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August 2019 Standard Bearer preview article

“As to our good works” (2): The nature of good works as works

Works occupy a prominent place in Scripture; in fact, Scripture is from beginning to end a book of works. Scripture attributes works to the triune God, Christ, angels—wicked and holy, and men—wicked and holy. We begin our examination of the good works of the believer by considering the nature of good works and noting five general characteristics of our good works as works.

A conscious, acting subject

First, works are those deeds consciously and volitionally performed by rational, moral beings. Strictly speaking, a creature like the sky is not capable of performing works. Psalm 19:1 teaches, “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork.” The visible expanse of the heavens above us gives glory to God; however, it is not an intelligent creature consciously and willingly producing “works” of praise unto God as holy men and holy angels can do. We men are different than the creatures in the heavens above and in the earth beneath and in the waters under the earth, for God created us as personal beings with an intellect and will so that we are able to live consciously before His face performing works of service in love for Him and our neighbor. In marriage, a husband and wife are called to love each other and show it in word and deed, but if a whole week has gone by and they have not consciously performed even one considerate act towards each other, living as intimately as two stars twinkling side by side in the heavens, something is dreadfully amiss. God created us, and in Jesus Christ has recreated us, as new creatures able to do good. Consciously! Willingly! Cheerfully! Lovingly!

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“Crucified with Christ, I Live” (2)

“Crucified with Christ, I Live” (2)

Alive in Christ

You might think that, if Paul has been crucified with Christ and had died to the law, he would be dead—but he is not, for he clarifies in verse 20, “Nevertheless, I live.”

Paul’s crucifixion with Christ did not put his physical body in the tomb. Paul’s death to the law did not kill him physically. Paul was not physically crucified at all.

Or to put it another way, Paul is dead in one sense: he is dead to the law; but he is alive in another sense: he is alive to God. When the law threatens him, Paul’s answer to the law is, “I died to you; I am dead to you because of the cross of my Savior, Jesus Christ.” When God calls him, Paul’s answer to God is, “O my God, I live to thee; I devote myself to thee because of Jesus Christ thy Son.”

“I live” is Paul’s conclusion in verse 20. What does he mean by that? Does he refer simply to physical life? That cannot be the meaning, for that would be true of anyone—believer or unbeliever; or Christian, Jew, or atheist. But Paul is making a distinction: I have been crucified with Christ; therefore, I live. To the unbeliever Paul would say, “You have not been crucified with Christ, but you are a stranger to Christ; therefore, you do not live. You cannot live.”

Outside of Christ, the unbeliever is dead.

The life of which Paul writes is the rich life of fellowship with God. This life has its source in God, for God alone has true life. This life consists in knowing God. This life is eternal and everlasting life. It is the life of heaven begun in to the soul, which will come to perfection in the kingdom of God.

“Nevertheless, I live.”

Paul lives because Christ lives.

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“Crucified with Christ, I Live”

Dead to the Law

Paul begins Galatians 2:19 with this assertion, “I am dead,” or (better) I died.” The difference between “I am dead” and “I died” is the difference between a state of being (dead) and a completed action in the past (died). You might express it thus: “I died,” with the result that “I am dead.”

The truth that Paul died presupposes that before he died, he had lived—or he had been alive. Such is the case. With respect to what was Paul once alive? And with respect to what did Paul die, so that he is now dead? The answer to the question is “the law.” “I am dead to the law” or “I died to the law.”

There was a time in the past, says Paul, when I was alive to the law. But that has changed. I am now dead to the law, for I died to the law. Paul was alive to the law; he lived for the law; he was devoted to the law; and he sought his salvation in the law.

There was a time in the past, says Paul, when I tried to keep the law. The law said, “Do this and live.” Paul thought that by “doing” the law he would live. Therefore, Paul made every effort to keep the law. He lived very strictly.

Then something happened. Paul died to the law, so that now he is dead to the law.

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Is the gospel part of the law?

“What shall we say then? That the Gentiles, which followed not after righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness which is of faith. But Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness, hath not attained to the law of righteousness. Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumblingstone” (Romans 9:30-32). In this text the issue is righteousness. The Israelites who sought righteousness by obedience...

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Is the law part of the gospel?

I remember being quite confused for a long time by the question that titles this article. I remember being further confused by statements made by Protestant Reformed authors, such as the following: “In fact, Scripture makes clear that the law is gospel, for it has the power to convert the soul, to make wise the simple, and to enlighten the eyes.” And, “The law is gospel. If anyone doubts it, let him read Psalm 19 and Psalm 119.” And, “For Calvin...

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