Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.
If I were to go to the streets of any major city in America and ask the question "How does a person get to heaven?" the majority of people would answer: good works. In fact, according to a 2009 Barna Group study, 72% of Americans believe that a person can earn salvation through good works. But what is really astonishing is that (according to the same study) more than 50% of Christians think the same.
The idea that you can work your way to God isn't a modern invention. It's been around as long as sin. In fact, the Apostle Paul constantly fought against this error. Many first century Jews were convinced that by keeping the law (e.g. the Ten Commandments) they could be righteous enough to enter the kingdom of God, and they tried hard to convince Christians of the same. Paul defends the gospel against this wrong thinking in the above passage.
Paul says, "No one will be declared righteous in [God's] sight by observing the law." It's hard to get any clearer than that. God didn't give us the law so we could earn salvation by being good, and no one will prove their righteousness by keeping the law. You know why? Because no one can obey the law perfectly. We all sin. We all fall short of the perfect standard that God requires. James 2:10 says that “…whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.” You are either a sinner or a saint. There's no in between. You are a law keeper or a law breaker. And Paul tells us that we are all law breakers.
Nowadays, we don't talk about the law as much as the Jews did. Instead, we compare ourselves to other people. We act like God is going to grade on a curve. The best 40% of people get into heaven. But that simply isn't true. A person must be completely sinless to enter heaven. And far from helping us get into heaven, God's law actually proves that we aren't worthy of it. It shows us for who we really are, not saints deserving of heaven but sinners deserving hell.
It turns out that this was the point all along. "Through the law we become conscious of sin." The purpose of the law is to reveal our sinfulness. God gave it to us to show us how badly we need His grace...how badly we need Jesus. As Paul says above, when we see how far short of God's perfection we are, our mouths are silenced before Him. We dare not claim that we deserve anything from a God as righteous as this.
Today I want to encourage you to take a long look at how sinful you are. I know that sounds morbid, but bear with me. For those of you who do not claim Christ, this will help you understand why we Christians get so excited about God’s grace and His love. For those of us who do claim Christ, this will help us to better appreciate the grace and love that we have received.
Brennan Manning, in his book entitled The Ragamuffin Gospel, says, “The men and women who are truly filled with light are those who have gazed deeply into the darkness of their imperfect existence.” Similarly John Piper, in his book entitled The Passion of Jesus Christ, says that “We will never stand in awe of being loved by God until we reckon with the seriousness of our sin and the justice of his wrath against us. But when by grace we awaken to our unworthiness, then we may look at the suffering and death of Christ and say, ‘In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.’ (I John 4:10).” So take 3 minutes right now to truly consider how sinful you are and be awed at God’s amazing grace for you.
For further reading this week…
- Romans 5:6-21: Especially vs. 20- "The law was added so that the
trespass might increase."
- Galatians 2:15-3:29: "If righteousness could be gained through the
law, Christ died for nothing!" (Gal. 2:21) Feel free to read the entire
book of Galatians. It is only 6 chapters and it has a lot to say about the
law and how it relates to grace.
- Colossians 2:13-23: Come out from under the law and live by grace.
(Be careful interpreting verses 20-23 they can be hard to understand.