“Behold I set before you life and death; therefore, choose life.”
Where the Jews Went Wrong
Contrasting the Jews’ failure to obtain righteousness with the fact of the Gentiles’ obtaining it (Rom. 9:30-10:8), the apostle Paul cited two quotations from the law of Moses. The first quotation by which he illustrated the Jewish pursuit of righteousness, as though a righteous standing were based on works, was from Leviticus 18:5: “You shall therefore keep my statutes and my rules: if a person does them, he shall live by them.”
To illustrate the Gentiles’ attainment of righteousness without even pursuing it, Paul appealed to a passage in Deuteronomy 30:12-14:
For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that you should say, “Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?” Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, “Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?” But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it.
See, I set before you today life and good, death and evil. . .
The problem for the Jewish leaders was that in the person of Christ God was too accessible for them. He was standing on their doorstep and they did not recognize Him. In Christ God was so close that they stumbled over Him! As Paul stated, “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart! (That is the word of faith that we proclaim)” The Jews must certainly have concluded that it had to be harder than that! God surely could not be that accessible. This left no room for the pride of human achievement!-- no space for their tomes of religious tradition! Professionally these Jewish leaders were ruined! Since God’s grace had undercut their system of works righteousness, they were no longer able to hold the common people under a kind of religious tyranny.
Why then was Leviticus 18:5 included in the Law of Moses if salvation was not by works? To be sure, according to God’s administration of the covenant of grace, even under the New Covenant, “the keeping of the commandments of God” (1 Cor. 7:19) was an indispensable condition of eternal life, if by “condition,” we mean “a provision upon which the carrying out of an agreement depends” (Britannica-Webster). Similarly, Abraham was commanded by God Almighty, “Walk before me and be blameless” (Gen. 17:2).
But if eternal life is somehow linked to the keeping of God’s commandments, the ultimate question is how mortal human beings on this side of the Fall can keep God’s commandments? The testimony of both the Old and New Testaments, of course, is that they cannot realistically do so by their own efforts. The entire Old Testament ritual of offerings and sacrifices, as well as the testimony of the prophets, pointed to the necessity of a Mediator to first make propitiation (satisfaction to God) offering perfect obedience by shedding His blood for the transgressions of Adam’s race thereby reconciling men to their Maker. And this is where the Jewish leaders missed the boat. They were spiritually blind but culpably so (John 3:19-21; 9:39-41). When they read Moses a veil lay over their hearts (2 Cor. 3:15).
Whenever a person turns to Christ, the veil is removed (2 Cor. 3:16). At that moment, for the first time, the turning sinner no longer views the law as a means to achieve eternal life or a righteous standing before God by his own personal effort. For in that very instance of turning, he is aware of sins forgiven and life invading his own heart, and it comes as a glorious surprise simply by trusting Christ.
The righteousness that is by faith neither demands that someone ascend to heaven to bring Christ down, nor to descend into the abyss to bring Christ up from the dead. Paul declared, “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is the word of faith that we proclaim)” (Rom. 10:6-8). In other words, the word of faith has already infused the sinner’s innermost being, and he stands ready to confess the Lord Jesus before he fully realizes what has happened to him. The word of the gospel presents a sufficient Christ who has completed his work and has risen from the dead. And while He has no need of our assistance, we are desperately in need of His.
This gospel of divine accessibility is not to be confused with the modern perversion (sometimes known as the “word of faith”movement) which places men under a burden of a positive confession by sheer determination or willpower. The biblical gospel of divine accessibility places the burden upon Christ and pours grace into men’s hearts creating faith by the “implanted word” (James 1:21). The contrived positive confession of the modern perversion, at its worst, puts the confessor in a state of denial since he does not possess the reality which he confesses. Tragically, the movement has simply introduced another gimmick-- a modern “self-help” technique amounting to little more than the old Jewish works error recast in Christian language.
Once a sinner turns from his sin and trusts in Christ, however, and even before he does so (by grace we are saved), there is set in motion a transforming process within him whereby he now takes delight in doing the will of God whose commandments and instruction in the Holy Scriptures are no longer regarded as burdensome to him. A brand new creation, he only wants to please and glorify his Savior who has redeemed him. The law of Christ is literally second nature to him and will bring victory in the midst of his many struggles in subduing the old nature. Christ is able to save to the uttermost accomplishing his purposes through the Holy Spirit who comes to indwell, teach, and guide the one who is born of the Spirit. The believer’s sanctification (growth in holiness and conformity to the image of Christ) will ultimately rise to the level of his justification. Certainly at the appearing of Christ it will be completed in an instantaneous glorification.