Satan tempted Adam and Eve not to eat a delectable piece of fruit, but to consciously disobey God, to "be as gods, knowing (i.e., determining for themselves) good and evil" (Gen. 3:5). Eve looked at the fruit, and was so tempted that she found it desirable (v. 6). She was tempted to challenge God's sole right to govern. First, the fruit looked good to her as a mere meal — "the tree was good for food." Then, it became even more desirable as she studied it in terms of Satan's sales pitch — "it was pleasant to the eyes." Finally, Eve bought into Satan's claim — "a tree to be desired to make one wise" — and she and Adam ate the fruit. Man's first sin was not gluttony; it was having another god, taking to himself the prerogatives of God.
All of man's sin is the outworking of his desire to play god, to believe in Satan's phony promise, to "be as god, knowing good and evil." Even while walking in faith, man tries to repeat this sin. Religious teaching and practice is often made to serve man and his will rather than God's commands. In a humanistic age that demands absolute human autonomy (to "be as gods"), salvation becomes the consumer product of a God Who expects nothing in return. In many churches, the focus of salvation is completely on the sinner — his reward, his blessing, his comfort, his joy. No wonder Christianity is seen by many, both within and without the church, as a strictly personal affair.
Salvation is of God's free grace, and not of our own works. Yet while salvation certainly has its personal aspect, humanism in the church has increasingly put man at the center of the church and God's purpose. Scripture, however, always points to the preeminence of God and His eternal will, and requires that man understand himself in terms of these. Even our "personal" salvation centers on the eternal will of God and Christ.
Into Newness of Life
Far from presenting a merely personal faith with subjective manifestations, Scripture presents salvation as into a new way of life as well as into life itself. Before Christ, this covenant way of life was Israel, and most of the "Old" Testament1 is the laws of the covenant of life, or its history in terms of both the faithfulness and failures of God's people. Clearly Israel was called to holiness, to being a set-apart people living by a divine standard of righteousness. It was by grace that God chose Israel and all who converted to its faith, but that faith carried with it the expectation — in fact, the demand — for righteousness as a standard of covenant life.
Since Christ has come, the church (i.e., the body of believers) has been the Israel of God.2 The "New" Testament emphasizes the collective unity and purpose of the body of believers as well. Peter described us as stones, parts of a building founded on Jesus Christ (1 Pet. 2:4-6). The Christian faith must be made personal, but that is its starting point in us, not its end result. The whole of Scripture points us to covenant faithfulness and service to God, not merely personal blessings.
Salvation is our recall to service, not our retirement package. Salvation is our return by God's grace to our created purpose. Adam and Eve, remember, were given purposeful work in the sinless world of Eden. When they rebelled against God in trying to determine good and evil for themselves, they fell from their purpose and calling into sin and death. In Adam, man stands condemned and continues to flee from his God and his purpose.
Justification is the application of Christ's atonement to our personal sin and guilt. It is God's looking at our guilt, yet rendering a judgment of "penalty paid." Justification is God, as the Supreme Judge, declaring us as righteous in His eyes because of Jesus Christ. The legal consequence of the Fall was our condemnation to death; the legal consequence of our justification is our status as one of the righteous of God. This is the new legal status in which we must think and act. We are called not just to the joy and blessings of this status, but to its life. This is what Paul called the reign of grace through righteousness in Romans 5:17-21:
For if by one man's offence death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ. Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free giftcame upon all men unto justification of life. For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous. Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound: That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord.
Paul contrasted the old Adamic man with the new man in Jesus Christ. In doing so, Paul contrasted the reign of sin over Adamic man with the reign of righteousness that is ours by grace. Paul's point is very clear: Christian faith involves a changed life, one freed from sin and death and liberated to a life of righteousness.
This passage in Romans contrasts fallen man as a member of Adam's humanity with redeemed man as a member of Christ's new humanity. Paul contrasts one man's offense with the righteousness of one, one's disobedience with one's obedience. Then the apostle shows the contrast in the two humanities, Adamic man versus the new man in Jesus Christ. He contrasts condemnation with justification, the reign of sin with the reign of righteousness, the reign of death with the reign of grace "through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord."
The New Humanity
All men are born into the humanity of Adam, but the grace of God calls some men by a new birth into the humanity of Jesus Christ. This is what being "born again," being a "new creature in Christ," means. Whereas Adam caused humanity to fall from its calling, God has called believers back to His calling and purpose, back to a "reign" in righteousness. Paul describes the result of Adam's fall, but he also describes the purpose of Christ's atonement, that we might live in righteousness. To suggest that the essence of our salvation is heaven (and perhaps the joy of its earthly contemplation) is to limit the Christian faith to the legal act. It is to downplay the efficacy of the regenerating power of the Holy Scripture and sanctification.
The law-word3 of God is our standard for conduct for born-again members of Christ's humanity. It is, of course, binding on all men because its authority comes from its authorship. Trying to promote God's law in a godless culture is a very difficult task it is asking rebels against God to submit to His rules for their own good. Yet this is a necessary testimony to the world, as we must confront man with the absolute standard of justice from which he rebels.
Most importantly, however, the law-word of God is the standard for the new man in Jesus Christ and His reign in righteousness. The redeemed man must cease from his rebellion and submit to the eternal revelation of God's will.
We are regenerated by God's Spirit to a new life, not just to contemplate eternity and the joy we have from that certainty. We are declared righteous (justified) so that grace might reign through righteousness. When God's grace reigns in a man, it controls him. This control is through a life of righteousness. Our sanctification (growth in grace) is real because God's Spirit in the born-again man is real. The idea of a lawless Christian is a contradiction. The Christian is called from lawless rebellion, regenerated to desire righteousness, and empowered by the Holy Spirit to persevere therein.
We have, in a humanistic age, put too much emphasis on man in salvation — his will, his reward, his joy, etc. We often have neglected that calling to which this personal salvation brought us, the new humanity born again by the power of God, the Kingdom of God and His Christ, and the reign of grace through righteousness.
There are two humanities among us. One is born and remains in Adam and his sin; the other is born in Adam and yet born again in Jesus Christ and His life in us. Our calling in Jesus Christ is to live and work in terms of the righteousness to which we have been called. Eternal life begins at regeneration, not at the pearly gates. We are called to live in terms of the Faith, that is, in faithfulness. Rescued from sin's reign by Jesus Christ, we are called to live in terms of the reign of grace through righteousness.
1. The distinction between "Old" and "New" Testaments is an unfortunate distinction imposed on the Bible by Marcion, a second century heretic excommunicated by his own father, a bishop. Marcion held to multiple first causes and felt the God and religion of the "Old" Testament was antagonistic to Christianity. Of the "New" Testament, Marcion accepted less than half a dozen of its books, and those he revised to his own liking. It is revelatory that man who drove a wedge into Scripture did so in order to dismiss the bulk of it.
2. For an excellent treatment of the Scripture's clarity on this see Charles D. Provan, The Church is Israel Now (Ross House Books, Vallecito, CA).
3. The term "law" must not be limited to the Mosaic code, for all God's word is absolute in its authority, and is a consistent whole.