A Misunderstanding of the Law
During Jesus’ earthly ministry, the Jewish religious leaders had come to believe that keeping the statutes in the Torah was what made a person righteous. But because they made the assumption that man was metaphysically evil, this assumption meant that man was disqualified from being able to understand the Law’s requirements. This is turn meant that if man could not understand the Law then man could not keep the Law.
The Jewish leaders believed it was necessary for some mediator to dictate to man the requirements necessary for righteousness. To accomplish this, they crafted their own interpretation of the Torah for man to follow. Since man could not understand the Law, he could only obtain righteousness by following the interpretations of the Jewish leaders. This interpretation is what was known as their “traditions” or orthodoxy.
There are a number of problems with this, not the least of which is that the Bible teaches that righteousness is apart from the Law. As already mentioned, the apostles went to great lengths to make this point clear. For the Jewish religious leaders to hold this perspective, it was indicative of their egregious misunderstanding of the Law’s purpose. The Law was never intended to be for the purpose of obtaining a righteous standing with God.
“I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.” ~ Galatians 2:21
“Is the law then against the promises of God? God forbid: for if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law.”
~ Galatians 3:21
“Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.” ~ Romans 3:20
“Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.” ~ Galatians 2:16
The Law is the means by which man shows love to God and others, but making the Law the standard for righteousness actually circumvents love. How does this happen?
The Jewish religious leaders replaced the Law with their orthodoxy. The people were taught that since they could not keep the Law, it was pointless to even try. By replacing the Law with orthodoxy, the Jewish leaders effectively took away man’s only means of showing love to God and others. Rather than striving to show love to God through obedience, they became preoccupied with adhering to Jewish orthodoxy. Their lives were no longer characterized by love but fear.
When the standard for righteousness is perfect law-keeping, fear is always the result. Fear is the result of condemnation. Condemnation comes from being “under law”. Any system that makes Law the standard for righteousness keeps man “under law”. The Jewish system of perfect law-keeping by adherence to orthodoxy kept the people “under law” and took away their means of showing love.
This is exactly what Jesus accused the Pharisees of doing.
“… Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition [orthodoxy].” ~ Matthew 15:6
“And he said unto them, ‘Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition [orthodoxy].’” ~ Mark 7:9
“Making the word of God of none effect through your tradition [orthodoxy], which ye have delivered: and many such like things do ye.” ~ Mark 7:13
“And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.” ~ Matthew 24:12
The word translated “iniquity” in Matthew 24:12 is the Greek word ανομια (anomia). It literally means “no law”. This is the Biblical definition of antinomianism. It means to take away the law. Jesus said Himself that taking away the Law would result in love growing cold. And why wouldn’t it? If you take away the Law, you take away the only means man has to show love to God and others.
Jesus spoke these words as a prophesy, but the end result of this logical progression of thought is always the same: taking away the Law results in a lack of love and lives characterized by fear. Be sure to understand the distinction. The Jewish religious leaders misunderstood the Law’s purpose. They thought it was for the purpose of meriting righteousness. But righteousness is apart from the Law. Righteousness comes through the New Birth. The Law is used as a means to show love to God and others.
What was true of first century Judaism is also true of every religion that ever existed or still exists today: it makes some form of law-keeping as the standard for righteousness. Every religion begins with the same root assumption: that man is metaphysically evil, making him disqualified from being able to understand truth. Since he cannot understand truth he must have truth interpreted for him. Religious orthodoxy is nothing more than truth repackaged for mass consumption. It is therefore adherence to this interpretation of truth that brings righteousness.
Protestantism is no different! But Protestantism’s version of orthodoxy is obfuscated under the pretense of “faith alone”. On the one hand, it will acknowledge that righteousness is apart from the Law; that man does not merit righteousness by keeping the Law. Then on the other hand, it will insist that Jesus keeps the law for us. In other words, since man cannot keep the Law, Jesus must do it instead.
How is it proposed that man is able to benefit from this so-called perfect law-keeping of Jesus? By living by “faith alone”. You see, if at any time you find that you are performing a work of obedience to the Law “in your own efforts”, you are attempting to rely on your own strength to merit salvation instead of “resting” in Christ to do the work for you. (Notice that the assumed motivation is to merit salvation instead of showing love.)
It should be blatantly obvious that regardless WHO is keeping the law, even if it is Jesus keeping the Law in our stead, it is still a righteousness that is based on perfect law-keeping. This is NOT a righteousness apart from the Law. Moreover, to rely on Jesus doing the works of the Law for us so that His righteousness can be imputed to us is nothing more than works-based salvation.
For over 500 years, Protestantism has been perpetrating a fraud and a contradiction of epic proportions! Like every other religion that has come down the pike since the beginning of time, Protestantism is based on a faulty assumption that results in a willful misunderstanding of the Law. It is a religion of antinomianism that circumvents a believer’s ability to show love through obedience. It makes obedience nothing more than a subjective experience that Christ supposedly performs through the believer. It defies the believer’s natural inclination to love God’s Law. It defines righteousness as perfect law-keeping. This unwittingly puts the believer right back “under law”, the Biblical definition of an unsaved person. Protestantism views believers no differently than the unregenerate.
Most importantly, the false gospel of Protestantism robs the believer of assurance. The Christian life becomes one of constant introspection of whether one is living by “faith alone” or not. Protestantism’s single perspective on the Law means the believer is in constant fear that he might come under condemnation. He is not free to love others. He is not free to love his Heavenly Father. He can never know for sure if he really is saved.
Dear Christian brother, know this. The Bible says that we CAN know for sure that we are saved. When we understand that our righteousness comes by virtue of the fact that we are the literal offspring of the Father, everything becomes so simple. It does not matter if we fail. Perfection is not the point. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus! Believers are no longer “under law”. Where there is no law there is no sin. This is a wonderful reality!
This is the Gospel news that believers need to bring to a world that needs to be reconciled to God.
The world is full of unsaved people who do very good deeds. Whether he realizes it or not, every time man shows love to another, he is fulfilling the Law. It does not matter if the person is saved or not. Unsaved man has the ability to show love to others just as much as one who is saved. But it is not that expression of love that saves. It is not a fulfilling of the Law that saves. For even though an unsaved man might obey the Law of Love, he is still condemned because he is still “under law”. That is the whole point.
Man does not have a “sin problem”. He has a relationship to the Law problem. This is why Jesus said to Nicodemus, “Ye must be born again.” The exhortation to you, dear brother in Christ, is this: Go out this day and show forth your love to God and others. You are God’s righteous child. Pursue obedience and fulfill the Law of Love!