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September 24, 2007

“ARE YOU ON THE RIGHT SIDE OF THE LAW?” PART II

by Professor Robert J. Barth

Part II

“O how love I thy law! it is my meditation all the day.” Psalm 119:97

These words of David prompt us to ask ourselves the question, “Do I love the law of the Lord?” Do I feel the same passion toward God’s Word as David did when he said, “How sweet are thy words unto my taste! yea, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” (Psalm 119:103)

The answer depends on which side of the law we are on. If we have not appropriated for ourselves by grace through faith the “great salvation” (Hebrews 2:3) Jesus sacrificed His life to give, the law condemns us. The law is the standard of righteousness that only Jesus fulfilled and none of us can satisfy completely. “But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away” (Isaiah 64:6). Therefore, under the law we stand condemned, but by repentance from sin and faith toward Jesus we have eternal life. “He that believeth on him is not condemned but he that believed not is condemned already because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:18).

Praise, honor, and thanks be to God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ who provided the atonement for our sins and gives us the “power (authority) to become the sons of God” (John 1:11) through faith in Him. Jesus fulfilled the law for us and through faith in Him, His righteousness is imputed to us who have repented and believed. In fact, one of the names of God is “THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS” (Jeremiah 23:6). 

Other than serving as a schoolmaster to bring us to Christ “that we might be justified (considered righteous) by faith” (Galatians 3:24) is there another purpose of the law? The Apostle Paul also tells us, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (II Timothy 3:16). Is this a different righteousness than the imputed righteousness we receive by faith in Christ?

Yes, after being “born of the Holy Spirit,” “born from above,” or “born again,” whatever term you want to use, the law (God’s Word) is our guide, our encouragement, our instruction, and our spiritual food. Jesus, quoting Deuteronomy 8:3, emphasized this truth when He said, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). God’s Word is our “instructional manual” for living life. Christ’s commands are for our direction, guidance, blessing and benefit. He told us how to live in the kingdom of God, and if we love Him, we will want to obey Him.

It is very important to note that even the Old Testament commandments and the law were given after God delivered the Israelites out of the land of slavery and bondage. God had already “saved” the Jews and it was nothing they had done to deserve that salvation from the hands of the Egyptians. They were saved only by God’s grace through faith. They had to believe what God said through Moses and then act in faith. The commandments were not given so that the Jews could “earn” their salvation from slavery; they were already “saved” from bondage. The commandments, except for the law pertaining to sacrifices, were given to instruct, bless, encourage, and prosper the Jewish people. God, through Moses, told His people, “All the commandments which I command thee this day shall ye observe to do, that ye may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land which the Lord sware unto your fathers” (Deuteronomy 8:1).

Similarly, Jesus told his disciples to observe or keep “all things whatsoever I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:20). Jesus told his disciples, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost” (Matthew 28:19). The “Great Commission” involves preaching the gospel (salvation by grace through faith), baptizing believers, and teaching the commands of Christ so people know how to live in the kingdom and experience the relational blessing of God while on earth. This is not to say that unbelievers will not benefit from observing the law and Jesus’ commands, but they should not think that by trying to keep the commands they are “good” and can earn their way to heaven and salvation from eternal condemnation. As Jesus said to the rich ruler, “None is good, save one, that is, God” (Luke 18:19).

The righteousness that comes from meditating on God’s Word is a righteousness of character. It is not a righteousness of freedom from guilt of sin. The latter is only secured by God’s grace through faith in Jesus, but the former involves the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2) and being conformed into the image of Jesus (Romans 8:29). If you study all the Scriptures that use the term “righteousness,” you will see that the word is use to describe both the imputed righteousness that only comes by faith, and, what some call the “imparted righteousness” of being conformed into the character of Jesus. In the last meditation we considered several Scriptures that confirm the imputed righteousness of Christ. The following are several of the many verses that emphasize the importance of righteous works and righteous character, which are the fruit of keeping and abiding in God’s Word. This week meditate on these Scriptures from the perspective of being on the “right side of the law” as one who is redeemed from “the curse of the law” (Galatians 3:13).

And it shall be our righteousness, if we observe to do all these commandments before the LORD our God, as he hath commanded us. (Deuteronomy 6:25)

Lord, who shall abide in thy tabernacle? who shall dwell in thy holy hill? He that walketh uprightly, and worketh righteousness, and speaketh the truth in his heart. He that backbiteth not with his tongue, nor doeth evil to his neighbour, nor taketh up a reproach against his neighbour. (Psalm 15:1-3)

The LORD rewarded me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands hath he recompensed me. (Psalm 18:20)

He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. (Psalm 23:3)

He shall receive the blessing from the LORD, and righteousness from the God of his salvation. (Psalm 24:5)

Blessed are they that keep judgment, and he that doeth righteousness at all times. (Psalm 106:3)

Praise ye the LORD. Blessed is the man that feareth the LORD, that delighteth greatly in his commandments. His seed shall be mighty upon earth: the generation of the upright shall be blessed. Wealth and riches shall be in his house: and his righteousness endureth for ever. Unto the upright there ariseth light in the darkness: he is gracious, and full of compassion, and righteous. A good man sheweth favour, and lendeth: he will guide his affairs with discretion. Surely he shall not be moved for ever: the righteous shall be in everlasting remembrance. He shall not be afraid of evil tidings: his heart is fixed, trusting in the LORD. His heart is established, he shall not be afraid, until he see his desire upon his enemies. He hath dispersed, he hath given to the poor; his righteousness endureth for ever; his horn shall be exalted with honour. The wicked shall see it, and be grieved; he shall gnash with his teeth, and melt away: the desire of the wicked shall perish. (Psalm 112:1-10)

Thy righteousness is an everlasting righteousness, and thy law is the truth. (Psalm 119:142)

The righteousness of thy testimonies is everlasting: give me understanding, and I shall live. (Psalm 119:144)

My tongue shall speak of thy word: for all thy commandments are righteousness. (Psalm 119:172)

Then shalt thou understand righteousness, and judgment, and equity; yea, every good path. (Proverbs 2:9)

Treasures of wickedness profit nothing: but righteousness delivereth from death. (Proverbs 10:2).

As righteousness tendeth to life: so he that pursueth evil pursueth it to his own death. (Proverbs 11:19)

The way of the wicked is an abomination unto the LORD: but he loveth him that followeth after righteousness. (Proverbs 15:9)

He that followeth after righteousness and mercy findeth life, righteousness, and honour. (Proverbs 21:21

With my soul have I desired thee in the night; yea, with my spirit within me will I seek thee early: for when thy judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness. (Isaiah 26:9)

But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him. (Acts 10:35)

Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof. Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God. (Romans 6:11-13)

Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness? But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness. I speak after the manner of men because of the infirmity of your flesh: for as ye have yielded your members servants to uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity; even so now yield your members servants to righteousness unto holiness. For when ye were the servants of sin, ye were free from righteousness. What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed? for the end of those things is death. But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life. (Romans 6:16-22)

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

But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness. (I Timothy 6:11)

Flee also youthful lusts: but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart. (II Timothy 2:22)

Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous. (I John 3:7)

In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother. (I John 3:10)

So, only by grace through faith in Jesus, the Righteous One, is His righteousness (guiltlessness from sin) imputed to us, and only by abiding in and keeping His commands is righteousness (righteous character) imparted to us. Although persecution and tribulations in this world will come, keeping the commands of Christ is our duty as His grateful bondservants. Because of our love for Jesus, we want to do what He desires. As we live out His commands, we experience the relational blessing of God. “He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him” (John 14:21).

Remember, Jesus is the Word “made flesh” (John 1:14) and as a man “thinketh in his heart, so is he” (Proverbs 23:7). As we meditate or abide in God’s word, we become like Jesus, the author and finisher of faith (Hebrew 12:2). We have dwelling in us the Holy Spirit who guides us into all truth and who is our Comforter (John 14:26, 16:13). We have His great and precious promises. We are blessed “with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ” (Ephesians 1:3). Now, these are reasons to be encouraged and energized!

Our eternal salvation is a free gift that we appropriate by faith. The good works we do arise out of and are motivated by our faith in and obedience to Jesus. This brings up the relationship between faith and works, which we will consider next time.

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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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