Book of Romans: Chapter 3 Part 2 - The purpose and place of the law

Jesus Plus Nothing Bible Studies

Book of Romans: Chapter 3 Part 2 - The purpose and place of the law

by F Gordon

Last time we looked at the charge in Romans 3 verse 9, that everybody both Jews and Greeks are all under sin, and what it meant to be 'under sin'. This is a really strong term meaning to be enslaved or under bondage to the sin nature. Because of the fall of Adam we are all under sin; both Jews and Greeks. Paul then goes through all of those verses showing what has happened because of the slave master that dominated his sinful nature. Also how sin affects our relationship with God in the first few verses 11, 12 and 13. The remaining verses describe how our relationship with others is affected.

The purpose of the law

Romans 3:19-20 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. (20) Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin.

Paul begins by talking about the purpose of the law which really is to stop your mouth. To stop any proud, arrogant boast that you may have about your own condition or your own righteousness or anything that you may think gives you a position with God. He is bringing out that man is under sin and that he has fallen in many, many ways. So the purpose of the law is that your mouth may be stopped. You will not have any proud boast left when you come up against God's standard or God's righteous judgment. There is nothing that you could say that would give you a standing with a holy and righteous God.

In other words there is nothing you can do by trying to live up to the laws' standard with which we can be justified before God. There is nothing wrong with the law, as we are going to see, but the problem lies with man and his sinful nature and his inability to meet the standard that God has shown us.

So the first question is 'to whom was the law given?' It was given to Israel as a nation. The Old Testament shows us that first of all God had a covenant with Abraham and it was a covenant of faith, and of promise of things to come. That is how He dealt with Abraham. But 430 years' later He revealed Himself with the covenant of law to Moses which didn't supersede the covenant of faith and promise that He had with Abraham, but ran alongside it. The question is always asked 'Why did God have to bring in the covenant of the law to run alongside His dealings with Abraham'? When you read Exodus 19 there is an interesting passage there. It is after the children of Israel had come out through the Red Sea and He said to the nation 'See how I have borne you on eagle's wings and brought you to myself'. So when you hear that, you think, that is just like grace isn't it! God has done a wonderful work for people all by Himself. He has borne them on eagle's wings, and He has bought them to Himself. That is what grace does. God does something for you and I that we cannot do for ourselves. He goes on to say in Exodus: 19 v8 that Moses took these words back to the people, who responded by saying 'All that God has said we will do'. I always wonder if the people had responded differently to God; if they had realized their own condition, which was that they actually couldn't live up to what God was asking them, whether God would have responded differently. He says to them 'This is pure grace; I carried you out of Egypt on eagle's wings'. This is something I have done by my own power; I have bought you to Myself. But their response to Him showed that they were confident in their own strength. They said 'Everything you have asked of us we are going to be able to do'. So instantly the scene changes and instead of Israel being carried on eagles wings, now God is on Mount Sinai and he is unapproachable. They had to put a fence around the mountain because not even an animal could come near Him lest they died. So God goes from carrying the nation on eagles wings, (pure grace), to giving them the law where they couldn't even approach Him. So there remains for Israel to this day the Mosaic Law, which neither Jews nor gentiles can keep.

So what God has done is to show man what he is like and then asks man to actually live his life in conformity to His law, knowing full well that man couldn't. God has done it for the purpose of bringing sin out into the open where it can be fully seen. Up to that point man, even though he was in a relationship with God, didn't fully know his own condition. But there is something about the Law of Moses and the law of God that brings out the true condition of man. Paul says in verse 20 'For by the law is the knowledge of sin'. In other words, if the law wasn't there, you wouldn't actually know what sin was like.

So I want to have a look at a couple of scriptures about this and what man's condition truly is.

Romans 5:20 Moreover the law entered that the offense might abound. But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more

That is a radical statement. Paul is saying here that the law was given so that sin would multiply and increase. Now some people say that as soon as the law is put forward, our sinful nature actually reacts against it and it is exposed for what it is. Let's say I developed a new piece of ground at the Golf Course where I work. I sow it and put a sign there 'keep off the grass'. We do this all the time and you wouldn't believe that as soon as we put a commandment or a sign there saying 'stay off, keep away, keep off', how many people see it and just walk straight over it. There is something about the commandment that brings out the worst in us, like when you are children and someone has laid a new piece of concrete. How many times have you seen a new piece of concrete which everyone knows is new, and there is a big tire mark right through the middle of it, or someone has sketched their name in it? When the commandment goes out there is something within the sinful nature of mankind that compels it to actually rebel. Then the true condition of the heart is shown for what it is.

The next scripture we will look at is in Romans chapter 7. Here you have Paul trying to act as a Christian and he is trying his hardest to do the right thing; he is trying to obey God but he finds another law working within him to disobey.

Romans 7:5-12 For when we were in the flesh, the sinful passions which were aroused by the law were at work in our members to bear fruit to death. (6) But now we have been delivered from the law, having died to what we were held by, so that we should serve in the newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter. (7) What shall we say then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! On the contrary, I would not have known sin except through the law. For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, "You shall not covet." [20] (8) But sin, taking opportunity by the commandment, produced in me all manner of evil desire. For apart from the law sin was dead. (9) I was alive once without the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died. (10) And the commandment, which was to bring life, I found to bring death. (11) For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it killed me. (12) Therefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good.

So in other words there is nothing wrong with the law, there is nothing wrong with the commandment, there is nothing wrong with any of those things. The problem lies within us. Paul is saying, I wouldn't even have had trouble with coveting if the law had not said 'do not covet'. It brought out into the open the condition of his own heart and this is the purpose of the law to bring sin right out into the open where you can see it and your own heart can see that 'yes, I fall short of that.' I wouldn't even have known where I was wrong if God hadn't brought it out. 1 Corinthians 15 tells us that 'the strength of sin is the law.' Paul also contrasts the old covenant with the new covenant in 2 Cor 3:

2 Corinthians 3:7-9 But if the ministry of death, written and engraved on stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of the glory of his countenance, which glory was passing away, (8) how will the ministry of the Spirit not be more glorious? (9) For if the ministry of condemnation had glory, the ministry of righteousness exceeds much more in glory.

Paul is saying here is that the 'ministry of the law' is called two things; death and condemnation. So the purpose of God giving the law was, yes, it showed what God was like, His holiness, His righteousness and His character. But also the main purpose is that it bought sin into the open. It bought it out so that it may be seen. It says here that it is a ministry of death and a ministry of condemnation. Anyone trying to live by the law is going to experience these two things death and condemnation. The law can only bring you down. It can only reveal failure. It is there to pinpoint the inadequacies of your own life. It is like jumping out of a plane and instead of putting a parachute on you put a sack of cement on your back. You will plummet downwards; the law can never lift you up. You need a greater law to lift you up, but we will look at that later.

God's law is a mirror

So the law's purpose is like a mirror. When you get up in the morning and you look in the mirror; the mirror itself can only show you that your face needs a wash. You don't then use the mirror to wash your face. It is the same with the law of God. It is a tool for one purpose, to show you your condition. It is the same with the dentist's mirror. The dentist will put the mirror in your mouth to search for cavities. He doesn't then use that mirror to drill a hole in your teeth or to clean your teeth; and that is what the purpose of the law is. Yes it shows you the standard, but it also exposes the cavity or the disease.

I love watching those videos where they have got children and they sit them down and put a bag of sweets on a table and they say to them 'don't touch' or 'you are not allowed to have these until a certain amount of time passes'. They are trying to teach them delayed gratification or something like that. Some children sit there and they are trying their hardest because everything they want is in front of them and then other children will just touch and then look around, touch again or take it, and then some will just eat. They are not allowed to do it but they just start eating. As soon as the commandment comes you will get different responses but it is there to expose human nature.

I read a story about an old colored man called old Mosie; he is out in the fields chopping wood and as he is doing this he is saying 'old Adam, old Adam.' His slave master comes along and says 'what is going on? What is this about old Adam,' and he replies 'Well, if it wasn't for old Adam, I wouldn't be here chopping wood, I would be sitting inside sipping lemonade'. The slave master says 'okay, you can come into the house and you can drink lemonade for as long as you want, but I have got a little box on the table--just inside the porch and you are not to touch it'. So old Mosie is in there sipping away on lemonade, but he lasts only a few days because every time he looks around he sees that little white box that the master has said he was not to touch sitting on the table. He is looking at it and thinking 'I am not allowed to touch that'. However, one day he goes up to it and just gives it a little prod but nothing happens. The next day he notices that there is a little lid on it and so he opens up the lid and there is a little piece of white paper inside and he reads it and it says 'Old Mosie, you old rascal, stop blaming Adam and get back into the field and start chopping firewood'. That is what the law does! It shows us the standard, but because of the fall of Adam and what we are like in our sinful nature, we find there is something that just cannot resist wrong and that something is our sinful, sinful nature.

Galatians 3:19 What purpose then does the law serve? It was added because of transgressions, till the Seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was appointed through angels by the hand of a mediator.

This talks about the law being our tutor to lead us to Christ. So the purpose is not only to set a standard to reveal our own condition, but it is something which leads us towards 'Someone' that can actually save and deliver us.

The righteousness of God has been revealed - and is apart from the law

Romans 3:21-22 But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, (22) even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference;

So the righteousness of God is revealed and we see that it is apart from the law. This is a picture of God, which in His wisdom and plan He always had, that His Son would be born into this world, and that His Son would be perfect and live a perfect life so that the Father could accept His Son's righteousness as an offering for the sin of mankind. We are also told that this righteousness is witnessed by the law and the prophets; and when you look at the Mosaic Law the sacrificial system and the furniture that Israel had in the tabernacle, everything pointed towards a future Savior. Isaiah 53 talked about 'A lamb who would be led like a lamb to the slaughter; that this Man would give His life as a gift for mankind's redemption'. So the prophets prophesied concerning this righteousness to come. In the Old Testament there was the mercy seat where forgiveness could be obtained, but here we have a Man who presents Himself as the Lamb of God. God judged sin through His Son's perfect offering of Himself. He showed this by raising Him from the dead, so that we might know that God now sees those who have trusted in His Son as righteous. Romans 3:23 Sin is actually an archery term. Let us say that everyone here went out onto a field, and had a bow and arrow and a quiver of arrows. We said 'okay, now let's see how good you are?' Everyone is firing them in different directions, and the arrows are dipping high and low, which doesn't matter if we are all out there just firing off arrows. You can be really strong or really weak, it doesn't matter. But let's say I put a target up which is the mark, what counts now is the bulls eye. And this is what this term means 'For all have sinned' all have missed the mark. It doesn't matter how close you came, if you didn't hit the bull's eye, then you have missed the mark. 'For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God'. To fall short means you are inferior, deficient or not good enough. The verb is actually in the present tense which means a continued action in that you keep on falling short. Not only do you fall short once, but continually. But what are you falling short of? You are falling short of the glory of God. The glory of God is His majesty, His character, His splendor, His excellence and it is who He is in His person that mankind is continually falling short of. Every single one of us, since Adam fell, has fallen short, all except One and that is the second Adam. I want to look at a few verses about Him the Lord Jesus Christ the One who is the second Adam. Let's just finish with John chapter 1 by looking at this One who didn't fall short.

John 1:14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.

'In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God'. Then he goes on in verse 14 to say that the first thing about this Word, who is the Lord Jesus Christ, is that He became flesh. It never ceases to amaze me that in the trinity the Son actually was willing, as the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world, to lay aside His rights to be and act as God. He was willing to lay aside His rights to be God in order to redeem humanity. It is an incredible thing that He actually laid aside all His divine nature in order to become flesh and dwell among us. And it says 'We beheld His glory'.

No one had ever seen God at any stage but this Man, the second Adam, He has revealed Him. He has bought Him out into the open where He could be seen by man. And this is what verse 14 is saying 'That we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father full of grace and truth'. So in other words, He gave a full expression in His humanity of what God was like; the character of God, His excellence, His righteousness, His majesty, His splendor, by everything that He said and did. When you looked at the Lord Jesus Christ you knew what God was like. That is what a normal man should be; that is the purpose for which God created mankind, so that even though God is spirit, He could be made known through those whom He has created. In John 14 Phillip comes to Jesus and says 'Show us the Father' and Jesus responds to him by saying 'How long have I actually been with you?' 'He who has seen Me has seen the Father, I and the Father are One'. In other passages it says 'The words that I speak are not My own, it is the Father who is speaking through Me.' The Lord Jesus Christ adopted a certain attitude toward His Father. He wasn't just a perfect Man, even though He didn't have a sinful nature, but He adopted a relationship toward His Father by which God could be seen by mankind. He allowed God to work through His humanity and the result was that the glory of God was actually manifested and seen by all those around Him. This is what John is saying 'We beheld His glory'. Every single human being has fallen short and missed the mark except One, the Lord Jesus Christ, who revealed what God was like. 'The glory as of the only begotten of the Father full of grace and truth.

So God's final word is through Jesus Christ to mankind. God has one thing to say to mankind and it is His Son. Everything is wrapped up in the Lord Jesus Christ. 'He is the brightness of God's glory and the express image of His person'. The word 'image' here means that He derived His image from another, from the Father. John is saying here, 'We saw that glory, we saw that character'. When you look at the Lord Jesus Christ you see the Father.