"THE JUST SHALL LIVE BY FAITH"
By Ian Potts
Some conclude from this answer that Paul is reiterating the importance of the believer striving to keep the law of God. They say that if the believer must not live a life of sin, which is seen in breaking the Ten Commandments, then he must have that "Moral Law" (The Ten Commandments delivered to Moses on Mount Sinai) as a "Rule of Life". That the law, although not a means by which he might be saved, and although no longer cursing him if he fails to keep it (because Christ has already been cursed by the law in the believer's place), nevertheless instructs him in how to live a righteous life and is therefore useful as advice or guidance on how to live before God - it is the believer's "rule of life", they say.
However this is to confuse what Paul is arguing for and to overturn what he has been saying from Romans chapters 3 to 5. Paul is teaching that God saves sinners by the Gospel by means of grace and that they then continue to live by God's grace on a principle of faith. Their rule is not the law, but faith. Only by faith can the demands of the law be fulfilled.
But how can this be? If the believer does not set himself to reading the Ten Commandments and attempting to model his life upon them, how can he live a life which fulfils them? How can he avoid breaking these commandments?
Well, the simple answer to that is "through Christ". The Gospel is all about Christ, about who He is, what He has done, and about the believer's relationship to Him and his union with Him. The believer lives not by looking to the law but by "looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith" Hebrews 12:2. He lives by faith looking unto Christ, being led by the Spirit by union with Christ who is "all in all".
The believer is "dead to the law", his flesh is crucified, the rule of law over him has gone, not because the law is altered or "abrogated" but because the flesh has died to it and the believer is risen again in Christ the other side of death. He is a new creation, he has a new life within born of the Spirit. This is called the new man of grace. This new life in Christ is governed by a new law, or rule. This is the law of faith, or put another way, faith is his rule of life, for "the just shall live by faith". Life could not come by the law, it only condemned. Because of the sin which is in the flesh the law became a "ministration of death", a "killing letter" to men - it was certainly no rule of 'life'! No, the law condemned the believer to death, it carried out its final sentence on him in Christ, and having died in Christ he is now dead to the law. It has no more to say to those who are dead to it.
But the just shall live by faith. They are justified by faith; by faith they receive the gift of eternal life. This life is ruled by the principle of faith. Romans chapter five talks of the "reign of grace". Grace reigns through righteousness and that is the righteousness of faith as revealed in the Gospel. Thus the Gospel in revealing the righteousness of God without law, and in justifying sinners by grace through faith, reveals all the believer needs to receive life from God and to walk before Him in righteousness. The Gospel and not the law therefore is the believer's rule of life.
But how does the child of God know right from wrong if he isn't ruled by the law one may ask? How does he know what the right thing to do in any given situation is? The same way that Christ did. Not simply by turning to some lifeless commands written on stone (or paper) but by communion with God by faith. Christ lived by constantly seeking His father's will in prayer. The believer also lives by communing with God in prayer, by looking unto Christ by faith, by seeking the Spirit's leading. Yes, he reads the Bible and the whole of the Bible is useful for instruction in righteousness but it is by the Spirit's guidance in the Bible, by His opening it up to him, His applying words from it to him on a daily basis that he learns of God's will for him, not in a dry, fixed, unchangeable manner, but in a living way, suited to the changing providences of his life.
The new man of grace which is born in the believer is born of God, he is righteous like God is righteous. In the new man believers are "made partakers of the divine nature" 2 Peter 1:4, and this nature in itself knows instinctively what is righteous. Believers still have the flesh, the old man within them which is completely sinful, but the new man is righteous. The law was made for man in the flesh, not in the spirit. The law was given to condemn the sinner in the flesh, to show up his sin and to make him flee unto Christ for salvation. But when that man has been washed in the blood of the Lamb, the flesh has been crucified with Christ at the cross. In the eyes of God all that remains is the new man of grace because God looks at the believer in Christ who has taken away sin in the body of flesh which has been crucified. 1 Timothy 1:9 tells us "Knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners...". If so, then the believer is not under the law, it wasn't made for him, and it isn't his rule of life. No, he walks by a new 'law', the "law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus" Romans 8:2, for he walks not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. As a just man he lives by faith.
But can't a believer walk by faith and still use the law as advice one might ask? Surely what it says is good? Yes, everything it says is holy, just and good. But it isn't just advice - it's law! - and it can't be used as a guide or a rule of life. Why not? Because although the believer has a new life born of the Spirit, and although the flesh is reckoned to be crucified with Christ, nevertheless until the believer actually dies physically he still has the flesh dwelling within. The law is addressed to that flesh, but although it demands righteousness from it, in practice all it does is flare up sin in the flesh. The more it demands from the flesh, the more the flesh sins. So although what the law demands is good and spiritual, reaching even unto the thoughts and intentions of the heart within, the effect upon man is to produce more sin, to stir up evil thoughts within. The law always retains its curse and if a man strives to live by the law then he only brings the curse upon himself again. He is a debtor to do the whole law, but he can't truly fulfil any of it! No, the only way to fulfil the righteousness of the law is to die to it, to be delivered from it, and to live by faith looking unto Christ alone.
The law demands works from man who cannot perform them. He fails to fulfil the law because of his sinful flesh. Faith however rests in the finished work of Christ who has fulfilled the law's demands in every way. Christ has delivered the believer from the curse and the rule of the law to live in a new and living way - to live by faith. Faith submits to Christ, trusts in Him, obeys Him, walks by the Spirit who leads into all truth regarding Christ. The Lord Jesus Christ is the object of the believer's faith, not the law. He is married to Christ and is now dead to the law. "Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God." Romans 7:4. The more the child of God looks to Christ, his husband, the more the new man of grace within him grows in grace and the more the old sinful flesh is subdued and mortified. By walking by faith the child of God finds a principal of life which actually results in the righteousness of the law being fulfilled and sin no longer having the dominion which it once had in his life. This is a life lived entirely by faith, not in man's strength but in the Spirit, by grace alone. The work is all of God. Oh, what amazing grace there is in the Gospel of Christ! How it is the "power of God unto salvation"!
May all God's people ever turn from the works of the law, from the arm of the flesh, from all boasting in self and their own works, to rest by faith in the finished work of Christ, looking unto Him alone, who has delivered them from the power of sin, death, and Hell, to give them newness of life in Him, that they might have eternal life, the divine nature, who walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit, in the reign of grace!