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He Lived The Life That We Could Not?

An axiom often repeated by evangelicals when presenting the gospel message is that Christ came into this world to live the life that we could not (prominent among Law-oriented Covenant theologians). A Biblically unfounded concept which suggests that our salvation is based partly on the righteous life that Jesus lived under the Law prior to His sacrificial death on the cross.

The Theological Basis

Scripture tells us that when the fulness of time came, God sent forth His Son to be born of a woman, born a Jew, and therefore born under the Law (Gal. 4:4). Throughout His life Jesus lived in perfect obedience to the Law of Moses and it is this Law abiding life that some theologians have labeled His "active obedience" which they claim is credited to our account as our "active righteousness." His death on the cross is called His "passive obedience" and is credited to our account as our "passive righteousness." The supposition being that divine salvation through Jesus Christ is in part based on vicarious Law keeping.

But righteousness based on any Law keeping, even vicarious, is totally foreign to Scripture, and the erroneous implication from the above conjecture is that Christ Himself derived His righteousness from Law obedience. But to the contrary, Scripture testifies that Christ did not obtain righteousness through a Law obedient life, but from eternity to eternity is Himself the righteousness of God. Speaking of Jesus Christ the Apostle Paul writes:

But now APART FROM THE LAW the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets (Rom. 3:21).
The proposition that Christ came to live the life for us that we could not is based on the notion that we all (both Jew and Gentile) have broken the Law, and inasmuch as man cannot by his own efforts recover for himself his righteous standing before God, Christ Jesus came and kept the Law, for righteousness sake, in our stead.

Gentiles and the Law

Scripture teaches that the Law was given to the nation of Israel only and the Gentiles were themselves without law (Ex. 19-20; Jo. 15:25; Acts 15:10; Rom. 9:4; Rom. 2:14; 1Cor. 9:20-21; Eph. 2:12). This Biblical fact alone spoils the idea that Christ had to vicariously keep the Law for Gentiles who, in fact, were never under its jurisdiction in the first place.

Jews and the Law

As for the Jewish believer, Scripture reveals that he was made to die to the Law through the body of Christ (crucified with Him), that he might be released from the Law to be joined to Another - the risen Christ. In other words, Scripture does not teach that Christ came to live the Law for him but that he might, through Messiah's death, be legally released from that which covenantly bound and condemned him (Rom. 7:1-6; 2 Cor. 3:9).

Therefore, according to the Scriptures, Law obedience (personal or vicarious) has no part in either a Jew's or Gentile's salvation or righteous standing before God, but instead it is revealed that "He reconciled them both in one body to God through the cross" (Eph. 2:16). The Law served another purpose altogther in that through it came the knowledge of sin (Rom. 3:20,28) and was never intended to be a means of salvation either through man's personal efforts or vicariously through the obedience of Christ:

For if a law had been given which was able to impart life, then righteousness would indeed have been based on law. But the Scripture has shut up ALL men under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe" (Gal. 3:21-22).

Christianity Begins With The Resurrection

Throughout Christ's earthly ministry He plainly stated that His work in this world was to die. Of course there is no question to the fact that He lived His life in perfect obedience to the Law to which He, as a Jew, was born and bound. But this obedience has nothing to do with our righteousness, but all to do with Christ being the spotless, unblemished Lamb of God who by His sacrificial death took away the sin of the world (Jo. 1:29; Heb 9:14; 1Pet. 1:19). William R. Newell in his commentary on the book of Romans has clearly expressed this truth:

True, He must be a spotless lamb. But for what? For sacrifice! He did not touch our case, had no connection with us, until God laid our sins upon Him and made Him to become sin for us at the cross. Christ was not one of our race, "the sons of men": He was the Seed of the woman, not the man. He was the Son of Man, indeed, for God prepared for Him a body (Ps. 40; Heb. 10), by the power of the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:35). But, though He moved among sinners, He was "separated from sinners," and had no connection with them until God made Him their sin offering at the cross" (Romans Verse by Verse).
Christ's life, prior to the cross, lived out in perfect obedience to the Law could do nothing on behalf of sinful mankind. But He humbling Himself "by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross" (Phil. 2:8) as the unblemished Lamb of God is the obedience that saves.

It is true that Jesus Christ:

Came to die the death that we could not (as the unblemished "Lamb of God")

Came to give us the Life that we had not (being dead in our trespasses and sins).

But He did not come to live the life that we could not.

Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, came into this world born a Jew, born under the Law (Gal. 4:4), as a Jew lived a perfect life under that Law. And as the unblemished Lamb of God who "takes away the sin of the world (Jn. 1:29), "He (God) made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Cor. 5:21)," - not vicariously through Him.

Christianity truly does not begin until the resurrection. We believers are in the resurrected Christ in Whom we have been made righteous (Rom. 5:19; cf. Phil. 2:8).

Written by Gary Nystrom

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