We have mentioned the resurrection of Christ and shown how we can receive a new life in this resurrection. But there is another crucial matter which has decisive bearing upon our Christian life. We have to devote our present chapter to the study of this matter. If we miss this, we will miss a vital aspect of our belief. In addition, we want to supplement our previous messages with a number of points concerning faith. We will combine them all in this same chapter.
THE PURPOSE OF A NEW LIFE
First, we want to ask why God gives us a new life. We have to look at this matter from the beginning. I shall consider you all as Christians and shall therefore approach the whole problem from the biblical point of view. In the Old Testament there are the laws with all the ordinances. The laws do not consist merely of the Ten Commandments; they comprise hundreds of ordinances and regulations. There are laws to govern your way of dressing. There are laws telling men when to plant and sow. There are laws governing the use of oxen or mules. Weaving and cooking have their arrangements. Everything is so strictly regulated. The totality of all these codes of behavior is the law. We want to know why there is the need for all these laws. Why did God set up all these ordinances in the Old Testament?
IS THE LAW FOR KEEPING?
If you check with every nation in the world as to why they instituted their various laws, each would surely answer that the laws are for their citizens to keep. Is this also the reason for God's institution of His laws? Did God set down the law of forbidding idol worship because He wants us to not worship idols? Did He give us laws because He wants us to honor our parents or not covet, kill, or steal? If we ask anyone this question, the answer would surely be yes. They would say that God gave us the laws, commandments, and ordinances so that we would keep them and abide by them, in the same way that every nation demands its citizens to be subject to its laws.
But Christians should never answer this question in this way. You have to give me permission to say an honest word. If you think that God introduced these laws for you to keep, you know nothing about the Christian faith. You are still an outsider.
Naturally, you may ask, "If God's purpose for giving us the laws was not for us to keep them, then what was the use of giving them to us?" My answer is so that we would break them! All the ordinances written in the laws are for us to break! This is the truth according to the Bible. The books of Romans and Galatians expressly tell us this.
THE LAW IS FOR EXPOSING MAN
We need a word of explanation here. Why did God give us the law? The Spirit of God gave the answer through the words of Paul: "The law entered in alongside that the offense might abound" (Rom. 5:20). Because of the presence of sin, the law was added. Paul also told us that the law exposes man's sins (Rom. 3:20). In other words, the purpose of the law is not to remove our sins, but rather to reveal them. If the law is for the removal of sins, then we have to keep it. But the law is not intended for that. It is there to expose us. "The law entered in alongside" for the purpose of showing us our sins.
God knows very clearly what kind of people we are. He knows all too well our weaknesses and corruption. He realizes that our conduct and behavior are such that even if we wanted to do good, we could not. Inwardly, we are corrupted; outwardly, we are degraded. The root problem is that we do not merely have an evil behavior but an evil life.
Here is the problem: God knows our wickedness, but we are ignorant of it. He realizes our utter depravity, but we have not given up hope in ourselves. We think that if we could be a little stronger or have a little more will power, we could obey God's words. Or we may think that what we lack is more effort, higher doctrines, or some other kind of help from God. We think that we can do something, but God knows that we can do nothing! For this reason God gave man a long list of laws, not for man to keep, but rather to break. In this way man will be exposed by his evil and realize that salvation can never come by the law.
God knows us all too well. But we do not know ourselves. God knows that we are only little children, and running the way we do, we will fall. Yet we do not realize it. Eventually, we fall, and then we believe that we are fallible. We do not know ourselves.
For this reason, the Bible says that the law has shut us all up under sin (Gal. 3:22). Throughout the centuries, God has been teaching us one lesson, that we would know the impossibility of keeping the law. We can never make it. None of the commandments are there for us to keep. They are all there for us to break. The result is that we would come to know ourselves. When we know ourselves, we will say, "O God, I quit! Now I know what You want to do with me!"
WHAT TO DO?
When Christ was on the earth, a young Israelite came to Him. This man was a very noble and refined person. He asked, "What shall I do to inherit eternal life?" (Luke 18:18). On that day, the Lord did not tell him what we are used to hearing, that if he believed in Him he would have eternal life. Rather, He said, "You know the commandments: `Do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not bear false witness, honor your father and mother'" (v. 20).
After the young man heard this, he said confidently, "All these things I have kept from my youth" (v. 21). The Lord knew that he did not know himself. He said, "Still you lack one thing." It seems as if He was saying, "So you think you are perfect. Let's see if this is the case or not." He continued, "All that you have, sell and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in the heavens; and come, follow Me" (v. 22). How did the young man react to these words? He began to realize that what God requires he could never fulfill. This additional item was something he could not do. So he left sorrowfully. He needed to know himself; he needed to realize that he was unable.
WITH MAN IT IS IMPOSSIBLE
What did Christ say? He said, "How difficult it is for those who have riches to go into the kingdom of God. For it is easier for a camel to enter through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God" (vv. 24-25). Here is the purpose behind Christ's confounding of the young man. He wants us to realize that with men these things are impossible. I am not saying that the Lord demands everyone to sell all his possessions before he can be saved. He was making all those who thought that they were able realize their real situation. God only wants to show man that he is unable. Man's life is an impotent one. There is no possibility for him to become able.
If man would confess his inability and give up before God, everything would be all right. O young man! O young ruler! Why do you have to depart sorrowfully? It is right to recognize your inability. But it is wrong to leave sorrowfully. What you could have said was, "Lord, I cannot do this. I have no way. Save me." If you had said this, everything would be different. The Lord's purpose is not for you to turn away, but to make you see that you are not able.
When a man says, "I am able," God becomes unable in him. But whenever man becomes unable, God will become able. When we have exhausted our strength, God will manifest His power and glory.
THE HISTORY OF THE ISRAELITES
Let us look a little more into the history of the Israelites. After God gave the law, the children of Israel seemingly responded in a good way. They said that all the Lord commanded them, they would do (Exo. 19:8). The first commandment that God gave was that there should be no other God besides Him (20:3). Moses received this commandment on the mountain. But even before he came down, the children of Israel had already built themselves a golden calf, saying, "This is our God." They promised easily that they would obey God's commandments. But God showed them that they were unable to do so. This happened to the children of Israel. It happened to the young ruler. It is also happening to us. Over and over again, God is showing us that we are unable.
WHO CAN KEEP GOD'S LAWS?
Well, then, who can keep God's laws? This is the second crucial question we have to ask. Please remember that every commandment in the Bible is unreasonably demanding. Every rich man has to sell all his possessions, give to the poor, and then follow Jesus of Nazareth. What is this? Is this not unreasonable? The demands of Christ are so severe; they take your life! He says that whoever loves his father, mother, or children more than Him is not worthy to be His disciple. Neither is any worthy of Him who will not take up his cross to follow Him (Matt. 10:37-38). Is this not asking for your life? The clause concerning the bearing of the cross is especially so. The modern equivalent of the cross is to take a criminal to the execution ground with his hands and feet bound and then have him dragged through the streets for public ridicule. If you cannot be like that criminal, you are not worthy to be His disciple! Is not He demanding our life?
Again, He says, "Love your enemies" (5:44). Mere forgiveness is close to impossible for us. Yet He talks about loving. Hence, we have to see that all of God's commandments are impossible to keep.
ONLY GOD HIMSELF
God Himself is the only able One. The commandments of Christ can only be fulfilled by Christ Himself. Neither you nor I can do anything. Hence, the answer to our second question is that only the Son of God can fulfill the requirements of God. All of us are unable. God alone is able.
Therefore, whenever a brother in the Lord tells me that he is hopeless, that he falls as soon as he rises, and that the more he tries the more he fails, I rejoice greatly. The more he weeps for his transgressions and failures, the more I laugh inside. I will say, "Today you know that you are a failure. This is something to be congratulated. Although you should have known this earlier, it is not too late to know it now." We cannot obey God's will. God's will can only be done by God Himself, and the commandments of Christ can be fulfilled by none other than Christ.
Source: Collected Works of Watchman Nee, The (Set 2) Vol. 27: The Normal Christian Faith, by Watchman Nee