No Justification by the Law

Romans 3:20

Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.

We must walk a fine line as Christians.  We need to point out sin in others while recognizing that we too sin.  We must point out sin to non-Christians because only when they recognize their sin will they become aware of their need for a savior.

Likewise, we point out sin to Christians because even though our salvation may be secure, sin still damages our relationship with the Lord.  Furthermore, it has earthly consequences that can lead to anything from physical harm to damaged relationships to imprisonment or even death.

We have many good reasons for preaching about the hazards of sin and warning Christians and non-Christians alike about it.  The danger lies in believing that we are better than others who still fall victim to the temptations of any particular sin that we have mastered.

To begin with, we all struggle with sin.  Some just struggle more than others and some struggle with sins that we do not.  We must not preach about as if we are better than those who commit the sins that we preach against.

Instead we must remember that we are all sinners in need of grace.  By teaching others about their sin, we hope to correct bad behaviors and bring people to repentance.  This should always be the goal of preaching about sin.  We should never be like the Pharisees and pretend that we are better than others who commit a certain sin that we preach against.

The Law is Absolute and Ongoing

Matthew 5:18

I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.

There is a lot of confusion in Christianity about what is expected of Christians today.  Some Christians hold fast to the idea of resting on the Sabbath and giving a ten percent tithe to the church.  Others say that these rules are not repeated by Jesus in the New Testament and thus they are null and void for the church age.

The truth, as with many things, is in between.  It would be foolish to say that any point of the law is unimportant to observe today because Jesus didn’t teach it.  He doesn’t need to teach it because He lived according to it and if He followed it, we should as well.

More so, Jesus taught that our actions are not enough, but the attitude in our heart is just as important if not more.  This is discussed in “Obedience of the Heart”.  Early Christians didn’t have any need to follow the ten percent tithe because they gave freely and gave whenever there was a need.  An arbitrary number wasn’t important as a measuring stick.

On the other hand, we can’t keep the law to the letter and we should stop pretending that we can.  We should always strive for perfection but have plenty of grace for others when they fall short of following the law.  After all, we’ll need it when we fall short as well.

The law is still our standard, we just can’t keep it.  Because we are under grace however, we shouldn’t beat each other up for shortcomings.  Instead we can thank God because we are all in the same boat.

Jesus Fulfilled the Law

Matthew 5:17

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.

Romans 5:18

Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men.

As we have seen in other devotions, we are incapable of fulfilling the law and this should point us to the need for Jesus.  The verses above tell us exactly how Jesus is able to fulfill the law in our place.

When Jesus came, He didn’t come to pronounce that the law was dead and useless.  Instead He lived according to the law – the way God intended it to be lived.  Others accused Him of breaking the law, particularly the Sabbath, but that was based on their interpretation of how the law was to be lived, not how God intended.

So part one of the plan was for Jesus to fulfill the law because we were not able to.  Romans 5 spells out part two.  Jesus’ righteousness was passed on to us in the same way that our natural sinfulness was passed on.

We were born sinful on account of Adam’s sin.  We didn’t need to sin even though we all do in abundance anyway.  The fact that we inherited Adam’s sin seems unfair but it is for this reason that we can inherit Christ’s righteousness.

When we are born again, we are born as righteous under Jesus.  We are born sinful under Adam but righteous under Jesus.  Adam had one act of sinfulness and ruined us all.  Jesus only needed one act of righteousness – His death on the cross – to save us all.  This is why Jesus had to fulfill the law and why He was able to do so in our place.

Obedience of the Heart

Matthew 5:28

But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

The heart is where our actions start.  What we do, good or bad, is a result of where our heart is.  Even if one were able to keep from performing sinful acts, the mind is sinful and still thinks about them.  Not carrying out a sinful act may prevent someone else from getting hurt but the damage is still done internally.

Jesus uses the illustration of lust in this passage but He says the same thing about murder elsewhere.  If we say something harmful to another person, we are killing their character.  It doesn’t matter from God’s perspective that we did no physical deed, we still intentionally harmed someone.

Taming the heart is much more difficult to tame than actions.  Only with the help of the Holy Spirit do we stand a chance at controlling our heart and our mind.  If we are able to control these however, our actions will come easily because they are a reflection of our heart.

Some people can train their actions against their will.  They may be able to avoid doing something or acting a particular way in front of certain people but while alone their true nature will come out.  If nothing else, we can’t fool God into believing that we are good just because we abstain from certain actions.  He knows our heart and it is the heart that He will judge.

The Law is Holy, Righteous, and Good

Romans 7:12

So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good.

In light of the fact that we are sinful human beings who are incapable of keeping the law, it appears as if the law is not our friend.  Paul argues that the law is in fact very good for us and we should be thankful for it.

Ignorance of the law is no excuse for breaking it.  Just like the speed limit, the law is hard to ignore – even if just our conscience – and we won’t go free by proclaiming that we didn’t know what the law was.  The law sets the boundaries and because of it we know when we’ve exceeded those boundaries.

Some may self righteously declare that they have kept the law and upheld the boundaries as the Pharisees did.  These people are self deluded however because no one keeps the law perfectly.

Where the law is good though is in the fact that we can’t keep the law.  Once we realize that we have broken the law, we know that we must do something about it.  Some people try to perform good deeds in an effort to balance out their bad deeds.  But the question is “how much good is enough?”  When one’s salvation is in question, one can never be too sure.

But we can never be good enough to make up for our sin and that’s the conclusion the law should lead us to.  We need a solution for sin and that solution is Jesus.  The law is good because it shows us our need for salvation found only in Jesus Christ.