The Pharisees had everything under control in their lives. They were moral and upright in all their dealings with people. They kept all the laws that swirled around the commandments of God and the traditions of their religion. They observed judiciously all the ceremonies and rituals of Judaism. The Pharisees could walk with their heads up because they were scrupulous in tithe paying, orthodox in their theology and devoted in their worship. They were sincere in all their religious activities, but the problem was that they were sincerely wrong.
They believed and taught that what God would do for them depended upon what they did for God. Although God was in their actions and in their minds He didn’t reign in their hearts. In all their efforts to earn righteousness with God they missed the simple truth that grace can never be earned because it is given freely.
In Romans 3:20 Paul unfolds an important truth about the role of the law in a person’s life. “For no human being will be justified in His sight by works of the law, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.” While the Pharisees struggled to keep all the laws of Moses along with all the secondary commands that grew up around those laws, Paul saw the law for what it is.
Nowhere in Romans or any other of his writings does Paul do away with the law or teach that it is not important in the life of a Christian. Instead he teaches that the law is the great standard of God’s moral perfection because it is the outward reflection of who God is. God is purity, truth, generous and reliable, therefore, His law carries all of these traits as well. Paul writes in chapter three of Romans, “do we, then nullify the law by this faith? Not at all rather we uphold the law (v. 31). And to make sure his readers don’t belittle the law he writes, “So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good.” Romans 7:12
The problem isn’t with the holiness of God or the expression of His holiness, which is the law; the problem is with us. Though the law is the standard we are to live up to, we can’t keep it or live up to it. “Since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,”(Rom. 3:23) sums us all up quite nicely.
When we behold the law of God and reflect upon it, it is then and only then that we understand who we really are and what our status before God really is; we are sinners in need of a Savior. Our contemplation of the law and its requirements show us how far short we are from any form of perfection or right relationship with God through our own merits and works. The law drives us to our knees at the foot of the cross. You and I are never in a hundred million trillion years going to be justified by our attempts to perfectly keep God’s commandments or work hard enough to please God.
Something else is needed to put us into a right relationship with God. We need a Savior. “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the 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 Notice these verses come hard on the heels of verse 20. God doesn’t leave defeated, sinful man to stew in discouragement and despondency for our failure to live up to the law’s demands, but instead gives us the answer to our longing to be right with Him through the atoning death of Jesus at Calvary.
Here is the good news of the Gospel that sets our feet dancing and our hearts beating for joy. “For we hold that a man is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.” As Christians this is the good news we want to shout from the rooftops! Our hearts should break when we think of our brothers and sisters striving to live up to the commandments of God through never ending trying to be good enough to save.
Salvation is a gift of God (v. 24) and He offers that salvation to us freely through Christ because He loves us unconditionally. How do we receive this gift into our lives? We believe and trust that God does not lie or break His promises when He tells us, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have ever lasting life.” John 3:16
True righteousness is not our righteousness but God’s righteousness (v. 21) that is accredited to us through our faith in Jesus’ substitutionary death on our behalf (v. 24).
Is Paul saying now that a person understands that they are saved by the grace of God and not by commandment keeping that we are free to do whatever we want? No, just because we can never be redeemed based upon our merits or works doesn’t mean that we live immoral lives. A Christian is different from a Pharisee because Jesus not only guides our thoughts and actions but also lives in our heart. A true believer finds himself/herself loving God with all their heart and their neighbor as themself. When Jesus takes a hold of our heart through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit our attitudes change and we become transformed. We begin to bear fruit in our lives, patience, long-suffering, kindness, love and joy.
I love how Paul sums up the born again life that is a reflection of being free from attempting to earn merit with God through law keeping. “But you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love be servants of one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, ‘You shall love our neighbor as yourself.’ ” Galatians 5:13, 14
“Amazing grace! how sweet, the sound
that saved a wretch; like me.
I once was lost, but now am found,
was blind but now I see.”
John Newton, ex-slave trader, believer, minister, hymn writer and changed man by the power of the Gospel.
* It seems that everyday there are new headlines of the atrocities committed against the Christians and humanity in many countries. Please remember to pray for these people – they need our support if only in our prayers. Go to http://thebeggardanced.com/nine-oclock-club/ for updates on persecution of Christians