The using of the phrase ‘the righteousness of Christ’ in relation to justifying righteousness is a mainstay of serious preaching today: the line being that ‘Christ kept the law for us’ throughout his lifetime, thereby ‘weaving a robe of righteousness’ to impute to us. This doctrine is presented in addition to the fact that the blood of Jesus Christ shed upon the cross ‘cleanseth us from all sin’. So we are saved and justified by ‘Christ’s doing and dying’.
Now the latter part of this teaching is, of course, irrefutable: a substitutionary sacrifice; the just for the unjust: ‘this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins’, Matt. 26:28, ‘being now justified by his blood’, Rom. 5:9. How can we who, upon heartfelt contrition and confession of sin, deny the efficacy of the blood of Christ – and Peter calls it ‘precious blood’ – as by it we have been washed from our sins, Rev. 1:5; having been given grace to ‘believe on the Lord Jesus Christ’ unto salvation, Acts 16:31 – which faith ‘purifies the heart’, Acts 15:9; as the Spirit has borne witness with our spirits that we are the children of God, Rom. 8:16; and as our consciences have been purged from dead works to serve the living God? Heb. 9:14.
But this preaching of what is, in effect, a legal righteousness for justification, by Christ keeping the law for us throughout his earthly lifetime, is nowhere to be found in scripture. For among all the things that Christ is said to have done ‘for us’, not once are we told that he ‘kept the law’ for us. He ‘fulfilled the law’, which is something different, as we shall see; but even then it does not say that he fulfilled the law ‘for us’.
In the apostles’ doctrine we are told of many things that Christ did do ‘for us’ – for his people; but that they are all centred upon the work of the cross and thereafter; it truly being a substitutionary work. So we are told that having loved us he gave himself for us, Eph. 5:2,25, and was delivered up for us, Rom. 8:32; upon the cross he suffered for us, 1 Peter 2:21, 4:1, and being made sin for us, 2 Cor. 5:21, was made a curse for us, Gal. 3:13. Christ gave his life and laid it down for us, John 10:11,15, 1 John 3:16; as our Passover he was sacrificed for us, 1 Cor. 5:7, and as such died for us, Rom. 5:8, 1 Thes. 5:9,10. Therefore he hath obtained eternal redemption for us, Heb. 9:12, has entered into heaven, Heb. 6:20, and appears there in the presence of God for us, Heb. 9:24, and there, to this day, maketh intercession for us, Rom. 8:34, Heb. 7:25. In all this he is said to have consecrated a new and living way for us, Heb. 10:20.
What a Saviour! What substitution! Can we not say, ‘The LORD hath done great things for us; whereof we are glad’? Psalm 126:3. But no, not once, are we told that Christ kept the law for us. Scripture doesn’t even give witness to the idea that the Saviour was under the law as his rule of life at all, let alone that he brought in justifying righteousness thereby. On the contrary, as we shall see, Jesus was a man who lived and walked solely by faith; the complete opposite way of life to living under the law.
‘Faith in’ or ‘Faith of’?
Before we come to expound these things using only scripture, as opposed to men’s theological traditions, I want to relate something of how I came to understand and believe them. I was first alerted to this subject many years ago when I was still using the New King James Version of the Bible. Having believed the lie that the Authorised Version was ‘old fashioned’, ‘hard to be understood’, and had been well replaced by the modern versions, going through a number of them I had finally settled on the NKJV. But when I was awakened to, amongst other things, the doctrine of the purity of every word of God, Prov. 30:5, and as I began to read writers who used the AV, I bought one and started to compare it with the NKJ, ‘just to see how the AV put it.’
And it wasn’t long before this one phrase in the AV began to trouble me: ‘the faith of Jesus Christ’, because the New King James had ‘by faith in Jesus Christ’. In the latter, in Galatians 2:20, for instance, I was reading Paul confess, ‘I live by faith in the Son of God’, whereas the AV read, ‘I live by the faith of the Son of God.’ Again, in Philippians 3:9, I was reading in the NKJ, ‘but that which is through faith in Christ’, while the AV was rendering Paul’s words, ‘but that which is through the faith of Christ.’ Then finally in Romans 3:22 I was reading the modern version’s ‘even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ’, when Paul actually wrote, ‘even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ’, AV. And for some reason this difference troubled me, for, although it was seemingly very minor: ‘faith in’, ‘faith of’, I perceived in my spirit that there was a vast difference in meaning.
Was Paul living by his own faith or by the faith of the Son of God? Was the righteousness of God brought in by Christ’s faith or by our faith in him? It’s not that I knew the answers then, or even understood what the difference between the two might mean; I had not long been awakened myself; all I had was a longing to know the truth. At length it was this one point which caused me to abandon the New King James Version, and finally embrace the Authorised, (although I came to realise that the NKJ is deficient and in doctrinal error in other aspects as well, cp. Romans 1:16 and Revelation 19:8 for instance; surely enough to reject it).
The clear inference, nay, more, the actual teaching of the apostle in these verses is clear – in the AV at least: Jesus Christ was a man of faith: he walked by faith, and upon the cross, and there alone, he procured the righteousness of God for his people by faith; fulfilling the law – the sacrifices, etc. – in the breaking of his body and the shedding of his blood. It was by the faith of Jesus Christ that our justification was secured and not by our added faith in him. If the NKJ translation is correct in Romans 3:22 then Christ procured nothing in his death: it’s our faith which procures everything, which is vile stinking Arminianism. But no. Justifying righteousness was brought in ‘through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus’, ‘through his blood’ alone, just like Paul said, Rom. 3:24, 5:9, and that without any hint of Christ having being a vicarious law-keeper throughout his lifetime.
Now, up till then I had never heard or read anyone who was stating that Jesus had been a man of faith; and still to this day I have never heard a man stand in a pulpit in any of the churches or chapels I’ve attended say it either. I have heard one or two state rather vaguely, but with little elaboration, that Christ was ‘faithful to his Father’, but that is about it. I did once ask a minister, ‘Did Jesus walk by faith?’ to which he just replied, ‘Oh, I don’t know. I’ve never really thought about it!’ – and that was the end of the conversation. But at length I did come across one preacher who asserted that yes, indeed, Christ was a man of faith: that he walked by faith, he offered himself upon the cross in faith, and, Praise be unto God! he brought in the righteousness of God by faith – just as Paul said. How wonderful it was to have another testimony to that which I was beginning to think must be true – by a simple reading of the scriptures – but was, until then, afraid really to believe because no one else seemed to be preaching it.
Therefore I want to affirm, from the testimony of scripture, that Jesus Christ was a man of faith; he walked by faith – well, being a son of Abraham how else could he have walked? – that the law was not his rule of life, and that it cannot be said that he ‘kept’ it either for himself, or for any one else. And I would beg my reader to examine carefully the testimony of scripture which proves these things to be so. I know that it is a long entrenched ‘reformed’ statute that ‘Christ kept the law for us’, which many ‘good men’ have believed and preached – although not by revelation; but my only appeal must be to scripture, and to the testimony which the Holy Spirit inspired the apostles to write down in their doctrine.
The Faith of Jesus Christ
Having touched on this subject in one or two of my other articles on this site – not least in ‘Not of Works’, I now want to expound it more fully. First of all I want to show that the scriptures clearly reveal Jesus to have been a man who walked by faith. And if you think about it, if we can show this, then for that fact alone Jesus could not have been under the law, for ‘the law is not of faith’.
The opening testimony of Jesus Christ in the New Testament – Matthew 1:1 – is that he was ‘the son of David, the son of Abraham.’ Now although, after the flesh, this was true, as Matthew is writing ‘The book of the [natural] generation of Jesus Christ’, it is also true that the phrase ‘the son of Abraham’ is synonymous with ‘the son of faith’. Paul declares in Galatians 3:7 that ‘they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham.’ Jesus said that whereas Abraham’s seed after the flesh sought to kill him, Abraham’s children ‘do the works of Abraham’, cp. John 8:31-40. And what are these works? They are to believe God when he speaks, to believe him when he promises, and then to obey and walk according to those words and in the light of those promises; as it is written, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness’, Rom. 4:3, Heb. 11:8; cp. also John 8:56 and Gal. 3:8.
When Abraham ‘believed in the LORD’, Gen. 15:6, it was a justification by faith alone, for it was before circumcision, and hundreds of years before the law was given. Therefore it was a justification purely of faith, having no relation to the law whatsoever. Jesus therefore as ‘the son of Abraham’ was a man who ‘believed God’ and brought in justifying righteousness solely by faith, and not by the works of the law: just as scripture says: Rom. 3:21,22, Gal. 2:21.
We must understand that to believe God is the same as having faith in God. The man Christ Jesus believed his Father in everything that he said. Moreover he trusted his Father in all that he commanded him, and totally committed himself to his Father’s will and word: ‘I have not spoken of myself; but the Father which sent me, he gave me a commandment, what I should say, and what I should speak. And I know that his commandment is life everlasting: whatsoever I speak therefore, even as the Father said unto me, so I speak’, John 12:49,50.
This corresponds with Jesus’ statement that the words that he speaks are ‘spirit and they are life’, John 6:63. He came to preach the gospel to the poor: the gospel of their salvation; and every word that he uttered he’d received by commandment of the Father. But Jesus didn’t speak to all: that is, he didn’t reveal his saving doctrine to every one who conversed with him. In fact at one point he rejoiced in his spirit when he saw that ‘these things were hidden from the wise and prudent’. The rich young ruler didn’t hear ‘the gospel’ from Jesus because he wasn’t in need of salvation; he just got ‘the law’ – which he was quite happy to receive. But then when Jesus told him to do something which only those saved under the gospel could obey, his legalistic mentality – not to say his pride – was exposed and he went away sad; and, notice, Jesus just let him go.
No saving revelation was permitted to the eyes of the proud blind who said, ‘We see.’ Before Caiaphas, the chief priests and the elders Jesus mostly ‘answered nothing’: ‘he opened not his mouth’. Why didn’t he answer Pilate with ‘words of eternal life’ when he asked, ‘What is truth?’ Because it wasn’t the Father’s will and therefore not his command that his Son should speak and enlighten the governor.
Again, why did Luke record in one place that ‘the power of the Lord was present to heal them’, 5:17, if Jesus was always able to heal? Because it obviously wasn’t always the will of the Father that his Son should heal the sick and forgive their sins. If it was then that statement is made redundant. So there must have been times in Jesus’ ministry when the power of the Lord was not present to heal. And how did he know? Such was his close communion with his Father that he always knew his will. These are all examples of Jesus speaking and working only in accordance with the will of the Father – the very essence of a life of faith.
Ultimately, Jesus can be said to have been a man of faith because he ‘pleased God.’ Enoch, who also walked by faith, had had this testimony before him, ‘that he pleased God’, Heb. 11:5. This the Father bore witness on more than one occasion regarding his Son: ‘This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased’, Matt. 3:17; 17:5. Jesus himself also declared the same in John 8:29, ‘I do always those things that please [the Father].’ And the doctrine regarding pleasing God is that ‘without faith it is impossible to please him’, Heb. 11:6. Therefore Jesus must have been a man who walked by faith, and therefore not by the law.
‘Behold, he prayeth’
This being so then we should see ample evidence in the life of the Saviour which proves beyond doubt that he was a man of faith: which of course is what we do find. In one chapel I used to attend we were often told that the first sign of faith in a man is that he begins to pray: witness Saul of Tarsus in Damascus: ‘Behold, he prayeth’, Acts 9:11. If that is true then Jesus was a man of faith for he was nothing if not a man of prayer! Before he chose out twelve specific men from among his disciples, whom he also named apostles, ‘he went out into a mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God’, Luke 6:12,13. But why pray? And that so purposefully? Because he needed to know his Father’s will concerning the matter.
One of the foremost aspects of prayer is the seeking of the will of the Father, discerning that will when it is revealed, and seeking submission to that will when it is perceived that obeying it is going to cost. And so it was here with Jesus. Judas Iscariot was among the disciples and Jesus knew that he was to be ‘one of the twelve’ and what should come later: ‘have I not chosen you twelve, and one of you is a devil?’ John 6:70. Are we to suppose it was a light thing for Jesus to take Judas into his inner circle when he knew what would befall him at his hand? But it was the Father’s will, and Jesus always did those things that pleased his Father. So after praying all night and gaining submission to his Father’s will, he chose ‘Judas Iscariot, which also was the traitor’, Luke 6:16.
Some might be alarmed at the thought of Jesus seeking submission to the will of the Father. Surely he was God manifest in the flesh and was never at odds with his Father, and never betrayed the fact that he had his own will, a will independent of the Father? Well, go to the Garden of Gethsemane and hear him there. Praying again, nay, earnestly beseeching his Father in prayer, he said, ‘Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine be done’, Luke 22:42. Or again, Mark records the blunt request of Jesus to his Father which tells of the Son’s real desire – his will – there and then, for the cup to be removed: ‘Abba, Father, all things are possible unto thee; take away this cup from me: nevertheless not what I will, but what thou wilt’, Mark 14:36 – no nonchalant acquiescence there. And Matthew shows us the struggle, and then the submission, in recording two of Jesus’ utterings in the Garden. First, ‘O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.’ And then, secondly, notice the quieter tone of resignation: ‘O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done’, Matt. 26:37-46.
These prayers in the Garden show that Jesus did indeed have a will of his own: ‘my will.’ They show that he was a man who had begun to feel in his soul the enormity of what was about to take place upon the cross, and who therefore ‘began to be sore amazed, and to be very heavy.’ The man was ‘in agony’: his ‘soul was exceeding sorrowful, even unto death’; and now that his time had indeed come – was at last upon him – the full horror began to dawn in the depths of his humanity, and he was overwhelmed by it. Now the time of teaching the people was ended. There were no more miracles and healings to work; no more ‘escaping out of their hands’; no more parables to tell to keep his saving doctrine from the blind; no more explaining those same parables later to his own who would see; all this was finished, and now ‘the hour is come’, and the man in the Garden was overwhelmed by it.
Now this is not to say that suddenly Jesus desired to flinch away from what he came into the world to accomplish; or that he found in his own will thoughts and desires rise up which put him at odds with his Father; God forbid. Jesus remained God manifest in the flesh, he was sinless and could not sin, he and his Father remained what they had always been: ‘one’. But here we see the man, Jesus of Nazareth, born of Mary, a real and actual human being, instantly coming to terms with the feelings that engulfed his body, mind and soul, because he was about to be not only beaten, scourged and nailed to a cross, but more, he was soon to be made sin, and bear away sins: experiencing the fiery wrath of almighty vengeance and pure, holy, justice upon those sins ‘in his own body on the tree’: his very soul was about to be made an offering for sin! Can we conceive of or imagine such a thing! And perhaps the worst thing of all for him was that he was going to be forsaken of his Father.
So in that instant when he cried, ‘Take away this cup from me’; it was not in sinful rebellion but in the engulfing pain born of the thought of separation from his Father, and in instant human felt horror! Can we not allow a real man to experience real horror? But immediately, despite everything, in immediate submission and in faith, trusting himself totally into the hands of his holy, just, wise and good Father, whose will he knew to be perfect, and in accordance with that will he said, ‘Nevertheless not my will, but thine be done.’ And this is faith; yea, it is FAITH. In the light of this please see Psalms 16 and 22: these words – the complete Psalms – are spoken by Christ in the context of his Passion, and they are full of the language of faith. Selah.
‘The trial of your faith’
Now, can we not bring in here, in principle, 1 Peter 1:7, ‘the trial of your faith’? Jesus is said in Hebrews 4 to have been one who ‘was in all points tempted [tried] like as we are, yet without sin’, and that he ‘is touched with the feeling of our infirmities.’ Surely he cannot have been touched with our trials to sin, rebel, disobey God, and walk contrary to his will; less still to break the law to which he – like his people in him – was not subject; so his ‘trials in all points… like as we are’ must refer to his trials of faith, like as we have seen in the Garden. And there is evidence of this too. In his constantly obeying his Father and continually and immediately keeping his own will in check – and that in thought as well as in word and deed – he often felt the ‘trial’ of being in a world full of sin and sinners: ‘O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I suffer you?’ Matt. 17:17. How long? How long! How this cry of the Saviour echoes those of the psalmist and prophets – and of the LORD! – of old, Psalm 74:8-10, 1 Kings 18:21, Num. 14:11, Jer. 23:25,26, etc.
During the arrest in the Garden when one of his disciples ‘took up the sword’ to defend him, Jesus said, ‘The cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?… Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels?’ He could have done, but didn’t. But then, he couldn’t have done, for it wasn’t the Father’s will that he do so. Can you not hear the submission in the Saviour’s voice to the will of his Father, and also the trial of faith it caused him in carrying it out, as his nearest and dearest failed to understand what was going on?
This illustrates clearly why Jesus was ‘a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief’, Isa. 53:3. Every child of God, led of the Spirit, walking on that narrow way of true faith which leadeth unto life – as his experience relates to the trouble of sin and the effects of sin in the world around him – will experience in his measure sorrow and grief. And Jesus is acquainted with that grief and sorrow, and ‘sympathises’ or ‘suffers with’ his people – the literal translation of ‘touched’ in Heb. 4:15.
Furthermore the word ‘acquainted’ in Isaiah 53:3 simply means ‘to know’, and that intimately. Jesus’ ‘grief’ was not something he felt ‘every now and then’, perhaps when he was tired or when the disciples hadn’t shown enough faith and understanding; no, Jesus knew grief intimately and continually: it was his constant companion: he was a man ‘of sorrows’. Why? Simply because his being ‘holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners’ in his very being, and coming into this world of pollution and sin from the realms of holiness – yea out of very deity – would ensure that grief and sorrow would abide with him all the way. And what of his sorrow over the blindness and rebellion of ‘the people of God’? how it moved him and broke his heart, Luke 19:41-44, Matt. 23:29-39.
And it is the same with the children of God, in whom dwells the same Spirit, cp. Acts 7:51-53, Phil. 3:17-19. Therefore when the child of God sighs amidst sin, corruption, and ‘the wages of sin’; when he grieves over the fallen state of the professing Christian church, and its carelessness regarding the truth; when he suffers ‘the contradiction of sinners against himself’; the opposition, scandal and hatred of these who have no love for the truth; when he suffers persecution for righteousness’ sake, for Christ’s sake and the gospel’s; and when he looks up and longs to be gone to glory where his Saviour is, where his heart is; he then experiences something of that sorrow and grief which the Saviour experienced to the full; and as our faith is tried and tested, he comes alongside and helps us in our infirmities, for he understands, having suffered the same things. Oh, make no mistake, the Saviour knows all about the trial of our faith.
Just think about it for a minute, child of God. When you cry to the Lord in your trial of faith does he ever reply, ‘I’m sorry, but I just don’t know what you are talking about’? No. Then he is fully acquainted with this trial of faith.
So we go back to the Garden. What victory those prayers of ‘my servant… in whom my soul delighteth’, Isa. 42:1, wrought! Just witness the victory as he stepped forward to meet his captors: ‘Jesus therefore knowing all that should come upon him, went forth, and said unto them, Whom seek ye?… I am he… let these go their way’, John 18:1-12. So then how this word was proved: ‘The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much’, James 5:16. Oh, the righteous pray; and those of faith pray; and Jesus prayed; therefore he was a man of faith. And what law – if he was supposed to be keeping the law for us – was he keeping in praying like this?
‘Not under the law’
So as the Lord Jesus was a man who walked by faith then, obviously, he was not under the law. To say that Jesus of Nazareth lived his life under the law as his ‘rule of life’; that he was constantly keeping it for others, or that he was subject to it at all, is clearly contrary to the testimony of scripture.
The law of Moses, remember, didn’t command faith, it only commanded works: ‘Do this, and thou shalt live’; and there is nothing in the New Testament to show that Jesus lived according to this rule. Some will immediately point to Galatians 4:4, where Paul says that the Son was ‘made of a woman, made under the law’, and say that this proves that Jesus was under the law as his rule of life. But all Paul is saying there is that Jesus was made, came into the world, into a nation and a family which was under the law: he was made under it, but it doesn’t say that he lived according to its precepts. No; it was Joseph and Mary who were under the law; that is why they circumcised the child when he was eight days old, and gave the sacrifice of two young pigeons according to the law; it was they who were obeying its precepts not Jesus, Luke 2:21-24.
Do we honestly think for one moment that ‘God manifest in the flesh’ held Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy, Thou shalt have no other gods before me, etc. constantly before his face, and kept himself from breaking them every day, so that he could gradually weave a robe of legal righteousness to cover our lawbreaking! Surely not. Jesus calls his people to follow him, and they are to walk by faith, not by the law.
In fact, where is there one incident of the Lord Jesus acknowledging the law in his walk at all? The law was not made for a righteous man, least of all for this Righteous Man, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, 1 Tim. 1:9. Many scriptures, like Luke 1:35, Acts 2:27, 3:14, Hebrews 7:26, and Luke 23:41, declare plainly the holiness of Christ’s very person and nature as well as the character of his life. Paul in Galatians states that the law was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come, Gal 3:19; ‘the seed’ here is Christ, verse 16. What transgression was Christ guilty of to have the law address him until he – the seed – should come? Christ wasn’t under a law which led to himself! What need had he for forgiveness? It’s all sheer confusion.
The Lord Jesus never made a righteousness by the works of the law. By the deeds of the law shall no flesh be justified. How could Christ work an ‘everlasting righteousness’? Paul says that Christ himself is the end of the law for righteousness; not ‘the works of Christ keeping the law for us’ is the end of the law, Rom. 10:4. Christ brought in justifying righteousness by the blood of the cross, and that by faith; and not by a supposedly wrought ‘righteousness of Christ’, which he formed gradually through thirty-three years of law-keeping. He is our righteousness, 1 Cor. 1:30, his very Person is made unto us righteousness, and that ‘without the law.’
How can one keep the law for another and count it to the behalf of a transgressor! A broken law cannot be covered by a kept law! The breaker of the law must be punished. If I am caught driving at twenty miles an hour over the speed limit I cannot plead before the judge that at the same time my friend was driving behind me at ten miles an hour under the limit, and expect the judge to count his driving legally to my account and therefore let me off! If I could then ultimately no law breaking could ever be punished, for every time someone was caught transgressing they would just bring someone else forward who hadn’t been doing the same thing! Likewise, Christ cannot stand before the Father with a kept law – and therefore with no need of the shedding of blood – and count the sinner righteous, which is what substitutionary law-keeping suggests happens.
Paul says that if righteousness comes by the law then Christ is dead in vain, Gal. 2:21. If Christ’s legal ‘righteousness’ up to the cross covered our law-breaking, then what sins were there left for him to bear in his own body on the tree? His ‘robe’ was already covering us and hiding our transgressions. No, but justifying righteousness can only come ‘by his blood’, ‘through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus’, a work wrought at the cross alone as the Lamb slain, and not just as a perfect but, as yet, unsacrificed lamb. Even under the old covenant the lamb – although spotless – was nothing for salvation until it was sacrificed and its blood shed.
Again – and this is an absolute statement: ‘For by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified’, not by our works, nor by Christ’s, but by his blood which he shed by faith, Gal. 2:16. The apostle John in Revelation 7:13,14 tells of those whose robes have been made white – robes – how? by ‘the blood of the Lamb’, not by his works of the law. And later he writes of the saints’ fine linen, clean and white’, which the corrupt New King James tells us came into being by ‘the righteous acts of the saints’, Rev. 19:8, that is, ‘by works of righteousness which we have done’, contradicting its own translation of Titus 3:5, and overturning Romans 10:1-4. But their fine linen is in fact ‘the righteousness of saints’, which is the righteousness of God imputed to them by the shedding of the blood of the Lamb.
And then there is Joshua the high priest in Zechariah 3. The key to his being rid of his filthy garments and being clothed with change of raiment was that his iniquity had passed from him, how? Well, there is nothing in the text which indicates that it was by the imputation of a legal righteousness; indeed the words of the LORD, ‘I have caused thine iniquity to pass from thee’ are almost identical to the words he spoke to Isaiah in 6:7 of his prophesy; and what was the cause of that prophet’s iniquity being taken away and his sin purged? The application of a live coal from off the altar – the place of sacrifice! So Joshua’s transformation – his justification before God – could only have come by a blood sacrifice. If we go all the way back to the beginning of time we will find that Adam’s shame was only covered as the result of the death of another, Gen. 3:21.
This really is the heart of the matter, and the point which destroys this idea of Christ producing a legal righteousness for us. A justification by works of the law really destroys the atoning sacrifice of Christ on the cross. If we are covered by a legal righteousness then what need of Christ’s death at all? There were no sins to be seen, as already covered; his people had no broken law charged to their account as their substitute had already ‘kept it for them’, and clothed them with his fully-wrought and legally perfect righteousness.
Now there is no doubt that Christ was ‘the righteousness one’, the spotless Lamb of God who, as sacrificed only, could take away the sin of the world. Though he was without sin there was nothing saving in and of himself until he was sacrificed and his blood shed for the sins of his people. Therefore it is only the blood of Christ which brings in justifying righteousness; hence Paul’s, ‘For I determined to know nothing among you save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.’
Christ fulfilling the law
Now we come to consider Christ ‘fulfilling’ the law as opposed to him ‘keeping’ it. In Matthew 5:17 Jesus said that he came to fulfil the law. But when people quote this verse they think it means that he came to obey all the precepts of the law – as one under that law – and that he obeyed it ‘for us’. But to say such a thing is to go far beyond the words of the text. And anyway Jesus said also in the same sentence that he came to fulfil the prophets as well: ‘Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.’ (Remember also that it is ‘the law and the prophets’ who bear witness to Christ bringing in ‘the righteousness of God without the law’, Rom. 3:21.) Confusion arises here because of a wrong understanding of the term ‘Christ fulfilled the law.’ So what did the Saviour mean by these words?
Well he simply meant that when he died upon the cross, and not before, he fulfilled the law in all the types, shadows and figures which pointed to him as the one true sacrifice for sin. Consider the tabernacle and all the various sacrifices and offerings which God gave and showed to Moses; regarding the place and the way in which the LORD should be approached, only by the shedding of blood. Christ fulfilled the law in that all those sacrifices pointed to him and to his once for all sacrifice upon the cross. Up till then the people had to bring sacrifices constantly to the priests for the forgiveness of sins, but now ‘once at the end of’ what turned out to be the old covenant dispensation, God sacrificed his Lamb to end all sacrifices. And Jesus’ death upon the cross – his broken body and shed blood – was that one sacrifice which for ever ‘finished the transgression’ of his people, which ‘made an end of their sins’, which ‘made reconciliation for their iniquity’, and which brought in ‘everlasting righteousness’ unto them – even the very righteousness of God itself: and all by the shedding of blood. There is no hint in all this of Christ keeping himself from breaking the law of Moses day by day; but of his dying the just for the unjust to bring them to God! Dan. 9:24, 1 Peter 3:18.
What does the LORD say from heaven? When I see the blood I will pass over you; not, when I see a law-abiding life I will pass over you. Thus when Christ said, ‘It is finished’: the blood was shed, the body broken, the life given; then, and only then, was the law ‘fulfilled’.
In this also Christ ‘magnified the law and made it honourable’, Isa. 42:21; in that he justified and upheld it and all its sacrifices – that the death of an innocent must occur for the putting away of sins, whether we like the thought of it or not; that it must be answered in judgment; and that, although he was without sin and had never committed one sin, yet he met the guilty verdict, was made a curse, and took the just punishment of the law for his people when he was ‘made sin for them’ – when his soul was made an offering for that sin, and when he bore their sins in his own body on the tree.
Make no mistake sinner, the law must bring you in guilty and condemn you for your sins; salvation cannot be at the expense of magnifying the law and making it honourable. God will not ‘just’ forgive sins; there has to be a death sentence pronounced, passed, and carried out. This is the wonder of Christ’s substitutionary sacrifice for his people. He upheld and met the strict demands of the law in suffering their sentence for them. So it is not until Christ was upon the cross that he came ‘under the law’ – though not for himself, but as his people – and by his broken body and shed blood, alone – which he nevertheless offered by faith – he ‘magnified the law and made it honourable’, and became ‘the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth’.
Again in Matthew 5:17 the Lord Jesus said that he came to fulfil the prophets. All that the prophets spoke and wrote of Christ and his coming came to pass in Jesus of Nazareth. Really, all the way through from the prophecy in the Garden of Eden regarding the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman, to all the prophecies of John the Baptist in the wilderness, all were fulfilled in the Lord Jesus. The prophets spoke of his coming, his birth, his life and ministry; of his death and resurrection; of his ascension and seating at God’s right hand; and Christ fulfilled the prophets in every detail. This then is ‘fulfilling the law and the prophets’.
The Righteousness of Christ
In the light of all this then it is not surprising to find that, despite its frequent use in pulpits, the phrase ‘the righteousness of Christ’ doesn’t appear once in the whole of the New Testament; the Spirit simply does not inspire its use at all in the apostles’ doctrine; whereas ‘the righteousness of God’ is used consistently. Indeed, the first thing Paul says of ‘the gospel of Christ’ in Romans chapter 1 is that it reveals ‘the righteousness of God’, not ‘of Christ’, verses 16,17. But although this is the case, some will still reply that as Christ is God then in effect when Paul wrote ‘the righteousness of God’ he really meant ‘the righteousness of Christ’. But surely this is to charge the Holy Spirit with loose inspiration; if he meant ‘Christ’ he would have moved the apostle to use that very word.
For instance, as Paul is expounding the doctrine of the gospel he refers to ‘the righteousness of God’ twice in Romans 3:21,22, and in direct relation to justifying righteousness: ‘But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; even the righteousness of God by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe.’ But if we were to be looking for Christ keeping the law for us, to justify us; and if that righteousness was then to be called ‘the righteousness of Christ’, then the apostle would have written something like this: ‘But now the righteousness of Christ is manifested by the law – although nowhere witnessed by either the law or the prophets – even the righteousness of Christ by the works of Jesus Christ.’ But surely the two thoughts are diametrically opposed. If words mean anything – and surely the Spirit does choose his words carefully, then these things must be noted.
Another reference used to ‘prove’ Christ’s legal obedience is Romans 5:19 were we read of ‘the obedience of one’, and the previous verse where we have the phrase ‘the righteousness of one’ – although the margin changes the latter to ‘by one righteousness’, giving it a completely different meaning. But either way there is nothing in these verses that refers to Christ’s obedience to the law, as neither was Adam’s ‘disobedience’ of verse 19 under ‘the law’, for that law did not come in till 430 years after Abraham! Why is it that people can only equate ‘obedience’ with law! The highest and most glorious obedience in the new covenant is the ‘obedience of faith’, Rom. 16:26, and surely Christ brought in ‘the righteousness of God’ at the cross ‘by faith’, Rom. 3:21, Gal. 2:16.
But let us look a little closer at this obedience of Christ. In Philippians 2:8 we read that he ‘became obedient unto death’; while in Hebrews 5:8 it is written of him that ‘though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered’ – what a deep and profound statement that is. And what obedience was this? And obedient to whom? To Moses? Jesus himself tells us to whom he was obedient: ‘Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father’, John 10:17,18; then not a legal obedience.
Take another place where ‘the righteousness of God’ is written: Philippians 3:9, and the context. Here Paul has expressed his desire to ‘know Christ, and be found in him.’ And would that not be the natural desire of one who had been apprehended of Christ; who had counted all things that were once gain to him as loss for Christ; and who rejoiced in ‘the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord’ for whom he had suffered the loss of all things? But then in the midst of all this desire and testimony regarding Christ by name, when Paul speaks of the righteousness that so attracts him, it is ‘the righteousness which is of God’ specifically and not ‘the righteousness of Christ’; and, consistently with other scriptures, he declares that the righteousness of God is found only ‘through the faith of Christ’, as he says, ‘…that I may win Christ, and be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith…’, Phil. 3:8,9. So then if Paul had desired ‘the righteousness of Christ’ surely he would have said so.
Did Christ ‘keep the law’?
This question now arises in the light of the contention thus far that Christ did not ‘keep the law for us’. As there is no scriptural proof that he did; and as it is evident that the Lord Jesus actually walked by faith, then has it not become obvious that he did not keep the law at all? It has. And there is evidence from the accounts of his life in the Gospels to show that he didn’t.
First of all let us consider the sabbath. Whatever happened to ‘Remember the sabbath day to keep it holy’ in Jesus’ walk; for he not only broke the weekly sabbath but ordered others to do likewise. You don’t believe it? Well, just listen to the testimony of the Jews and of those greatest of legalists, the Pharisees; they’ll confirm what I’ve said. Just read John 5:1-18. It was the sabbath day, and Jesus, finding the impotent man by the pool of Bethesda, asked him if he would be made whole. When the man told him that he had no man to help him Jesus said to him – commanded him – to ‘Rise, take up thy bed, and walk’. And as soon as the man did so they both broke the sabbath – see verse 18 – for, as the Jews rightly said to the man, ‘It is the sabbath day: it is not lawful for thee to carry thy bed’. But it was Jesus who had told him to do so!
Then there was the time when Jesus and his disciples were walking through the corn fields on the sabbath, ‘and his disciples plucked the ears of corn, and did eat, rubbing them in their hands. And certain of the Pharisees said unto them, Why do ye that which is not lawful to do on the sabbath days?’ Luke 6:1,2. Can you hear those words again: ‘not lawful’? What do they mean? Not according to the law – against the law! But Jesus nowhere rebukes his disciples’ law breaking. But you might say, Ah, but this was the disciples’ law breaking not his. All right, just read on in the same chapter.
‘And it came to pass on another sabbath’ – do you notice from the gospel accounts how Jesus was intent in ‘working’ on the sabbath? – ‘that he entered into the synagogue’ – ready to work again, not only on the sabbath but ‘in chapel’ as well! – ‘and taught: and there was a man whose right hand was withered. And the scribes and Pharisees watched him, whether he would heal on the sabbath day – ‘not lawful’! – that they might find [righteous legal] accusation against him’, Luke 6:6,7. And of course the Lord Jesus did heal the man and thereby broke the sabbath – the sabbath of the legalist. So much then for Exodus 20:8-11 being ‘kept’, let alone ‘for us’.
Then take the incident of the leprous man. In Matthew 8 he came to Jesus – in all his legal uncleanness – and said to the Lord that if He was willing he believed that He could make him clean. And Jesus was willing; and he did make him clean. Now Jesus could have spoken the word only, as on other occasions, and the leprosy would have left him; but in this instance he didn’t; no, Jesus touched the leper – and touched him deliberately. But according to the law Jesus would now have been unclean himself until the evening of that day; and would have to have washed his clothes and bathe in water: but there is no indication from Matthew 8 that he did ‘keep the law’ in this respect, cp. Lev. 15:7.
And the same is true regarding Jesus’ touching Jairus’ daughter, Luke 8:54; and the young man’s bier – coffin, Luke 7:14; under the law he would have been unclean, cp. Numbers 19:11-13. But again there is no evidence that Jesus kept the precept of the law in this regard. Some might say, Well of course he didn’t have to keep the law here for he was raising them from the dead, was performing miracles of healing and so, as one who wasn’t defiled thereby because he was holy, he didn’t have to follow the law in these instances. Exactly!!! Exactly!!! Thank you for confirming that Jesus was not subject to the law! The law – by your own admission – was not made for a righteous man but for sinners! – just like the apostle said, 1 Tim. 1:9.
So now we have the combined testimony of the Jews, the scribes and the Pharisees, and of the reader’s own reasoning based on a plain and honest reading of scripture, that the Lord Jesus was a man who was not under the law; and therefore he didn’t keep it himself, nor did he keep it for anyone else.
Now what has become of Christ’s supposed wrought robe of legal righteousness? It is destroyed; for offending in but one part of the law is to be counted as being ‘guilty of all’, James 2:10. Now where is your justifying righteousness if you believe Christ kept the law for you? You are left absolutely naked.
But as it is impossible to say that the holy, harmless, undefiled, Lamb of God was guilty before God in his daily walk then the only conclusion we can come to is that he wasn’t under the law at all, didn’t come to keep it, didn’t produce a ‘righteousness of Christ’ by his daily obedience to it, and so didn’t weave a robe of righteousness by it. Instead, the Lord Jesus walked by faith, and so brought in justifying righteousness – even ‘the righteousness of God’ – by faith alone, and by his blood alone; just as the apostles’ doctrine declares. Therefore it must be this doctrine which the early disciples ‘continued steadfastly in’, Acts 2:42. Then how far from the purity of the doctrine of the early church has the latter day professing church fallen.
‘These all died in faith’
So now having established that the Lord Jesus walked only by faith and not by the law, we should see the same walk in all those others who ‘pleased God’; both the old as well as the new covenant saints. And of course this is what we do find.
The Lord Jesus is nothing less than ‘the Author and Finisher of faith’, Heb. 12:2, and the ‘great cloud of witnesses’ – old covenant saints all – to a man and woman lived and walked only by that faith and not by the law. Even Moses – by whom the law came – was himself a man who walked by faith. What did he think of ‘the law as a rule of life’ when he came down the mount with the newly given Ten Commandments and saw the sin – the idolatry – of the people before his eyes? He smashed the tablets to pieces!
All you have to do is read Hebrews 11 to discover a catalogue of saints who lived purely by faith without the law: verses 4-29 all record ‘by faith’ long before the law was given. And what of all those who came afterwards in the old covenant? Did Jericho fall by the law or by faith? Which commandment was Rahab keeping when ‘she hid the messengers, which Joshua sent to spy out Jericho’, and when she bound a scarlet thread in her window to the saving of her house? Joshua 2, Hebrews 11:31 and James 2:25,26 all show the harlot to have been a woman of faith. By the way; what of her ‘bearing false witness’ of Joshua 2:3-6? I don’t remember reading that Joshua took out the tablets of stone and with frowning face order her to bring a sacrifice for her sin.
And what of David? Was he walking by Moses or crying out in faith when he said, ‘O Lord, open thou my lips, and my mouth shall show forth thy praise. For thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise’, Psalm 51:15-17. No amount of legal obedience would have given peace to the man to whom Nathan, by the LORD, had said, ‘Thou art the man’, 2 Sam. 12:1-13; indeed, where is David’s sacrifice – law-keeping – that brought about the ‘putting away of his sin’ of verse 13? It just isn’t there.
And what about David’s Son who said the same in Psalm 40: ‘Sacrifice and offering thou didst not desire; mine ears hast thou opened: burnt offering and sin offering hast thou not required. Then said I, Lo, I come, in the volume of the book it is written of me, I delight to do thy will, O my God: yea, thy law [not Moses’ law] is within my heart. I have preached [not wrought] righteousness in the great congregation [of those who live and walk in the faith]: lo, I have not refrained my lips, O LORD, thou knowest.’ And whose righteousness does he then go on to speak of? Not ‘my’ righteousness, but ‘thy righteousness’ – the righteousness of God! Then ‘above when he said, Sacrifice and offering and burnt offerings and offering for sin thou wouldest not, neither hadst pleasure therein; which are offered by the law; then said he, Lo, I come to do thy will, O God. He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second.’ And how is the first covenant taken away and the new established? By Christ keeping the law for us? Never. Never. ‘By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all’ upon the cross! ‘But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever…’, Heb. 10:4-12.
Time and again the salvation of the people of God is declared to be by the blood of his cross; by the sacrifice of himself; which offering was made by the Lord Jesus in faith: ‘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’, Gal. 2:16. I don’t think it could be more clearly stated.
The faith of God?
I would like to finish here with another thought: and that is to consider the faith of God himself. In Ephesians 2:8-10 we read that salvation is by grace through faith; which faith is not of ourselves but is ‘the gift of God’. Therefore if God has faith to give then I believe that he has some knowledge of it in his own experience. Again, if the Lord Jesus is the Author and Finisher of faith then the Godhead must know of faith in practice. Would Jesus have exhorted his disciples to ‘have faith in God’, or, margin, ‘have the faith of God’, Mark 11:22, if both he and the Father knew nothing of it themselves? Jesus only ever exhorted his disciples to walk in a way that he himself had walked: in the way of faith and obedience to the Father.
So if faith is God’s to give, then what does he know of it himself? Well, was he not totally satisfied in the work of his Son upon the cross? He was. Let us go back into those realms where the eternal covenant was formed in the Godhead – Father, Son, Holy Spirit – before the world and time began. The Father covenanted to send the Son into the world to save his people: the Son covenanted to come, accomplish and finish this work which the Father gave him to do: and the Spirit covenanted to come thereafter and apply that finished work of salvation in those people. Therefore the plan of salvation in all its aspects has been exclusively of God from all eternity.
But although the plan and purpose of salvation was from all eternity – and because God is God indeed, and nothing he purposes will be frustrated or fail – still, the blood remained to be shed upon the cross, in time. But what confidence the LORD had in this yet to be accomplished sacrifice: just listen to Isaiah 53:10,11: is this not the language of pure ‘faith’ and ‘believing’ on the LORD’s part? Is this not him looking ahead to the coming of the Son, ‘my righteous servant’, who shall ‘justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities’? Oh, there is glory here if we would receive it:
‘Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied…’ What assurance, what faith is manifested in those words of the LORD!
Not only does all our hope for justification rest in the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus upon the cross; but all of God’s hope for justifying us rests upon Jesus’ sacrifice upon the cross as well. Both God and his people look to and meet at – exclusively – the shed blood of the Lamb as the only means of their justification and salvation. God cannot save any other way; and you cannot be saved any other way. So in this respect the LORD can be said to have ‘faith’. He looked forward into time from eternity and wrote in his book of life the names of those he was determined to save solely upon the belief and assurance that the Son would ‘finish the work which he gave him to do.’
I know this is not an aspect of the doctrine of Christ which is often brought out, but it is nonetheless true for all that. The trouble with us is that we only equate ‘faith’ and ‘believing for salvation’ as something pertaining to the sinner alone. But as the above shows God also ‘believes’: he believes in his Son and the work of his Son to save – his blood, after all, is the blood of the new covenant, which ratifies that covenant, and therefore secures the salvation of his people; and his death – the death of the testator of the new covenant – is that which releases the promised eternal inheritance to all the chosen seed.
And then whose ‘faith in his blood’ is Paul writing of in the following verses? I remain to be fully persuaded that it is not the faith of God himself: read it carefully, and in context: ‘Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; to declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him that believeth in Jesus’, Rom. 3:24-26. Only in that last phrase is the faith of the believer specifically mentioned. Before that, and all the way through that extract, the subject of Paul’s doctrine seems to be God himself: his grace, his redemption, his setting forth, his propitiation, his righteousness, his remitting of sins, his forbearance, his justification… so why, in the midst of it all, can’t it be ‘his faith in [Christ’s] blood’ as well?
I leave all these things to the thoughtful reader to ponder over.
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Afterthought: The Gospel Standard Article 7
As I was once a member of the Gospel Standard denomination – where I first heard that Christ kept the law for us – I have looked again, since finishing this article, at their Seventh ‘Article of Faith’ which speaks of justification, to remind myself of what it actually says, and to see whether it justifies the idea that Christ kept the law for us. Here it is in full:
‘We believe that the justification of God’s elect is only by the righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ imputed to them, without consideration of any works of righteousness, before or after calling, done by them; and that the full and free pardon of all their sins, past, present, and to come, is only through the blood of Christ, according to the riches of his grace.’
The Article is accompanied by a series of scriptural references which have been used to back it up.
It is immediately interesting to find that no, indeed, nowhere in this Article is it stated that Christ ‘kept the law for us’; neither does it actually say that our justification is by the blood of Christ, but our ‘pardon’ only. Our justification is only by the unscriptural phrase ‘the righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ’ imputed to us. These two parts of the statement – separated by the words ‘and that…’ – regarding, i) our justification, and, ii) our pardon, are both accompanied by the word ‘only’, making them each an absolute statement: thus it seems that according to this GS Article justification is ‘only’ by the righteousness of Christ, while pardon is ‘only’ by the blood of Christ. This is what the Article says.
As to the scriptural references given to qualify the Article, none of them actually refers to a ‘righteousness of Christ’, only to ‘the righteousness of God’, Rom. 3:20-27, 2 Cor. 5:21, Phil. 3:9; or of righteousness being found ‘in the LORD’, Is. 45:24. Nevertheless they do point to Christ himself, and not any wrought righteousness of Christ, as being our righteousness, Jer. 23:6, Rom. 10:4, 1 Cor. 1:30. Finally they also quote Acts 13:39, which states that by Christ – obviously referring to his work upon the cross, cp. verse 38 – ‘all that believe are justified from all things, from which we could not be justified by the law of Moses’. Did you notice that last phrase? ‘from which we could not be justified by the law of Moses’ !
Therefore nothing I have written in my article above contradicts the scriptural references the GS have used to justify their Article.
I leave these things, too, for the thoughtful reader to ponder over.