In Exodus 20, we are shown a glimpse at the character and will of God. It is in the 10 commands given to God’s people that we see the abstraction of what it means to be in harmony with God, or to “walk with God” as Enoch did. God condenses His requirements into 10 easy to follow precepts, which can certainly be expanded, if need be. For instance, in Matthew 5, Jesus says that anger is the root cause of murder, so if we are angry without cause, this is just as bad as killing. In the same chapter, Jesus makes reference to the Law, and says that “until heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled” (Matthew 5:18). In the previous verse, Jesus also says that he is not come to destroy the Law, but to fulfill it.
Fulfillment of the Law in this case means the simple fact that in keeping the Law of God, we are in harmony with Him, just as Jesus was in harmony with Him. Fulfillment also means that all things concerning Jesus are done, including his second and third coming, and the establishment of the Kingdom. Jesus didn’t say that keeping the law alone will lead to salvation, but he did say that unless we are righteous, even more so than the scribes and Pharisees, we will in no case enter heaven. Jesus sees righteousness as a pre-condition to being saved, though not on its own merit, because the scribes and Pharisees were righteous, yet they rejected Christ. In looking at this subject, we have to discuss the notions of justification, sanctification, and glorification. We must address these subjects in the correct order and context, lest we be led astray into error.
Justification is the concept of salvation, or redemption, from the sin to which we are slaves, which can only be achieved through the blood of Jesus. I can honestly admit that I am a slave to sin, and that, just like Paul, I mean to do good in my mind, yet sin has a hold on me and my body always desires evil. Justification simply means that this burden of sin can be taken off our shoulders and placed on the cross. Jesus died and shed his blood so that I would no longer have any guilt regarding my sinful nature. Jesus died for my sins, so that Satan can no longer accuse me. This is also called salvation by grace through faith, the free gift offered to all. Being justified means that God, through Jesus and the Holy Spirit, imputes His righteousness to me, not of any merit or work of my own, but only by the sacrifice of Jesus and His blood. Once I realized that, it was a simple transition to the next step. It is important to notice that the Christian conversion does not stop with justification. Accepting my sinful nature and recognizing that Christ died for my sins is only the beginning of the change process.
Sanctification is the next step in this process and is the work of a lifetime. Sanctification starts with understanding that Jesus died not only for me, but as me, so that my sinful self can die for him so that he may live in me and through me. You see, justification only addresses the guilt portion of sin, but does not offer any solution as to how to eliminate sin from my life. It’s all well and good to know that Jesus died for me, but that is only a fact, not a solution. Sanctification means that I have to die, symbolically, be born again in the water, and allow Jesus to live through me. This means that I give him complete control over my thoughts and actions, and I allow his righteousness to be manifested in my life. While justification is an action that I can control, my only control of sanctification is the allowance of Jesus to live through me. This step is symbolized by the baptism of water, where I symbolically die and a new me is born. The new me is actually not me at all, but a representation of Jesus, because my actions are not my own, but his.
Sanctification can also be defined as righteousness by faith. The Pharisees of Jesus’ time were believers in righteousness by works, and Jesus rebuked them many times for this attitude. How can sinful man declare himself righteous just because he follows a set of laws? The Law is not there to define what is righteous, but exists to facilitate the judgment. If there is no law, there is no sin, for sin is the transgression of the law. If there is no sin, then the sacrifice of Jesus is meaningless. We must in fact go even further than the Law, just as Jesus showed us, and we can only do that by Jesus living in us and through us. This not something that can be achieved through our own power. We only have the power to accept the gift of salvation and invite Jesus into our lives. The majority of the actual work is performed by Christ.
The last part of this narrative is glorification, our translation into our new bodies at Christ’s second coming. Righteousness by faith is the only thing that will bring us into the Kingdom of God. The works of Jesus through us are our only salvation, and we cannot claim any of it as our own, for it is him that does the good works, not our sinful selves. In the book of Revelation, there are two instances where the Law of God is referenced. In chapter 12, verse 17, the remnant believers are those who “keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ”. In chapter 14, verse 12, those who overcome the tribulation of the last days are those who “keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus”.
In other words, we cannot even dream about glorification unless our lives are first justified, then sanctified. Is this perfectionism? In a way it is, but it’s important to note that after justification, everything else is on Jesus. I can never claim perfection, but I can claim that Jesus lives through me, and that allows my actions to be good. The only limitation is that we still have a fallen body, which means that sin is not completely gone. However, this also means that we will recognize sin much more readily, and will be able to repent of it in a much more constructive way. Repenting doesn’t mean saying you’re sorry, then doing the same thing again. Repenting means to change, a real action on our part. This change can only come through the promptings of the Holy Spirit and Jesus living through us.
In closing, I’d like to leave you with a few questions. The verses in Revelation point to a group of people who are measured by their faith in Jesus and by keeping the commandments of God. Are you one of these people? Do you keep every commandment of God? If not, why not? How do you justify knowingly trespassing the commands of God?