Message 10, No Hope without It: The Life of Christ:
God requires us to be holy as He is holy. As sinners, we deserve to be eternally punished for breaking God’s law. To satisfy our guilt before God, we need a substitute not only to die for our sins but also to fulfill the righteous requirements of the law on our behalf. We need a mediator to succeed where Adam failed in keeping God’s commands. In this session, Dr. Steven Lawson details the significance of the active obedience of Christ in His role as the second Adam and explain why there is “no hope without it.”
Well, as we come to this session, we will be discussing the active obedience of Christ. I want you to take your Bibles and turn with me to the book of Galatians, Galatians chapter 4. And the title of the message and the lecture that has been assigned to me is “No Hope Without It,” subtitle, “The Life of Christ.” And this title is drawn from a very famous line in church history that was written by a very distinguished theologian, J. Gresham Machen.
The setting was New Year’s Day 1937, and Machen, who was a great defender of the faith, a guardian of the gospel, who battled against liberalism in his ministry and in his life.
As he came to the end of his life, he was hospitalized because he was so fatigued because he had expended his energy and his life in defending the gospel. And as he lay in the hospital, on his death bed, he dictated a telegram back to Philadelphia to John Murray, the very distinguished theologian. And it was a short telegram, and it simply said, “I am so thankful for the active obedience of Christ. Without it, no hope.” And what Machen was drawing attention to is the necessity of the active obedience of Christ in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
When we think of the gospel, we normally think pretty much exclusively of the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. And without the shedding of blood, there is no remission of sin, and Jesus Christ, by His sin-bearing substitutionary death upon the cross, He propitiated the righteous anger of God toward us, He redeemed us out of the slave market of sin and Satan, He reconciled us to God through the blood of His cross. And the resurrection was the vindication and validation of the sufficiency of that death upon the cross. And in 1 Corinthians 15, verses 3 and 4, Paul states what is the gospel, and he says, “Christ was crucified for our sins according to the Scripture. He was buried and He was raised from the dead according to the Scripture.”
And the resurrection was the vindication and validation of the sufficiency of that death upon the cross. And in 1 Corinthians 15, verses 3 and 4, Paul states what is the gospel, and he says, “Christ was crucified for our sins according to the Scripture. He was buried and He was raised from the dead according to the Scripture.”
But there is more that we must understand regarding the gospel, the euangelion of Jesus Christ. And not only are we saved by the death of Christ, we are also saved by the life of Christ. It’s not either or; it’s both and. And what is needed in this day is for us, I believe, to have a fuller understanding of the gospel, to understand all of its component parts.
And so, in this lecture, what I’ve been asked to address is the active obedience of Christ. It is absolutely necessary. It’s not incidental; it’s fundamental to the gospel. Without the active obedience of Christ — and when I say the “active obedience of Christ,” by that we mean the entire life of Christ lived in obedience to the Law of God. When we say the “active obedience of Christ,” we mean that He was under the Law and that He was obedient to the Law that you and I break every day.
And so, not only did He die in our place, He also lived in our place, and it was His obedience to the Law that is imputed to us in the act of justification by faith, this righteousness that is credited to your account, this righteousness with which you and I are clothed is not a righteousness that God just creates ex nihilo, out of thin air. It is the very practical righteousness that was achieved by Christ as He lived under the Law. It was that righteousness that He secured that is deposited in our account, that is imputed to us in the act of justification.
So the life that Christ lived is just as important as the death that He died for the full gospel of salvation that has come to us. Without the active obedience of Christ, really, the mission of Christ would be a bridge that’s unconnected to the other side. Without the active obedience of Christ, it would be a — His mission of salvation would be a chain with a very weak link that would break.
So, I want to take us to several passages in the time that we have this morning, and I want to underscore for you, from the Scripture, the necessity of the life of obedience that Jesus lived in securing our salvation.
So, in Galatians chapter 4, I want us to look now at two verses, verses 4 and 5. The apostle Paul, as he writes to the churches in Galatia writes, “But when the fullness of time came.” That means that God sovereignly prepared the world stage for Jesus to enter at just the right time to accomplish our salvation. God had set the table religiously, politically, linguistically, on many different fronts, and it was — the time was now ripe. “In the fullness of time, God sent forth His Son.”
Now, watch the next two statements: “born of a woman, born under the Law.” Born of a woman, Paul wants us to know, so that we understand He entered the human race. He stepped into our skin. He began to live as you and I live here upon this earth. He was confronted with the temptations with which you and I are confronted. He was surrounded by all of the hindrances and the obstacles that you and I face as we live here upon this earth. He was born of a woman. He was just like you and me, yet without sin.
Then he adds, “born under the Law.” Why would Paul say this? He was born of a woman, and He was born under the Law. What does that mean, that He was born under the Law? This means that, when He was born of a woman, He was born under the Law with a duty to obey the Law, that He was now accountable to the Law. And the irony is He is the great Lawgiver! He is the One who has issued the Law, and now the Author of the Law assumes a position in a posture of submission and humility under the very Law that He has given, the very Law that is a revelation of His own holiness. And by being under the Law, He is now responsible to obey the Law. He is now accountable to obey the Law.
This is critically important. Otherwise, when Jesus came into this world, He could’ve just gone straight to the cross. There would be no need for Bethlehem, there’d be no need for 30 years in obscurity, there would be no need for three plus years of a public ministry. He could’ve just short-circuited all of that and just gone straight to the cross on Good Friday, and been raised from the dead on Sunday, and then go back to heaven. It could’ve been a weekend accomplishment. Why 30 plus years? What was the purpose of that?
And it was more than simply to be an example to us. It was more than to simply be the greatest Prophet who ever came to be the mouthpiece for the truth of God; it was that, for over 30 years, He was under the Law so that He would obey the very Law that you and I have broken again, and again, and again, and again. And by His obedience to the Law, it would be His perfect righteousness under the Law — the word “righteousness” means “to be brought into perfect conformity.”
It’s like scales. You put a five-pound weight on one side, and you pour out five pounds of flour or grain on the other side and they are brought into perfect conformity. That’s the picture of righteousness. Jesus lived in perfect conformity to righteousness. When we’re weighed in the balances, we are found wanting. And we are spiritual lightweights.
In fact, we are spiritually bankrupt before God. But Jesus’ perfect conformity to every jot and every tittle of the Law achieved perfect righteousness under the Law, and it is that righteousness that is credited to our account when we put our faith in Jesus Christ. Let me tell you, this is absolutely critical. If there is no active obedience of Christ, there is no salvation from Christ. It’s not just His death, but also His life that saves us.
Look at the next verse: “so that.” Now, this introduces an explanation, “so that.” We would say, “Why was He born of a woman? Why was He born under the Law?” Verse 5: “so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.” If He is to redeem us who are under the Law, He Himself must be under the Law, and if He is to redeem those who have broken the Law, He must keep the Law in order to redeem us.
You see, you really are saved by works; it’s just not your works. That’s good news. That’s what the word “gospel” means; that someone else has performed the works for you on your behalf, and not only the finished work of Jesus Christ upon Calvary’s cross, but also the daily work of obedience to the Law of God so that now, as God looks at you, you are clothed with His perfect, practical righteousness. That’s where we begin. He was born under the Law so that He might redeem those that are under the Law; His obedience on behalf of those who are disobedient. That’s very good news.
Now, come to the, the Gospel of Matthew. Matthew chapter 3. And in Matthew chapter 3, Jesus comes to be baptized in the river Jordan by John the Baptizer. And in Matthew chapter 3, and beginning in verse 13, we read, “When Jesus arrived from Galilee at the Jordan, coming to John to be baptized by him.” And John understood. Why would I baptize the sinless Son of God? For baptism is a sign of repentance. So verse 14, “John tried to prevent him.” There should be a role reversal here. “I should not be baptizing you; You should be baptiz ing me!”
Notice what Jesus says in the next verse, verse 15, “But Jesus answered — answering, said to him, ‘Permit it at this time, for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.’ Then he permitted Him.” You see, it was necessary for Jesus to be baptized. He wasn’t being baptized for Himself. He had no sin. He had to be baptized in order to be identified with sinners, to be identified with those who are in need of the message that John was proclaiming. And that message was pointing sinners to Himself. “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”
And Jesus now, as He is being baptized, it is to fulfill all righteousness. But it wasn’t just His baptism to fulfill all righteousness; every moment of every day was to fulfill all righteousness. Every act of obedience was to fulfill all righteousness. Every step of the journey of His life was to fulfill all righteousness. He was obedient where you and I have been disobedient, and it would be His righteousness achieved by His obedience to the Law that will be, or has been, credited to our account as though we have been obedient to the Law the entire time of our life.
While you’re here in Matthew, come, if you would, to Matthew 5 and verse 17. Matthew 5 and verse 17, “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets.” And Jesus needed to say this to the religious community of His day so that He could refute charges that He was a revolutionary, He is here to overturn the Word of God, He is here to overturn the Law of God. No, He’s not here to abolish or to overturn the Law; He has come to fulfill the Law.
So look at verse 17, “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill.” And He fulfilled it in every way. He became the ultimate fulfillment of the entire sacrificial system as He, the Great High Priest, offered Himself up upon the altar of Calvary’s cross. And He became the perfect sacrifice for our sins. Jesus fulfilled every prophecy that was made of Him in the Law. Jesus fulfilled it in His life. But Jesus also fulfilled the moral Law of God.
Jesus loved His Father with all of His heart, soul, mind, and strength. Jesus loved those who were around Him. Jesus honored His father and mother. Jesus did not bear false witness. Jesus did not steal. Jesus did not covet his neighbor’s possessions, etc., etc. Jesus is the only person who has ever kept the Law of God perfectly, not only in action, but also in heart attitude and devotion.
So He makes this very clear statement and then, in verse 20, He says, “I say to you unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” So you must have a righteousness in order to enter the kingdom of heaven that far surpasses even the meticulous attempts by the Pharisees to keep the Law of God. That is why He says, in Matthew 5 and verse 6, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they shall be satisfied.”
We must hunger for a righteousness that is not our own, hunger for a righteousness that Martin Luther says is an “alien righteousness,” is a foreign righteousness, that is outside of ourselves. From whence will this righteousness come that must exceed even the standard of the Pharisees? It comes through Jesus Christ in His perfect obedience under the Law of God to the Law of God.
And while we’re here, look at verse 21. What we note in Matthew 5 is that Jesus is the greatest expositor of the Law. Of course He is! He is the Giver of the Law! “And you have heard that it was, that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not commit murder and whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’ But I say to you…” And as Jesus says this, He’s not giving a new interpretation to the Law of God; He is the giving the one true interpretation of the Law that He intended all along when He first gave the Law. So, “But I say to you everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court,” etc., etc.
And then we come to verse 27, “And you have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’” Jesus is quoting the Law, and He is showing the fallacy of the handling of the Law in His day. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’” and the Pharisees and the religious community of Israel of that day, they thought they were fine because they had not committed the act of adultery. But Jesus will show the true interpretation of the Law. It begins with the heart before it ever comes to the action.
And so He says, in verse 28, “But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” He is the great expositor of the Law. He is the great interpreter of the Law. He understands the requirements of the Law. And He Himself, in His own sinless humanity, being born under the Law, has kept the Law perfectly on our behalf.
Come, if you would, to Romans chapter 5. Romans chapter 5 and verse 12. And any discussion on this subject would have to include this signature text in Romans chapter 5, beginning in verse 12. We’ll look at this rather quickly through verse 19. And Paul’s whole argument here is that, in all of human history, there are really only two people. There is Adam and there is Christ. And everyone in the world is either in Adam or they are in Christ. And they both functioned as representatives of two races of people. And what they did has affected their entire race. You say, “Well, that’s not fair, what someone else did affecting me.”
Well, number one: then just go create your own universe and come up with your own rules. But until you create your own universe and come up with your own rules, this is the way it is. This is reality. We’re, we’re breathing God’s air, we’re on God’s planet, and we’re operating by God’s moral standard. So, accept it. It’s the way it is. And we see in football, for example, one man jumps offside, the whole team is penalized, right? Well, Adam was the representative of the entire human race and whatever he would do would affect you and me.
And Jesus Christ was the representative, not of the entire human race, but of the elect of God, the people of God, all who would put their faith in Him. And what Jesus would do would affect all who put their faith and trust in Christ.
So, beginning, Romans chapter 5, beginning at verse 12, that’s what this section is all about. And it’s been well said, as I start to read verse 12, a theologian can — the value and the quality of any theologian can be determined by how worn out Romans 5:12 is. It’s a very important passage of Scripture. So, “Therefore just as through one man sin entered into the world,” we know who this one man is. It is Adam. He is mentioned twice in verse 14.
So, one man sinned, and it opened the floodgate. One man sinned, and it put a hole in the dyke, and the whole ocean of sin. And the consequence of sin, which is death, entered the human race in epistodic proportions. “Just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin.” “The wages of sin is” what? “Death.” “The soul that sins, it shall surely die,” Ezekiel 18, verse 3. Romans 6, verse 23, “The wages of sin is death.” And what did God say to Adam in the garden? “In the day that you eat of this fruit you shall surely die.” And when Adam ate that fruit, death immediately entered him, and entered into Eve. And he immediately died spiritually.
And there is now a separation between holy God and now sinful man. And when God comes into the garden to look for him, Adam is in a sense of guilt, and he realizes his own shame. And the death process began at that moment, as his body now begins to age. And ultimately, there will be physical death at the end of his years. And if he is not clothed with a perfect righteousness, there will be the second death, which is eternal condemnation in the bowels of hell.
So “just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, so death spread to all men.” His sin and his death have spread to all men. What’s wrong with the world? This is what’s wrong with the world. And then he concludes, “Because all sinned.” And that’s in a verb tense, that when Adam sinned, the whole human race sinned. His sin was imputed to your account as though you were in the garden and as though you had violated the Word of God with your disobedience.
When did you become a sinner? Long before you were born. Over 6,000 years ago. Whatever the age of the human race is, that’s when you became a sinner. And then the sin nature of Adam has been passed down to each generation. That’s why there are babies that die in the womb who have never committed an act of sin. But death has entered into the world and, even before we come out of our mother’s womb, death is already in us. So, Adam’s sin was imputed immediately, instantly to the entire human race and then, subsequently, with each conception, the sin nature passed down to each person. When you enter into the world, the psalmist says, “In sin did my mother conceive me.” “Conceive me” — Psalm 51, verse 5.
And the Bible also says that we went forth from our mother’s womb speaking lies. When? When you went forth from your mother’s womb. That’s why you don’t have to teach a little child how to disobey. You have to teach them how to obey. They already know how to disobey. The whole bent of their nature is toward disobedience because they are in the line of Adam. So John — I mean Paul, clearly establishes this.
At the end of verse 14, note, he says — Well, let me just look at verse 14: “Death reigned from Adam until Moses.” We didn’t have to wait until the giving of the Ten Commandments for there to be sin and for there to be death. There was sin in the garden, and there was sin and death in every subsequent generation that led up to the formal giving of the Law, but God has already spoken commandments and God has already written His Law upon the conscience and upon the tablet of the heart. “Death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offence of Adam.” Oh, they had sinned.
It just wasn’t in direct defiance of God walking with him and speaking to him, as He did in the garden. But now he says, Adam, “who is a type of Him who was to come.” So Paul is making this parallel between Adam and the One who is to come, who is the Lord Jesus Christ. He is a type, he says, of Adam, or a pattern of Adam. There are similarities. What Adam did affected a vast number of people. What Jesus did affected a vast number of people. Both were put under the Law, and both must keep the Law. One will fail, the other will succeed.
And so we read, in verse 15, “But the free gift is not like the transgression. For if by the transgression of the one” — that’s Adam — “the many die” — that would be the entire human race — “much more did the grace of God and the gift of the grace of the one man” — that’s the Second Adam, that’s Christ — “Jesus Christ abound to the many.” And “the many” here refers not to the whole human race — we’re not universalists — but it is only to the elect of God. It is only those who will be drawn by the Spirit of God and birthed into the kingdom of God to believe upon Christ.
And what is interesting, Adam was in a perfect world. He was in paradise and yet he disobeyed. And so that tells us, right there, the problem is not the environment. The problem is not to fix up society and the culture and so therefore everything’ll be fine. No, Adam lived in paradise. He had everything, and yet he failed. Jesus, in the wilderness of this world, obeyed God and triumphed on our behalf.
Verse 16, “The gift is not like that which comes through the one who sinned” — that’s Adam — “for on the one hand the judgment arose from the one transgression resulting in condemnation.” Think about that. One act of disobedience has condemned Adam but has condemned every man and every woman who would ever live in the history of the world.
And the only way we can begin to understand that is to understand just how holy God is. And one breach of His Law demands condemnation and judgment because He is that holy. So, in verse 16, “But — in the middle of verse 16 — but on the other hand, the free gift arose from many transgressions resulting in justification,” which is the forensic declaration of the righteousness of God in Christ to the sinner who believes in Christ — solo fide, verse 17.
And I think what you’re seeing here is, is like two rails on a railroad tracks running parallel, side by side, through this section of Scripture — what Adam did, what the Second Adam did; what the first Adam did, what Christ did.
Now, verse 17, “For if by the righteous, for if by the transgression of the one” — that’s Adam — “death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the one Jesus Christ.” You see, in the middle of the verse, “much more.” I don’t know what translation you have. I hope it has the equivalent of “much more.” Understand this. This is the point of the morning: you gain more in Christ than you ever lost in Adam. And I’m going to explain that in a moment.
Now, verse 18, “So then.” It has a summation feel. Paul’s bringing this down to a bottom line. “So then” — he wants to tie this together — “as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so, through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men.” Now, in keeping the parallelism, there is required explanation. And when he says, at the end of verse 18, “justification of life to all men,” he’s not say — he doesn’t mean “all without exception.” He means all without distinction.
And, specifically, he means all for whom Christ died. He means all who will believe in Christ. He means all who are chosen by God before the foundation of the world. And the other point that needs clarification is in verse 18, when he says, “Through one act of righteousness,” the reference, really, is an entire life of righteousness. And, paraphrased, “What Adam did resulted in this. What Christ has done has resulted in this.”
But now, verse 19, “For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so, through the” — here it is — “the obedience of the One the many were made righteous.” How important do you think the obedience that Jesus Christ is to your salvation? It is critically important, and not just His passive obedience at the cross to voluntarily lay down his life a ransom for many. He says, “I’ve authority to lay my life down. I’ve authority to take it back up again. This commandment I received from my Father.” So, in obedience to the will of the Father, Jesus laid His life down. We call that the “passive obedience” of Christ. And not because, necessarily, He was “passive,” but it comes from “passion.” It was a part of the “passion” of Christ as He suffered, in laying down His life.
But there is also, described here, the active obedience of Christ; not only the final passive obedience, but in an entire life of active obedience to God. Both are necessary for justification. What is the righteousness that has been reckoned to your account by God in justification? It is the righteousness that was achieved by Jesus Christ, in both His life and His death, in both His active obedience and in His passive obedience.
So, let me explain it this way, and we’ll conclude. Adam was placed in the garden. He was at a zero line in his account, a zero balance in his account. He was given one command which was “Do not eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” He was in a probationary period, and if he had kept that commandment then he would have been given a positive balance to his account and he would have been given righteousness. But he disobeyed God and he went from a zero account now to a negative balance; in fact, spiritual bankruptcy.
Unable to work his way out of his bankruptcy — and more than just Adam’s bankruptcy, your bankruptcy and my bankruptcy — we all now have a negative value, a negative balance in the registry of God in heaven. Jesus, when He came into this world, would have to do two things: He would have to not only take us from a negative balance back to zero, but He would have to take us from zero to the positive.
So, by His death upon the cross, Jesus shed His blood and He washed away our sins. And by removing the stain and the guilt our sin, He has simply brought us back to zero. But in order to go to heaven — zeros don’t go to heaven — you’ve got to have positive balance in your account. There must be righteousness put into your account. And that righteousness is the result of the active obedience of Christ.
You need more than your sins taken away. You must have a positive balance in your account; a positive, in fact, a perfect righteousness. Not just a little righteousness. It would have to exceed that of the scribes and the Pharisees. And God, when He weighs you in on His balances, He says in Matthew 5, verse 48, here’s the standard: He says, “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” There’s no grading on the curve. And just one sin would damn your soul forever.
So, by the death of Christ, He has removed sin from us, but by His obedience, there has been the acquisition of righteousness to our account. It’s not either/or; it’s both/and. One deals with the negative, the other secures the positive. It is the death of Christ that removes the negative. It is the obedience of Christ that secures the positive.
So, in order to go to heaven, we are saved by both the life and the death of Christ. We are saved by His sinless life and His substitutionary death. That’s why the 33 plus years. That’s why this didn’t happen on a weekend. That’s why He was born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who are under the Law. That is why He had to fulfill all righteousness. That is why He, as the Second Adam, must triumph where the first Adam failed. And by His obedience, the many are made righteous.
Are you going to heaven? How are you going to get there? Two things are going to have to happen. One, you’re going to have to have your sins removed, because God is a holy God. Habakkuk 1 says He is “of purer eyes than to behold iniquity.” You’re going to have to have your sins removed. But you’re also going to have to have righteousness added. And that righteousness comes through the perfect obedience of Christ on your behalf. You know what I say? Hallelujah, what a Savior we have in the Lord Jesus Christ!
And only the infinite genius of God could have designed this plan of salvation. It is the gospel of God that has come down from God, and only the brilliance and the wisdom of Almighty God could have designed both the simplicity and the profundity of this gospel message. Let us pray.
Father in heaven, how we thank You for Your gospel. How we praise You that it is mighty to save! The chief of sinners, how we thank You for Your Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, how you gave to us the very best and how He was born under the Law to live the life that we have never lived, to keep the Law that we have endlessly broken, and to die the death that we deserve to die. Thank You that He did it all for us. Thank You for this so great salvation.
And Father, for any here today who are in a negative balance before God, who stand condemned and guilty before God because of Adam’s sin and because of their own sin, oh may they flee to Christ! May they run to Christ this very moment, within their own hearts. And may they say to Him, “Have mercy upon me, the sinner.” And “him who comes unto me I will in no wise cast out.” Oh may there be those even here this morning who will embrace by faith the saving arms of Jesus Christ. We pray this in His name. Amen.