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Ephesians 2:1–3

“You were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, . . . and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.”

The summary demands of the law of God, as well as our daily experience, demonstrate that we cannot keep our Creator’s commands perfectly. We must understand this truth to find comfort in this world, for we have to despair of our own ability to keep the law of the Lord if we are finally to rest in the righteousness of Christ. At the last judgment, we are either going to stand before God in our own righteousness or the righteousness of our Savior, and only the latter righteousness allows us to be declared just by the Lord, thereby granting us access to His blessed presence (Gal. 2:15–16).

Many people, however, want to stand before the Creator in their own righteousness because they deny the Lord’s standard. His law does promise life to those who keep it (Lev. 18:5) but not to those who keep it imperfectly. Those who want to secure a place in heaven by doing the law must understand that if they start down that path, they have to finish it. They must take on the whole law and keep it perfectly, not just the stipulations they like or the “easy” commandments (Gal. 5:3). “Whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it” (James 2:10).

God’s law promises life to those who keep it perfectly, so we cannot trust in our own obedience because we are incapable of following the commandments flawlessly. As the Heidelberg Catechism tells us, we “have a natural tendency to hate God and [our] neighbor” that renders perfect obedience impossible (Q&A 5). This teaching comes from many biblical passages, including Paul’s explanation in Ephesians 2:1–3 that apart from Christ, all children of Adam are “dead in trespasses and sins,” beings who follow wicked passions and children of wrath who deserve only condemnation. Scripture has no illusions about the ability of fallen people to please the Lord — it tells us that every sinner has fallen short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23).

Thanks be to God that there is hope for those who realize the impossibility of pleasing Him on their own. By His grace, we can be rescued from the penalty due our sin. Augustine writes that our fallen tendency to hate God and neighbor “is running its course now through everyone by nature, so that nothing frees us from condemnation except the grace of God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, NT vol. 8, p. 123).

Coram Deo Living before the face of God

When we trust in Jesus Christ, we are granted the ability and desire to keep God’s commands in gratitude for our salvation. Of course, the remaining presence of sin guarantees that we will not keep these commands perfectly while we are awaiting glorification, so we can never hope in our own goodness to secure a place for us in heaven. Let us never hope in our own righteousness but in the righteousness of Christ.

For Further Study
  • Genesis 6:5; 8:21
  • Jeremiah 17:9–10
  • John 3:3
  • 1 John 1:8–9

The Right Attitude toward Others

God’s Good Creation

Keep Reading The Apocalypse of John

From the January 2012 Issue
Jan 2012 Issue