A sermon by Dr Donald T. Williams - donaldtwilliams.com
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Presented at Trinity Fellowship on 05/04/1997
For the last four months we have been studying the Law of God. We have seen its requirements, their implications, and their application; its wisdom, its equity, and its righteousness; its breadth, its comprehensiveness, and its depth; its purity, its inwardness, and its practicality. We have seen the absoluteness of its demands. And we have seen, with more clarity after each of our glimpses, the utter impossibility of our keeping it whole and entire in all our thoughts, words, and deeds--and consequently, the utter impossibility of our being saved by our own efforts to keep it, by our works. By itself, it leads only to guilt, frustration, and despair. But that is why it is such an effective Schoolmaster to bring us to Christ.I. THE LIMITATIONS OF THE LAW
The Law has shown us our limitations, but in so doing it reveals its own. It brings us to a point, but then takes us no further. It shows our need, but makes no provision to meet that need. It defines our problem, but offers no solution to that problem. It gives us a map to show us our destination, but it is not a vehicle to get us there. It is like a mirror to shave by, but leaves us without a razor to shave with. It is salt to inflame our thirst, but it has no water to quench that thirst. It is essential but inadequate; necessary but not enough; indispensable but insufficient. Taken by itself, it simply leads us to Rom. 7:24 and leaves us there: "Oh, wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?"
In specific doctrinal terms, what exactly can the Law do and what can it not do? First, THE LAW CAN IDENTIFY SIN, BUT IT CANNOT ERASE SIN. If God is God, then He is just as absolute in justice as he is in knowledge, power, and eternity. Therefore, sin must be punished: "The wages of sin is death." Our first need therefore is to have the slate of charges against us wiped clean. But while the Law can point out those black marks that stand against us, it cannot remove them. "Oh, wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?"
In the second place, THE LAW CAN INSTRUCT US IN RIGHTEOUSNESS, BUT IT CANNOT ENABLE US IN RIGHTEOUSNESS. Not only do we have a need for forgiveness, for pardon , for justification, which the Law can alert us to but cannot meet; we also have a need after that for renovation, so that we become not just forgiven but also become positively and actually righteous. And the Law cannot achieve that either. God is not satisfied merely to forgive you, to justify you; He wants to transform you, renew you, so He can use you. That is why He has predestined believers to be "holy and blameless before Him in love" (Eph. 1:4). If you are a Christian, that is your destiny: not just forgiveness but holiness, not just to be pardoned but to be blameless. The two terms are complementary. Blamelessness is negative--to be without blame, i.e. to be innocent, not guilty. Holiness is positive--it is to be like God, like Christ, keeping his Law not outwardly but from the heart. You cannot know God without the clean slate; you cannot serve Him without a heart which is being cleansed daily. So for the Christian life, the Law is indispensable: it keeps us from setting our sights too low. But it is absolutely incapable of hitting the target it aims for. Alone, it leads us only to despair. "Oh, wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?"
Now, we must feel the frustration of trying to live by the Law before we are ready to hear the liberating message of Grace. (For the Law, read also human effort.) Only when we see with crystal clarity the depths of our need and the impossibility of its attainment, only then will we be ready to hear the Good news of the Gospel, the message of Grace: "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and as an offering for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh in order that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit."II. THE PROVISION OF GRACE
What the Law could not do, God through His Grace has done and does do: He gives us both a clean slate (justification) and a clean heart (sanctification). Freeing us from the burden of having to keep the Law as an external code in order to earn salvation, Grace makes it possible for us to keep it as an act of love flowing from the heart in gratitude for the salvation we have received as a free gift. How exactly does this work?A. THE CLEAN SLATE (Justification)
God through his Grace has "condemned sin in the flesh." Condemned here means not "denounced" but "passed sentence against." Because He died as our Substitute, the Lord Jesus Christ is considered by God to be guilty of our sins, and they are therefore punished in full in Him on the Cross. On that basis, you are considered and pronounced innocent, and your slate is wiped clean. If your are a Christian, your sin has already been punished in full in Christ on the Cross. Therefore you can never be punished for sin again for all eternity! Since that sin has already been punished in full, it would be unjust for God to do so. In a wonderful irony, God's Justice, the very reason you had to fear Him, becomes the very foundation of your confidence, if you are in Christ. Therefore--therefore--there is and can be no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus! Do you feel your chains falling off?B. THE CLEAN HEART (Sanctification)
Justification by faith alone is essential to the Christian life; it is the heart of the Gospel. It gives you the clean slate that the Law could never have given. But it is not the end of the Christian life; it is only the beginning. Now, set free from the condemnation, the curse, the burden, and the bondage of the Law, we are free to walk in the Law by walking according to the Spirit.
Justification does not depend on keeping the Law. It is all of Grace, God's unmerited favor, a free gift accepted by faith. But while Justification does not depend on keeping the Law, it is the key to keeping the Law. How can this be? The natural man sees Justification by Faith Alone as a license to sin with impunity, for salvation no longer depends on our keeping the law. But actually, Justification by Faith creates the possibility of keeping the Law for the very first time. That is exactly what Paul claims here: Sin was condemned, i.e., judged, sentenced, so that the requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us.
Now, this is the crux. How is the clean slate the key to the clean heart? How is the "no condemnation" for us resulting from the condemnation of sin in Christ the key to the requirement being fulfilled?
Here is how it works. My guilt is a barrier to fellowship with God. It makes it impossible, unthinkable, for Him to have anything to do with me except as my Judge. But when I come to Christ in faith and accept His work on the Cross as having been for me, then that guilt is removed, the slate is wiped clean. I am still by nature a sinner (though a new nature has now also been implanted and is growing), but I can now have fellowship with God again because I now appear with that clean slate. Another way of saying it is that I now appear dressed, not in my own righteousness (those filthy rags) but in the white robes of Christ's righteousness. In my self I am still a sinner (though now forgiven). But in Christ I am already righteous, my righteousness, my holiness, my godliness, is no longer coming from me but from Him.
The point is that this restores my relationship with God, not now as Judge but as Savior, Redeemer, Father, and Friend. In Christ, through Christ, because of Christ alone, I now have fellowship with God as my Father. I can now "walk with God," and this unleashes the inner dynamic which can give me both the motivation and the power to keep the Law from the heart out of love--something I could never have done before no matter how hard I tried. Do not be confused by the phrase "walking according to the Spirit." Remember who the Holy spirit is: the personal Agent and Representative of Jesus Christ, who keeps us in touch with Him in this age when he no longer walks the earth.
The key to the Christian life then is simply walking with Jesus. What does this mean? Don't try to make it complicated. Just think about the process of walking with someone. It requires a constant adjusting of pace and direction for you to stay together. If you both simply walk ignoring each other, you soon end up very far apart. Usually we unconsciously and tacitly agree to let one partner set the pace; as long as he keeps it within our capacity, then, we match it. Why? Because we want to be with each other, to stay together. We aren't consciously thinking about adjusting our pace (which would become very tiresome). We do it effortlessly because what we are focused on is the loving fellowship we are having with our hiking partner. Well, in this relationship Jesus sets the pace. Therefore, the Christian life is simply a day by day, hour by hour, STEP BY STEP surrender of your will to His. It is not a psychological trick. He is really there, within us through His personal Emissary the Holy Spirit. Justification by Faith allows Him to be; that is why it is so important. And since He has already kept the Law perfectly from the heart, as well as bearing the penalty of our not having done so, as long as we walk with Him, we will be keeping it too.CONCLUSION
This conscious, deliberate, and eventually habitual surrender of our will so that we may keep pace with the Savior and Friend of Sinners that we love is often called "the deeper Christian life." It is no such thing. It simply is the Christian life; anything less is sub-Christian. It is one of the chief reasons for wanting to be a Christian in the first place--not just to escape punishment but to enjoy this walk that was enjoyed by Adam and Eve in the cool of the day before the Fall. And if you have accepted Christ as your personal Savior and Lord, you will never be happy until you begin to live it.
Here endeth the lesson. Dr. Donald T. Williams