Believing Unto Righteousness
Righteousness By The Law

In a Brief Survey of the Epistle of Paul to the Romans
Based on sermons preached in PCC Worship Services, July 2003 to Sep 2005
Part 48a of 83


5  For Moses describeth the righteousness which is of the law, That the man which doeth those things shall live by them. ” (Romans 10:5-13).

We saw in our previous study how the Jews had a zeal without knowledge. They were zealous for God. But their zeal was an ignorant zeal. They were trying to establish their righteousness by good works and by keeping the Law. God has provided a way of righteousness, namely through the Messiah, Christ. Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone that believes.

The law in the Old Testament pointed to and led to Christ for righteousness; so everyone who believes in Christ and finds salvation in Him would cease from seeking righteousness by law-keeping. They know that they are perfectly righteous in Christ on account of the righteousness of Christ and that they cannot get more righteous by keeping the law. The Law could only be for righteousness for an unfallen man. But all men since Adam are sinners even without their trying. The Law, therefore, cannot be a means to righteousness. The Law ought rather to shut up the sinner to Christ.

The Jews ought to know this for the Gospel was preached unto them as unto us. But they were wilfully ignorant. They refuse to believe.

Paul is still dealing with this subject as we enter into verse 5. In fact, from verse 5 to 13, he is seeking to show through a series of quotations from the Old Testament that the way of salvation in the Old Covenant administration for the Jews is the same as the way for the Gentiles or the Jews under the New Covenant administration. The way of salvation is always by grace through faith alone in Christ Jesus alone.

The Lord helping us, we want to study this paragraph under three heads.

·        First, we must consider the way of righteousness which is of the Law, which Paul refers to in verse 5.

·        Secondly, we must consider the way of righteousness which is of faith, which Paul deals with in the rest of the paragraph.

·        Finally, we must zoom in on a couple of important and famous of verses to correct some common misinterpretation as well as to bring the doctrine that the apostle is teaching to bear upon our lives. I am referring to verses 9 and 10 where Paul describes the exercise of faith that every believer will engage in.

But let’s begin by considering…

1.  The Righteousness
which is of the Law

Paul says:

5 For Moses describeth the righteousness which is of the law, That the man which doeth those things shall live by them.

Moses, says Paul, teaches us two things relating to the law. First, he tells us that it is possible to obtain righteousness by keeping the law. Secondly, and as a consequence, if we keep the law, we can enjoy life or eternal life.

Now, this is utterly surprising, is it not? After spending so much time insisting that justification is by grace through faith, Paul tells us that we can, after all, obtain righteousness and salvation through the law! Did Paul make a mistake? Did we hear him wrongly?

Well, Paul is alluding to two passages in the Old Testament.  Let’s look at them to see if Paul understood them wrongly.

·     First, Paul is alluding to Deuteronomy 6:25—

“And it shall be our righteousness, if we observe to do all these commandments before the LORD our God, as he hath commanded us.”

What is Moses saying in this verse? It is clear, is it not, that he is saying: “If we keep God’s commandments, we shall be righteous?” So obedience to the law is righteousness. Those who keep the law are righteous and those who are righteous will keep the law.

·     Secondly, Paul is paraphrasing Leviticus 18:5—

“Ye shall therefore keep my statutes, and my judgments: which if a man do, he shall live in [or by] them: I am the LORD.”

What is God saying through Moses in this verse? It is clear, is it not, that God is saying that if we keep His statutes and judgements (or in other words, His commandments), then we shall live. That is, if we keep the law, we will enjoy abundant and eternal life on account of the law. God will reward us with eternal life!

What then? Did Paul make a mistake by declaring that Moses teaches us that the keeping of the law is a way of obtaining righteousness and salvation?

Of course not! So is it possible to obtain righteousness and salvation by law-keeping? Yes, God could not have inspired Moses and Paul to teach a lie!

But wait a minute! How can this be? Can we, or can we not obtain righteousness by the Law?

Well, let’s turn again to Deuteronomy 6:25, and take careful note of what he is saying—

“And it shall be our righteousness, if we observe to do all these commandments before the Lord our God, as he hath commanded us.

Notice what he is saying? It will be righteousness only if we keep all the commandments, and if we can do so before the all-seeing and all-knowing God!

The point is clear, is it not? Only if we can keep the Law perfectly then can we have righteousness and can have eternal life! The fact is that none of us can keep the Law perfectly. This is why we say that none can obtain righteousness and salvation by law-keeping.

But if that is the case, why does the Scripture tell us at all that there is a way of righteousness and salvation by law-keeping? Would it not be less confusing, simply to say that we cannot obtain righteousness and salvation by the law, full stop? After all, do not the words of Paul and Moses, that man can have righteousness and salvation by law-keeping, seem to be empty promises?

Well, no, for there is a reason in everything that God reveals to us in His Word. The reason why Paul, for example, is reminding us of the way righteousness and salvation by the law, is to show us the relationship between the Law and Christ.

You see, the law, —especially the Moral Law, —was given as a covenant of works to man so that if a man can keep it perfectly, he can have eternal life.

When God made Adam in His own image, He wrote the works of the Law in his heart. Adam knew the Moral Law. And Adam was required to keep the Law if he were to enjoy a life of fellowship with God. But Adam failed. He fell into sin and so all mankind descending from him by ordinary generation sinned in him and fell with him.

Thus, no ordinary man since the fall of Adam is able to keep the Law perfectly. We say “ordinary man,” because there is a man who can keep the Law perfectly! Who is this extraordinary man! He is none other than the God-Man, the Lord Jesus Christ!

Christ Jesus took on human flesh in order to keep the Covenant of Works on our behalf. He came to do what our natural covenant head failed to do! He came to fulfil the condition of perfect obedience to the Law, in order that the promise of righteousness and life by the law may be bestowed upon us.

Paul has just said:

“For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone that believeth” (Rom 10:4).

Christ kept the Law of God on behalf of God’s elect in order that we may have righteousness through Him. Those who are united to Christ by faith have the righteousness of Christ credited to their account.

No one else but the Lord Jesus can purchase righteousness by keeping the Law. Christ is the end of the Law for righteousness to everyone who believes. Moses described a righteousness which is of the law not so that we may obtain righteousness by the Law, but that we may be shut up to Christ, who alone could obtain righteousness for us.

This is true not only today; it has always been true, even in the Old Testament days. Paul makes it very clear in verse 6, where he shows us that the “righteousness which is of faith” was already available in the Old Testament.

…to be Continued Next Issue

—JJ Lim