The Law cannot provide righteousness of any kind…
I came across these words by the late Jack Kelley (Grace Thru Faith) that are apropos to our study in both Christ, Our Righteousness and Christ, Our Fellowship. He was responding to the question put to him – How do you understand the relationship between the law and grace?
Simply put they are opposites. The Law tells us we can’t become righteous no matter what we do. We can only discover our need for a Savior.
“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).
Grace tells us we can become righteous, but only by believing we have a Savior who has made us so.
“But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.” (Romans 3:21-22)
Through the Law, we learn that we are sinners and we also learn that we are completely incapable of keeping the Law at all points and at all times. The Law was provided to point these two cogent facts out to us. As Jack stated, through the Law we “…discover our need for a Savior.” That’s the simple reality that is supposed to push us toward God. Too often though, it pushes people away from Him. The Law’s purpose is the great dividing line, either pushing people toward God or away from Him, but it has no power or ability to save anyone. It simply points out when we become transgressors of the Law and since all people are born “in” sin (that is, come from a line of human beings who all have a sin nature and because of it have a propensity to sin), it is only a matter of time before each person breaks the law for the first time. Once the Law is broken that person officially becomes a law-breaker and the need for salvation becomes apparent.
Kelley also points out that while the Law witnesses against us, grace provides a way out, which is found only in Jesus, the Savior who provided that way out. Kelley quotes Romans 3:21-22 which tells us that righteousness cannot come from the Law because the Law has no ability to declare anyone righteous. It only has the ability to point out when someone breaks the Law and everyone does. The righteousness that is needed comes from God alone. Only He can label a person righteous and as we’ve stated throughout these two series, this only occurs for us individually when we place our faith in the finished work of Jesus on our behalf. We believe that Jesus did what we cannot do. We believe His once-for-all sacrifice that allowed Him to sit down at the right hand of the Father (signifying absolute and total completion; Hebrews 10:12), provided the way for God to declare those who place their faith in the atonement, fully and permanently righteous.
I cannot overstate how important it is for us to become as thoroughly aware of this as we can become! The Law declares that we are unrighteous. We are completely unable to live up to its exacting standards because of the fact that we are born in sin and therefore have a sin nature that creates within us the propensity to sin. Once we’re born physically, we will eventually sin. That is clear and unmistakable fact. It means that every person born is born into a quandary from which he/she cannot extricate themselves.
But because of God’s love, His immeasurable grace and willingness to forgive, He created a way that allows anyone who comes to Him in faith believing in the efficacy of Christ’s atonement, to become labeled righteous. Is it any wonder that Satan wants to hide this truth? Is it any wonder that he causes people to become angry and even enraged when they hear the gospel? It is truth he wants to suppress and it is because of this enmity toward God’s love that there is so much expressed frustration, anger, and even hatred toward those whom God has declared righteous. Though it is anger based on a complete misunderstanding of the truth, it is anger nonetheless. Of course, we need also be aware that as Paul states, this whole world is under the sway of the evil one (1 John 5:19). Satan exists to deceive and comes as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14).
People who respond to the gospel with anger likely do not understand why they are responding as they are, but the anger can just well up inside them and so they respond accordingly. They fail to understand that the truth of the gospel is what can set them free from the lies of the enemy of our soul. But being deceived can create this strong sense of believing that lies are truth.
The apostle Paul went through this on many occasions but one situation that really brings this out is what we call the Mars Hill confrontation in Acts 17. Paul went from Thessalonica to Berea to Athens and at each place, he shared the gospel. But look what happened in Thessalonica (Acts 17:1-9). Even though some were convinced of the truth of the gospel, wicked men churned up the crowd with hatred and derision. Paul eventually had to leave that city. He went to Berea where the truth was also received but other wicked men disturbed the crowd there as well.
Paul eventually ends up in Athens where he refers to the “unknown idol” as the starting point to give a sermon on the gospel message. Things went well until Paul preached about the resurrection of the dead, then there was rebuke, sneering, and resistance (Acts 17:32-33).
32 Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some began to sneer, but others said, “We shall hear you again concerning this.” 33 So Paul went out of their midst. 34 But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them.
In general, people really believe themselves to be intelligent. The people of Athens were no different. While some received Paul’s message, others “began to sneer” at him because of it. It was a joke. In this same narrative, Paul was referred to as a “babbler” by the men of Athens (Acts 17:18). They mocked him in spite of the fact that the truth Paul taught was truth that could save their spiritual lives for all eternity.
We should not be surprised when the world laughs at us or mocks us because of our beliefs. We should simply continue to express the truth – in word and deed – and pray for the people we encounter. This is what we learn in Acts 26:18.
to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me.’
Paul was saying this to King Agrippa and the word “Me” at the end is referring to God. Because of the situations that occurred in Paul’s life, he had opportunity to speak before kings and leaders in fulfillment of what God had told him would happen (cf. Matthew 10:18; Acts 21-26, etc.).
This is the way it is for Christians and it will be this way until the Lord returns. But prior to His return, there will be a consistent growing hatred spurred on by Satan himself though those who are in his kingdom toward those of us who are not, but who have been transferred out of his kingdom into God’s Kingdom. We need to comprehend this because this is how God has allowed things to work in this world, still controlled in many ways by Satan. God has the victory, but things need to play out.
Authentic Christians (those who actually have salvation), have two choices once we have been declared righteous by God because He sees faith in us directed toward Christ’s redemptive work on our behalf. First, we can begin to understand that we are to move toward increasing and growing our fellowship with God in Christ on a daily basis. It should never be stagnant, but always growing and expanding. Second, we can simply be satisfied with our salvation and not worry about anything else. In choosing the second choice, we stagnate, live carnal, selfish lives, and God may opt to take us out of this life “early” because we are actually aiding the enemy by living as the world lives. By choosing this option, we will undoubtedly experience little to no persecution simply because we are neither a threat to this world or Satan himself. He knows that we will accomplish little to nothing for God because we have not committed ourselves to entering into fellowship with Him. Instead, we continue to live a life that placates and builds up self. When those Christians stand before God, they will lose everything except their eternal life (1 Corinthians 3:12). They will have brought dishonor to God, dragging His Name through the mud all because they chose to be content with salvation and looked for nothing more.
Those Christians who choose the first option will experience persecution and problems in life (possibly far more than the average unsaved individual ever experiences). Satan will spend his time working against that Christian because they are endeavoring to fellowship with God so that they will become more like Him and will also become a vessel that God can and will use to bring Himself glory. Because of this, Satan will do what he can to thwart these Christians. However, I believe it can be truly said that though these Christians will experience greater heights of persecution from the world, God will bless them with greater awareness of Him, His love, and His ability to keep these Christians from falling. It is the double-edged sword.
Do you ever find that you simply feel “pressed down” for the lack of a better word or phrase? You think there is much to be joyous about yet you also feel overwhelmed at times regarding life? This may mean that God is bringing you to the point of understanding just how difficult it is for true Christians who truly want fellowship with God to live in this world. In spite of the fact that we have salvation, there are many who do not. In and of ourselves, it can be very difficult to love others because of the anger, hostility, and abject hatred they have toward the gospel. For the Christian who endeavors to praise God in all things, to live a life that honors Him, and seeks to fellowship with Him, life is – at the same time – filled with wonder and beauty and pain and sadness. How can it be any other way?
The Christian who has salvation, but spends the rest of their life living for self never experiences a hunger for people to receive the truth. Their heart rarely hurts for people who hurt. They live in a world where they try to “lay low” and just “get along” so that they don’t stand out. In doing so, the truth of the gospel is hidden from the very people God has put them near to witness to.
Is it any wonder Jesus asked in Luke 18:18 if He would find faith on the earth when He returns? So dark will the days be leading up to His Second Coming that Christians will be deathly afraid of sharing their faith. Jesus is referring here to His physical return to the earth in the Second Coming, not the Rapture. Above all things, Jesus wants to see faith in those who claim to be Christians when He returns. But the implication here is that by that point, people’s faith will have grown cold, for the most part. The reason is clear as Jesus tells us in Matthew 24:12.
Because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold.
As lawlessness increases over the face of the earth, faith expressed in love toward the lost will grow cold. We already know that selfish, unsaved people will continue to grow colder and colder toward other people, but the reality exists that when Jesus asks “will He find faith on the earth?” He asks because of the fact that even among Christians, the tendency will be to live for self and we are seeing this in a big way even now.
The antidote to avoid living selfishly (which hides the light of our salvation), is to seek out God in fellowship. This can only happen after we have gained salvation, but too many people stop there. We must press on – as Paul says in Philippians 3:12 – and Paul also prods us onto continue to work out our salvation in fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12). He’s not talking about earning our salvation, but entering into and maintaining our fellowship with God. This is done through the many things we’ve outlined in this series.
Folks, I say to you as I say to myself. Enter into fellowship. While we should never cease to praise God for the salvation He has provided, we dare not simply receive it and continue to do our own thing. We must enter into fellowship with Him. We must not hide our light under a bushel. We must seek His face and will for our lives. In doing so, I believe He will turn our eyes away from our own lives and we will begin to focus on the need for salvation in others. We will learn to take no thought for tomorrow or even our own needs, knowing that God has all things related to our life in His control.