The whole chain is there, from beginning to end, and depends on His faithfulness in keeping us.
In John 3, the Lord emphasises the fact that He came from heaven. He works with men from that point of view. He testifies to man as to what is of heaven, from heaven, and what is man needs to be fit for heaven. That requires new birth.
Nicodemus had a mere human conviction of Christ; he knew that He was a teacher come from God because of His miracles. The Lord told him that he had to be born again. Of course, as he looked on things according to man, albeit a religious man. He did not understand what the Lord was talking about.
Being born again is not like some say, having a new nature. That would again be human. If a person has only a human conviction, his or her conscience is not affected, and has no desire to be with Jesus, because Jesus is not attractive to the natural man (see Isa. 53:2). Indeed, he doesn’t even care; he is just interested in what is here – family, politics, sport etc. Although he hopes to go to heaven when he dies, he does not find news from heaven interesting. But how will he be in heaven if Christ, the very centre of heaven’s delight, has no attraction for his heart? Unless, of course he has a totally wrong impression of heaven and thinks of it as a purely earthly paradise [Sosthenes’ addition].
On the other hand, the first thing that a person who has been born of the Spirit realises that he is lost and all wrong, like a bad tree which can never get better. He will be very anxious about that: sin is pressing on his conscience and plaguing his heart. But there is not a sin that Christ has not died for. He has put Himself in the sinner’s place before God. ‘He hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him’ (2 Cor 5:21). So the born again sinner sees Him on the cross, answering for him because he could not answer for himself. Christ has done everything that could bar his access to God.
Christ lifted up
God gave His Son – this is the glad tidings of grace. ‘And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up. … For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life’ (John 3:14,16. Nothing but the crucifixion of the blessed Lord could meet the sinner’s case.
He had to be lifted up. He knew everything that that would necessitate. He had came to do His Father’s will, and that will was our salvation. Consequently He drank that cup of wrath in love and quietness in order that the sinner might not. He made peace by the blood of His cross (see Col 1:20)
God set His seal in righteousness when He said, ‘Sit thou at my right hand until I make thine enemies thy footstool’ (Psalm 110:1, Heb 1:13). Grace now reigns through righteousness (see Rom 5:21) – righteousness having been made good before the whole universe.
Go in Peace
Let none of us doubt the efficacy of what Jesus has done. Have we heard in His quiet voice that the ‘Son of man must be lifted up’ (John 3:14)? Let Him tell us why. Let us learn how blessed it is to live in the light of God, where light shows us (not just our sins) to be white as snow. (see Isa 1:18). May we learn what it is to walk in the light of His countenance.
There are two ways in which we may look at the Christian. One is according to the counsels and thoughts of God (Hebrews – in respect to the grace Christ obtains for us as Priest on high)
The other as walking in this world (Philippians – down here, and the energy and power of the Spirit of God working in him). Philippians is the book of experience, the Christian on earth.
We have to pass through the world, and there are difficulties in our path. As we walk in the power of God’s Spirit, we rise above these difficulties.
In Philippians, we have a person entirely above it all the troubles; one who can ‘rejoice in the Lord always’ (ch 4:4). Paul had been four years in prison at that time, which must have been very trying, as he could not engage in his missionary service. He could have reproached himself for going up to Jerusalem, but he remained positive saying, ‘I can rejoice in the Lord always’ (see Phil 4:4).
We know Paul’s early career. He used to have an earthly righteousness, and he boasted in it. He said, ‘touching the righteousness which was in the law, blameless’ (ch 3:6). But the Lord met him, and he discovered that all that had been gain to him had brought him into open enmity with God. All that Saul of Tarsus could clothe himself with outwardly, was utterly smashed, and he was left to dwell in darkness three days. During this, he discovered in his own soul what this terrible revelation meant.
Seeing Christ in glory resulted in his setting aside and putting away all that was of man. Whereas the first thing we need as sinners is ‘redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins’ (Eph 1:7), with Saul of Tarsus it was different. His own righteousness had kept him away from God, and that had to be put away. The upright, honest, law-keeping Pharisee had been full of enmity against God. Now he learned the end of the first man, not just as a doctrine, but practically. The best man in the world (best as man goes) was the chief of sinners. Now he knew what redemption through the blood meant.
The law had required righteousness from man for God, but, nobody had attained it. So it does not say, ‘not having my own sins’, but ‘not having mine own righteousness’ (see ch 3:9). Paul saw that God would not accept him clothed in the human Adamic robe of his own righteousness..
He needed Christ who appeared to him on the way to Damascus and said, ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth’ (Acts 9:5).’ He saw the Man in the glory – the rejected carpenter’s son. Paul was totally and entirely condemned. But he soon learned that Christ had taken the place of everything, and that everything he had counted gain was finished. He came to that ‘There is … now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus’ (Rom 8:1). The whole standing of the first man was judged in his soul; and another Man, Christ in glory, would now be for him.
When Paul was writing to the Philippians many years later, it was still a present reality to him – ‘I… do count them but dung’ (Phil 3:8). Right from his conversion, Paul was a man whose whole course and career were marked by one object before him. That object was Christ.
Having judged all that he was naturally, Paul was brought him face to face with all kinds of difficulties. An example of this was his death sentence. He was going to be tried for his life; but he had done with the old ‘Paul’. He no longer trusted in himself, but in God: in effect he says, ‘The God I know, has raised Christ from the dead, so I am not afraid of death or of anything that might come on the road; I can glory in it all.’
Have we had a revelation of Christ? Are we following Him? Is He our only object? As we follow, we are called to suffer in a small way for Christ’s sake. But as we go through the world of sin and sorrow that crucified Christ, we also learn what it is to suffer with Him. It may be a difficult road, and we might get distracted, but we get refreshment as we go: it is the road that He travelled.
A term used by some Christians is ‘higher life’. But in reality they are following the world. The Christian has no calling to anything down in this world. His calling is to a risen, glorified Christ – this is the only Christ. Christ down here is a pattern for our walk, but we cannot attain Christ down here. Attempting it only lowers the standard of holiness: instead of being ‘higher Christian life’, it is lower life. It is the hope of being like Him in glory in glorified bodies, that makes us purify ourselves even as He is pure (See 1 John 3:3). I may get to heaven now in spirit, and be happy there with Him, but I never attain to or win Him, until I am with Him in the glory. Then I shall have won Christ.
In these days, when people are giving up Christianity everywhere, it is well to know what Christianity is. Christianity is perfect peace, perfect reconciliation with God, perfected for ever before Him. Then as regards my path in this world, it is having our eye on Christ Himself in glory, with all our energy in following Him. In every step we take, we get to knowing Him better, and we become more like Him.
Of course, when it says, ‘as many as be perfect’ (ch 3:15), it does not mean being being perfect like Christ was, when He was down here. But in walking with Him up there, we become like Him down here. That is what is meant by being a perfect, or fully grown, Christian. He knows that all his debts have been paid, and in running the race, he says, ‘I have seen the excellency of Christ Jesus, my Lord, and it has set aside everything here. I have done with it all; I belong to another place, and no longer own this old man’.
Paul contrasts the Christian life with mere profession. Professors are ‘enemies of the cross of Christ’ (v.18). They carry the name of Christian, but go on with the world, not perceiving that Satan, its prince, is against Christ. The world is subject to Christ’s execution of judgment. It does not know HIm as Saviour.
As Christians, our conversation, or citizenship, commonwealth or relationships of life are in heaven (See ch. 3:20). Though we live, our relationships up there, because Christ is up there – He is our life. A Christian’s life is not here at all. Christ is there, and we await our Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ. Our hope, therefore, is not to die, for our Saviour to ‘ change our vile body that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body’ (v. 23).
We are running the race towards the place where our standing is? Can we say with the apostle, ‘The life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God’ (Gal 2:20)? We are in earthly Is circumstances, but are we living by them, or are we living to Him? Time presses on; His return is near. Each of us is to take up our cross and follow Him. May we have a conscious relationship with the One whom we love. We look for Him to come from heaven to change our vile bodies because they will not suit that place. May the Lord give us so to have our eyes set on Him in His love, and that we might know real deliverance from the power of sin and the world. The Lord fix our eyes on Him in steadiness and earnestness of heart, so that we may say with David, ‘My soul followeth hard after thee’ (Ps 63:8).
Summary by Sosthenes
 Note that it is not that Paul was smashed, as some have erroneously affirmed. It is what he could boast in according to flesh, and the whole system he relied upon.
 Paul says that he was going to be tried for his life, according to JND. That raises an interesting question as to what is meant, Was it:
As a sinner, in the race, he is guilty and death is the consequence.
As Paul, it would be the legal judgment for the murder of Stephen
As having to do with sin, and the man who sinned, he was passing the death sentence on himself.
It is wonderful to see how God reveals Himself in certain passages of scripture. Nobody could manifest God in thoughts, words and actions like the Lord Jesus Himself. We see that in the parables.
The brightness of God’s glory is too much for man. Consequently, He graciously hides His brightness in the Person of the Son of man. Man rejected Christ, constantly finding fault and carping at things with which he could not agree. This however moved God to show that He really was God, clothing Himself in flesh in the person of Christ and showing His heart to man here. Whilst here He used parables.
In many of them we have the Lord seeking persons in need. We sometimes tell people to seek Christ. Doing that is right in one sense, for it is quite true that ‘He that seeketh findeth’(Luke 11:10), but the Lord never said to people, ‘Come unto me’, until He had first come to them.
So in Luke 15 God tells all the truth. God will be God. In this parable God welcomes the poor prodigal son, making God merry and glad. God would have His own joy in spite of the men’s objections. People object to God’s acting in love, prefering to look on God as a judge, believing in pride that their own righteousness will satisfy God. But God operates in grace, making nothing of man’s righteousness: ‘There is no difference; for all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God’ (Rom 3:23).
The Woman caught in Adultery
People like to compare one person’s righteousness with another’s. The scribes and Pharisees criticised the Lord for eating with publicans and sinners. In this they slighted God’s righteousness and magnified their own. In John 8 we find the woman caught in the act of adultery, being brought by the scribes and Pharisees. By the law she would have been justly condemned to be stoned: she was undeniably guilty. Their motive was that He might be obliged to deny either mercy or righteousness. They thought to place Him in an inextricable difficulty (we might say today, a catch-22 situation). If He should let her off, He would break the law of Moses; but should He say, ‘let her be stoned,’ it would not have been grace. How does the Lord act? He says, ‘He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her’ (John 8:7). Their consciences begin to work, they realised that they were all were sinners. From the eldest to the youngest, all went out: only Jesus was sinless. It was not time for Him to execute the law, for He had not come not to judge, so He concludes, ‘Neither do I condemn thee; go, and sin no more’ (v. 11). That was grace, and nothing but grace.
We have three parables in the chapter. Each teaches us something of God’s love: ‘The Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost’ (Luke 19:10).
The first parable is that of the shepherd who sought the sheep that was lost.
The second, that of the woman who sought the piece of money that was lost.
The third, the father’s reception of the son who was lost.
The Shepherd with 100 Sheep
The Lord Jesus justifies God in being good to sinners. He appeals to man’s heart. ‘What man of you, having an hundred sheep?’ etc. (v. 4). The sheep is lost and the shepherd goes and finds it; he puts it on his shoulder and brings it home rejoicing. That is like the Great Shepherd of the sheep who would say. “Have I not a right to seek lost sinners? Is it not a right thing for God to mix with publicans and sinners?” This may not suit a moralist, but it suits God.
The Woman and the Coin
In the second parable we have the woman’s painstaking, eagerness to find the lost coin. The woman lights a candle, sweeps the house, not stopping till the piece was found. And then we have the joy when her possession is recovered. ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the piece which I had lost’ (v. 9). That is the way of the Lord in love.
The woman is typical of the Holy Spirit. We see grace operating without anything moving in the heart of the sinner: we also see God’s own joy. Man’s pharisaic objection to grace only served to emphasise the energy and activity of God’s love. The piece of money and the sheep could do nothing. The shepherd and the woman alike did all; it was their joy. Worth nothing, in a certain sense, to God’s love the sinner is immensely valuable.
The Prodigal Son
The third parable shows the feelings of the wanderer and the way he was received back. Both the father’s and the prodigal’s hearts are laid open. What was important was not the prodigal’s estimate of the love of the father, but the real manifestation of the father’s heart.
Picture the situation: a man is brought to the utmost degradation – voluntarily eating husks with the swine (and we must remember what swine are to the Jew). Looking at the case in more detail, the rebellious younger son was far happier when leaving home than he was when returning – he was doing his own will. The young man was as great a sinner when walked out of his father’s house, as he was when feeding the swine in the far country. He had chosen to act independently of God – that is sin. He reaped the fruits of his actions, and in one sense, the very consequences of his sin were mercies, because they showed him what his sin was. It is like us: whether we are living in vice or not, we have all turned our back on God.
When he first left the house, he showed where his alienated heart was. He had turned his back on his father and his father’s house, and his face was towards the far country, typically the world. He went there to do his own will. Parents understand that. Our child sins against us and we feel it. But the child does not feel it the same way, if at all. So when we sin against God we do not feel it. We are all like children: “we have turned every one to his own way’ (Isa 53:6)
Having reached the far country, the prodigal went on gaily in his own will for as long as he could, wasting his money in riotous living (See v. 13). Any person from a Christian home, who lives beyond his means looks rich and happy for a time. But if he thinks he is happy, he is so only because he has gotten away from God. His will is unrestrained. But then, after all, he is in the devil’s country, and enslaved to him. Liberty of will is just slavery to the devil.
Hearts are not easy in the world; leave a man for a few hours to himself, and he will soon be in want (young people nowadays would say they were ‘bored’). The prodigal had begun to be in want, but his will was not touched yet. There ‘And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land; and he began to be in want. And he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks which the swine did eat: and no one gave unto him’ (v. 14-16). There is no giving in the ‘far country’, not even of husks.
Satan sells, and dearly – our souls are the price. You must buy everything. The world’s principle is ‘nothing for nothing’; every gratification has its price. If you sell yourself to the devil, you will get husks: he will never give you anything. If you want to find a giver, you must go to God.
The prodigal awoke and thought, ‘I perish with hunger’; and then he thought of his father’s house – the very place he had been so anxious to get away from at first. ‘He said, How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, and am no more worthy to be called thy son; make me as one of thy hired servants.’ (v. 17-19).
He did not know how he would be received, yet he knew there was happiness and love in the father’s house, even extending to the bondmen and hired servants. He also knew that there was plenty of food there, and where he was, he was perishing with hunger. His abject need brought him to value the house. He knew it was a good place, but did not yet know the extent of that goodness – God’s goodness.
He went back to the father’s house without a true knowledge of the heart of the father, who had seen him already while he was a long way off. He had prepared his speech: ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, and am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants’ (v. 18-19). He measured the father’s love in by the sense of the evil he had done and he thought to get into the place of a servant. Many hearts are in this state, even dictating to the Father what sort of position that would be fit – this is legalism. God can only receive us in grace. Had the father received him at a lower level, he would have been miserable. Having a son in the position of a servant would remind him of the sin that had been committed. The father cannot have sons in his house as servants. He rushed to meet him and did not even give him time to say, ‘Make me as one of thy hired servants’. He confessed his sin, ‘I have sinned against heaven and before thee, and am no more worthy to be called thy son’. When his father is on his neck kissing him, even though all the rags of the far country were still on him, how could he ask to be a hired servant?
The father did not stop to ask him anything. He knew his son had acted very wrongly, but it would have been no use to say, “You have disgraced me and dishonoured my name”. It was not a question of fitness or worthiness on the part of the son – love does not reason that way – the father was acting from himself and for himself. He fell on his neck, because he loved to be there. It is God’s love, not the sinner’s worth, that accounts for the extravagant liberality of his reception.
The servants are called to introduce him into the house fittingly. ‘But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet: and bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry: for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry’ (v. 22-24). God shows His love towards us as wretched sinners, and then clothes us with Christ. He brings us into the house where the servants are, with nothing less than the full honour of sonship. We read about the robe, the ring, the shoes, the fatted calf, and the feast of joy that welcomes the returning prodigal. The father’s mind was that a son of his was worth it all, and that it was worthy of him to give it.
Some might think it humility to desire the servant’s place in the house. But that is only ignorance of the Father. In read in Eph 2:7, ‘That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus’. It would not have been worthy of the Father to leave us as servants. We would have had a constant memorial of our sin, shame, dishonour and degradation, whereas, ‘The worshipper once purged has no more conscience of sins’ (Heb 10:2). Our condition must be worthy of God for us to enjoy now.
This requires faith: faith judges as God judges. We see sin in the light of God’s holiness. But as our sins and iniquities are not remembered any more, we learn grace and what our Father’s heart really is. Faith is the only thing that gives me certainty: reasoning does not. Reasoning may be all quite well for the things of this world; but if God speaks about anything, we believe it by faith. Faith sets to its seal that God is true (See John 3:33).
If I do not believe what God assures me of, I wrong Him. It is a sin not to believe that I am a son – in God’s presence without a spot of sin – through the blood of the Lamb. If it were only my own righteousness, it would be torn like rags, but it is the blood of the Lamb has cleansed every single sin.
The question is, ‘What is God’s estimate of the efficacy of the blood of Jesus?’ If my soul knows the value to God of the blood of the Lamb, I know the extent of His love. It would be an evil thing to doubt that, just as it would have been for the prodigal to say, “I have the rags of the far country on” while his father was kissing him. Like the prodigal, I must be silenced by such grace.
The Elder Brother
It might be said that divine grace sanctions sin. That is the spirit of the elder brother. Grace pleaded with him: ‘He was angry, and would not go in: therefore came his father out, and intreated him (v. 28). We see the the father’s patient love towards this wretched man who refused to share in the joy. The servants were happy; they say, ‘Thy brother is come, and thy father has killed for him the fatted calf, because he hath received him safe and sound’ (v. 27).
His heart turned sour to the love and grace that God showed to a fellow sinner. He would not go in. The father reasoned with him – ‘It was meet that we should make merry and be glad; for this [not my son, but] thy brother was dead and is alive again; and was lost and is found’ (v. 32) In vain, he could not enter into the joyful spirit that pereated the house, from the father down to the lowest maid. He remained outside, and had none of the happiness or joy. Despite his outward faithfulness and obedience, he refused his father’s grace: this is man.
Let us each ask ourselves, ‘How can I know God’s heart?” We do not get to know it by looking into our own heart. The God we have to do with is the God who has given His Son for sinners, and if we do not know this, we do not know Him at all. ‘He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?’ (Rom 8:32). Let us not say to God, “Make me as one of thy hired servants”. Let us not put our own value on God’s goodness. Let us not turn back to legalism, and think that it is humility. The only real humility is to forget self in the presence of God. It may be a humbling process; but it is not in thinking evil of self that we are truly humble, it is in forgetting ourselves completely in the manifestation of the love of God and our Father, who is love to us, and blesses us.
May we poor sinners, know through Jesus, God revealed in love!
Union in Incarnation, the Root Error of Modern Theology
Let me add that God, in His history of man, has shown what flesh is, and even the creature left to himself. The first thing man has always done is to spoil what God has set up good. Man himself —
The first thing we read of him is eating the forbidden fruit.
The first Noah did, after offering thanksgiving for his deliverance, was to get drunk.
Israel made the golden calf, before Moses came down from the mountain.
Nadab and Abihu offered strange fire the first day after being consecrated, and Aaron never went into the holy of holies in his garments of glory and beauty.
The son of David, Solomon, loved many strange women, and the kingdom was divided.
The Gentile head of gold persecuted the godly, and became a beast, characterising the empires that followed him for the seven times.
What shall we say of the church? How soon did all seek their own, not the things of Jesus Christ, and forsake the devoted and faithful apostle! John could say, “There are many antichrists, whereby we know that it is the last time.” But God has worked on in grace, in spite of this, to shew what He is, His longsuffering and goodness and patience. So all those things — man, the law, the priesthood, royalty in the Son of David, He that rises to reign over the Gentiles, His being glorified in His saints — all is made good in its place in the Second Man, the Last Adam. May His name be eternally praised! As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy. As is the Heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly.
John writes in his epistle, ‘If anyone sin, we have an advocate’ (1 John 2:1), not ‘If anyone repents and goes to Him’. Jesus washed the His disciples’ feet, they did not ask Him to do it.
The righteousness of God has placed us before Him in the light. We should now walk in the light, even though we are weak, are tempted and too often stumble. We should maintain communion with God, glorifying Him. Once we were in darkness; now with the Lord we are in the light.
As High Priest, He bears our judgment in our favour according to God’s light and perfections. As the objects of the Father’s love, we are accepted in Christ, because of the Father’s affection for Jesus, and of Jesus’ rights over the Father’s heart.
The Lord obtained the Holy Spirit for us, for us to enjoy the place where we He has placed us. If we fail our relationships with the Lord and the Holy Spirit are disturbed – but they are unchanged. The Holy Spirit is grieved, but the God’s grace towards us, and our righteousness before Him are unaltered. Can the Father overlook sin, and bless us as if nothing had happened? No, that would be impossible. Our failures and weaknesses bring out the grace that purifies us and establishes us. We get to know ourselves more deeply as we become more divested of self. We become calmer, humbler and with more holiness, knowing God better. His grace is sufficient for us.
That is how the Priesthood of Christ operates.
The above is based on part of a letter written by JND. Click here for the original French version and the translation by our brother Brian Surtees
Law requires power in man to fulfill it. A dead person has no power; resurrection is by God’s power, and Abraham believed that. If God spoke, the thing was certain. That is why his faith was imputed to him for righteousness. When man justifies God not himself, God justifies him. Abraham believed that God was able to perform what He had said; we believe that He raised Christ from the dead – delivered for our offences, and raised again for our justification.
There is more in Israel’s history than the law. Abraham believed God, and it was imputed to him for righteousness. (See Rom. 4:3). He was reckoned righteous because of his faith. Also, David said, ‘Blessed isthe man whose iniquity is forgiven, whose sin is covered; blessed the man to whom the Lord imputeth no sin.’ (Psalm 32:2). No sin was imputed to him. He was held to be wholly clear of it before God; it was forgiven and covered. The responsibility of man was fully met, and he knew it.
Faith was counted for righteousness to Abraham. Circumcision was only a seal of the righteousness he had already before he was circumcised. Therefore he became the father of all who believe (including uncircumcised, believing Gentiles), and more than that, the father of those truly separated to God – circumcised in spirit, not in letter.
The promise to Abraham that he would be the heir of the world was a matter of law, but of the righteousness of faith. Promise is not law: promise and faith go together. If promise had been on the basis of law, faith would have been void – man could not have had an inheritance because of transgression. But the inheritance is of faith, not law, that it might be by grace. Faith just believes in grace.
When Abraham received the promise, as far as having offspring was concerned, he was as good as dead. But he believed what God had said as to his seed. So we have another important principle: grace and promise on the part of God, and faith, and the redemption that is in Christ, on the part of man. God’s power comes in; God raises the dead, and makes them to be as He calls them. This applies to Abraham’s seed, to the Gentiles’ blessing, and to Christ’s physical resurrection.
Law requires power in man to fulfill it. The law being given to the sinner, wrath was the consequence of its imposition. A dead person has no power; resurrection is by God’s power, and Abraham believed that. If God spoke, the thing was certain. That is why his faith was imputed to him for righteousness. When man justifies God not himself, God justifies him. Abraham believed that God was able to perform what He had said; we believe that He raised Christ from the dead – delivered for our offences, and raised again for our justification. God glorifies Himself in grace by granting divine righteousness to man, when he had no human righteousness before God.
As to ourselves, righteousness is imputed to us, as we believe on the God who raised up Christ from the dead. We do not merely own Christ’s work, but God’s acceptance of that work, and His power to quicken the dead. As John said, ‘God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.’ (Matt 3:9). God demonstrated His power in raising up Christ from death, the state into which our sins had brought Him through grace. Of course, God could not leave Him in death, for He was satisfied as to the matter of sins, and righteously raised Him from the dead – in public testimony.
We have the mercy-seat through faith in His blood. The value of the blood brings the witness of righteousness in the remission of past sins. It justifies us, maintaining fully the justice or righteousness of God. He is just, and the Justifier, not the condemner, of those that believe. The principle of righteousness by faith is incompatible with law: one rests on grace, the other on works; one on God’s work, the other on man’s. In grace, God’s work justifies freely; in law, man’s work in righteousness seeks to make peace, redemption and God’s work unnecessary. Law recognises the claim of righteousness, but man having failed, God has met that claim in grace. The grace that was incompatible with law, met the claim of the law, in order to justify the person who had failed under it.
God being revealed, sin is measured by the glory of God.
After demonstrating that the heathen, the moralist and the Jew had all sinned, Paul returns to the subject of the righteousness of God. Man clearly had none If he had had a righteousness it would have been by the law, so it would only be for the Jews. But all men – Jews and Gentiles – have proved to be under sin, so God has manifested His righteousness by faith, entirely separate from the law. It is towards all, and upon all who believe. It is free, by God’s grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.
In chap. 1:17, we were told that God’s righteousness is revealed in the gospel. Now in Rom. 3:21, it is wholly apart from the law, the way of man’s righteousness) As all of us are under sin, we are justified by God’s grace, through redemption which is in Christ Jesus.
We have in Christ the atonement or propitiation for our sins, giving us a place of access to God on the ground of redemption. The saints in Old Testament times had been subjects of God’s forbearance. God passed over the sins of the Abrahams, the Samuels, and millions of others on the basis of the propitiation that was to be wrought by Christ. God forgave sins as if Christ’s work had already been accomplished. In His exercise of forbearance, He justified His remission of the sins committed before Christ was here.
Now for those of us who live subsequent to His work, we have God’s full present justice. Christ has been exalted. Now in righteousness God could be just and justify believers in Jesus. This is an immense truth: God’s righteousness has been revealed, justifying those who believe in Jesus and His perfectly finished work. He has gone up on high, having glorified God perfectly on the cross, revealing and declaring God’s righteousness. Man has not accomplished it, man has not procured it. It is of God, it is His righteousness. We participate in it through believing in Jesus Christ.
We have the mercy-seat through faith in His blood. The value of the blood brings the witness of righteousness in the remission of past sins. It justifies us, maintaining fully the justice or righteousness of God. He is just, and the Justifier, not the condemner, of those that believe.
Man cannot boast, for justification is by God’s work – God’s grace received in faith. We cannot mix gaining a thing by working, and receiving it by faith – one excludes the other. God justifies sinners in His dealings for them, not man justifying himself by a law which he could not keep. Sinners are justified freely by (on the principle of’) grace, through (by means of) redemption.
Justification was by faith does not set aside the law. The law brought the conviction of sin, the curse even, from which men under it had to be delivered. Christ delivered men from the curse, thus sanctioning the law to the highest degree. He bore the curse, and established the authority of law as nothing else could. The Jew just had do be convicted of the necessity of grace, redemption and the blood of Christ; he had to recognise his debt and obligations, and that Christ’s work had put an end to those.
The principle of righteousness by faith is incompatible with law: one rests on grace, the other on works; one on God’s work, the other on man’s. In grace, God’s work justifies freely; in law, man’s work in righteousness, seeks to make peace, rendering redemption and God’s work unnecessary. Law recognises the claim of righteousness, but man having failed, God has met that claim in grace. The grace that was incompatible with law, met the claim of the law, in order to justify the person who had failed under it. Had it been a human righteousness, it would have been by the law which had been given to the Jews only. But being the righteousness of God Himself, is unto all.
Thus far the imputation of righteousness goes no farther than the forgiveness of sins. There is more farther on; but here that is all .
On the heathen – Rom 1:18-32
On the moraliser – Rom 2:1-16
On the Jew – Rom 2:17-3:20
There are two great themes of the glad tidings:
The revelation of the Person of the Lord Jesus, the Deliverer, the Son of God claims the obedience of faith
The righteousness of God on the principle of faith forms the ground on which man could have a part in blessing through grace and God’s purpose.
In Rom 1:18, Paul turns to what makes this righteousness of God necessary to us: God reveals a positive righteousness on His part. ‘For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness, and unrighteousness of men who hold the truth in unrighteousness.’ This is a most important principle. It is not governmental wrath, such as Israel suffered when taken captive to Babylon – God was still hidden behind the veil. Instead it is God Himself fully revealing Himself according to His own nature, abhorrent of evil, exercising wrath against it. God’s nature is incompatible with evil and ungodliness. Wrath was revealed from heaven; Gentile, Jew, men in every condition, come under the judgment
The heathen Gentile is condemned for disregarding God’s testimony in creation (see v.19-20) and because of his not retaining God in his knowledge (v.21). He dishonoured God by imaginatively turning the glory of the incorruptible God into images of men, birds, beasts, and reptiles. So God gave them up too: they degraded themselves in vileness as they had degraded God in idolatry. Yet they were aware of the judgment of God.
God’s testimony in creation rendered moralisers such as Socrates inexcusable. They did the things they judged and thus incurred God’s judgment. Doing evil and judging others was not the way of escaping God’s judgment. They despised God’s mercy which would have led them to repentance, thus heaping up wrath on themselves for the day of judgment. This is not dispensational government on those near or those far off, but God revealing His judgment of evil because of who He is.
Here the light of Christianity is thrown on the grounds of judgment. When Christ is revealed, evil is dealt with. The Jews may have a special advantage, if they have sinned under law, they will be judged by law. God is God, and evil is evil, whether in a Jew or a Gentile, for there is no respect of persons with God.
As well as law and natural conscience, obedience to the truth becomes the moral test of man. Hence, in Rom 2:7-8, we have what Christianity has brought to light (glory, honour, immortality and eternal life) ; and in v. 9-10, we see tribulation and anguish upon every soul of man that does evil, but glory, honour, and peace on every soul of man that does good – first to the Jew, then to the Greek.
God deals with realities: a godly Gentile was more to His delight than an ungodly Jew, despite the privileges of the latter. The doer of the law would be justified, not he who had and broke it. Conscience shows what is right and wrong, so where there was no law, conscience becomes the law to a man who not under the law of Moses, man having got the knowledge of good and evil by the fall.
Even without law, conscience knows it is wrong to murder or steal. But there is a difference: law imposes a rule by authority – God’s authority; conscience, on the other hand, takes notice of right and wrong in itself, as God does. ‘Man is become as one of us, knowing good and evil’ (Gen 3:22). Hence the secrets of men’s hearts are judged: men come out such as they really are, however much they try to hide things. As a result they that had sinned without law would perish without it.
From Rom 2:17-3:8, the apostle deals with the Jew. The truth is the same truth, but it the converse of what Paul had said of the Gentile. A Jew who boasted in the law and broke it was as bad as the heathen who had none: the name of God was blasphemed among the Gentiles through him. He was a Jew who only was so inwardly; whose heart was circumcised in spirit, not in letter; whose praise was not of men, but of God. (see v.29)
We come now to a very important principle in the ways of God: where there was no renewal of heart one was not agreeable to God, despite what the Jew pretended., As the Jew had the scriptures, ‘the oracles of God’ (Ch. 3:2), his privileges added to his responsibility. The apostle recognises the Jews’ privileges, but their unbelief would make the faith – the faithfulness of God – of no effect. God would be true if every man were a liar: He would fulfill His word. He was the more glorified through man’s unfaithfulness, He would judge the evil, otherwise He would not be able to judge the world at all. It is a general principle that man’s unrighteousness proves God’s righteousness in judgment. The Jews’ falseness made God’s faithfulness to His promises more glorious, so that he had not to find fault or reason; but simply says, ‘whose damnation is just (Ch. 3:8).’
All have sinned
Though the Jews had advantages, they were no better than the Gentiles. Both were under sin. The Jew boasted that the scriptures were for him, and for him alone. So the apostle says that we know that what the law says, ‘There is none righteous, no, not one’ (See Ps 53:1). The Gentiles were sunk in corruption and idolatry; the Jews were the privileged race, having the oracles of God, but they disbelieved. The Jew was condemned by his own plea, as the elder brother in the parable of the prodigal son.
When tried, None without exception was righteous; none had any spiritual intelligence; none sought after God, none did good. There may be amiable characters (there are even amiable animals), but there was not a single heart seeking or fearing God. Every mouth was stopped, and all the world was guilty before God: the Gentiles were lawless and reprobate, working uncleanliness with greediness, the Jews were condemned out of their own mouths by the law in which they boasted. Sin was everywhere.
In this we have the proof of that state which gave occasion to the wrath of God revealed from heaven.