Glad you asked.
Glad you asked.
Romans 2:12-16 For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.
(Note: what follows is not a complete exegesis of this passage; it is a focused review of the stated topic.)
A casual read of this paragraph has caused many to get confused about Paul’s use of the term “the law;” it requires careful thought and analysis of what he is saying here and what is revealed elsewhere. Much of Paul’s use of “the law” is clearly meant to refer to the Mosaic Covenant and the Law of Moses. Those without the law are Gentiles: everyone who was not a Jew in Paul’s day, and includes all people in all ages who were not part of national Israel. It was clearly Paul’s kinsmen of the flesh who had “the law” in this paragraph.
Lost Gentiles are not without a law; God’s universal law convicts them of certain truths. We in the New Covenant are not without law; but we are not within the Law of Moses.
James gives the same counsel as Paul: But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. (James 1:22-25) We see reference to a different law than that of Moses; one that is given to the church, not national Israel. He picks this up again in chapter two, My brothers, do not show favoritism as you hold on to the faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ. (James 2:1) Indeed, if you keep the royal law prescribed in the Scripture, Love your neighbor as yourself, you are doing well. But if you show favoritism, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. (James 2:8-9) This phrase, love your neighbor as yourself, is the second great command, taken from Lev 19:18. It is the other side of the coin which also conveys the greatest command: You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might, cited from Deuteronomy 6:5. On these two commands, neither taken from the Decalogue, hang the Law and the prophets – all the scripture then in hands of man. This shows us that while the Law of Moses is not our master, certain truths that apply to all of God’s people are found in his books. Jesus draws out two and declares them to be supreme to the Old Covenant, the essence of the New Covenant – love for God and one another; love as defined and portrayed in the Bible, not as our culture as deceitfully defined it these past few centuries.
Paul clarifies this in his letter to the Galatians, wherein he gives another term for the perfect law, the law of liberty, the royal law. These are not different laws we must figure out, they are different terms for the same divine concept, in simplicity for those in Christ, contrasted to the endlessly complex scheme developed by the nation of Israel. The New Covenant is contrasted with the Old Covenant in several places, the most familiar one being in Hebrews 8 where the old covenant is described as obsolete and ready to vanish. In Galatians 4 the old covenant is described as earthly Jerusalem and represents slavery while the new covenant is heavenly new Jerusalem wherein lies liberty. We, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise, children of the free woman. And our apostle gives us clear counsel on how to keep this law. Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:1-2) This is the love of God expressed in the body of Christ – we love Him by loving one another, and this is an example of biblical love – confronting a brother caught in sin. Not exactly what the world presents as love, is it?
While only the redeemed truly love God, even we are unable to love Him with all that is within us, as the first commandment requires. In the age to come, unstained and not tempted by sin, we will be able to fulfill this law. We can, however, love one another because Christ first loved us. This must be a deliberate focus as our fleshly desires will work against us. There can be no fatalistic “let go and let God” into our lives for He tells us to work out our own salvation (here meaning the present tense “being saved” that characterizes our daily walk) with fear and trembling. As one preacher put it years ago, “The path of least resistance makes both man and rivers crooked.” Seek after the Lord – He will make your pathway straight!
You will hear simple rules such as “if it’s not repeated in the NT it applies” and its corollary, “if it’s not repealed by the NT it applies.” These are easy to remember but not at all accurate. Tithing is seen before the Mosaic Covenant and required during it, including those Jews who lived in last century of that covenant, during Paul’s time. Such activity is taken note of the NT but not once is tithing taught by word or example as a New Covenant rule. Without understanding the rule of covenants, one cannot comprehend what rules apply. As Martin Luther summed it up, we follow Christ Jesus, not Moses – and Moses stands with us, accusing those who think their feeble attempts at keeping the Law of Moses will merit favor with YHWH (John 5:45).
The ancient preacher agrees with his New Testament brothers. He gave this advice as the sum of all he had written: The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil. (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14)
Jesus said the same thing: “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (Matthew 25:31-46)
Note these tangible actions of loving one another in Christ. This is fulfilling the law of Christ, the law of liberty, the royal law – the focus being on truly loving one another within the body of Christ in response to being loved by Him. This is the same thing Paul, James, and Peter have taught.
After feeding the five thousand, many followed after Him because He fed them. Seek after the food that leads to eternal life, He told them. They then asked Him What must we do to be doing the works of God? (John 6:29) Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” This is the law of Christ – believe in Him, love Him, love one another.
Many Christians are struggling to keep the Law of Moses, having a faulty guide for interpreting Scripture. The right view of man and his need of Christ, with the biblical record of the faithfulness and sufficiency of Christ Jesus will provide the guardrails we need to keep from thinking the heavy yoke of the Old Covenant is ours. Acts 15:10 has Peter rebuking Jewish Christians who taught this: Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? Jesus, on the other hand, said Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)
There is an old covenant, and old law, and a heavy yoke that was given on stone tablets to a people with stone hearts who worshipped in a stone temple. There is a new covenant with an easy yoke, a spiritual law written on tablets of flesh, given to people with hearts of flesh who worship as a spiritual temple; our Savior bids us find our rest in Him.
All will be made plain on the day of judgment, when God brings this age to its end.
This article was written decades ago; much more is this counsel needed in our day.
There was a man who had made his way in the world. He lived by himself, for himself; spent much of his time in his nice condominium on the 5th floor of a nice building, away from the fray and cares of the world. One day a fire broke out in his building, on his floor. By the time he noticed the danger, the way out was impassible. Fire was breaking into his condo, causing the roaches and other vermin that had lived out of sight to seek escape in the open rooms. Desperation was setting in on the man, as he was seeing the stuff of his life consumed and his hidden companions revealed.
Through the open window he heard people yelling. On the ground below he saw men from the fire department, holding a net and yelling for him to jump. But jumping would not save him unless the firemen caught him. If he missed the net, if the net failed, if the men couldn’t hold it or cruelly moved out of the way; he would die. His jump would not save him. The fire had revealed the passing nature of his life trophies and the hidden pests he had been sharing his home with. But the fire could not save him – it only revealed the condition he was in and threatened his safety.
Do you see the spiritual lesson? The fire represents law, which reveals sin. While we Gentiles were never under the Mosaic Law, we were a law unto ourselves before Christ saved us and we were convicted by our own consciences that we were guilty. Unless we are made aware of this danger, we won’t notice it – man is naturally blind to spiritual truth. Jumping represents faith, a necessary component of our salvation, but not the entire scope. Faith in the firemen and their net wouldn’t save our man but it would get him to the safety they could provide. The firemen called the man, he jumped, the net held. Creator God calls men to Himself, (just as He did Lazarus) and they come to Him and are saved. Far more trustworthy than mere men and their net, our Savior is certain to save His elect. Our anchor holds!
Let’s take a closer look at faith and its part in our salvation. Ephesians 2:8 tells us, by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God. As a footnote, I want to remind us that this faith is itself a gift from God, not something we contribute. Salvation is monergistic – all God and none of man. We also know that without faith no man can please God (Hebrews 11:6) and that not all men have such faith (2 Thessalonians 3:2). And lastly, we know that demons have some sort of faith which does not save them (James 2:19). This faith that God gives so that we can answer His call to “repent and believe” is special, necessary, and always present in the Christian’s life. This faith is not present in the lost person and the lack thereof keeps him from knowing and loving Christ Jesus.
1 Corinthians 2:14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.
This verse describes people who do not have the Spirit and do not believe in Christ: “the natural man.” This question must be asked: What work of the Holy Spirit is lacking? Does the unbeliever simply need a non-saving form of illumination (which would support faith preceding regeneration) or does he need regeneration itself (which would demand regeneration preceding faith) to overcome his deficiency? Stated plainly, can one who is classified as dead in sins and trespasses be illumined, given faith, without being regenerated?
Natural or unregenerate man is darkened in his understanding (Eph 4:17), hostile to God (Rom 8:7), incapable of pleasing or trusting God (Rom 8:7–8), and dead (Eph 2:1–5; Col 2:13). This is his nature, and he always discerns, evaluates, and chooses in keeping with this nature. The only satisfactory solution to this condition is for him to be given a new nature and become a spiritual man, a man with the indwelling Spirit—he must be regenerated before he can be illuminated with spiritual understanding that comes with faith. (Mark A. Snoeberger)
As important as faith is, to rightly comprehend its meaning and use, we must understand its role in our salvation. For how a man gets saved is the most important thing we can comprehend.
While faith is important, it is not most important. Faith is not what turns away the wrath of God, the blood of Christ does that. Although by faith we have peace with God, faith does not save us; the finished work of Christ dos that. We cannot be saved without faith, but faith cannot save us. And while the righteousness of God comes to us by faith (Romans 3:22), it is Christ’s righteousness that grants us God’s favor: For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Cor 5:21) Reconciliation with holy God is possible because we become His righteousness by having been bought by the blood of His Son.
Therefore, in everything we do; Bible study, evangelism, personal devotions, discipleship; Christ Jesus and His glory is to be our focus. The gospel is the proclamation of His sinless life and atoning death. The redemptive plan of God is revealed as the core theme of Scripture from Genesis to Revelation. Once we are born again by the Holy Spirit, we are no longer the carnal human we used to be – drawn and driven by the sinful desires of our flesh; we are new creatures in Christ, no longer regarding one another “in the flesh” but seeing all things through spiritual eyes of faith.
If we have been saved, we walk by faith and not by sight. We are no longer hostile towards God but anxious to know and please Him. While some would tell us sin is no big deal – we’ve been forgiven! – Scripture tells us that if one’s mind is set on the flesh, he is a dead man:
For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6 For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. 8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. 9 You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. (Romans 8:5-9)
If you and I have been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, His Spirit does dwell in us and we are pleasing to God for the righteousness of Christ is imputed to us; we are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. (Romans 3:24 & 25) We are justified and redeemed, by grace alone received by faith alone in Christ alone.
Some teach that justified means “just as if I’d never sinned.” If you say it just right, it sounds really cool. But that catchy phrase does not begin to describe the depth of our need nor the scope of Christ’s provision. The truth of our situation is that we were dead in sins and trespasses and Christ died for us while we were His enemies. A Man of sorrows, He stood in our place, having no sin of His own. His blood paid the price we could not pay. We were great sinners who were even more greatly forgiven by our great and holy God. We are forgiven, redeemed, ransomed, and reconciled – by the blood of Christ; to be shielded from the wrath of God and the Lamb on that great Day of Judgment. Are we to consider ourselves as if we’d never sinned? God forbid! Such a view does violence to the cross and the ongoing intercession our Lord provides. Our sin debt was not merely dismissed as a bad grade on an elementary school report card. Jesus hung on the cross and suffered the wrath of God on our account and there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus!
The haunting lyrics of Matthew Smith’s rendition of “All I Owe” portrays how the sinner praises Christ for His sacrifice:
And all I owe you paid for me
From all I owe I’ve been set free
And all I owe proves your great mercy to me
We were bought at a price, we do not belong to ourselves any longer. The Spirit of the living God dwells within us, so we are to glorify God in our bodies (1 Cor 6:20). Paul went on to tell us (Gal 5:16-25) to walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. He contrasts the fruit of the natural man with the fruit of the spiritual man and finishes with an exhortation: And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. This is a life of faith; we struggle against sin, take measures to avoid sin, keep our focus on the unseen realm where we are seated with Christ. We are to be heavenly minded so we can be of earthly good. We won’t walk perfectly, for the flesh will always be tempted and sin too often; which is why no flesh can inherit the kingdom of God. But we have not been left to walk this path alone. We have the Holy Spirit within us, working in us to will and to do that which pleases Him (Phil 2:13). And we have an advocate, the Lord Jesus, Who is ever interceding on our behalf!
Walking in Spirit means we are sensitive to the sinful desires of our flesh and repent from those things that grieve Him (Ephesians 4:30). It also means our focus is to cooperate with Him and do, speak, and think things that please Him. We have been translated from the kingdom of death to the kingdom of life!
Justification and Regeneration, Charles Leiter
Page 34 – 35: There is nothing in man that causes God to justify him, including his repentance and faith. Repentance does not pay for sin. A criminal’s remorse for his crimes does not satisfy the just demands of the law. Neither does faith pay for sin! Only the blood of Jesus can pay for sin! Justification is based on the blood of Christ.
This explains why a person can have a very weak faith and still be justified. Imagine two bridges crossing a chasm: One is very weak and untrustworthy; the other is very strong. A man may have a very strong faith in the weak bridge and confidently step out onto it. His strong faith will not keep him from plunging to his death. On the other hand, a man may have a very weak faith strong bridge and only barely manage with fear and trembling to venture forth upon it. The bridge will hold him securely, regardless of his weak faith. All that is necessary is for him to have enough faith to get him onto the bridge! When someone told Hudson Taylor that he must be a man of great faith, he replied, “No, I am a man of very little faith in a very great God.”
This little snippet reveal something else about faith that we must understand. The object of our faith is what is important. As the strong bridge in the story was essential, so the right Jesus for us. This is why the Roman Catholic Church is a synagogue of Satan: they have an unbiblical Jesus who cannot save. One can have all the faith in the world in a false savior and be certain of doom. As 1 Corinthians 15 declares, Christ Jesus dies for our sins according to the Scriptures; was crucified according to the Scriptures; He was resurrected according to the Scriptures. The Jesus Who saves is the Jesus of the Scriptures, not of man’s imagination!
Colossians 3:1-3 (ESV) If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.
Beloved, we who have been bought by the blood of Christ have died to self and this world, our life is hidden from the world because we are in Christ and they cannot see Him unless they are born again (John 3:3). Our citizenship is in heaven (Phil 3:20), we are seated with Christ in the heavenly places (Eph 2:6), crucified to the world (Gal 6:14). It is only our mortal body, our flesh, which has not been redeemed; that and our mission of reconciliation is all that ties us here. We are to put to death our members that are upon the earth (Col 3:5) and present our bodies as a living sacrifice unto our God (Rom 12:1). We are to resist being conformed into the pattern of the world and instead be transformed by the renewing of our minds on the word of God so we will know discern that which pleases Him (Rom 12:2).
This is the life of faith! Having been raised to new life in Christ, we are able and will want to be people who bring honor and glory to Him. He alone is worthy of all praise and we are those living stones He raise up to be His temple and to sing His praises now and throughout eternity!
John’s apocalyptic view of the end of this age (Revelation 5:1-9):
Then I saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals. And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”
And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne. And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying,
“Worthy are you to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation,
and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
and they shall reign on the earth.”
What a glorious Lord and Savior is Christ Jesus! He conquered hell and death and sin; He is the author of life and holds the keys of David. By His obedient life He earned the privilege to open the scrolls that spell out God’s consummation of history. The Lamb Who suffered and died, rules all of creation and will judge the quick and the dead. He is worthy of our praise, our devotion, our lives. And He is faithful even when we are faithless and tempted by the devil.
When Satan tempts me to despair
And tell me of the guilt within,
Upward I look and see Him there
Who made an end of all my sin.
Because the sinless Savior died
My sinful soul is counted free,
For God, the Just, is satisfied
To look on Him and pardon me.
(Charitie L. Bancroft)
The diagram above is my attempt to show the relationship between the various covenants between God and man discussed below. The covenants with Adam and Noah were with mankind and all the created order. Adam fell and we all are dead in him, our federal head; so too all of creation was cursed because of Adam’s sin.
From the dust of men, YHWH called out a people for Himself, to be custodians of His Word, to shine forth His glories in the wicked world, and to preserve the promised seed as it was carried through the generations from Adam to Christ Jesus. National Israel inhabited what is shown as the Old Covenant. Gentiles are not in the Old Covenant.
If all men are not in Adam’s Covenant, then all men could not die in Adam. But since all men die in Adam, we must see those that God formed into the Hebrew nation were born dead in Adam. The covenant of circumcision and the Mosaic covenant applied to them as God’s temporal people, but in Adam they all died. Some of them were redeemed by faith in the promised Christ and were bought out of the Adamic covenant into the covenant of redemption, to be sealed in Christ in the fullness of time. While they lived in the flesh, they were in the Mosaic Covenant as God’s temporal people. So all national Israel was at all times members of two covenants – one determining their spiritual condition (in Adam or in Christ), the other identifying them as God’s temporal people.
The eternal covenant called out in Hebrews 13 was a prelapsarian agreement within the holy trinity. It was revealed progressively until it was fulfilled by Christ and the issuing of the New Covenant. What the eternal covenant does is provide redemption for sinners (Ephesians 1 and others). 2 Timothy 1 shows us that our redemption was effected before the foundation of the world. I consider this covenant to be the guardian for the elect through redemptive history, until the New Covenant was issued, as was the Old Covenant for national Israel. Hebrews tells us the Old Testament saints waited until Christ came to get their full reward – while saved looking forward to the promised seed, “they did not receive that which was promised (temporal rest), since God had provided something better for us, so that they would not be made perfect without us.”
Both the Hebrew people and Gentiles have Adam as their spiritual father; only by being given new life in the last Adam do we become children of Abraham according to the promise. This gives us standing with Creator God as His children through the adoption of sons.
The covenant with Noah is outside the redemptive chain, as it is an unconditional promise of God to provide for man and beast seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night until the end of the age. It is included to remind us of God’s kind provision even to those whose best life is now. It mitigates the wrath of God for those in Adam while this age winds down. The shaded oval is labeled “Old Covenant” and represents God’s relationship to national Israel. It includes the three major covenants contained therein, although the Abrahamic Covenant has only one side in this arena. This line of covenants began as YHWH called people from Adam’s line to form His temporal people, and began to close with the Davidic Covenant, coming to a final close when the son of David who was his Lord fulfilled all the requirements of Moses and the prophets and cut the New Covenant (Galatians 3:24). The Covenant of Promise was revealed to man as God cursed the serpent, recorded in Genesis 3:15 and fulfilled in the New Covenant, being revealed with increasing clarity as redemptive history unfolded.
The Adamic Covenant runs parallel to the Old Covenant, and does not expire until the end of the age. All people in history are ruled by this covenant, with God’s universal law at work in the nations; the works of which are written on the hearts of these people (Romans 2:12-16). Those who are in the First Adam remain in this covenant unless, in time, God redeems them. From God’s covenant with Abraham come children of the flesh (being held captive by the Law of Moses – Galatians 4:21 – 25) and children of promise (being set free by faith in the promised seed – Galatians 3:29 & 4:26 – 31). This ever-increasing family gathers members from all races, creeds, and covenants. Sons of Adam who are redeemed have Abraham as their spiritual father (Galatians 3:29) Jesus is the promised son of David (Acts 2:22 – 39), being born under the law and its curse (Galatians 3:10 – 14), and giving Himself as a ransom to buy the elect (John 6:37 – 40). His work of redemption fulfilled the demands of the Old Covenant and all the types that pointed to His coming. This work made the Old Covenant obsolete and introduced the New Covenant which displays the glories of Christ in the lives of the redeemed (Hebrews 8).
With Noah as our federal head, we have so-called common grace from our Creator, both man and creation. The curse of Adam remains throughout this age, conquered but not eliminated, as we wait for the age to come; so the blessings through Noah remain throughout this age, to be made all the more glorious in the age to come.