The Law Was Not the Gospel for Adam, but Christ’s Satisfaction of the Law is the Gospel for Us

The real point of the law-gospel antithesis is not “conflict”. It is non-identity. The law is not the gospel. The gospel is not the law. The gospel, however, is about Christ’s satisfaction of God’s law for God’s elect. Though law and gospel are not the same thing, they are not opposed because they never claim to have the same function.

Law says what God demands. Gospel says how Christ satisfied that demand for the elect. The law never offered life off probation: only one sin would put Adam and his seed under its curse, and no matter how many acts of obedience to the law, the law could never promise the life of the age to come.

The law-gospel antithesis does NOT understand Romans 10:4 in terms of abrogation. The “end of the law” is Christ completing all that the law demanded, so that there is no remainder left for the Spirit enabled Christian to do. The gospel says DONE. The gospel does not say “to be done by the life of Christ in the elect”.

Christians sin, and therefore their “fulfillment of the law” (see, for example, Romans 13) cannot ever satisfy the law. But the law will not go unsatisfied.

The law, once satisfied by Christ, now demands the salvation of all the elect. God the Father would not be just, and God the Son would not be glorified, if the distribution of the justly earned benefits were now conditioned on the imperfect faith or works of elect sinners. Yes, faith is necessary for the elect, but even this faith is a gift earned by the righteousness of God in Christ’s work.

This is how the law/gospel antithesis explains Romans 3:31. The law is not nullified but honored by Christ. The only way that its requirements will ever be fully satisfied in the elect (Romans 8:4) is by the imputation of what Christ earned. “

If the law were the gospel, even saying that there’s law (in the garden and now) would be “legalism”. But the law is not the gospel and it was never the gospel. Romans 11:5—“So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. But if it is by grace, it is not on the basis of works; otherwise grace would not be grace.”

The legalist identifies law and gospel, and then reduces the demand to including what the Spirit does in the elect. But what God does in us (by grace) must be excluded from the righteousness.

The “covenant of works” theory teaches a ”hypothetical gospel” in which Adam supposedly “could have” earned righteousness for others by keeping the law. One clear way to say that the law is not the gospel is to say that the it was not the gospel for Adam either. But the “covenant of works” is not needed for us to keep the law/gospel antithesis, which antithesis is biblical and important.

Romans 8:3-4 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin,[c] he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
Smeaton, Apostles Doctrine of the Atonement, p 178–”Romans 8:4–That the righteousness of the law would be fulfilled in us. That is so like another expression of the same apostle, that the two passages might fitly be compared for mutual elucidation (II Cor 5:21). This expression cannot be referred to any inward work of renovation; for no work or attainment of ours can with any propriety of language be designated a “fulfillment of the righteousness of the law”.

The words, “the righteousness of the law,” are descriptive of Christ’s obedience as the work of one for many (Romans 5:18). This result is delineated as the end contemplated by Christ’s incarnation and atonement, and intimates that as He was made a sin-offering, so are we regarded as full-fillers of the law…”

Moo comments on 8:4 in NICNT, p482—”Some think that Christians, with the Spirit empowering within, fulfill the demand of the law by righteous living. However, while it is true that God’s act in Christ has as one of its intents that we produce fruit, we do not think that this is what Paul is saying here.

First, the passive verb “be fulfilled” points not to something that we are to do but to something that is done in and for us. Second, the always imperfect obedience of the law by Christians does not satisfy what is demanded by the logic of this text. The fulfilling of the “just decree of the law” must answer to that inability of the law with which Paul began this sentence. “What the law could not do” is to free people from “the law of sin and death”–to procure righteousness and life. And it could not do this because the “flesh” prevented people from obeying its precepts.

The removal of this barrier consists not in the actions of believers, for our obedience always falls short of that perfect obedience required by the law. As Calvin puts it, “the faithful, while they sojourn in this world, never make such a proficiency, as that the justification of the law becomes in them full or complete. This must be applied to forgiveness; for when the obedience of Christ is accepted for us, the law is satisfied, so that we are counted just.”

If then the inability of the law is to be overcome without an arbitrary cancellation of the law, it can only happen through a perfect obedience of the law’s demands. See Romans 2:13 and our comments there.

In the last part of Romans 8:4, the participial clause modifying “us” is not instrumental—”the just decree of the law is fulfilled in us BY our walking not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit”–but descriptive, characterizing those in whom the just decree of the law as ‘those WHO walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” Paul does not separate the “fulfillment” of the law from the lifestyle of Christians. But this does not mean that Christian behavior is how the law is fulfilled….”

Steele and Thomas, Romans: an interpretative outline: “In order to free believers from the guilt or condemnation of sin, God sent His own Son into the world (in a nature like man’s sinful nature, but not itself sinful. See Heb. 2:14-18; 4:15). Christ gave Himself as a sacrifice for sin, and thereby legally put sin away and thus freed His people from its guilt. As a result of Christ’s sacrificial work, the just requirement (demand) of the law has been fulfilled (fully met) in those who are joined to Him. This of course is because of the fact that what Christ did, He did as their substitute or representative, and it is therefore counted (imputed) to them as if they themselves did it. (8:4)

Charles Hodge: one’s interpretation of Romans 8 verse 4 is determined by the view taken of Romans 8:3. If that verse means that God, by sending His Son, destroyed sin in us, then, of course, this verse must mean, “He destroyed sin in order that we should fulfill the law” — that is, so that we should be holy (sanctification). But if Romans 8:3 refers to the sacrificial death of Christ and to the condemnation of sin in Him as the sinners’ substitute, then this verse must refer to justification and not sanctification.”

John Gill: “internal holiness can never be reckoned the whole righteousness of the law: and though it is a fruit of Christ’s death, it is the work of the Spirit, and is neither the whole, nor any part of our justification: but this is to be understood of the righteousness of the law fulfilled by Christ, and imputed to us; Christ has fulfilled the whole righteousness of the law, all the requirements of it; this he has done in the room and stead of his people; and is imputed to them, by virtue of a federal union between him and them, he being the head, and they his members; and the law being fulfilled by him, it is reckoned all one as it was fulfilled in, or if by them; and hence they are personally, perfectly, and legally justified; and this is the end of Christ’s being sent, of sin being laid on him, and condemned in him. The descriptive character of the persons in Roman 8:4 is the same with that in Romans 8:1.”

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9 Comments on “The Law Was Not the Gospel for Adam, but Christ’s Satisfaction of the Law is the Gospel for Us”

  1. markmcculley Says:

    requirement, singular, put 8:4 in the search and find my essay on this blog

  2. markmcculley Says:

    I know that some of this debate is motivated by an agenda to identify the “moral law” with the Mosaic economy and the Ten Commandments. That in itself is no reason to reject the idea that the death forgives and that the vicarious lawkeeping does the positive, but it does always include the question. Which law did Christ keep? Sure, He was born under the Mosaic law? Does that mean that the promise of life is fulfilled in Christ’s keeping of the Mosaic legislation? Or must we say that Christ was on an unique mission from God, in a specific “covenant of redemption”, with duties only given to Him and which could only be done by Him?

    https://matthewtuininga.wordpress.com/2016/06/06/how-should-we-use-the-ten-commandments-in-worship/

  3. markmcculley Says:

    Engelsma–Highlighting the difference between Hoeksema and the men of the Federal Vision is the fact that, although they deny that Adam could have merited higher, eternal life, the advocates of the Federal Vision allow that Adam might, nevertheless, have obtained the higher life for himself and the race by “maturing” into that life through his obedience. Hoeksema would have condemned this notion as heartily as he did the notion of earning. He would have charged that there is no difference between a mere man’s meriting the higher, eternal life by his work and a mere man’s obtaining the higher, eternal life by his work.

    The appeal to Hoeksema’s rejection of the covenant of works by the men of the Federal Vision is mistaken because Hoeksema’s fundamental objection against the covenant of works was different from that of the proponents of the Federal Vision. Hoeksema objected to the notion that Adam by his obedience could have
    earned a higher, heavenly, eternal life. Although Hoeksema couched his objection in terms of Adam’s being incapable of meriting higher life, his objection held against Adam’s obtaining higher life for himself and the human race in any manner whatever. Viewing the covenant with Adam in light of God’s eternal decree to glorify Himself by realizing His covenant in Jesus Christ, Hoeksema insisted that only the Son of God in human flesh could obtain the higher and better heavenly and eternal life for Himself and elect humanity, in the way of His cross and resurrection.
    http://www.prca.org/prtj/nov2006.pdf

  4. markmcculley Says:

    Scott F. Sanborn teaches that Christ’s death is not His righteousness, and that only Christ’s life of vicarious law-keeping life is His righteousness. In this thinking, the death of Christ is not imputed to us, but only the life of Christ is imputed to us. According to this “active/passive”distinction, we don’t receive His death by imputation, and His death is not part of His righteousness. “It is not death that is the ground of life in Christ. Rather, it is the righteous life of Christ that is the ground of our life.
    Sanborn — “God had an end for creating the world apart from the fall and redemption.Jonathan Edwards had this in mind when he wrote his work The End for Which God Created the World…… only the end of creation was revealed in creation, not the end of the fall and redemption. The end of redemption was not revealed in the person of Adam at that time .Adam was not a type of Christ at that time….The infralapsarian position suggests that we cannot assert that God intended to create Adam in such a way as to be a type of Christ later. ”
    http://www.kerux.com/doc/2703A1.asp

  5. markmcculley Says:

    Mark Jones–Anselm argued that Christ, as a rational being, owed obedience to God. But to make satisfaction on behalf of sinners, Christ had to go beyond a life of obedience – he had to die. As the God-man, Christ’s death was therefore supererogatory – a death above God’s requirement of him. His death is superabundant to make satisfaction for sins. Gataker and Vines, for example, used Anselm’s argument to reject the imputation of the active obedience of Christ. Christ’s death was supererogatory and therefore his death merited eternal life. In other words, Gataker and Vines argued Anselm’s point that Christ’s obedience is required, but his death is not required; ergo: only the merits of Christ’s death are imputed to believers, http://www.reformation21.org/blog/2015/04/can-humans-merit-before-god-2.php

  6. markmcculley Says:

    This guy says that being put out of the garden is on the basis of works, and that staying in the garden is on the basis of works, but that getting back into the garden is not on the basis of works. But he doesn’t give any reason for the contrast he assumes. If you confuse law and mercy at the beginning, there is no reason to stop confusing law and mercy later on.

    To compare Adam being put out of the garden to somebody being put out of “the church” or out of “the covenant” is to claim that the punishment for sin is “mercy”. To say that God’s mercy keeps you from breaking the law is not to depend on God’s mercy in Christ.

    To say that Adam already had ‘spiritual life” and that Adam could have and would have earned justification by works is to make Christ plan B. There is no reason to deny that Adam ate from the tree of life before he sinned, but there is also no reason to think that the tree of life was the tree of justification.

    Those who assume that all humans will always exist deny that any humans ever really die. So they deny that being separated from the tree of life is the death which is the wages of sin. They only make a distinction between living in the presence of God, or living in “hell where God is not present”. But this guy knows that ‘returning to the dust” does not mean non-existence but something bad like exile or “spiritual death”

    The next time you hear somebody say that “eternal life” is not about continuing to exist in time but about “quality of life”, ask them why “eternal life” cannot be BOTH knowing Christ and knowing Christ in time forever. A false logic gives us false alternatives.

    http://westsidereformed.org/reflections-on-the-two-trees/

  7. markmcculley Says:

    Tianqi Wu Some are saying two things are needed for righteousness: Christ’s death for sins, and Christ’s law keeping.
    They are saying both are imputed to the elect for righteousness.

    However, in that case, why does not Paul say: if righteousness is through (our obeying) law, then Christ’s law-keeping was needless?
    Consider the hypothetical (actually not so hypothetical) people saying: Christ’s death for our sins made us clean, and but now we need to keep law for righteousness.

    If you believe that Christ’s death for sins only made us clean, but we need Christ’s law keeping in addition to make us righteous, would you answer this hypothetical opponent with “but if righteousness is by your law keeping, then Christ died in vain”, or “but if righteousness is by your law keeping, then Christ kept law in vain”?

    The hypothetical opponent also believes two things are needed for righteousness: we need Christ’s death for sins to make us clean, then we need our own law keeping in addition to that to make us righteous.

    You will be right to criticize his view as seeking to justified by our own works. However, you share with him the assumption that Christ’s death for sins was insufficient in itself for righteousness, but somebody’s law keeping was also needed.

    With this shared assumption, it hardly makes sense to answer this person with “if our law keeping is needed, then Christ died in vain”. Rather, the answer that makes most sense is “if our law keeping is needed, then Christ kept law in vain”.


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