“Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For no human being will be justified in His sight by works of the law, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.” Romans 3:19, 20(Italics provided)
Why is it that no one can be justified by works of the law? Because, “What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all, for I have already charged that all men, both Jews and Greeks, are under the power of sin, as it is written: ‘None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands, no one seeks God. All have turned aside, together they have gone wrong; no one does good, not even one,’ “ Romans 2:9-12 (Italics provided) “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” Romans 3:23.
Paul could not be clearer, we are all sinners and none of us do good because we are under the power of sin. And the power of sin means that none of us can be justified (or made right with God) through anything that we do (works of the law). And Paul makes it clear that this is a bad situation to find ourselves in, “All who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law,” Romans 2:12. Whether his hearers were Jews under the law or Gentiles without the law, it doesn’t matter. The law condemns them for their failure to keep it.
Paul writes, “What then shall we say? That the law is sin. By no means! Yet, if it had not been for the law, I should not have known sin. Romans 7:7 He goes on to say, “We know that the law is spiritual; but I am carnal, sold under sin,” Romans 7:14. The problem is not the law, but stems from our inability to keep the law because of sin.
The law had three functions under the old covenant; 1) it revealed the character of God, 2) showed how people fail to live up to it, and 3) worked like a tutor or custodian for the Israelites until Jesus came (Galatians 3:23, 24). (Italics provided) So the question is, now that Jesus has come to this world, lived, died and was resurrected, what is our relationship to the law?
Paul makes it clear that the law is good, “So, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and just and good,” Romans 7:12 Our dilemma is that, under sin we cannot and do not keep the laws of God because they represent all that is holy and we represent all that is sinful and rebellious.
A good question to ask ourselves is how did we get in this state of being under the power of sin? “Therefore as sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned-sin indeed was in the world before the law was given but sin is not counted where there is no law,” Romans 5:12, 13. (Italics provided) Through Adam’s rebellion sin has continued through the ages and every one of us are infected by the deadly virus of sin (metaphorically speaking).
Here is the problem: God is God and we are not Him ~ He is holy and we are sinful. We cannot live in the presence of a Holy God and without living in the presence of God, from whom all life springs, we only wither and die. How do we go from being lost and condemned because of our failure to live one hundred percent perfect lives under the commands of the law?
God understood the problem before the foundation of the world and made a plan for our salvation from the curse of the law. He revealed it to Abraham one starry night. “The promise to Abraham and his descendants, that they should inherit the world, did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith. If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression,” Romans 4:13-15. (Italics provided)
Paul lays everything out before us so that we cannot miss it. It is not the law that saves us but instead the righteousness of faith. If law keeping could save us, then the promise of righteousness by faith was null and void. God would have lied to Abraham and it is impossible for God to lie so the promise of righteousness by faith must be true.
“That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants,” Romans 4:16. It was to this fulfillment of the covenant made to Abraham that those who put their trust in Jesus will live by faith that all the Old Testament pointed forward to. “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from law, although the law and the prophets bear witness to it the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe,” Romans 3:21, 22.
God declares us righteous apart from the law, because the law and the writings of the prophets only pointed forward to Jesus who would become our righteousness. “And to one who does not work but trusts Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness. So also David pronounces a blessing upon the man to whom God reckons righteousness apart from works, ‘Blessed are those whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the LORD will not reckon his sin,’ ” Romans 4:5-8. (Italics provided)
It is little wonder that Paul can cry out, “For we hold that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the law,” Romans 3:23 “Therefore since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through Him we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in our hope of sharing the glory of God,” Romans 5:1, 2.
Again, Paul declares, “But the words, ‘it was reckoned to him,’ were written not for his (Abraham, my insert) sake alone, but for ours also. It will be reckoned to us who believe in Him that raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was put to death for our trespasses and raised for our justification,” Romans 4:24, 55.
But what about our sin? “For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace,” (Romans 6:14) is Paul’s response to that question. The reason sin has no dominion over us isn’t because we are keeping the law perfectly and trusting in our obedience to earn merit with God, but instead sin does not rule in our lives because we are under grace.
Let me be clear about the fact that just because we are saved by grace and not by works of the law doesn’t mean that we are free to live lives outside of Christ. Paul states, “Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law,” Romans 3:31.
Though the law has no power to save since it can only condemn, there is no saving merit in living within the boundaries of the law. However, the principles of the law are written in our hearts when we accept Jesus into our lives. John 3:34 call’s this, “the law of love”.
Love becomes the framework in which we determine our actions and ethics as born again Christians. How we treat other people becomes a reflection of the joy of our being saved by grace without works of the law.
As Christians we long to see others blessed as we are blessed. We wish to see our family, neighbors and friends accept Jesus. The good news that we have been given eternal life through the grace of God, poured out for us at Calvary is worth shouting from the rooftops. If we put our trust in the goodness of God and let God live in our heart’s through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit we need never be afraid.
* Please remember to pray for the Christians that are suffering under persecution for their faith in many countries around the world. Some of their stories can be found at http://thebeggardanced.com/nine-oclock-club/