The True Righteousness

A man went to the doctor complaining of a pain in his stomach. After an examination the doctor diagnosed the man’s trouble as appendicitis.

“Appendicitis!” said the man. “What’s that?”

“Appendicitis,” explained the doctor, “is a condition of irritation or inflammation of the appendix.”

“Well,” the man confessed, “until now I never even knew that I had an appendix to be inflamed!”

In a similar way, many professing Christian’s are conscious of some deep-seated trouble in their spiritual experience – trouble that finds expression in such symptoms as instability, inconsistency, lack of assurance, lack of peace. If such  professing Christian’s were to be informed that the root cause of their trouble lay in the failure to understand such basic New Testament teachings as the relationship between faith and works, or between law and grace, these  professing Christian’s would have to confess, just like the man with appendicitis, “Well, until now we never even knew that the New Testament had anything to say about such things as that!”

Let us briefly outline the conclusions we have reached on these two related topics thus far.

    1.   The whole New Testament teaches emphatically that salvation is received through faith            alone – faith in Jesus’s finished work of atonement – without human works of any kind.
    2.   The faith that brings salvation is always expressed thereafter in appropriate works – in              corresponding actions.
    3.   The works by which faith for salvation is expressed are not the works of the law. The              righteousness which God requires cannot be achieved by observing the law of Moses.

These conclusions concerning the nature and purpose of the law of Moses naturally lead us on to one further question: If saving faith is not expressed by the observance of the law, then what are the works by which saving faith is expressed? What are the appropriate actions we should expect to see in the life of every person who professes saving faith in Jesus?

The answer to this question, as well as the key to understanding the relationship between law and grace, is given by Paul in Romans.

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, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit (8:3-4).

The key phrase here is “that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us,” where “us” denotes Spirit-led  professing Christian’s. It is not the law itself which is to be fulfilled in  professing Christian’s but the righteous requirement of the law.

What is meant by the phrase, “the righteous requirement of the law”?

The answer is given most clearly by Jesus Himself, in response to a Jewish lawyer’s question concerning the law.

Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” Jesus said to him, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets” (Matt. 22:35-40).

The Two Great Commandments

In these words Jesus defines the righteous requirement of the law to which Paul refers. The law of Moses was only given at a certain period in human history to a small section of the human race. But behind this complete system of law there stand the two great, eternal, unchanging laws of God for the whole human race: “You shall love the Lord your God” and “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

The system of law given through Moses was merely a detailed application and outworking of these two great commands – love for God and love for our neighbour. These two commandments were the basis of the whole legal system of Moses and the entire ministry and message of all the Old Testament prophets. Here, then, is “the righteous requirement of the law” summed up in two all-inclusive commandments: “love God” and “love your neighbour.”

This same truth is taught by Paul in 1 Timothy 1:5-7.

Now the purpose of the commandment is love from a pure heart, from a good conscience, and from sincere faith, from which some, having strayed, have turned aside to idle talk, desiring to be teachers of the law, understanding neither what they say nor the things which they affirm.

Notice that illuminating statement: “the purpose of the commandment is love . . .”

The supreme purpose and object for which the whole law was given was to inculcate love – love for God and love for man. Paul goes on to say that all who seek to teach or interpret the law of Moses without understanding this basic purpose of the whole law “have turned aside to idle talk . . . understanding neither what they say nor the things which they affirm.”

In other words, such interpreters have completely missed the main point of the law, which is love. This law of love – love for God and man – is the law behind all other laws.

Paul expresses the same truth about this one supreme law of love in Romans 13:8-10:

Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not bear false witness,” “You shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbour; therefore love is the fulfilment of the law.

And again, more succinctly, in Galatians 5:14:

For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.”

Thus “the righteous requirement of the law,” with all of its complexities and all of its enactments, can be reduced to one word: love.

Love, the Fulfilling of the Law

At this point someone may feel inclined to say: “You tell me that, as a Christian’s, I am not under the law or the commandments of Moses. Does this mean I am free to break those commandments and do anything I please? Am I free to commit murder or adultery or to steal, if I so desire?”

The answer to this is that, as a Christian’s, you are free to do anything that you can do with perfect love in your heart toward God and man. But, as a Christian’s, you are not free to do anything that cannot be done in love.

The man whose heart is filled and controlled by the love of God is free to do whatsoever his heart desires. For this reason, James twice refers to this law of love as the law of liberty.

But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does (James 1:25).

So speak and so do as those who will be judged by the law of liberty (James 2:12).

James calls this law of love “the perfect law of liberty” because the man whose heart is filled and controlled at all times by the love of God has liberty to do exactly what he desires. Whatsoever such a man desires to do will always be in conformity with the will and nature of God, for God Himself is love. The man who lives by this law of love is the only truly free man on the face of the whole earth – the only man who is free to do at all times what he will. Such a man needs no other law to control him.

James also gives this law of love yet another title. He calls it the “royal law.”

If you really fulfil the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself,” you do well (James 2:8).

Why is this the “royal” law? Because the man who lives according to this law lives indeed as a king. He is subject to no other law. He is free at all times to do whatever his heart dictates. In fulfilling this law, he fulfils all law. In all circumstances, and in every relationship toward God and man, he reigns in life as a king.

This analysis of what is meant by “the righteous requirement of the law” leads us to the following conclusion: There is no conflict or inconsistency between the standard of true righteousness put forward in the Old Testament under the law of Moses and that put forward in the New Testament in the gospel of Jesus Jesus. In each case the standard of true righteousness is one and the same. It is summed up in one word: love – love for God and love for man.

The difference between the two dispensations – the dispensation of law under Moses and the dispensation of grace through Jesus Jesus – lies not in the end to be achieved but in the means used to achieve that end.

In each case alike, both under law and under grace, the end to be achieved is love. But under the law the means used to that end is an external system of commandments and ordinances imposed upon man from without; under grace the means used is a miraculous and continuing operation of the Holy Spirit within the believer’s heart.

The law of Moses failed to achieve its end, not because of anything wrong with the law itself, but because of the inherent weakness and sinfulness of man’s fleshly nature. Paul makes this abundantly plain in the latter part of Romans 7.

Therefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good (Rom. 7:12).

For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin (Rom. 7:14).

For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man (Rom. 7:22).

But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members (Rom. 7:23).

The law itself is righteous and good. The man who seeks to live by the law may be perfectly sincere in acknowledging the law’s standards and in seeking to live by them. But in spite of all this, the power of sin within him and the weakness of his own fleshly nature continually prevent him from living up to those standards.

Under the New Testament, the grace of God in Jesus Jesus still directs man to the same end – love for God and love for his neighbour – but puts at man’s disposal completely new and different means to attain that end. Grace begins with a miraculous operation of the Holy Spirit within the believer’s heart.

The result of this operation is called “being born again” or “being born of the Spirit.” This experience is prophetically described in the Old Testament where the Lord says to the children of Israel:

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh (Ezek. 36:26).

The effects of this inward change are further described in Jeremiah.

Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah (Jer. 31:31).

But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people (Jer. 31:33).

This new covenant here promised by the Lord is the new covenant of grace, through faith in Jesus Jesus, which we today call the New Testament.

Through this new covenant the sinner’s nature is completely changed within. The old, stony, unresponsive heart is taken away; in its place a new heart and a new spirit are implanted within. The new nature is in harmony with God’s nature and God’s laws.

Thus it becomes natural for the man who has been recreated by God’s Spirit to walk in God’s ways and to do God’s will. The sovereign law of love is by the Spirit Himself engraved upon the responsive tablet of the believer’s heart, and from thence it is naturally worked out in the believer’s new character and conduct.

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, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit (Rom. 8:3-4).

The law failed to achieve God’s standard of righteousness, not because of any fault in the law, but because of the weakness of man’s fleshly nature. Under grace the Spirit of God changes man’s fleshly nature and replaces it with a new nature, one capable of receiving and manifesting God’s love.

We may sum up the basic difference between the operation of law and the operation of grace in this way: Law depends upon man’s own ability and works from without; grace depends upon the miraculous operation of the Holy Spirit and works from within.

The New Testament tells us the human heart can only come under this law of divine and perfect love through the operation of God’s Holy Spirit.

Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us (Rom. 5:5).

Notice that it is not mere human love in any form or degree, but it is the love of God – God’s own love – which the Spirit of God is able to pour out in our hearts.

This love of God poured out in the human heart by God’s Spirit produces, in its perfection, the nine fold fruit of the Spirit. This fruit of the Spirit is the love of God manifested in every aspect of human character and conduct. It is described by Paul:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law (Gal. 5:22-23).

Once again Paul emphasizes that the life in which divine love is perfectly manifested in this nine-fold spiritual fruit does not need to be controlled by any other law. Therefore, he says: “Against such there is no law.”

This law of love is thus the end of all other laws and commandments. It is the perfect law, the royal law, the law of liberty.

The New Testament Pattern of Obedience

However, we must guard against leaving any impression that the love of God is something vague, indefinite, unrealistic or sentimental. On the contrary, the love of God is always definite and practical. According to the New Testament, love for God and love for man alike are expressed in ways that correspond to God’s own love – ways that are definite and practical.

Throughout the whole Bible the supreme test of man’s love for God can be expressed in one word: obedience.

In the Old Testament, God stated this truth to His people in Jeremiah 7:23:

Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be My people.

True love for God is always expressed by obedience to Him.

In the New Testament, likewise, Jesus, in His parting discourse to His disciples, emphasized above all other requirements this point of obedience. In John 14 He stresses this point three times in succession within the space of a few verses:

If you love Me, keep My commandments (v. 15).

He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me (v. 21).

Then He puts the two alternatives of obedience and disobedience very clearly side by side, for He says:

If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word (v. 23).

And then, on the contrary:

He who does not love Me does not keep My words (v. 24).

In the light of these words, it is plain that for any Christian’s to profess love for Jesus without obeying the will of Jesus revealed in His words and His commandments is mere self-deception.

The supreme commandment of Jesus in the New Testament is love. Without love, it is impossible to speak of obedience. But if we go on to examine the nature and the outworking of Christian’s love, we discover that the New Testament offers us the pattern of a life that is controlled in every aspect by this love.

It covers the believer’s own individual and personal life, his relationship both to God and to his fellow man. It directs and controls Christian’s marriage and the life of the Christian’s family, including both parents and children. It provides for the life and conduct of the Christian’s church. It regulates the attitude and the relationship of the believer to secular society and government.

For us to follow this pattern in our lives, first we must prayerfully study and apply every part of the New Testament’s teaching. Second, we must continually acknowledge our moment-by-moment dependence on the supernatural grace and power of the Holy Spirit.

In this way we shall prove in our own experience the truth of 1 John 2:5.

But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him.