To Fulfill All Righteousness: Challenging the illusion of works based salvation

law of GodBut Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. 

~Matthew 3:15~

The work of redemption is not seen upon the cross of Christ only. The verse listed above shows us an important facet of salvation; that Christ came to fulfill all righteous requirements placed upon humanity by the Law of God. Paul, in Galatians 4 reinforces this point when he states:

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. ~ Galatians 4:4-5

 Christ was born under the law of God in order that He would satisfy the demands of the law. Christ did not appear as an adult to die a cruel death only, He was born as a child and grew into an adult all the while keeping the Law of God perfectly in order that He could fully satisfy the justice of God. Theologically, this is known as the active obedience of Christ. This a life in which He lived in perfect obedience (actively) to the Law of God in which He qualifies to be the “lamb without blemish” to be offered sacrificially for His people. In contrast, Christs’ passive obedience is seen in His willing submission to the Father’s wrath while on the cross. Both are needed for genuine salvation. Christ’s death makes His people innocent, but not righteous; it is only through the righteousness of His life given to us through faith, that we are seen righteous and acceptable before God.

Both the negative implication of Christ taking away our sin on the cross from His passive obedience and the positive application of His righteousness given to those who place their faith in Him are needed for true biblical salvation according to Christianity. Jesus lived a righteous life which is accounted to every person who believes. That is the Gospel. In Christ, not only are our sins punished in Christ, but His righteous standing is given to His people. This is why we are told in Philippians 3:

Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith ~ vs. 8-9

A person is saved not only by Christ’s death, but also by His life. When Christ was upon the cross, God punished the sins of those who place their faith in Christ. When Christ lived a perfect life which fulfilled all righteousness, that righteous standing is given to those who believe. This is why Paul counted all things as “rubbish.” He knew and taught that redemption is found completely in Christ and Him alone. There is no righteousness we can add to redemption. It has been secured by Jesus Christ.

The implications for any religion that teaches that our works of righteousness complete someone’s redemption plainly states that Christ is a liar. While they may not audibly state this, that is the implications of their beliefs. Paul dealt with this issue when he wrote to the church in Galatia and clearly stated:

I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose. 2:21

While a person may be sincere in their desire to “live a good life” in order to show they are somewhat outwardly righteous, their sincerity and earnest efforts will not contribute to earning a righteous standing before God. It is tantamount to stealing glory from God by attempting to show that we can gain our own righteousness apart from Christ. Christ does more than simply “wipe our slate clean” so we can “do right” in order to be saved. He saves utterly and completely the moment a person places their confidence (faith) in His death and life. We cannot add anything to this salvation.

The major objection to this in works based religions (for instance Mormonism) is taken from two biblical passages:

You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. ~ Matthew 5:48

 But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works... Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar?  ~ James 2:18, 21

In Matthew, Christ was revealing the standard which God requires of humanity. Obviously, as we are so quick to point out “no one’s perfect!” This shows you and I the utter impossibility of fulfilling God’s demand and our need for either God to change His requirement (which He cannot do since He himself cannot change) or for someone to intervene on our behalf (Christ). Secondly, the passage in James was speaking of the effects of genuine faith. Faith and works are not opposed to one another, but rather, true faith is expressed through our works, they are the outer evidence of an inner reality. We prove that we are trusting in Christ’s righteousness, not by just saying we do, but because our actions our rooted in the righteousness that dwells in our hearts through faith. James was not advocating works salvation, he was stating that good works (though they will not/cannot save) are the necessary evidence that we have been delivered by Christ.

The key question you’ve got to ask yourself is this, “Am I trusting in Christ’s death and His righteous life to save me? Am I attempting to add to His work of redemption by living a moral life in order to add to His redemptive work?” If you are, then I bid you to turn to Christ completely. Trust in the forgiveness He earned by His death, and the righteousness He earned in His life. Do not be so foolish that you think you can add to a provision that has been given by the Creator of Heaven and Earth. When God saves a person, He does so thoroughly and completely through the work of Christ alone.

I leave you with a truth once spoken by Jonathan Edwards: “No man has ever added anything to his salvation, except the sin which made it necessary.”

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