The Monergistic Message of the Law of Moses in the Establishment of Christ

Romans 3 ends with a question asked and answered: “Do we then nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law.” Romans 3:31. This is the end of a chapters-long build up to an extended apologetic of the Gospel of Jesus Christ for which Abram becomes Paul’s model in chapter four. Paul knows that all of Adam’s descendants are dead in SIN. He knows that this included his ancestor, Abraham. He knew well how God had instituted the Old Covenant to lead his own to the New Covenant. Paul knew that Christ had initiated a New Covenant with his people on the Cross and he was zealous to show the continuity between the Old and New Covenants by their witness to each other in him. Paul says above that the New Covenant establishes the Old. I take this to mean that the Old Testament- by leading the faithful to Christ- is shown now in its full strength and intent among God’s New Covenant people. Galatians 3:24; 4:1-7; Hebrews 10:9. The New Covenant hangs upon the old like the horizontal beam of Christ’s Cross hung on the vertical beam. Without it, we would know almost nothing. The Old Covenant now hangs like a golden necklace of remembrance on Christ’s neck. That’s where we find it today. The Old Covenant Law had and has a million purposes among the people, but its chief end was and is in the exaltation of the Son himself in the New Covenant.

The Law of Moses did not (could not) make anyone “acceptable” before God. Galatians 3:21. I don’t know many Protestants who stumble over this. Christians are often quick to affirm that we’re saved by grace, not works of the Law (Ephesians 2:8-9, Romans 9:32, etc.) and they’re right to. They’re quick to say, “We’re not saved by anything we do, brother.” And I affirm that we are not saved by what we do, but what they mean when they say this these days is most often not nearly enough.

Of all the things God revealed- and reveals to us still- by his Law its loudest message is that we are not saved by obedience to Law. Its loudest message is that we need a Savior! This is the heart of Romans 3:31. The Law always points beyond itself in the hearts of God’s faithful. The Law leads the godly to say, “Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.” Psalm 51:7. The Law demands man’s obedience, and it shouts his condemnation. It brings blessings in our obedience, but it wrathfully witnesses our disobedience. It shows us the beautiful life that was in Christ but is only death to us all: Romans 7:10. We sin so the Law doesn’t help. Reader, the Law must be put to death over us: Colossians 2:14. We must be divorced from the Law: Romans 7:1-6. We must be purchased from our slavery under the Law: John 8:34-36. Reader, do we not understand that all of God’s Old Covenant saints were? Reader, God glanced forward to Calvary while Abram slept. It was the flame of Calvary in that oven. “Do not stretch out your hand against the lad” Abram, for I will do something far greater that will literally justify a new heavens and a new earth forever through righteousness and power. Do we not see that Mount Calvary was celebrated in the triune God’s eternal view from Mount Sinai? Or Moriah, Carmel, the Temple Mount, and even from eternity before Eden? If not, maybe we don’t really know the Law, the prophets, or even the Gospel. God gave the Law, but he was under no illusion that anyone would be declared righteous by it…except Jesus. The Law was not his plan A to save his church, and when that didn’t work, Calvary became his B plan. We must be forgiven and the Law- because of SIN in us all- could not do it. We are not justified by obedience to the Law.

But (strong but) here’s the thing I think we miss: neither was Moses. Moses was not saved by law keeping either. Neither was David, Samuel, Elijah, or Ezra, etc. Check the chronicles. All dead in Adam. All in need of a mercy outside of them and their adamic abilities. All slaves of sin by nature. None of them were saved by Law keeping and all of them were under the Law. No one was sinless, right? Romans 3:23 isn’t just for us in the New Covenant era, right? It’s true of all of us. All were therefore cursed and so Christ must become a curse for them too or they too- just like those who would be born in a A.D.- would be condemned for their own actual sins. Christ alone among fallen men is “from above” and sinless. We’re all “from below” and guilty. John 3:31; 8:23. So, I ask you, what was it that made an Old Covenant saint “acceptable” to the eternally holy God? How exactly did they escape wrath? They were all sinners, right? The answer is plain. It’s God’s un-merited mercy, isn’t it? Isn’t it that God looked forward to Calvary when he saved someone in the Old Covenant? Yes. And it’s the same with us. He saves now under the New Covenant alone because he looks to the Old Covenant. To promises made and promises kept. Doesn’t he save today only because of Calvary? I think it’s plain. So, God’s mercy extended to those in his Hebrew covenant was alone what covered their sins, right? They had measures of obedience to render as participants, but they were not in covenant by any measure of their participation. God planned it all before he made the world, as we see in Genesis 3 and the Fall where the promise is laid out in Eve’s kid, but then we see a specified promise given starting with Abram where God said, “I will make you a great nation…And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.” From Genesis 12:2-3. Reader, this promise to Abraham (the father of us all in Christ) that was fulfilled and carried out from Calvary is why you and I are saved today. It’s grace to fallen sons and daughters. I can’t tell you why God saves some and not others, but by the Law, I can tell you exhaustively why no one merits salvation!

The Law of Moses came some 400 plus years after Abram. And it came to Abram’s descendants. It was not a renegotiation by God as to how the Christ would eventually come, or about how they could then “get in on” God’s covenant. The Law is not then (made clear by chronology) a means to receive the grace promised to the Hebrews already some 430 years earlier. It was only a means of worship to those who’d been already unilaterally extended covenant grace from God. Do we not see the parallel? Why is anyone in Jesus today? By obedience, or by something else? Why were those under the Law under that preemptive grace? By their obedience or by something else? Those who were indeed God’s children in Israel, among all who had the Law, were in God’s covenant by God’s grace alone, not Law. Abraham was long before Moses. The Law was “added” to the elect for its purposes, but it was added to heirs made heirs according to grace. Galatians 3:19. This is precisely what Paul’s on about in Galatians 3. The whole of the chapter shows a similar transition and relationship in his thinking in Romans 3 to 4 between Law and Gospel. I summarize this highlighting vs. 18 when he says, “If the inheritance is based on law, it is no longer based on a promise; but God has granted it to Abraham by means of a promise.” Galatians 3:18. “Promise” alone gets any that are in in and it’s a promise purposefully contrasted with “law” for a reason. This was true from Abraham to Moses. And it’s true, brothers and sisters, between Abraham and us today as well. Grace is the common denominator and the Law- to aid our worship- shows us (establishes) how fully in Christ. (Now let me add that there were true Israelites and hypocrites among the Hebrews so it’s not that every Israelite was a child of God, but I’m not going to open that up here for time. The godly seed line was in Israel).

So, what am I trying to say over all this today? I’m weary of brothers who reduce Jesus’ atonement to mere universal appeal. I dislike strongly the doctrine called, “Universal atonement.” It is a defective view of Christian soteriology. It says salvation is by law keeping. Please see my message “How Anyone Ever Gets Saved” for more. Follow me as I close.

Here are some commands:

  1. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Matthew 3:7.
  2. “They went out and preached that menshould repent.” Mark 6:12.
  3. “…unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” Luke 13:3.
  4. “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Acts 2:38.
  5. “Repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord” Acts 3:19.
  6. “Therefore repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray the Lord that, if possible, the intention of your heart may be forgiven you.” Acts 8:22.
  7. “Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all peopleeverywhere should repent, 31 because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.” Acts 17:30-31.

“Repent.” We preach that. It is a commandment we must obey. Scripture says plainly that wrath is for those who will not repent. Romans 2:8; Hebrews 12:25, etc. But I’m wary of men who say, “Obey this commandment and be saved” as they omit the main message of the Law, teach that men enter not by election but by self will, and oppose the un-merited grace established in Christ and made clear by the Law that leads to no boasting in anyone’s obedience to God’s commandments. They are boasters who do so who reduce even Christ’s atonement to an assistance for their own self-salvation. For them the angel’s message was merely: “…you shall call his name Jesus, for he will [help] save his people from their sins.” In their carnal wisdom, to the delight of even non-believers who demand their “freedom” over all things, they pretend that it’s not obedience to 613 Commandments on one hand that saves, but that it’s obedience to one Commandment to repent that saves on the other. They forget the main message of the Law that what we needed was not more Law. They say, “If you’ll just repent and believe as commanded, you’ll be saved.” They do not go back far enough to give the proper glory to God for why anyone ever obeys anything. They leave out half of Acts 13:48! The way they teach that all that Romans 10:9-10 means is what comes from us to God is tantamount to someone in Moses forgetting Abraham. It’s grace extended alone that presents Laws for the children to keep in pure worship from their new hearts. Whether it’s a bull to be slain or a song to be sung, the worship rendered that’s acceptable to God is always only the privilege of the elect, but no one gets in by performance. They forget that no one is or ever was saved by law-keeping. They have not learned the nature of the unmerited grace granted to Abraham and to all of his seed which only comes from God’s election. They make grace conditional and merited and so dishonor Christ’s sufficient sacrifice by demanding the merits of commandment obedience as the grounds of grace. They do not deny Christ necessarily, but he is dishonored in this among those who love him. They say that his death then only aids one’s performance ability to repent or not when they say grace is only needed in order to obey.

Synergism is a thief. You cannot make obedience to the repeated command to repent the grounds for being saved and not fail to establish Christ’s New Covenant. Those saved are obedient. Their worship is the proof of their covenantal relationship with God, but it is not the ground of it. A grace as unmerited in us as it was in Abram alone is. We are all of us lost and sinful pagans in Ur…unless he comes to us. In Christ, we all being now only more of Abraham’s descendants, were chosen by God for it just as Abraham was and just as they were. No boasting. God came. We are extended the same unilateral and unmerited grace that Abraham was, that Moses was, that David was, or Ezra was. Grace alone. Unconditional election.

I believe that it is boasting to say that through one’s free will they were saved. To say that God died and gave the command to repent (see again Acts 17:30-31) and to believe and that those who obey that commandment are saved. That’s just a salvation by law-keeping, isn’t it? Isn’t it just new law whereby one’s single measure of performance determines his standing? Isn’t that just what we decry so quickly so often? That’s not what Christ has done. Paul writes just before the end of the chapter: “Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith.” Romans 3:27. The Gospel shows us that election has always been the only reason any sinner was ever saved. The Law establishes this too by the Gospel. It’s not an invite to salvation by law-keeping. This is Protestantism. We were dead. He makes us alive. Or not. Obey if you’re alive. Don’t if you’re not. Do you believe? Then thank God and God alone! That’s monergism. Anything less would be uncivilized. We believe. Yes. But why?

Preach Christ. Establish his New Covenant.

God bless!

Joseph Pittano

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