The Law of Christ (2)
We continue with our response to a reader’s question: “I would like to ask your view of the law of Christ (I Cor. 9:20-21). What exactly is the law of Christ and how does it, if at all, differ from the Ten Commandments of the Old Testament?”
God’s writing His law upon our hearts (Jer. 31:33) is possible only because of our Lord’s amazing sacrifice on the cross. If I may put it that way, the deepest depth of Christ’s suffering was when He cried out in utter anguish, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46). It was an awful cry of abandonment: “why?” Yet, even then, His cry was, “My God, my God.” That is, even at that terrible moment, Christ was saying, “Even though I know nothing but pure wrath, I still love thee, O My God!” In other words, He kept the law of God, not only in the years of His ministry but even as He experienced hellish agonies. It was perfect obedience. He earned it for us. That is why the law is now written on our hearts. Christ did what we cannot do: keep God’s law. His motto was “I come to do thy will, O God” (Heb. 10:9).
Our Heidelberg Catechism speaks of a “must” regarding good works (Q. 86). The “must” arises out of our salvation. We are told that we must do good works because we are saved. We are told in the gospel that we can do good works as an incentive to do them. We are told in the Word that we will do good works. The “must,” the “can” and the “will” all come together in us by God’s work. The broken sinner is so happy to hear that he is justified by faith alone without his works that he, in thankfulness to God, does them through the power of divine grace.
Our good works are God’s working in us. Paul, in Philippians 2:12-13, urges us to work out our own salvation. The reason we are admonished to work out our salvation is because God has made it completely possible, for He, so the text tells us, not only makes us willing to do it but also He Himself works in us the very work He calls us to do.
Ephesians 2:10 is especially clear. Paul has said that salvation is God’s work entirely and never ours. We are saved by grace through faith—and neither grace nor faith are of ourselves but are gifts of God (8). Paul tells us how it is possible for us to do good works, even as those saved by grace through faith without works. We are God’s “workmanship” (10). The word means, God’s masterpiece, like the work of the greatest artist on a canvas. We are God’s workmanship because we show forth the skill and glory of the One who changed us from sinners to saints.
But what about our good works? Well, for one thing, He made us what we are so that we could do good works: “we are [God’s] workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works” (10). Even these good works are decreed for us—every one of them—in God’s eternal counsel: “good works, which God hath before ordained” (10). God determined them; Christ earned them, all of them, on His cross. They are part of our salvation. Our good works are God’s gift through Christ. Wonder of wonders, God determined that we should walk in them! It is all of God!
The complaint is made that this doctrine makes man a robot. How can a work be our work and God’s work? Cannot these deniers of sovereign grace see that God is almighty? He does marvellous things! The Canons of Dordt call this work of God as great a wonder as His creation of the universe, for it is “mysterious,” “ineffable,” beyond our understanding (III/IV:12). We, weak and insignificant creatures, cannot fully understand any of God’s works. Can we explain how a baby is formed in the womb of its mother? Comes to birth? Takes his or her place as an adult in God’s world?
Nevertheless, God has revealed a bit to us. Our good works are emphatically our good works. So much are they our good works that we are judged in accordance with our works and our good works by grace are even rewarded! How can this be?
When God begins the work of salvation in us at our new birth, He gives us the gift of faith. That faith, as Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 7, teaches us, is a living bond that unites us to the risen and exalted Christ so that His heavenly, resurrection life becomes ours. That faith our God brings to consciousness in us by the preaching of the gospel so that faith enables us to do two things. First, it makes us receive as truth everything God has revealed to us in His Word. Second, it causes us to put all our trust and hope for every speck of our salvation in Christ alone. It enables us to lay hold of Him, seek our salvation in Him alone and cling to Him in all our grief. Without Him, we have nothing; with Him, we have everything. It is in this way that we do good works because God works in us in Jesus Christ and by faith in Him.
Our Heidelberg Catechism begins with the one question without an answer to which I cannot live: “What is your only comfort in life and in death?” The answer, so simple, so plain, so child-like, so all-encompassing: “That I belong to Jesus. He bought me with His blood!” That is all—even for a child. I need no more than that.
The best illustration is to be found in the horticulturist’s work of grafting. If the branch of a Macintosh apple tree is cut off the tree, it would soon die, for its life comes from the tree. If it is grafted into a Gala apple tree, it will live, because it is grafted into a tree from which it gets its life. Though it be grafted into a Gala apple tree and draws its life from that tree, it will continue to bear Macintosh apples.
So we, grafted into Christ, do bring forth fruit. It is our fruit, no one else’s. Yet all the life in us that produces good works is Christ’s life. Salvation is in God alone, for He it is that must and will receive all the glory, both now and forever. Prof. Herman Hanko