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Doers of the Law

Posted Jan 27, 2014 by Colin Nicolson in Everlasting Gospel
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One thing I have discovered over the years is that it is just too easy to blur the distinction between faith and works and that is just how Satan wants it. Some passages in the Bible seem to make it so clear and then others seem to muddy the waters.

For example, here are two texts that appear, on a first reading, to be in conflict with each other.

Romans 2:13  For not the hearers of the law [are] just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified.

Romans 3:20  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.

One is saying that only those who do or keep the law shall be justified and the other is saying the doing or keeping the law will not bring justification. How are we to make any sense of this?

We will look again at Romans 2:13.

For not the hearers of the law [are] just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified.

Here we have an unqualified statement from the apostle. The doers of the law shall be justified. This statement is positive and it is emphatic. And why wouldn’t it be so? God’s law is God’s righteousness. Keeping it is the whole duty of man according to Solomon in Ecclesiastes 12:13. So, if a man does his whole duty and is a partaker of the righteousness of God, can he be condemned? Not according to what we just read in Romans 2:13. The doers of the law shall be justified, it says. That is unequivocal. Wherever in the universe a being is found who is a doer of the law, that being is just in the sight of God. Consider Adam before he sinned. Up to that point, Adam was just in the sight of God because he was a doer of the law.

Does this mean then, that a man can be saved by his own works? Absolutely not. To understand the text then, we need to understand what doer of the law means. And to understand what doer of the law means we will turn to James 2:10, 11.

10   For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one [point], he is guilty of all.

11   For he that said, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill. Now if thou commit no adultery, yet if thou kill, thou art become a transgressor of the law.

So here is the meaning. If I keep 9 of the commandments perfectly and offend in 1 only, it can be truthfully said that I almost kept the law. But being an almost doer of the law is not being a doer of the law. We just saw that the apostle Paul said that doers of the law shall be justified, not almost doers of the law. There is no justification promised for an almost doer of the law. It is only promised for a doer of the law.

Some people think that this is unfair and unjust. Where is it unjust? It is simply a statement of how it is. Note here that James does not say that he who breaks just one commandment is as guilty as he who breaks all 10. There are degrees of sin. However, it is a universal truth that he who has broken one commandment has broken the law and it is just as impossible for the law to justify him as it would be if he had broken every commandment. So a doer of the law must keep all of the law.

Think about it this way. I am in the city and come to a “don’t walk” signal. I look around. No cars are coming. No policeman in sight so I cross over against the red signal. In the eyes of the law, the only difference between doing that and killing someone is the magnitude of the crime. In both cases I am guilty of breaking the law. Likewise, if I am prepared to wilfully violate one of God’s commandments, it does not matter which one I break as I have put my will above God’s will just as I put my will above the government’s will in crossing against the red signal. I have shown contempt for the Lawgiver and thus I am guilty of breaking God’s law. That is what James 2:10, 11 is saying.

So when we consider the fact that each one of God’s commandments reaches right to the thoughts and intents of the heart, it gives us some idea of what it means to be a doer of the law. It is much more than a dogged determination to keep a commandment when otherwise we would break it. It is more than doggedly keeping a commandment because it is the “right thing to do”. A doer of the law loves to keep the law because it is God’s law, it is God’s righteousness, and not because it is a set of rules that must be obeyed.

Now, if anyone harbours a thought that surely there might be one person who is keeping the law, here is a passage that will soon dispel any such idea.

Romans 3:9-19

9     What then? are we better [than they]? No, in no wise: for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin;

10   As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one:

11   There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God.

12   They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.

13   Their throat [is] an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps [is] under their lips:

14   Whose mouth [is] full of cursing and bitterness:

15   Their feet [are] swift to shed blood:

16   Destruction and misery [are] in their ways:

17   And the way of peace have they not known:

18   There is no fear of God before their eyes.

19   Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.

There we have the true position of the natural human heart. There we have a very dismal assessment of humanity and in that light it is easy for us to understand why Paul added the next sentence.

20   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.

Now we can see why there is no conflict between Romans 2:13 and Romans 3:20. One states the plain universal fact that the law will justify all doers of it. The other one says, with equal certainty, that no one can be justified by the doing of the law because the condition of humanity is such that there is no one who is a doer of the law. It is not the fault of the law that it will not justify anybody; it is the fault of man that he cannot be justified by the law.

Let’s suppose for a moment that it was possible for a person to turn around and keep the law perfectly, would that person then be justified? No. Why not?

Remember that Ecclesiastes 12:13 says that the keeping of the law is the whole duty of man. Therefore the law demands that all there is of us, i.e. 100% of us, is devoted to it all of the time, i.e. 100% of the time. It has to be so for anything less is not the whole duty of man. The whole duty of man is all of the man all of the time. This means that if you fall behind in keeping the law, there is no catch up. If it takes all of our strength all of the time, there is no extra strength available for catch up. So we have zero capability of making up for past sins. So no amount of keeping the law perfectly in the future can make up for breaking it in the past.

So, while the law justifies us in the performance of good deeds, it cannot for a single moment justify us for past sins and so it condemns us regardless of how good we might be now. Justification and condemnation apply to our whole lives for keeping the law is the whole duty of man. Regardless of how good we may be for part of our lives, over our whole lives it will be seen that we have not done our whole duty and therefore we stand condemned. A doer of the law keeps 100% of the law for 100% of the time. The law is just and good, and because of that it can never declare a guilty person innocent, regardless of how perfectly that person might be keeping the law at a later time.

So this is a gloomy picture for those who have no hope. The picture is made all the more gloomy by Romans 3:23 which says For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God and also Romans 6:23 which tells us that the wages of sin is death. How many are worthy of death? All, for all have sinned. How many does that leave out? No one – all have sinned. Is the almost doer of the law excluded from this condemnation? No – all have sinned. But in the midst of this gloom, we have hope.

Praise God for John 3:16.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

Who will not perish? Whoever believes in the only begotten Son. So who will perish? Those who choose not to believe in the only begotten Son.

Praise God for Romans 3:24 which says:

Being justified freely by his [i.e. God’s] grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:

How much does being justified cost? Nothing – it is free. Where is redemption? In Christ Jesus – not in us.

Praise God for Psalms 130:7 which says:

Let Israel hope in the LORD: for with the LORD [there is] mercy, and with him [is] plenteous redemption.

Who is Israel? Us. Where do we place our hope? In the Lord. How much redemption has He? Plenty – more than enough.

Now let us have a look at Paul’s wonderful statement about how we may be justified. This statement is very clear once it is understood correctly.

Romans 3:24-26

24   Being justified freely by his [i.e. God’s] grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:

25   Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation [i.e. sacrifice or an atoning victim] through faith in his [i.e. Christ’s] blood, to declare his [i.e. God’s] righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God;

26   To declare, I say, at this time his [i.e. God’s] righteousness: that he [i.e. God] might be just, and the justifier of him [i.e. us] which believeth in Jesus.

Notice in verse 24 that it is by the grace of God that we are justified, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. There is no antagonism between the Father and the Son. Both of them are actively involved in the great work of man’s redemption. It was the death of Christ, inasmuch as Isaiah 53:6 tells us the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all, it was that which made it possible for God to justify those who have faith in the blood of Christ.

Notice in verse 25 that this is not indulgence for sin, nor is it a remission of the law, but it is a remission of sins. The sins are remitted – they are cancelled, they are sent away. By this process, sins are taken from the individual so that he can be counted as though he had never committed them.

Verse 25 also says to declare his [i.e. God’s] righteousness for the remission of sins that are past.

To declare righteousness is to speak righteousness. God speaks righteousness to man and then he is righteous. The method is the same as in the creation in the beginning. Psalm 33:9 tells us, For he spake, and it was. Ephesians 2:10 says, We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works.

Verse 26 is saying that Christ is set forth to declare God’s righteousness for the remission of sins, in order that God may be seen to be just in justifying the sinner. The justice of declaring a sinner to be righteous lies in the fact that the sinner is actually made righteous. Whatever God declares to be so, is so. And so the sinner is made righteous by the life of God given to the sinner in Christ Jesus.

How did Christ declare God’s righteousness? Psalm 40:8 says:

I delight to do thy will, O my God: yea, thy law is within my heart.

1 Peter 2:22 tells us that Christ did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth.

So Christ alone, of all the people who ever trod this earth, He alone could challenge even His enemies to find one trace of sin in His life. In John 8:46 Jesus said to the Pharisees Which of you convinceth me of sin? What was the answer? No one could.

Now, we already know that righteousness is obedience to the law, and it is because of unrighteousness or disobedience to the law that man is condemned. From what we looked at earlier it is evident that if a man’s whole life could be made to appear in perfect harmony with the law, that man would be justified. It is also evident that if the sins of his life could be removed, his life would appear to be in harmony with the law of God.

This is exactly what is done. Christ's righteousness is declared for the remission, i.e. the taking away, of those sins. Just as Christ's life is worth infinitely more than the lives of all the world, so through his death his righteousness may be made to take the place of the disobedience of all those who will have faith in him. So again, there is plenty of righteousness for all of us. Christ’s righteousness will never run out, BUT our time to access that righteousness will run out and that is a sobering thought.

We may think of it as an exchange: Christ takes upon himself all of the sins of our past life, and in return lets His righteousness be counted as ours. When this is done for a man, the law can do no other than justify him. The law demands perfect obedience in the life, and that is what it finds. It does not matter to the law that the obedience which it finds in the man's life is not really his own; it is counted as his own; and since the obedience is perfect, the law cannot condemn him.

We know that Christ suffered the penalty for the sins that the man committed. 2 Corinthians 5:21 tells us that he [i.e. God] hath made him [i.e. Christ] to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him [i.e. Christ]. And 1 Peter 2:24 tells us Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed.

Thus it is that God can be perfectly just and at the same time may justify a man who has sinned. But this can be done only for those who have faith in Christ's blood. That is the key to it. Faith is the most essential ingredient. Remember that faith is expecting the word of God to do what it says and depending upon that word itself to do what the word says.

In an article titled “Christ our Complete Salvation” which appeared in the Signs of the Times, May 30, 1895, Ellen White wrote this:

John said, "We have seen, and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world." The Son of God took upon him human nature,--"the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us." "God was manifest in the flesh." The union of divinity with humanity brings to the fallen race a value which we scarcely comprehend. The human and the divine were united in Christ, in order that he might represent those who should believe in him. He took our nature, and passed through our experiences, and as our representative he assumed our responsibilities. The sins of men were charged to Christ, and, innocent though he was, he engaged to suffer for the guilty, that through faith in him the world might be saved. "We were reconciled to God by the death of his Son." Christ reconciled the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them. O, what compassion and love are here revealed! How is humanity exalted through the merits of Christ! His sacrifice was ample and complete. The Holy One died instead of the unholy. He clothed himself in our filthy garments, that we might wear the spotless robe of his righteousness, which was woven in the loom of heaven. He paid the whole debt for all who would believe in him as their personal Saviour. His blood cleanseth from all sin and purifieth from all unrighteousness. In him, through him alone, we have forgiveness of sins. Through faith in his blood we have justification in the sight of God. {ST, May 30, 1895 par. 4}

Then a little further on she wrote this:

The atonement of Christ was not made in order to induce God to love those whom he otherwise hated; it was not made to produce a love that was not in existence; but it was made as a manifestation of the love that was already in God's heart, an exponent of the divine favor in the sight of heavenly intelligences, in the sight of worlds unfallen, and in the sight of a fallen race. "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." We are not to entertain the idea that God loves us because Christ has died for us, but that he so loved us that he gave his only-begotten Son to die for us. The death of Christ was expedient in order that mercy might reach us with its full pardoning power, and at the same time that justice might be satisfied in the righteous substitute. The glory of God was revealed in the rich mercy that he poured out upon a race of rebels, who through repentance and faith might be pardoned through the merits of Christ, for God will by no means clear the guilty who refuse to acknowledge the merit of a crucified and risen Saviour. It is only through faith in Christ that sinners may have the righteousness of Christ imputed unto them, and that they may be "made the righteousness of God in him." Our sins were laid on Christ, punished in Christ, put away by Christ, in order that his righteousness might be imputed to us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. Although sin was charged to his account on our behalf, yet he remained perfectly sinless. {ST, May 30, 1895 par. 6}

There is God’s pure agape love laid out for us to behold. That is what God did for each of us. That is what His Son did for each of us. Why would someone not believe that God’s love is trustworthy? Surely love like that dispels any and all doubts because how could love like that be anything other than genuine?

Getting back to Romans 3, it must not be forgotten that the remission of which we are now speaking is only of the sins that are past. It is impossible that remission of sins could have reference to anything else, simply because that which does not exist cannot be taken away; and to justify a man for sins not yet committed, in other words, to grant indulgence for sins, would throw contempt on the law, and bring in anarchy and ruin. Furthermore, no sins are remitted, except the sins of those who believe in Jesus. If any are Christ's, they are Abraham's seed says Galatians 3:29, and therefore, with along with Abraham, their faith is imputed unto them for righteousness. Remember that James 2 :23 says:

And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God.

With this in mind we now turn to Romans 3:28 which says:

Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.

This does not in any way mean that the law is ignored, and that a man who disregards the law can be justified. There could be no justification when the law is ignored; because justification has no connection with injustice, and to clear a guilty man, i.e. one who is a violator of the law, to clear such a person is a clear act of injustice.

According to Nahum 1:3, the Lord says that he will not at all acquit the wicked, and He most certainly does not. 1 John 1:7 says the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin. How much sin is that? All, everything. When this is applied to every individual who has faith in the blood of Christ, it frees that person from guilt, and then that person must stand justified. But the person could not be justified if the law was left out of the picture; for justification means "a showing to be just or conformable to law." So the law is needed to give justification its meaning.

The statement that a man is justified by faith, without the deeds of the law, is a summing up of Paul's argument, that no amount of work will have the slightest effect in securing justification by the remission of past sins. That which is done, we cannot undo.

Nothing that we can do can alter the fact that we have sinned. Our past life has been full of sin, and if we want to become free from the guilt of it; what can we do? Even if we were able to keep the law without the slightest deviation, that would not remove a single past sin. We can do nothing but, as Paul said to the Philippian jailer, believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.

Jesus says in Matthew 11:28: Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden [i.e. with sin], and I will give you rest. The blood of Jesus Christ, and that alone, can cleanse from sin. Therefore we are able, along with Paul, to conclude that a man is justified by faith, without the deeds of the law.

We have seen that no work of ours, however perfect it may be, can atone for past transgressions. We have seen that even though we should be able to turn around and keep the law perfectly, that would not remove a single sin. As a matter of fact, however, it is impossible for the sinner to do any good work, because Romans 8:7 tells us that:

The carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.

Galatians 5:17 says:

The flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary the one to the other; so that ye cannot do the things that ye would. No matter how much you want to keep the law, you simply cannot.

This means, of course, while we are serving the flesh, we are without, or out of Christ, i.e. we not in Christ; for Christ says: Without me ye can do nothing in John 15:5.

Christ says in Matthew 15:19 that out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies. These are the works of the flesh (the complete list is in Gal. 5:19-21), and these are what men do by nature. Men may have good desires, but as we just saw in Galatians 5:17, ye cannot do the things that ye would.

The law of God is so extensive and perfect in its requirements that the best efforts of fallen man, unassisted, must fall far short of it. And this thought makes us understand even more clearly the statement that a man is justified by faith, without the deeds of the law or not with his own good deeds; for every act that the man performs before he comes to Christ, no matter how good his intentions may be, only sinks him more deeply in condemnation.

No amount of groaning or tears or works or vows or promises or prayers can atone for sin. And so it is that the sinner, appalled at the multitude of his sins, which seems like a mountain upon his back sinking him into despair, having lost all confidence in himself, having finally understood that nothing he can do will justify him, then may he sing that old hymn,

Just as I am, – without one plea,

But that thy blood was shed for me,

And that thou bid'st me come to thee,

O, Lamb of God, I come.


Just as I am—and waiting not

To rid my soul of one dark blot,

To thee, whose blood can cleanse each spot,

O, Lamb of God, I come.

In 1861, Ellen White had a dream in which her son Edson was very sick and dying. What troubled her most was that she had no evidence that Edson loved God and was prepared to die. Being away from her boys at the time she wrote to them and spelled out how to receive forgiveness. The letter was published in the book “An Appeal to the Youth” on pages 66, 67 and 68. This is part of what she said.

Dear children, this dream has caused me to reflect, and has cast a sadness upon my spirits that I cannot immediately throw off. You are none of you too young to die. Do you understand the plan of salvation? Our sins caused Jesus to die a shameful death, that through his sufferings and death we might receive pardon. Can we receive the forgiveness of sins before we feel that we are sinners? and before we realize the sinfulness of sin? I think not. When we repent before God of our sins sincerely, we shall feel that without the pardoning blood of Christ we must perish. If we cast ourselves in our wretchedness wholly upon the mercy of Christ, and feel that unless he saves us we perish; when we yield our own will, our own way, and plead for Jesus to control our will and actions, then we come into a position where we can receive and appreciate pardon and the forgiveness of sin. {AY 67}

In closing, it is my prayer that each one of us will do as the words of the old hymn says:

Just as I am—and waiting not

To rid my soul of one dark blot,

To thee, whose blood can cleanse each spot,

O, Lamb of God, I come.

That is the response to the invitation of Jesus when He said in Matthew 11:28:

Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

May our response be, “O, Lamb of God, I come”.