Visualize a horizontal line. That line represents perfection in keeping the law. Everything below that line is sin. Everything above that line is righteousness. Simple, right? But wait, if the line represents perfection in keeping the law, how can you get above it…by keeping the law? Obviously, you can’t. And the line itself is not righteousness; it is merely your duty. So how do you get above the line? How is righteousness achieved? Is it by obedience? No, that is the point we have just made. Perfect obedience only gets you up to the line and out of sin, to your duty. Paul wrote to the Galatians:
I do not nullify the grace of God: for if righteousness comes by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.
Understand something clearly here: This is not a new idea; it has always been so. If you could actually get to a state of righteousness by the law, there was no need for Christ to come, suffer, and die, at all. There has always been, and still is, a confusion of the role of the law in the life of man. It is the revelation of right and wrong behavior. Breaking the law causes harm. Keeping the law is the minimum standard of conduct. Jesus made this point in Luke 17:
But which of you, having a servant plowing or feeding cattle, will say unto him by and by, when he is come from the field, Go and sit down to eat? And will not rather say unto him, Make ready that I may eat, and gird yourself, and serve me, till I have eaten and drunken; and afterward you shall eat and drink? Does he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I think not. So likewise you, when you shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do.
Many in the churches of Galatia had not yet absorbed this. Let’s see what Paul wrote to correct their misunderstanding as we continue in our look at Christian Origins.