The second reason Larger Catechism 39 lists for the incarnation is to “perform obedience to the law.” Christ came in order to obey the law. Obedience to God’s law is an essential part of salvation.
This may be a surprising thought to many. Few find the matter of obedience to God all that important anymore. We live during a time characterized by what some people have called “the triumph of the therapeutic.” That is to say, we live at a time when moral and religious questions take a backseat to questions of self-actualization, relationships, and personal happiness in life. This means that for a growing number of people the question, “Am I as happy as I think I should be” is more important than, “Am I doing what God expects me to do with my life?” And it also means that it is becoming more and more unfathomable to people that Christ needed to come and perform obedience to God’s law in order to accomplish our salvation.
But Scripture testifies that obedience does matter to God. In fact, Scripture teaches that obedience is requisite for communion with him. Psalm 15 reads:
O LORD, who shall sojourn in your tent?
Who shall dwell on your holy hill?
2 He who walks blamelessly and does what is right
and speaks truth in his heart;
3 who does not slander with his tongue
and does no evil to his neighbor,
nor takes up a reproach against his friend;
4 in whose eyes a vile person is despised,
but who honors those who fear the LORD;
who swears to his own hurt and does not change;
5 who does not put out his money at interest
and does not take a bribe against the innocent.
He who does these things shall never be moved.
The psalmist tells us that God requires obedience on the part of man if there is to be true fellowship and communion between God and man. It is God’s Law that shows us what God requires of us. He has even written his law on the hearts of all people so that all would know it (Rom. 2:14-16). He summarized it in Ten Commandments at Sinai (Exod. 20).
But this is where we find the bad news. Going all the way back to Adam, we see man breaking God’s law and losing communion with him. It was Adam’s disobedience that led to his banishment from the garden sanctuary (Gen. 3). It wasIsrael’s disobedience that led to their exile from the holy land. It is mankind’s disobedience and lack of righteousness that keeps God at odds with man (Col. 1:21).
In Romans 3, Paul laments mankind’s ‘obedience-less’ condition, “None is righteous, no, not one” (Rom. 3:10). God’s good law which shows us how we ought to live, has taken on a condemning voice towards us, now showing us how we have fallen short of the obedience that holy God requires of us. Now for us, as fallen creatures, “through the law comes knowledge of sin” (Rom. 3:20). To lose sight of the problem of man’s lack of obedience before God is to miss the real problem that mankind has. Fallen man is not obedient or righteousness enough to have fellowship with a righteous and holy God.
What we need is a Savior who comes to restore our fellowship with God by rendering perfect obedience to God’s law for us. The Son of God came to do this very thing. Galatians 4:4-5 says, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” Notice that it says Christ was “born under the law.” It means that Christ was born into this world under the responsibility of keeping the law of God. Verse 5 says that this was in order to bring redemption to us.
Throughout his earthly ministry, Christ kept God’s law in every respect. He did everything his Father required of him (Joh. 17:4). The Bible teaches us that through faith in Jesus Christ, God counts this obedience as ours. When we come to faith in Christ, God credits Christ’s righteousness to our spiritual account.
The obedience that we need in order to have real fellowship with God, but lack because of our sinful condition, Christ came into this world to provide for us so that we would have communion with God, as his children, forever.
The Apostle Paul spoke quite eloquently of the righteousness of Christ that is given to us by faith. In Philippians 4:8-9, he said, “For [Christ’s] sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith” (cf. Rom. 3:20-5:21).
It was Martin Luther’s famous statement that a Christian is “simultaneously sinner and saint.” That means that in and of ourselves we are fallen creatures. Our good works are always corrupted by sin, and thus never perfectly conformed to God’s law. But God declares us righteous and obedient on account of Christ’s obedience. In ourselves, sinners, but through Christ, righteous! This can only happen because Christ has come, and accomplished real human obedience to God’s law in our place. That righteousness is graciously given to any and all people who put their trust in Christ.
The Son of God became man to “perform obedience to the law.”