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September 17, 2007

“ARE YOU ON THE RIGHT SIDE OF THE LAW?” Part 1

by Professor Robert J. Barth

Part I

You may have heard it said of someone, “He got on the wrong side of the law.” This means that the person began acting in ways that were contrary to the civil law and was judged to be “guilty” of different offenses over a period of time. There may have been leniency at first, but because of continued rebellion, disrespect, and wrong actions, the person developed a reputation as being a lawbreaker and likely experienced greater sanctions for additional wrong actions. Thus, he “got on the wrong side of the law.”

In a community, one who is on the right side of the law is a person who does not break the civil laws. If they go beyond not doing wrong and also work to do good in the community, they will develop a reputation as a respected and valuable citizen. They will be given honor and responsibility in civic affairs and will be looked to for counsel and sound judgment. The person may occasionally break a traffic law or fail to report some cash income on their taxes, but such violations are not known by the public, and he or she is considered a good citizen and valuable to the community. 

The law sets the parameters for acceptable behavior. If one goes too far beyond the parameters there will likely be consequences, but the consequences will depend on the degree of the offense. Within those parameters, however, there is liberty to act as one chooses based upon interests, desires, and beliefs.

As we consider the commands of Christ, one may get the impression that obedience to the commands saves us from eternal judgment in hell and earns us the right into heaven. In other words, if we work to obey all that Jesus said, God will see our efforts and forgive our failures because we made a good faith effort to do good. With such a view, our effort and good deeds are our righteousness, and God will determine at the time of our death if we did enough to “make it” into heaven. This is not the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Salvation from eternal damnation and entrance into the kingdom of God has nothing to do with one’s good works or intentions. The kingdom of God is not like a civic community where if you do not do anything really bad, you are considered a good citizen. In a civic community, most are considered to be “on the right side of the law.” That is not true in the kingdom of God!

The Scripture is very clear that one does not enter the kingdom of God by doing good works, even though they are what Jesus commanded us to do. One enters the kingdom of God only by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9). Our righteousness before God does not come from our good intentions, good works, or attempts to obey the law given through Moses or the commands of Christ. From the time of Adam, it is only faith that pleases God (Hebrews 11:6), and it is only because of faith in Jesus as Savior and Redeemer that God imputes to us the righteousness of Jesus, which saves us from eternal damnation. It is only by faith in Jesus as the Messiah that one enters into the kingdom of God. Meditate on these Scriptures.

For I [Jesus] say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:20)

For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith. (Romans 1:16-17)

As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one. (Romans 3:10)

But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus. Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law. (Romans 3:21-28)

For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness. Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works. (Romans 4:3, 5-6)

For the promise, that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith. And being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform. And therefore it was imputed to him for righteousness. (Romans 4:13, 21-22)

For if by one man’s [Adam’s] offence death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ. Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one [Jesus] shall many be made righteous. (Romans 5:17-19)

For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth. (Romans 10:3-4)

For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. (Romans 10:10)

But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption. That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord. (I Corinthians 1:30-31)

For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. (II Corinthians 5:21)

Is the law then against the promises of God? God forbid: for if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law. But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe. But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed. Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. (Galatians 3:21-24)

Being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God. (Philippians 1:11)

Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith. (Philippians 3:9)

Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost. (Titus 3:5)

And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God. (James 2:23)

I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain. (Galatians 2:21)

For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

These Scriptures make it clear that ALL of us are on the wrong side of the law until we repent and come over to the right side of the law through faith is Jesus. We are all lawbreakers until we by faith in Jesus “fulfill the law” because only He could and did fulfill the law and only He is truly righteous. Only if we have admitted our sinfulness (a lawbreaker), confessed our faith in Jesus as Savior and Lord, and thanked God for His gift of salvation are we on the “right side of the law.” Are you on the right side of the law?

If we are saved and have entered into the kingdom of heaven by faith in Jesus, why do we keep God’s Word before our eyes by memorizing it, meditating on it, and doing it? We do it as a love response to Jesus for what He has done for us. We do it to renew our mind. We do it to be conformed into the image of Jesus. We do it so that the love of God “is perfected in us” (I John 2:5, I John 4:12). The blessing and change in character that takes place as we abide in Christ is sometimes called “imparted righteousness.” This will be the topic of the next meditation.

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About the Author

Professor Robert J. Barth
A graduate of the University of Illinois (B.S. 1976), Professor Robert J. Barth received his Juris Doctor from Southern Illinois University School of Law in 1979. He received his Master’s Degree in Public Policy from Regent University in 1986. From 1986 to 1995, Professor Barth was associated with Regent University School of Law in several capacities, including assistant dean for academic and student affairs, and editor of the Journal of Christian Jurisprudence. He has written several articles, and as the director for academic programs, he has authored Oak Brook College’s book, Renewing Your Mind as You Study Law.

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