Archive for November 2nd, 2007

What is Faith?

“As it is written, the just shall live by faith” Romans 1:17

“…The justifier of him which believeth in Jesus” Romans 3:26




TROUGHOUT the epistle to the Romans a constant theme is reiterated: “The just shall live by faith” (Romans 1:17). Faith is central to the Gospel and to salvation by that Gospel.


                In Romans 3:26 we read that God is the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus. But how does one believe in Jesus? Just what is faith?


                This is a question about which there is much confusion. Many think faith is just some belief in certain things, a belief which man can produce naturally, a response of man’s will to the Gospel. Yet scripture teaches clearly that man by nature is “dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1), that he is spiritually blind and spiritually deaf, and that he cannot know the things of God except the Spirit of God reveal them unto him. “The natural man receiveth not the things of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (see 1 Corinthians 2:10-16). No, man by nature does not have faith – it is something he must be given, something that is received, something that is obtained (2 Peter 1:1). Scripture teaches us that faith is the gift of God (Ephesians 2:8), a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22), which is given to God’s people, in order that they might believe the Gospel preached unto them, and believe in Christ who is revealed by that Gospel. Faith comes by the preaching of God’s word for “how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? … So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” Romans 10:14,17.


                In Hebrews 11:1 we are told that “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” It is that principle by which God’s people live, for “the just shall live by faith”, and without faith it is impossible to please God “for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him” (Hebrews 11:6). The faith of God’s elect was exemplified by that faith by which the Just One, the Lord Jesus Christ, also lived. Whilst He looked to His Father by faith, whereas the child of God also looks to Christ by faith, nevertheless His was a life of absolute trust in, and inner communion with, God His Father.


                Not only is faith something shared by God’s people with Christ their Saviour, but faith itself cannot be divorced from that truth in which it believes. Faith believes, trusts, and rests in, the truth of the Gospel, in The Faith itself. The two are inextricably linked. One cannot have true faith except one hears the Gospel, and when God is pleased, by His Spirit, to open the ears to that Gospel, faith is the result – faith which believes the truth… and the One who is Truth, even Jesus Christ the Lord.


                But there are some who speak of faith as being a mere mental assent to the truths of the Gospel. Yet true, saving faith, is far, far more than mere mental assent to the bare letter of truth. Whilst many do reject the truth, it is also true that many who are religious make mental assent to the Gospel – at least in part – whilst having no real, personal revelation of the Son of God as their Saviour. They consent to the facts, but the truth declared by those facts has never been revealed to them inwardly as a reality in which they are personally concerned. A bare intellectual belief that Christ’s blood was shed to wash away His people’s sins, does not mean for certain that we are one of those for whom that blood was shed – one of those who are brought to comprehend its application and worth spiritually. We can know much, but still be blind (Romans 2:17-29). True faith is far more than mental assent. It is that which springs from a new life within, having been born again of the Spirit (John 3), that which lays hold upon the Son of God as revealed inwardly in the heart of the believer as his personal Saviour, that which not only sees outwardly the blood shed to wash away sins, but knows the application of that blood sprinkled within, upon the heart and conscience. Yes, saving faith is a reality, not a mere mental assent. It is that by which we see and know, believe and trust, lay hold of and are united, inwardly and by revelation to the Son of God, who loved us and died for us, who believe.


                “…it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb, and called me by his grace, to reveal his Son in me” Galatians 1:15-16.


                “For by grace are ye saved, through faith; and that not of yourselves: if is the gift of God: not of works, lest any many should boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9


“The just shall live by faith” Hebrews 10:38

“That Our Eyes May Be Opened” Matthew 20:33

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“…Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?” Romans 6:1

…As it is written, the just shall live by faith” Romans 1:17

 THE Apostle Paul in the Epistle to the Romans asks the question, “Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?” The answer he gives is “God forbid.” He asks this question because there were those who upon hearing the teaching of the Gospel, that sinners are saved by grace alone and not by their obedience to God’s law, concluded that if so that must leave the child of God free to sin. But Paul denies this emphatically – “God forbid.” Salvation by grace alone through faith does not lead to lives which remain in sin.     

Some conclude from this answer that Paul is reiterating the importance of the believer striving to keep the law of God. They say that if the believer must not live a life of sin, which is seen in breaking the Ten Commandments, then he must have that “Moral Law” (The Ten Commandments delivered to Moses on Mount Sinai) as a “Rule of Life”. That the law, although not a means by which he might be saved, and although no longer cursing him if he fails to keep it (because Christ has already been cursed by the law in the believer’s place), nevertheless instructs him in how to live a righteous life and is therefore useful as advice or guidance on how to live before God – it is the believer’s “rule of life”, they say.

However this is to confuse what Paul is arguing for and to overturn what he has been saying from Romans chapters 3 to 5. Paul is teaching that God saves sinners by the Gospel by means of grace and that they then continue to live by God’s grace on a principle of faith. Their rule is not the law, but faith. Only by faith can the demands of the law be fulfilled.

But how can this be? If the believer does not set himself to reading the Ten Commandments and attempting to model his life upon them, how can he live a life which fulfils them? How can he avoid breaking these commandments?

Well, the simple answer to that is “through Christ”. The Gospel is all about Christ, about who He is, what He has done, and about the believer’s relationship to Him and his union with Him. The believer lives not by looking to the law but by “looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith” Hebrews 12:2. He lives by faith looking unto Christ, being led by the Spirit by union with Christ who is “all in all”.

The believer is “dead to the law”, his flesh is crucified, the rule of law over him has gone, not because the law is altered or “abrogated” but because the flesh has died to it and the believer is risen again in Christ the other side of death. He is a new creation, he has a new life within born of the Spirit. This is called the new man of grace. This new life in Christ is governed by a new law, or rule. This is the law of faith, or put another way, faith is his rule of life, for “the just shall live by faith”. Life could not come by the law, it only condemned. Because of the sin which is in the flesh the law became a “ministration of death”, a “killing letter” to men – it was certainly no rule of ‘life’! No, the law condemned the believer to death, it carried out its final sentence on him in Christ, and having died in Christ he is now dead to the law. It has no more to say to those who are dead to it.

But the just shall live by faith. They are justified by faith; by faith they receive the gift of eternal life. This life is ruled by the principle of faith. Romans chapter five talks of the “reign of grace”. Grace reigns through righteousness and that is the righteousness of faith as revealed in the Gospel. Thus the Gospel in revealing the righteousness of God without law, and in justifying sinners by grace through faith, reveals all the believer needs to receive life from God and to walk before Him in righteousness. The Gospel and not the law therefore is the believer’s rule of life.

But how does the child of God know right from wrong if he isn’t ruled by the law one may ask? How does he know what the right thing to do in any given situation is? The same way that Christ did. Not simply by turning to some lifeless commands written on stone (or paper) but by communion with God by faith. Christ lived by constantly seeking His father’s will in prayer. The believer also lives by communing with God in prayer, by looking unto Christ by faith, by seeking the Spirit’s leading. Yes, he reads the Bible and the whole of the Bible is useful for instruction in righteousness but it is by the Spirit’s guidance in the Bible, by His opening it up to him, His applying words from it to him on a daily basis that he learns of God’s will for him, not in a dry, fixed, unchangeable manner, but in a living way, suited to the changing providences of his life.

“But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter.” Romans 7:6

The new man of grace which is born in the believer is born of God, he is righteous like God is righteous. In the new man believers are “made partakers of the divine nature” 2 Peter 1:4, and this nature in itself knows instinctively what is righteous. Believers still have the flesh, the old man within them which is completely sinful, but the new man is righteous. The law was made for man in the flesh, not in the spirit. The law was given to condemn the sinner in the flesh, to show up his sin and to make him flee unto Christ for salvation. But when that man has been washed in the blood of the Lamb, the flesh has been crucified with Christ at the cross. In the eyes of God all that remains is the new man of grace because God looks at the believer in Christ who has taken away sin in the body of flesh which has been crucified. 1 Timothy 1:9 tells us “Knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners…”. If so, then the believer is not under the law, it wasn’t made for him, and it isn’t his rule of life. No, he walks by a new ‘law’, the “law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus” Romans 8:2, for he walks not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. As a just man he lives by faith.

“For I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God. I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law then, Christ is dead in vainGalatians 2:21

But can’t a believer walk by faith and still use the law as advice one might ask? Surely what it says is good? Yes, everything it says is holy, just and good. But it isn’t just advice – it’s law! – and it can’t be used as a guide or a rule of life. Why not? Because although the believer has a new life born of the Spirit, and although the flesh is reckoned to be crucified with Christ, nevertheless until the believer actually dies physically he still has the flesh dwelling within. The law is addressed to that flesh, but although it demands righteousness from it, in practice all it does is flare up sin in the flesh. The more it demands from the flesh, the more the flesh sins. So although what the law demands is good and spiritual, reaching even unto the thoughts and intentions of the heart within, the effect upon man is to produce more sin, to stir up evil thoughts within. The law always retains its curse and if a man strives to live by the law then he only brings the curse upon himself again. He is a debtor to do the whole law, but he can’t truly fulfil any of it! No, the only way to fulfil the righteousness of the law is to die to it, to be delivered from it, and to live by faith looking unto Christ alone.

“For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace.” Romans 6:14

The law demands works from man who cannot perform them. He fails to fulfil the law because of his sinful flesh. Faith however rests in the finished work of Christ who has fulfilled the law’s demands in every way. Christ has delivered the believer from the curse and the rule of the law to live in a new and living way – to live by faith. Faith submits to Christ, trusts in Him, obeys Him, walks by the Spirit who leads into all truth regarding Christ. The Lord Jesus Christ is the object of the believer’s faith, not the law. He is married to Christ and is now dead to the law. “Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God.” Romans 7:4. The more the child of God looks to Christ, his husband, the more the new man of grace within him grows in grace and the more the old sinful flesh is subdued and mortified. By walking by faith the child of God finds a principal of life which actually results in the righteousness of the law being fulfilled and sin no longer having the dominion which it once had in his life. This is a life lived entirely by faith, not in man’s strength but in the Spirit, by grace alone. The work is all of God. Oh, what amazing grace there is in the Gospel of Christ! How it is the “power of God unto salvation”!

May all God’s people ever turn from the works of the law, from the arm of the flesh, from all boasting in self and their own works, to rest by faith in the finished work of Christ, looking unto Him alone, who has delivered them from the power of sin, death, and Hell, to give them newness of life in Him, that they might have eternal life, the divine nature, who walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit, in the reign of grace!

“There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit.” Romans 8:1-5

“But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature. And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God.” Galatians 6:14-16


“Why…?” Colossians 2:20

“Perfect In Christ Jesus” Colossians 1:28

“The just shall live by faith” Hebrews 10:38

“I have preached righteousness in the great congregation” Psalm 40:9

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“For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life. And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement [substitution]” Romans 5:10-11



PEACE with God. Peace. This is the wonderful place into which is brought every fallen, ungodly sinner, who is justified by Christ. Having set before us God’s justification of sinners in the previous two chapters, Paul opens chapter 5 by declaring some of the tremendous fruits of that justification. Peace with God, access by faith, the hope of glory: “Therefore being justified by faith we have peace with God, through our Lord Jesus Christ: By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God”, Romans 5:1-2.

     Through such a work of God for, and in, them God’s people are enabled to glory in tribulations, which produce patience, and which in turn produces experience and hope, “and hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us”. Here for the first time in Romans we read of that love, that priceless love, that precious, eternal, overwhelming, love of God, by which He is pleased to save sinners. “For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us”, Romans 5:6-8.

     Yes, that’s when Christ died for His people. When they were yet sinners, without strength, ungodly. When they were enemies of God, at enmity with God, gone out of the way, with mouths full of cursing and bitterness, feet swift to shed blood, with destruction and misery in their ways, having no fear of God before their eyes (Romans 3:10-18). That’s when – when they were sinners.

     “And the way of peace have they not known…” Romans 3:17

     But Christ died for them. God justified them. And being justified they now, by faith, have peace with God. And, “much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life. And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement [substitution]”, Romans 5:9-11.

     When God justified His people by the blood of Christ He brought them to peace with Him. The wrath of God against their sin being quenched, justice was satisfied, the enmity was taken out of the way, and peace reigned. Christ, the great High Priest of God’s people, offered up His own body as a sacrifice for sin, and having died, He rose again, ascended into glory, and entered into the holy place, sprinkling His own blood upon the mercy seat – the propitiatory – by which all was answered, all the wrath of God against His people’s sins was quenched, all was at peace, eternal redemption was obtained – and all in Christ were reconciled to God (Leviticus 16:15, Hebrews 4:14, 6:20, 7:27, 9:12, 9:24, 10:12). Here in chapter 5 of Romans Paul opens up the very ground of this reconciliation: the atonement – or substitution.

The great exchange

Here is one of the greatest truths at the heart of the gospel – substitution. Here is that subtitutionary work of Jesus Christ, in which He stood in the place of His people and suffered under the judgment of God against their sin, in order that they would become the righteousness of God in Him. This substitutionary work is what Paul is considering in Romans 5 verses 10-21, the truth of which is summarised succinctly elsewhere in 2 Corinthians 5:21 with these words:

“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.”

     This is a truly glorious truth – that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the perfect, impeccable, spotless Lamb of God, the One who knew no sin, went willingly to the cross where God the Father laid upon the Sin-bearer the sins of all His people, and made Him to be sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him. How? By His suffering under the outpouring of God’s wrath against that sin, until all that sin was completely blotted out and taken out of the way – leaving nothing but the righteousness of God in Christ, which His people are made to be in Him.

     This substitutionary work is what Martin Luther described as the ‘Great Exchange’, in which Christ took the place of sinners, that they might take His, and be reconciled to God. In fact the word translated as reconciled in Romans 5:10, or as atonement in 5:11 has as its root the Greek word katallage which essentially means a thorough exchange, or substitution. Reconciliation is the effect of such an exchange but the main emphasis of the word katallage in the Greek is upon the cause which produces that effect. Sinners are reconciled to God by the thorough exchange of Christ with them in which He was made to be sin, that they should become the righteousness of God in Him.

     United with His people in death, all the changes were in the Saviour: He took on His people’s state, that they might be made into His state – righteousness. He who knew no sin, was made to be sin. God judged that sin in His own Son by the outpouring of His wrath, that His people should be “saved from wrath through him” (Romans 5:9). Having “condemned sin in the flesh” (Romans 8:3), sin was no more to be seen, and death could not hold the Saviour, who rose again from the grave in perfect righteousness, and His people in Him. He was the One who suffered, He was the One who died, yet, as a result, His people are delivered from darkness into light, from death into life, from the bondage of sin, into the liberty of eternal life and everlasting righteousness in Christ. Yes, He died, that they should live. What a deliverance!

     The life brought in as a result of Christ’s death is seen in the latter part of verse 10, “For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.Having been reconciled to God by the death of his Son, being justified by his blood, God’s people are raised again from the dead in resurrection life in Christ, death having no more hold over them, their sins having been blotted out. Their being “saved by his life” – as seen in verse 10 – amplifies the truth of Romans 5:9 which declares that being “justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him”, for having taken sin away and having conquered death, Christ, now being risen from the dead, “ever liveth to make intercession” for His people (Hebrews 7:25). He points to His own blood by which He justified them – the very blood He sprinkled upon the mercy seat of God to propitiate God’s wrath against their sins. Oh, what an Advocate they have in the presence of God the Father (1 John 2:1) – what a Saviour, in whom is eternal life!

“For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Romans 6:23

Sin and sins

But notice for a moment the twofold work of Christ in substitution. Not only did He bear the sins of His people (1 Peter 2:24), those sinful deeds which they have done, which spring forth from the fallen nature of their sinful hearts, but He was also made to be sin itself. This is not what they have done, but what they are, for they were crucified in Him (Galatians 2:20), and what they are by nature is sin. Sin is that which entered into man when Adam fell in the garden, by which death entered the world as a result (Romans 5:12). It is that pollution, which since the fall of Adam has corrupted man’s very nature, that spirit of wanton abandonment and total lawlessness1, that depravity to which man is in bondage. It is this which Christ took away in His substitutionary work as set forth in Romans 5 where Christ’s obedience, in dying in the place of His people that they might be made righteous, is contrasted with Adam’s disobedience, in which sin entered the world and many were made sinners (Romans 5:12,19). Yes, not only did Christ suffer for the sins of His people but He was also made to be sin, that God in judgment might destroy the very cause of those sins, sin itself, in His people’s Substitute upon the tree. Hence we see, in Christ’s body broken, the condemnation of sin upon the cross, and in His blood shed the washing away of those sins which came forth from that sin which dwells in the depravity of man’s fallen heart (Mark 7:21,22). But thank God that He judged not only the effects, the sins, but the cause – sin itself.

“Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin.” Romans 6:6

“For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh…” Romans 8:3

     Oh! What depths, what lengths to which the Saviour went to save His people from their sins and deliver them from the bondage of sin itself. What He suffered for those so undeserving, that they might know so great a salvation!

     Yet, despite the tremendous glory in this truth, despite the fact that the preaching of this message, the preaching of the cross, is the power of God to them that believe (1 Corinthians 1:18), it is nevertheless to them that perish, “foolishness”. To many it is a stumbling block, and an offence. But that which is offensive to the natural man, is the power of God to those who believe.

     Whilst Christ suffered under the judgment of God as He bore His people’s sins in His own body on the tree, as He was made to be sin, it must be stressed that He never once sinned Himself, He never once thought an evil thought, He never once did anything for which He would Himself have to pay the price. All was done in the place of His people as their Substitute, all the sins He bore were their sins, yet whilst bearing those sins, whilst being made sin, He nevertheless never sinned Himself, as it is written “He did no sin” (1 Peter 2:22). Yet, despite this, the scriptures are also plain to state that Christ was nevertheless “made [to be] sin”. Not that He sinned, notice, but that He was made sin. It is a question of what was done to Christ, not by Him. God made Him to be sin, yet Christ never sinned.

     Some theologians have sought to explain this mystery, that Christ, who knew no sin, could be made sin, and yet never Himself sin, by stating that the sins of God’s people could only have been imputed to Christ. That they were only reckoned to Him, legally put to His account and laid to His charge. But the scriptures never once use the word imputation with regard to this matter. They are very clear – Christ bore the sins of His people in “His own body on the tree” (1 Peter 2:24), and in their place, in a thorough exchange, He was “made … to be sin” (2 Corinthians 5:21). The scriptures are presented to us, not to be explained away logically, with the natural intellect, but to be believed spiritually, with God-given faith, as bowing to the revelation of God in the scriptures.

     No, the scriptures never use the term imputation with regard to Christ’s sin-bearing. He bore sins and He was made sin. How then did He commit no sin? Well, though a mystery that we may never fully comprehend, we can nevertheless state that though Christ was very man by nature, He was also very God, both in nature and in personality, and as God, as a Divine Person, He could not sin. A mystery to the natural mind, perhaps, but true nonetheless. Offensive to carnal wisdom, perhaps, but a matter for rejoicing to those whom Christ has delivered from sin, those who are brought by God to submit to the revelation of His gospel in the scriptures.

     Christ never once sinned – that could not be. Yet, though that must be stressed, at the same time we must not take away from the magnitude of what Christ really suffered for His people at the cross in order to save them. Whilst it may be true that the sins of God’s people were imputed to Christ, in that they were laid to His charge as a consequence of His bearing them, nevertheless imputation is not taught in the scriptures as the means by which He bore sins or was made sin. Sins were imputed to Christ simply because He really bore them in His own body on the tree and because He really was ‘made sin’. Just as Christ really died upon the cross, despite being the eternal God in whom is eternal life (1 John 1:2), likewise He was also really made to be sin in His manhood, as the very cause for which He died, whilst at the same time remaining to be the God who “is light, in whom is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). For in order that His people should truly become what Christ is, by means of His substitution, He had to truly become what they are, by a thorough exchange, in order to truly condemn their sin in His flesh, that they might be made “the righteousness of God in Him”.

     This is a glorious, a deep, an unfathomable truth, but one to which we can only bow in awe and wonder that Christ, the Saviour of sinners, should willingly stoop to such suffering, to such a death, out of love for His own. Yet despite the length and depth to which He went to save His people, in taking their sins as His own, and suffering as a man in the place of men, as the just for the unjust, under the outpouring of God’s wrath against them, nevertheless the glorious Saviour never once sinned Himself, never once ceased to love His Father, never once ceased to trust Him, and never once turned from the task for which He came – to save His people from their sins! Indeed it is from the depths of His sufferings that we see Christ’s faith in God the Father so wonderfully expressed in the precious words He uttered at the cross. As Luke 23:46 testifies, “And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said, Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit: and having said thus, he gave up the ghost”.

The two Adams

Romans 5 sets forth this substitutionary work in which Christ, the Last Adam, took the place of His people who sprang from the first Adam, by contrasting the two Adams and their work. By one man (Adam) sin entered into the world, and death by sin. But the Last Adam, by the righteous act of laying down His life in the place of His people (the ‘one righteousness’ of Romans 5:18) saved them from wrath, justified them by His blood (5:9), and delivered them from death unto life (5:18) – making those who were sinners righteous (5:19), that they should be reconciled to God by Christ’s death (5:10). Oh how the love of God is seen in such a glorious work! “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”

     Throughout this passage it is important to see how Paul contrasts the two Adams and their posterity in them. He speaks of Adam and of Christ as the heads of two groups of people. What is true of all those men who are in the first Adam, is contrasted with what is true of all those men who are in the last Adam. All in Adam are contrasted with all in Christ (“For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive”, 1 Corinthians 15:22). Yet whilst all mankind is the posterity of the first Adam, not all mankind is the posterity of Christ, as made clear in many passages of scripture (for example Romans 9:6-13). This is important to notice, and explains why Paul refers to many being made righteous in verse 19 – for not all are made righteous, though all in Christ, all His posterity, are.

     But what is true of all mankind, without exception, is that all are in Adam, all have sinned and, as a result, death has passed upon all men (Romans 5:12). Having presented this stark and solemn fact, Paul then passes on to a parenthesis from verse 13 to 17, the purpose of which is to illustrate how both Adam and Christ stood as representatives of their people, their posterity. Whilst not all have done what Adam did, in the same manner, nevertheless as their representative his act of disobedience affected them all. Likewise, whilst Christ’s posterity have not done what He did, as their representative His act of obedience in laying down His life for the sheep, affected them all. Paul shows in verses 13 and 14 that it is not the presence of the law which determines whether one sins, for even when there was no law (from Adam to Moses) death still reigned, and it reigned because sin was still in mankind and governed his actions. Unlike Adam, who disobeyed a command given to him by God, and unlike those under the law who transgressed against its commands, those from Adam to Moses sinned not against an outward command (and hence not “after the similitude of Adam’s transgression”), nevertheless they still sinned. Sin was still in them, death still reigned over them, they sought not God, they turned from Him and lived according to their own fallen lusts and pleasures, denying that revelation of God’s truth which God has declared in the creation and in their own conscience  (Romans 1:19-22, 2:10-16, 3:9-18). So whether under law, or not under law, sin still reigned, and death by sin. The law did nothing to prevent it. Indeed when the law was given, it is said to have “entered, that the offence might abound”, Romans 5:20.

     Yet Adam was but a figure of Christ, of “him that was to come” (Romans 5:14). What is portrayed by Adam’s disobedience and the consequences for all his posterity, is a figure, a picture, of what would be brought in by Christ’s obedience for all His posterity. “For if through the offence of one many be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many. And not as it was by one that sinned, so is the gift: for the judgment was by one to condemnation, but the free gift is of many offences unto justification. For if by one man’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”, Romans 5:15-17.

     Oh! What a tremendous contrast between the work of Adam and the work of Christ. By one act of disobedience Adam plunged himself and all his posterity into condemnation, into death and destruction. But through the gift of grace, by Jesus Christ, all His posterity, though they have committed many offences, are nevertheless justified, receiving an abundance of grace and the gift of righteousness, and reign in life in Jesus Christ!

     Having closed the parenthesis Paul shows the contrast between Adam and Christ in verses 18 and 19 by setting before us the one offence of Adam by which he disobeyed – he refused to hearken to – God’s command in the garden and plunged himself and his offspring into condemnation, and the one act of righteousness by which Christ hearkened submissively in the obedience of faith to the will of His Father, by laying down his life for His own that they should know “justification of life” (Romans 5:18) by the shedding of His blood (5:9). Hence “by one man’s disobedience” (in the garden) “many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one” (upon the cross, 5:10) “shall many be made righteous”, for the fruit of the tree of Adam’s disobedience, of which he ate, brought in death, but the fruit of the tree of Christ’s obedience, when He drank the cup of God’s wrath to conquer death, was everlasting life.

     This is how God justified the ungodly, and this is the whole context of chapter 5 – the death of Christ. Christ’s offspring are “justified by his blood” (Romans 5:9). He justified them by His obedience “unto death” (Philippians 2:8), in laying down His life as a substitute in their place, suffering the death they deserved, that they might be made “the righteousness of God in Him”. And where did the law come in? Was righteousness wrought by the law? No, for “if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain” (Galatians 2:21). No, Christ’s death justified His people, through the sacrifice of their substitute in their place, through this obedience2. For:

“Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree: That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.” Galatians 3:13-14

“Wherefore then serveth the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator. Now a mediator is not a mediator of one, but God is one. 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 have concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe.” Galatians 3:19-22

     Hence we see that righteousness came not by the law, but by the death of Christ, that obedience by which He delivered His people from the law and its condemnation, for the law was added, it “entered, that the offence might abound”… “But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound: That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord.”

     Praise God for that substitute of sinners, for that offering for sin, that ransom for many, for the One who paid the redemption price, even our Lord Jesus Christ. And praise God that where sin abounded, grace did much more abound!

     But, my reader, what do you know about this grace? Has the Spirit of God made its abounding known to you in your heart? Are you in Christ, or in Adam? Are you justified or condemned? Is Christ your substitute, have you been reconciled unto God by the death of His Son?

“For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life. And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement.

…Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned: … 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 shall many be made righteous.” Romans 5:6-12, 18-19






[1 1 John 3:4, “Sin is the transgression of the law” is oft-quoted as a definition of sin. However this passage is not well translated in the King James Version of the Bible, and as it stands gives too limited a scope to what sin really is. The passage, literally translated from the Greek, would better read, “sin is lawlessness”. Whilst this may appear similar at first, it is in fact much more wide-ranging. Sin, taken to its full meaning, is complete lawlessness. Not just a transgression of the law given at Sinai, but wilful disregard of any and every law or commandment, an entire unwillingness to be bound by any rule or any authority. Sin, in essence, is simply sheer rebellion against one’s Maker – enmity towards God and His sovereign rule over us.

2 There is a commonly-held understanding, popularised by certain of the Puritans, particularly John Owen, that the righteousness by which a sinner is justified before God – that righteousness which is imputed to him – was wrought by Christ’s obedience to the law throughout His life upon the earth, in addition to His death. This is referred to as His ‘active obedience’ whilst His death upon the cross is termed His ‘passive obedience’. Such a scheme however, is both erroneous and without scriptural support, and whilst it is recognised that many good men, both past and present, have been persuaded of this view, nevertheless popularity cannot be the test of orthodoxy – we must weigh everything in the light of God’s word. The truth is, the scriptures always place justifying righteousness as being wrought out upon the cross, not by the works of the law. The justification of sinners is plainly taught in Romans 3. If the concept of justification by vicarious law-keeping were taught in any passage of scripture, it is this passage, above all, where one would expect to find it. Yet there is not a word of it in the chapter. On the contrary, we are told that the “righteousness of God without the law is manifested” and that “by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified”.

      Unable to find support in Romans chapter 3 the proponents of this scheme turn to chapter 5. The “obedience” of Romans 5:19 is often cited in support of this teaching, with the claim that this refers to Christ’s obedience to the precepts of the law. But this is to wrest the verse out of its context. The context of Romans 5 is the death of Christ (see Romans 5:8), and the obedience referred to is the obedience of faith. In fact the Greek (hupakoe) translated as obedience here has the root meaning of hearing aright, of hearkening submissively. Faith hears, faith believes and faith acts in submission to the will of God – and the obedience of faith referred to in Romans 5:19 is that one act of righteousness (or one accomplished righteousness, dikaiomatos, Romans 5:18) by which Christ justified His people through laying down His life for them. Hence they are said to be “justified by his blood” (Romans 5:9), and are “reconciled to God by the death of his Son” (Romans 5:10).

      Neither can the phrase “we shall be saved by his life” found in the latter part of Romans 5:10 be used in support of vicarious law-keeping, as this refers not to Christ’s deeds as a man under the law, but to His resurrection life, following His death, by which His people are raised from the dead, and in which He, as their great High Priest and Advocate, intercedes on their behalf before God the Father, they being “justified by his blood” and thence “saved from wrath through him”, Romans 5:9.

      Righteousness was not wrought by Christ’s obedience to the law. Rather, His obedience showed forth that He was righteous. Out of His righteousness sprang forth obedience. The law measured Him and found no fault in Him. Jeremiah 33:16 tells us that the LORD is our righteousness. Hence righteousness should not be thought of as what Christ has done, but what He is as God. We are made to be the righteousness of God in Him. For if the LORD – Jehovah – is our righteousness then this righteousness is divine, and hence not the righteousness of Christ under the law as a man, but the righteousness of God in Christ (see, for example, 2 Peter 1:1). However this righteousness, as imputed to the believer, is not abstract, it is not God’s attribute or quality of righteousness considered in isolation, as it is in God Himself, but it is as it is personally made to be ours in Christ – we being in Christ, having our sins judged according to that righteousness, that perfection, in Him. Justifying righteousness is personal. We are made to be it in Christ. It is as personally ours as Christ is ours. Simply put, justifying righteousness is the righteousness of God made to be ours personally, by imputation, through the death of Christ by whom our sins are remitted. For as Calvin taught, justification is the remission of sins.

      So righteousness was not wrought by Christ’s obedience to the law, for He was already righteous, but the righteousness of God was made to be His people’s through Christ’s obedience to God in giving His life for them – for when Christ laid down His life vicariously for His people, bearing their sins and being made sin for them, righteousness was wrought, in the sense that those who were not righteous were made to be righteous, for their sin being judged, the righteousness of God in Christ was then put to their account. Christ suffered for that people who had their sins blotted out in Him, sins which were judged by the very righteousness of God, and being judged according to that righteousness, God was just to declare that people not guilty, to declare them as righteous, justified, in Christ. Hence the righteousness of God was manifested by the death of Christ for His people, through which, being united to Christ, they are made to be the righteousness of God in Him (2 Corinthians 5:21).

      This must be so, for if justifying righteousness were wrought by the works of the law then Romans 3:20 & 3:28, and Galatians 2:16 & 3:21-22, would all be overturned, which declare plainly that no flesh shall be justified by the deeds of the law. Likewise if Christ kept the law vicariously for His people through His lifetime (if that were even legally possible, which it is not) then there would be no need of His death, they already being accounted as righteous in Him by this scheme before He died. “For if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.” Galatians 2:21.]



“The just shall live by faith” Hebrews 10:38

“I have preached righteousness in the great congregation” Psalm 40:9

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