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"Sirs, what must I do to be saved? And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ." -- Acts 16:30-31 "Of him are ye in Christ Jesus, Who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption." -- l Corinthians 1:30
The gospel plan of salvation is by faith, not works. Originally, the human race was to be saved by perfect and eternal obedience to the law of God. Adam was the natural head of the human race, and his sin has involved us in its consequences. But his sin is not literally accounted our sin. He stood as our natural head, and his sin has resulted in the sin and ruin of his descendants. "By one man's disobedience many were made sinners" (Romans 5:19). When Adam fell, the law offered no hope of salvation. Then the plan that had been provided by God's foresight for saving mankind by mere grace was revealed. Salvation was now placed on a new foun-dation by a covenant of redemption. You will find this covenant in the 89th Psalm and other places in the Old Testament. This is a covenant between the Father and the Son regarding the salvation of mankind and is the foundation of another covenant -- the covenant of grace.
God's Covenant Relationship
In the covenant of redemption, man is merely the subject of the covenant. The parties are God the Father and God the Son. In this covenant, the Son is made the head or representative of His people. Adam was the natural head of the human family, and Christ is the covenant head of His Church. The covenant of grace was founded on this covenant of redemption. Made with men and revealed to Adam after the fall, it was more fully revealed to Abraham. With Jesus Christ as Mediator of this covenant of grace (in opposition to the original covenant of works), salvation was now by faith. The obedience and death of Jesus Christ was regarded as the reason any individual could be saved, not an individual's personal obedience. But Christ's obedience was not performed for us. As a man, He had to obey for Himself. If He did not obey, He became personally a transgressor. Yet there is a sense in which it may be said that His obedience is reckoned to our account. His obedience has highly honored the law, and His death has fully satisfied the demands of public justice. Grace (not justice) has reckoned His righteousness to us. If He had obeyed the law strictly for us, justice would have accounted His obedience to us. We could have obtained salvation by right instead of asking for it through grace. Only in this sense is salvation accounted ours: that He, being God and man, voluntarily assumed our nature and laid down His life to make atonement. This casts such a glory on God's law that grace is willing to consider His obedience ours, as if we were righteous. Christ is also the covenant head of those who believe. He is not the natural head, as Adam was, but our covenant relationship to Him is such that whatever is given to Him is given to us. Whatever He is and whatever He has done, either as God or man, is given to us by covenant. The Church, as a body, has never understood the fullness and richness of this covenant. All there is in Christ is ours in the covenant of grace. We receive this grace by faith. Nothing we can do makes us deserving of this righteousness. But as soon as we exercise faith, all that is contained in the covenant of grace becomes ours. This is why the inspired writers make so much of faith. Faith is our part of the covenant. It is the eye that discerns, the hand that takes hold, and the medium by which we become possessed of the blessings of the covenant. By faith the soul actually becomes possessed of all that is embraced in that act of faith. If there is not enough faith received to break the bonds of sin and set the soul at liberty, it is because the act has not embraced enough of what Christ is and what He has done.
I have referred to the verse from Corinthians for the purpose of discussing the fundamental things contained in this covenant of grace. "Of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption." But what is meant? How and in what sense is Christ our wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption? Jesus is often called the Wisdom of God. In the Book of Proverbs, He is called Wisdom. But how is He made to us wisdom? First, we have all the benefits of His wisdom; and if we exercise faith, we are certain to be directed by it. He is the infinite source of wisdom, and we are partakers of His wisdom and have it guaranteed to us. If we trust in Him, we may have it as certainly as if we had it originally ourselves. This is what we need from the gospel and what the gospel must furnish to suit our needs. Any man who thinks his own theorizing and speculating are going to bring him to any right knowledge of God knows nothing at all. His carnal, earthly heart can no more study the realities of the subject than the heart of a beast. "What man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God" (I Corinthians 2:11). What can we know, without experience, about the character or Spirit of God? Do you say, "We can reason about God"? What if we do reason? What can reason do here? Suppose I should undertake to teach a pure intellectual what it is to love. I could reason and philosophize with him about love. Yet it is impossible to make a pure intellectual understand what love is unless he has actually experienced it! It's like talking about colors to a man born blind. He hears the word, but what idea can he attach to it? To get the idea of the difference of colors into his mind is impossible. The term is a mere word. One whose mind has not experienced Christianity may reason about it. He may prove the perfections of God as he would prove the theory of gravity. But the spirit and life of the gospel can no more be carried to the mind by mere words, without experience, than love to an intellectual or colors to a man born blind. You may explain the law and crush him with conviction, but to give the spiritual meaning of things without the Spirit of God is absurd. Jesus is made to us righteousness. Righteousness means holiness or obedience to law, and sanctification means the same. What distinction, therefore, did Paul have in mind?