Have you ever heard anyone say, “If everyone would only live by the ten commandments we would be all right?” Really? Who said so? When Jesus came He didn’t tell people “If you will only live by the ten commandments you will be all right!” None of the apostles ever told people this. In fact, if it were possible to live by the ten commandments or by any other elements of the law of God, then Jesus would not have had to die on the cross.
“Why then the law?” Why was the law given? This is the question asked by the apostle Paul in (Galatians 3:19). He was showing the people of Galatia the necessity of faith in Jesus because of the very nature of law.
Before answering that question, we should think for a moment about the nature of the law of God. Paul has in view here the law that was given through Moses. That law was absolutely perfect as far as the principles set forth. Why would they not be? The came from the perfect law-giver – God Himself, the one who is absolutely perfect. The law is a reflection of His perfect character.
The problem with the law is that men do not live up to the absolute standard of perfection that God is. That is what the law requires – that we be as perfect as God is perfect.
“For Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandments shall live by them.” (Romans 10:4-6).
There has only been one person who has ever achieved that level of conduct – the one who became the perfect sacrifice for the sins of man. All men sin. Period. And therein lies the problem for man. The very first time a person “misses the mark” of the ideal of perfection set by the law, that same law condemns him. The first time he tells a little “white lie” he is condemned. The first time he acts out of selfish motives, he has sinned and therefore condemned by the law. If he were to never do anything else wrong except to covet one thing that belongs to his neighbor, he is under the penalty of death.
The law does not have any provision for forgiveness. There is no mercy in law – only justice. And the just penalty for transgression of the law is death! That is how serious the matter of sin is. Paul underscores the seriousness of the problem the law creates for man…
“For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” (Galatians 3:10-11).
The one who relies on the law is obligated to “abide in all things written in the Book of the Law, AND DO THEM.” That leaves no “wiggle room!” There are no “legal loopholes” in the law of God. It is as absolute as He is.
Why then the law? Earlier we cited (Galatians 3:19) where Paul asked that question. He went ahead in the same verse to say; “It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made.” The law was added “because of transgressions.” That probably means that the law was given to identify sin as sin and to underscore the impossibility of being free from sin through human effort.
“…for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law.” (Rom. 5:13).
“Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more,” (v. 20).
“Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed.” (Galatians 3:23).
“Was then that which is good made death unto me? God forbid. But sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me by that which is good; that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful.”(Romans 7:13).
Seen this way, law, reflecting God’s perfection and man’s imperfection, serves the purpose of “driving” men to Christ. Helpless to do anything about our situation, we cry out with the apostle Paul, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? (Romans 7:24). The resolution to this dilemma of which Paul was speaking – the conflict between his desire to do the will of God and the weakness of his flesh that always lead him into sin – is given in Romans 7:25; 8:1-2.
“Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.”
Paul had learned through his own experience that the only way to receive salvation was to rely on the grace of God.
Unfortunately there were people in the first century who did not understand these things about the law. There were the Judiazers who preached that it was necessary for Gentile converts to be circumcised and keep the law of Moses in order to be saved. They apparently did not realize that the very thing they were contending for was that which condemned them. Paul told Timothy that these people
“Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions.” (1 Timothy 1:6-7).
Certain people today argue for one or another system of law-keeping. These, like those in Paul’s day, are without understanding. They would bring people under a system that can only condemn them for not keeping law.
Paul tells us what the law is good for…
“Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted.” (1 Timothy 1:8-11).
How was the law for the “lawless and disobedient?” In that it called what they do what it is – SIN. What sinners do is not merely weakness. It is not simply making a mistake. People sin because they choose to do evil. They are not forced against their will to hurt others, to be filthy minded, to be immoral and commit adultery and fornication. They are not the victims of circumstances beyond their control when they murder, lie, steal, etc., etc., etc. The law simply calls people what they are, and in calling them what they are, calls them to a higher, holier life, but a life they cannot attain no matter how they may try.
How is the law not for the just? The “just” are those people who stand justified before God. They have been accused of sin – and were found guilty! So how can they be just? How can God, the righteous judge pronounce them exempt from the just penalty for their sins? By His grace – that’s how! By grace through faith. God does forgive penitent sinners – people who have been driven by desperation to their knees in willing submission to the Lord.
So what is there to keep people from sinning if there is no threat of condemnation by the law? The answer is LOVE? Love is a far more powerful deterrent to sin than fear of the law. Love does not lead me to desire the forbidden. If I love God I will not want to hurt or disappoint Him. He expects me to do my best, and if I live for Him, I will try to do that very thing. If I love my fellow man I will not do anything to hurt him. I will not lie to my neighbor. I will not steal from my neighbor. I will not murder my neighbor. I will not covet anything that belongs to my neighbor. I will always seek to do what is right and best toward everyone.
“Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.” (Romans 13:8).
And if you think this is not challenging enough, try it sometime in your own life! Even here, we will not love perfectly. Even here, will need the grace of God. That simply is the nature of both ourselves and the nature of whatever law you may consider. But always remember…
“For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.”