“Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.” Romans 3:20
Have you ever wondered what the purpose of the law is in salvation? Many believers today completely disregard the law as irrelevant to their lives. They either completely ignore it, or view it with disdain. Words like legalistic, religious, and hypocrite are often regarded as synonymous with the law. The truth is, however, that the law plays a pivotal role in the story of salvation.
In Romans 3:20, the Apostle Paul first declares what the law cannot do, and then follows with an explanation of what it can do. First, he explains that no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law. Then, he states that the purpose of God’s law is to make each of us conscious of our own sin and, thereby, our need for a Savior.
JB Phillips’ paraphrase of the Bible provides a wonderful word picture of the role of the law in salvation: “No man can justify himself before God by a perfect performance of the Law’s demands – indeed it is the straight-edge of the Law that shows us how crooked we are” Romans 3:20 (Phillips). King David spoke of condemnation by the law long before the Apostle Paul ever wrote his letter to the Romans. In Psalm 143:2 David wrote, “And do not enter into judgment with Thy servant, for in Thy sight no man living is righteous.” No person in the history of the world has ever been able to stand before God on the footing of the law…except for Jesus Christ. Many try to live out their religion of being “a good person.” But there is no exception to the rule of the Law – it is either perfectly kept, or completely broken. There is no in between. John MacArthur wrote, “There is no salvation through the keeping of God’s law, because sinful man is utterly incapable of doing so. He has neither the ability nor the inclination within himself to obey God perfectly.”
There is a great chasm that stands between our condition and God’s character. We are utterly sinful and He is completely holy. How can we bridge the gap? How can we cross from our side to His? The purpose of the law is to show us that we cannot. But the purpose of exposing our sinfulness isn’t to make us feel bad – it’s to make us feel desperate. And in our greatest time of desperation the Gospel says, “God does what we cannot do.”
Application: Are you trying to work to earn God’s favor, or are have you accepted Christ’s work on your behalf?