ARTICLES

Without The Law

by David Clayton

Although there have always been several concepts of righteousness embraced by different groups of people, there is actually only one true standard of righteousness and it is God's character as expressed in His law. Ellen White says that, “righteousness is right-doing (COL - 312),” and we conclude that this right doing is defined by the law of God when properly understood in its spiritual application. However, we read something in Romans 3:21 which gives us an interesting perspective on righteousness.


But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; (Rom 3:21) 

If right-doing is righteousness and this right-doing is defined by the law, how is it possible that there can be a righteousness, “without the law?” This is the difficulty which many Christians have. They find it hard to accept that there is a way to salvation and victory which does not depend on the law or on their observance of the law. They believe that such an idea will destroy reverence for the law and will lead to a religion which is indolent, lazy and void of good works. However, let us put our misconceptions aside and allow the Bible to speak.

If, as Ellen White says, righteousness is “right-doing,” and this is the true definition of righteousness, then it is clear that there can be no righteousness unless somebody does what is right. This is simple and so easy to understand that most people conclude that the answer to their problem of unrighteousness is simply to start doing what is right. However, those who are honest soon encounter an insurmountable problem. They discover that they have taken on an impossible task, for all their efforts to do good only end in failure and they discover that it is impossible for them to do what is right, that is, they cannot become righteous by doing good. Some who are dishonest convince themselves that they are succeeding and that they are righteous because they observe the outward forms of the law, but such righteousness is no better than filthy rags and produces only hypocrisy.

It is clear that man cannot become righteous by obeying the law, yet, since righteousness is “right-doing,” there can be no righteousness unless right is done. Unless the law is kept.

Ellen White also says that the only definition of sin is that, “sin is the transgression of the law.” This indicates that sin cannot arise unless the law is transgressed. The opposite of “sin,” is “righteousness.” If we say that a person cannot be a sinner unless he transgresses the law, then it must be equally true that a person cannot be righteous unless he observes the law, or does right. Is this in harmony with the teaching of Scripture?

Righteousness without law

In seeming contradiction the Bible speaks of a righteousness which is “without the law.” If righteousness is defined by the law, how can there be righteousness, “without the law” as Paul describes?

The simple answer is that Paul describes it in this way because our becoming righteous by this means has nothing to do with whether or not we have kept the law or done what is right – not because the law has not been kept, but because it is not we who have kept it. This is God's own righteousness, a righteousness which is equal to God Himself, a purity which implies perfect, unblemished right-doing, yet which amazingly, becomes ours absolutely without any effort or work, or doing on our part. It is ours by the simple expedient that we believe in Christ.

The question is, what is the legal mechanism by which God makes me righteous apart from my works? How can He fairly and justly declare that I am without sin, that I am blameless, how can He restore me to friendship with Himself and grant me the gift of eternal life when all my life I have done absolutely no good? How can this be right? Notice that the Bible declares that this gift of righteousness is “by faith of Jesus Christ,” (Rom. 3:22) and that we are made the righteousness of God, “in Him.” (2 Cor. 5:21).

There is only one person who has kept the law perfectly and I mean absolutely perfectly. There is one who fulfilled every requirement of the law. This person of course was Jesus Christ. Nobody else has ever done this. But how does this help me? He has done it, I have not. The answer lies in the phrase, “in Him.” We are made the righteousness of God in Him (2 Cor. 5:21).”

Condemned in Adam

We can only understand this when we recognize mankind's natural condition and learn how it is that we came to be in that condition.

When Adam sinned at the beginning, he affected the entire human race. His actions were not only effective in his own experience, but they affected all humanity. On the basis of his actions, all his descendants were doomed to be born,

a. Sinful, weak, naturally bent to evil.

b. Degenerate, mortal, sickly, infirm.

c. Alienated from God, unaccepted by God, naturally his enemies.

d. Condemned, that is doomed to die and to remain dead forever.

No honest Bible student can deny these facts, though many find some of them hard to accept. It is easy to see that Adam's degeneracy was passed on to his children. That is a logical consequence of the fact that the laws of nature dictated that it should be so. Adam's children would be weak, sin-prone, sickly, infirm by inheritance. These things would be passed on to them in their genes. The fact which some find hard to come to grips with however, is that Adam also lost his status. He was no longer acceptable to God and he was condemned to die. God deliberately removed him from the tree of life so that he could die. This was also in consequence of his sin, but since it was by a deliberate action of God it must also be regarded as a penalty for his sin. It was not the result of the natural workings of the forces of nature (consequences) but was the deliberate imposition of a sentence by a judge (penalty).

The critical question is this, have the children of Adam suffered only the consequences of his sin, or have they also suffered the penalty? This question is critical. If we misunderstand this, then it is not possible for us to properly understand justification by faith. Let us consider the simple fact; Adam's children were all denied access to the tree of life. It was not just Adam who was cut off from the tree, but an angel was set on guard there, specifically to prevent him, or his children and descendants from eating of the tree.

“Had man, after his fall, been allowed free access to the tree of life, he would have lived forever, and thus sin would have been immortalized. But cherubim and a flaming sword kept “the way of the tree of life,” [GEN. 3:24.] and not one of the family of Adam has been permitted to pass that barrier and partake of the life-giving fruit. Therefore there is not an immortal sinner.” {GC88 533-4}

In other words, it is clear that not only was Adam's degeneracy imparted to his descendants, but also that they were not excluded from the penalty imposed on him. They were also condemned along with him. Now, until we understand this properly, it seems to be a most offensive doctrine and I admit that it was very difficult for me to accept at first. But when I understood it and saw how it relates to my salvation, I was filled with joy and happily embraced it as one of the most helpful facts which I ever learned in relation to the gospel.

Suppose Christ had not intervened on humanity's behalf, how many of Adam's descendants would have inherited eternal life? Not a single one! How many of them would have been resurrected from the grave once they had died? Not a single one. Can anyone deny these plain facts? It would not have mattered whether they died one day old or a thousand years old. Outside of Christ's provision man is condemned to eternal death. All humanity is included in this condemnation. Where did this condemnation come from? Was it because of what we did personally? Was it because we broke the law? No! We were born this way! From the moment of birth we were natural enemies of God and condemned to die.

A Qualified Teacher

This is what Paul says as plainly as it could be said, in Romans 5:12-19, a passage in which he was specifically explaining the gospel. As we all know, Paul was the apostle who was given the task of taking the gospel to the gentiles, people who had no background in the things of Jehovah and who needed careful teaching in the foundational principles of the truth. To prepare Paul for this work, Christ Himself personally taught Him the gospel by special divine revelation (Gal. 1:11,12).

Paul's qualifications for teaching the truth are tremendous. He is probably more qualified to do so than any other writer in the Bible and although many people find his writings hard to understand, the problem is often that they refuse to accept what he says. For example they will read where Paul says, “we are not under the law (Rom. 6:14),” and they think, “that is impossible. Whatever does Paul mean by this?” then they pass it by as one of those things “hard to be understood.” The problem is not with Paul, but with their pre-conceived ideas.

Similarly, Paul says, “Adams sin made us all sinners and condemned us all.” Our response has typically been, “I hear you Paul, but I know you can't mean what you say. Such an idea is not reasonable, so I suppose you are just a little careless in the way you express your ideas.” We place this also in the category of “things hard to be understood.” But the passages are as plain as day and say exactly what Paul means to say. The problem is our refusal to accept what we read. I myself was guilty of this for more years than I care to remember! I read these statements of Paul and refused to accept what I read. My concept was that I could only be condemned for my own personal behaviour and Paul's statements seemed to contradict that. So for many years I was robbed of truly understanding some of the most critical aspects of the gospel because my limited ideas made me resist what Paul taught.

Condemned without law

A person may say, “well, it cannot be so because Jesus made provision for man to be saved.” That is absolutely true, thank God. But in order to understand what Christ has done we must understand man's position outside of Christ's provision. So the Bible says that all of us were condemned by Adam's sin (Rom. 5:18,19). That is, we were condemned “without the law.” Adam is the one who was condemned in the law, because he is the one who broke it. We received that condemnation before we broke one single law, personally. Our initial condemnation had nothing to do with whether or not we kept the law. We were condemned from the moment of birth, even before we were intelligent enough to know that there is a law. Of course somebody did break that law. That person was Adam and in doing this he became unrighteous. Now his unrighteousness is passed on to all his descendants, to all who are in him. They are condemned because of what he did.

The same principle

Someone may say, “that is unreasonable and unfair.” But hold on a moment, is it unreasonable and unfair that one man, the second Adam, should have kept the law, should have done righteousness and we all be justified and declared righteous because of it? Tell me, what is the legal basis for this? How can this be fair and right and just? When Satan accuses God that He has no right to justify us on the basis of another person's actions, what does God say? Is He being unfair? Is He doing what is fair and right and just? Brothers and sisters, if we can understand that God is acting fairly in justifying us because of what ONE man did, then how can it be unfair for Him to operate on the SAME EXACT principle and condemn us because of what one man did? Both actions are based on the same principle, that is, all receive the benefits of the actions of one (Rom. 5:15-19). If this principle is wrong in the case of how Adam relates to his descendants, then it cannot be right in the way Christ relates to His spiritual descendants. Let us be consistent, because God is consistent!

But the question arises again, how can this be legally acceptable in both cases? How can it be fair that many receive the benefits (or disadvantages) obtained by one. By what rule can such a thing be justified?

The legal basis

This can only be understood when we grasp the concept that in terms of these issues, God deals with humanity as a single entity. He deals with the human race on the basis that we are all a part of one and the same existence, that we all exist in the same life. This life is the life of Adam and as the Bible teaches us, there are two Adams. Both of them possess a different life, a different existence, one condemned and depraved, the other undefiled and wholly acceptable to God. God deals with humanity on the basis of the actions of these two men, the first and the last Adam.

Think for a moment, why is Jesus called the last Adam (1 Cor. 15:45)? It is because He has been made the head or the representative of humanity, just as Adam was. Adam was the father of humanity and as such, all the human race was in him when he was created. All humanity today is simply the extension of Adam's original life, perverted shortly after its origin and passed on in its condemned state to six billion people today. Though God loves us individually, yet in terms of the great events in the history of the fall and redemption of man, God deals with us as a race – He has acted in behalf of humanity as a whole and it is from this perspective that we must view the plan of redemption.

In other words, Adam committed sin. All, in him are condemned. Christ did righteousness. All in Him are justified. Our salvation or damnation depends entirely upon our relationship to one of these two Adams. Not upon my relationship to the law, but upon my relationship to these two men. Salvation is in Christ, condemnation is in Adam. God will save us individually, but that individual salvation is dependent upon one thing and one thing only; it depends upon our relationship to these two Adams. In one, we are lost, regardless of what we have done (that is, apart from the law). In the other, we are saved, regardless of what we have done (that is, apart from the law). In terms of salvation it is the actions of these two which matter, not our actions. All we can do, is choose which man we will be a part of. To remain in the first Adam where we found ourselves at birth, which means eternal death, or to be born into the second Adam by means of faith, which means eternal life.

This is the legal basis for us being either lost by Adam's action or saved by Christ's action. It is not that we took the blame for Adam or that Christ took the blame for us. Both of these ideas are contrary to reason and to justice. The only way that this can be rationally and legally acceptable is when we recognize that we were in Adam when he sinned. We were there, we were involved, therefore the sentence passed on Adam that day was our sentence, because we were there. The life which is our life, our existence in Adam is a condemned one. Here is how some of the Adventist pioneers saw it:

The Pioneer's view

The question is, Does the second Adam's righteousness embrace as many as does the first Adam's sin? Look closely. Without our consent at all, without our having anything to do with it, we were all included in the first Adam; we were there. All the human race were in the first Adam. What that first Adam—what that first man, did meant us; it involved us. That which the first Adam did brought us into sin, and the end of sin is death, and that touches every one of us and involves every one of us. - A.T. Jones General Conference Bulletin 1895 – Sermon 14 

when God created Adam he created the whole human family. He created all nations that are upon the earth when he created Adam. That is, in creating Adam and conferring upon him the power to beget in his own image, he saw, as it were, a fountain of life in him; and when he created Adam, he saw in Adam every human being that has been or will be upon the face of the earth, and he created every human being upon the face of the earth in Adam. - W.W. Prescott - The Head of The Family. (1895 General Conference)

That is what this scripture in the seventh of Hebrews, to which we have referred, has illustrated, how it is that God saw in Adam all the human family, and how that when he created Adam he created all the human family. This Scripture means a great deal more than that. Read again Heb.7:9,10: “And as I may so say, Levi also, who receiveth tithes, paid tithes in Abraham. For he was yet in the loins of his father when Melchisedec met him.” When Abraham paid tithes to Melchisedec, Levi paid tithes in him, for he was in the loins of his father when Melchisedec met him. All that Abraham did, Levi did in him. - W.W. Prescott - The Head of The Family. (1895 General Conference)

Righteous in Christ

In the same way, the new human race was in Christ when He lived here, died and was resurrected. All of the new humanity was there and this new humanity lived righteously, kept the law of God perfectly and therefore it is perfectly legal, reasonable and logical that all who have become a part of this new humanity, all who become a part of this new human race should inherit, should partake of the benefits available in it. The righteousness of Christ is imputed to those who believe in Christ and this is not simply a make-believe situation. It is not a matter of God pretending that things are so, although they really are not so. No, this would not be justice. It would be unreasonable and illegal for God to judge men as righteous merely because another was righteous. But the truth is that God is able to impute the righteousness of Christ to us because we have indeed BECOME a part of Christ's own existence!! This is why we are now able to keep the law perfectly.

Oh the wonder of it all! This is not pretence, we have been baptized, immersed into the very body, the life of Christ by means of the imparting of the holy spirit (1 Cor. 12:13). We are truly a part of the very life of Christ, the new humanity, or the last Adam. Therefore we are made the righteousness of God IN HIM!! We are a part of His body, members of His “flesh and of His bones (Eph. 5:30). Therefore, He is our righteousness. His righteousness is our righteousness. Because we are one, we are the same, we are of His body, of His life, of His existence.

The term, “Christ our righteousness,” has tended to give us a limited understanding of the nature of our relationship with Christ. People have come to believe that God gives us by some unfathomable principle the righteousness of Christ in isolation. Unless we can see that it is not merely “righteousness” which God gives us, but a complete new life – a new existence in which righteousness is already an accomplished reality, an accomplished fact, then it will be impossible to see the legality of what God has done for us through Christ.

The fact is, God has not done these things for us through Christ, or by Christ, but rather in Christ. Let us think about this brothers and sisters. There is a difference, a vast difference and only as we see this distinction will we be able to gain a true understanding of justification by faith and the plan of salvation.

Restoration Ministries

Restoration Ministries is dedicated to the promotion of the truths contained in the word of God. In particular to the restoration of those truths which have been cast down to the ground and trampled underfoot by the papacy, and adopted by her daughters.

Our purpose is to motivate men and women to commit themselves wholly to the task of personal preparation for the coming of the Lord, and to the taking of the final warning message to every nation, kindred, tongue and people.

Website: www.restorationministry.com

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