65th the Study of the Book of John
“But do not think I will accuse you before the Father. Your accuser is Moses, on whom your hopes are set. If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. But since you do not believe what he wrote, how are you going to believe what I say?”
Do you remember the Titanic, that giant luxury liner built for passage of the North Atlantic sea lanes? The Titanic had been designed according to the latest of the scientific methods of its day and was supposed to be incapable of sinking. But she did sink. She went down, taking to the bottom many who were convinced that it could not happen. The Titanic disaster was a classic case of misplaced confidence.
We also discover a case of misplaced confidence in the three verses that close the important fifth chapter of John’s Gospel. However, in this case, tragedy involves not merely the loss of life in this world. It also involves loss of life in the world to come. The Jewish leaders with whom Christ was speaking were not at all worried about salvation. They had the law of Moses, and they trusted their knowledge of it. The law was useful, but in itself, it could not save; it was powerless.
So somebody can ask, “If the law condemns us, then why did God give it? Why bother to keep the law, if this is the outcome? What is the purpose of the law?” At the heart of these question is the basic human objection that instead of pointing us to Jesus as the Savior God should take account of our nature and good works. This is what the Pharisees had under the religious system that they had constructed. In short, under this system people had taken their minds off God and were comparing themselves with others. They did quite well by this comparison, at least in their own eyes. So when Jesus came they obviously saw no need for a Savior. However, here they missed the major point of the law.
William Barclay says quite accurately, “the point is not: ‘Am I as good as my neighbor?’ The point is: ‘Am I as good as God?’ The point is not: ‘Is my scholarship and is my piety greater than that of other people whom I could name?’ The point is: ‘What do I look like to God’ So long as we judge ourselves by human comparisons there is plenty of room for self-satisfaction, and self-satisfaction kills faith, for faith is born of the sense of need. But when we compare ourselves with Jesus Christ, and through Him, with God, we are humbled to the dust, and then faith is born, for there is nothing left to do but to trust to the mercy of God.”
All this falls into an even clearer light when we go on to ask what God’s standard is and find out, on the basis of the law, that this is perfection. Nothing else can satisfy him. This is the message of the law. Thus, the law itself says, “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law” (Gal.3:10; Deut. 27:26). This is the accusation of Moses, about which Christ was speaking.
What is perfection? Deuteronomy 6:5 is the summation of the Ten Commandments. So we may deal with just this verse. It says, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” The point is that no one has ever done this. One commentator has written, “I do not expect to meet anyone in heaven who is there because of the Ten Commandments. Oh, I will meet men there who have measured themselves by the law and found that they had fallen short and therefore have learned they must run to the grace of God to be saved through the commandments themselves.
Not a few men and women try to take comfort in the fact that although they are condemned by verse like Deuteronomy 6:5, nevertheless there are some commandments that they seem capable of fulfilling. But this is misplaced confidence also. James 2:10 tells us, “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.” This means that perfection is not to be measured by how well one can keep one particular commandment but by how well he keeps them all. By this measure, a person is as imperfect by breaking one law as by breaking all ten.
Another important expression of God’s standard of perfection is found in the Sermon on the Mount. The Golden Rule says, “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and Prophets” (Matt. 7:12). Again no one will ever be in heaven as a result of the Golden Rule, except insofar as God has used it to reveal the person’s own lack of perfection and turn him away from his own human goodness to the Savior.
There is another point that is obvious from these two great verses that summarize God’s standard. Not only is God’s standard perfection. Not only is this to be judged by the whole of God’s laws, rather than just a part. This standard is also an internal standard, as well as the external one. Thus, it deals with thoughts, motivations, and desires, as well as with actions. Think for a moment of how Jesus looked at the Pharisees. When other people looked at the Pharisees they saw only what was visible from outside, for that is all that human beings ever see. From that perspective, the Pharisees were not too bad. At least they appeared better than others. On the other hand, Jesus is God was able to look at what was going on within, and he saw their motivations. They were striving for righteousness all right, at least as they conceived it, but they were doing to outdo other people. It was no to please God. Moreover, in spite of their efforts to clean up the outside of their lives the Pharisees were as incapable as anyone else of cleaning up what was inside. On one occasion Jesus expressed this quite pointedly by saying, “woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean” (Matt. 23:27).
These words are true of anyone. To a certain, you and I can pull ourselves up by our bootstraps morally. A thief can himself and stop stealing. Having worked off a debt to society, he can even recapture a certain measure of respect and trust from his fellowmen. An alcoholic can overcome his weakness for drink. He can regain useful employment and again become credit and asset to his family. We admire those who are able to do this. But the truth of the matter is that although we are able to do this outwardly so that people may admire us, as they did the Pharisees, we are nevertheless unable to do anything about the state of our hearts. Thus, we cannot make ourselves loving if we are not loving. We cannot make ourselves humble if we are not humble. Above all, we cannot make ourselves righteous if we are not.
Them we sum it all up, and we find that the demand of the law is perfection. This is a perfection in all the law’s requirements, and it is an internal perfection as well as an external one. Moreover, we see that all are condemned by this standard. Jesus was right. The law can do only two things, and the bringing of salvation is not one of them. The law can either condemn, or it can point to the Savior.
Will a man live by law? Then the law will condemn him. But just here God comes in with his message of free salvation. Notice that he does not change his standard. The law is a good standard. It is the only possible standard. It is just that it cannot save people who have broken it. But God can! The efforts of men cannot move God’s balance, but now God is going to move it for us. Jesus comes. He is the Son of God, our Savior. He is the embodiment of that total, internal, and external perfection of mind, soul, and body about which the law has been talking. He had the right to avoid us all. Yet he comes and is put to death for our sins. Since Jesus is the infinite God, his death is sufficient for any number of finite creatures. He was able to take the punishment of the law for an infinite weight of sin and cancel it for us in the hour of his death so that now sin may be removed and righteousness be made available for all who trust him. God comes to us with the offer of salvation. He tells us that he wants us to be in heaven with him and that he has made the way. “I love you,” God says. “I do not care about what level your life has been lived. I only want you to look to my Son who died for you. Do you see him dying there? He died for you. Do you see Christ rising from the tomb? This too is for you, for it is the evidence that I am forever satisfied with his sacrifice. If you will believe in him and commit yourself to him, I will take that death for your side of the scale. The standard is the same, but I will give my righteousness for your side of the balance.” We take that righteousness, the righteousness given to us, and go to God’s balance. We place Jesus’ righteousness on our side of the scale, and immediately the balance is made. We are justified. We are accepted in the Beloved. God has nothing more against us forever.
Have you done that? Remember, it is not enough to be like the Pharisees. It is not enough to possess the Bible. It is not enough to read the Bible. It is not even enough to study the Bible or memorize the Bible. You must obey the Bible. And it is the Bible that points you away from your own efforts to earn salvation, which you can never do, and instead directs you toward the Lord Jesus Christ, who is our Savior.