The Purpose Of God’s Holy Law
"Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.” Romans 3:19
The person who knows the proper place of the law and the glory of God’s free grace, the person who can rest in Christ alone for all that the law requires and all that justice demands, knows the gospel. But that person who mixes law and grace, in any measure whatsoever, as a matter of acceptance before God, has not yet learned the gospel aright.
No two things in the world are more completely opposed to one another than law and grace. They are as opposite as light and darkness. They can no more agree than fire and water. Like oil and water, law and grace simply will not mix. The Scriptures are explicitly clear in asserting this fact (Rom. 11:5-6).
Romans 11:5-6 -- “Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace. And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work.”
Yet, there is an amazingly well established opinion in the distorted minds of men that law and grace will mix! Though law and grace are diametrically opposed to one another, the depraved human mind is so void of spiritual understanding, and so thoroughly turned away from God, that the most difficult thing in this world for man to do is to discriminate between law and grace. Man insists on mixing that which God has positively put asunder. Because of his foolish ignorance, man wants to find some legal standing before God. This is the thing that Paul opposes throughout all of his epistles. He expends every effort to destroy every remnant of legalism among God’s people.
Free from the Law
In Christ, all who believe are free, totally free from the law. That fact cannot be stated too emphatically. There is absolutely no sense in which believers are under the law.
The word law is used 160 times from Romans through 1 John. Not once, not even once, in those 160 references is there a single hint that the believer is in some way, to some degree, for some reason, motivated by, ruled by, under the dominion of, or obligated to the law. Let’s look at just a few of the plain, obvious statements of Holy Scripture dealing with this, the most persistent of all heresies.
Romans 6:14-15 -- "For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace. What then? Shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid."
Romans 7:4 -- "Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God."
Romans 8:3-4 -- "For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit."
Romans 10:4 -- "For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth."
Galatians 3:24-25 -- "Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster."
1 Timothy 1:8-10 -- "But we know that the law is good, if a man use it lawfully; Knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, for unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, For whoremongers, for them that defile themselves with mankind, for menstealers, for liars, for perjured persons, and if there be any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine."
Was Paul opposed to the law? Did he think the law was an evil thing? Certainly not! In Romans 7, he shows us his own and every true believer’s attitude toward God’s holy law. “The law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good…We know that the law is spiritual…I delight in the law of God after the inward man.”
The true believer recognizes the purpose of the law; and he highly reverences the law. It is his desire to live in perfect compliance with everything revealed in the law. And recognizing the law’s perfection, he refuses to seek acceptance with God on the basis of legal obedience. It is our reverence for the law that keeps us from trying to live by the law. It is the perfect holiness and strict, unbending demands of God’s law and justice, which drive us to Christ. This is not licentious doctrine, but holy doctrine.
C. H. Spurgeon once illustrated this fact by telling his congregation of the experience of one he identified as Dr. Chalmers, who said, “I preached morality until there was scarcely a moral person left in the parish. I preached righteousness and goodness until I could hardly find a decent, honest man anywhere around me.” Then God saved the man. He began preaching Christ crucified and salvation by the free grace of God in him, and things changed. That is exactly what Paul told Titus would happen whenever the gospel is faithfully preached.
Titus 3:4-8 – “But after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared, Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour; That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. This is a faithful saying, and these things I will that thou affirm constantly, that they which have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable unto men.”
We do not teach sabbath keeping because God forbids it; but we keep the sabbath rest by faith in Christ. – Christ is our Sabbath. We do not teach circumcision because our Lord forbids it; but we are the circumcised. – God the Holy Spirit has circumcised our hearts by the saving operations of his grace in the new birth. We do not teach tithing because God plainly forbids us taking anything from anyone by constraint of law. “God loveth a cheerful giver!” But all believers give. We give ourselves to Christ. – Giving themselves to Christ, God’s elect cheerfully give of their means to support the cause of Christ.
Three Great Difficulties
Seeking the conversion of sinners, endeavoring to persuade men to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, we are faced with three great difficulties.
The first real difficulty in conversion is to get a person lost, really lost. The hardest thing in the world to find is a sinner who is really lost. I know that all who are without Christ are lost in the sense that all are under the wrath of God; but few know it. There are very few men and women walking the streets of any city anywhere in this world who know they are lost, so thoroughly and completely lost that no religious rite or ceremony, no system of works, no law, no code of morality can do them any good. As Joseph Hart expressed it in one of his hymns, --
"What comfort can a Savior bring
To those who never felt their woe?
A sinner is a sacred thing;
The Holy Ghost hath made him so."
There are many who will admit that they are weak, and need a little help. There are some who will even admit that they are sinful, and in need of some atonement. But there are few people in this world who will acknowledge that they are totally and eternally lost, in need of salvation by pure grace alone. Only the Holy Spirit can produce a lost sinner. The first thing that must be done is to get a man lost. Only real sinners seek real grace. Only God the Holy Spirit can convince a sinner that he is a sinner, lost, undone, and under the curse of God’s holy law without Christ.
The second real difficulty in conversion is teaching lost sinners the gospel of the free grace of God in Christ. There are few people in this world who have ever heard the gospel, and fewer still who ever really learn it. The gospel of God’s free, sovereign, saving grace in Christ proclaims salvation to lost sinners without anything in return from them, -- requiring nothing from them. Salvation is the free gift of God, from beginning to end. Even repentance, faith, and good works are gifts of his grace.
It is very difficult for proud sinners to learn the gospel, because it is opposed to our pride. It is opposed to our wisdom. It is opposed to our religious prejudices. It is opposed to our traditions. The gospel contradicts everything the natural man thinks about spiritual things (1 Cor. 2:9-16). God’s way is always exactly the opposite of man’s way.
The third great difficulty in conversion is bringing lost sinners to rest in Christ alone, trusting him alone for everything they need for acceptance with the holy Lord God (1 Cor. 1:30-31). We must rest entirely upon Christ. We must never grow beyond that. We are to live all the days of our lives trusting that same grace and love that first took us in. We are chosen, redeemed, called, justified, sanctified, and kept by grace alone. "As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him" (Col. 2:6).
“Here I raise mine Ebenezer;
Hither by Thy help I’m come:
And I hope by Thy good pleasure
Safely to arrive at home.”
We place no hope whatsoever in our obedience to the law of God. We have neither salvation, nor sanctification, nor reward by our obedience to the law. We trust nothing but Christ alone; and we trust him for all things. Everything God requires from and gives to sinners is in Christ (Eph. 1:3-14).
The law of God has but one proper use spiritually. I grant, the law restrains unrighteous men from behaving as they would were there no penal consequences for their offences (1 Tim. 1:8-10). But spiritually the law has only one proper, lawful use. It was given for only one purpose. It was not given as a code of moral ethics. It was not given as the believer’s rule of life. It was not given as a motive for Christian service. It was not given as a measure of sanctification. It was not given to be the grounds of our assurance. It was not given as a basis for reward in heaven. -- The only purpose of God’s holy law is to identify, expose, and condemn man’s sin, shutting him up to Christ alone for acceptance with God.
Romans 3:19 -- "Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God."
Romans 5:20 -- "Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound."
Before any sinner is converted, he must be convinced of his sin and guilt. That is the only lawful use of the law. Before any man is given the newness of life in Christ, he must be slain by the law. The law is God’s deep, cutting plow, by which he breaks up the fallow ground of a sinner’s heart and conscience, and prepares the soil of his heart for the gospel. This plowing is a difficult, but necessary process. Yes, there must be more than legal conviction; but legal conviction is an essential part of gospel conviction (John 16:8-11).
Our Only Hope
The sinner’s only hope before God is free grace, -- free grace flowing to chosen sinners upon the ground of righteousness fulfilled and justice satisfied. This is Paul’s doctrine. This is the doctrine of Holy Scripture. This is the doctrine of the gospel.
Romans 3:19-31 -- “Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus. Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law. Is he the God of the Jews only? is he not also of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also: Seeing it is one God, which shall justify the circumcision by faith, and uncircumcision through faith. Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law.”
God the Holy Spirit inspired the Apostle to say exactly the same thing to the saints at Galatia. He means for us to get the message.
Galatians 2:19-21 -- “For I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God. I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.”
The law demands a weighty debt;
And not a cent will it abate.
The gospel points to Jesus’ blood,
And says, “He made the payment good!”
The law provokes man oft to ill,
And hardened hearts makes harder still.
The gospel shows Immanuel’s heart
And melts this hardened sinner’s heart!
“Run, run, and work,” the law commands,
But gives me neither feet nor hands.
Much sweeter news the gospel brings.
It tells me Christ did everything!