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The Giving of the Law, Part I

The Evangelistic Purpose of the Law

My father-in-law, Larry Oubre, is easily one of the most devoted students of the Word of God that I’ve had the privilege to know, and I’ve learned to listen carefully when he talks about rightly handling the Scriptures. On Christmas day, I was talking to him about this message and about the quandary I was in trying to figure out how to take the topic of the “Giving of the Law,” which I had previously taught in about 20 lessons, and boiling it down to just a couple of “big picture”-type messages. He told me to start at the end – with the New Testament’s declaration regarding the purpose of the Old Testament Law – then to go back to the Old Testament and show that the purpose of the Law has always been the same. Following his wise counsel, that’s exactly the approach I’m going to take.

New Testament

Not One Righteous
Romans 3:1-18

In the first three chapters of the Book of Romans, Paul presents a carefully crafted argument addressing the question, “How do men become righteous in the eyes of God?” The first part of his argument is to explain how men have NOT become righteous in the eyes of God.

He explains that in spite of the knowledge of God made known through nature, through conscience and through the revealed Law, all men, both Jews and Gentiles, have failed to accomplish the requirement of God.

In chapter 3, Paul takes his argument to its logical conclusion. In verse 9, he declares flat out “that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin.” He then defends this forceful accusation against all men by going back to the Old Testament Scriptures. The words he uses here could not be any simpler, any clearer, or any more forceful!

10 as it is written,
There is none righteous, not even one;
11 There is none who understands,
There is none who seeks for God;
12 All have turned aside, together they have become useless;
There is none who does good,
There is not even one.
Their throat is an open grave,
With their tongues they keep deceiving,
The poison of asps is under their lips;
Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness;
Their feet are swift to shed blood,
Destruction and misery are in their paths,
And the path of peace have they not known.
|There is no fear of God before their eyes (Romans 3:10-18)120.

In Romans 2, verse 6, Paul said that God …

will render to every man according to his deeds; to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life; but to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation.

There are two categories of people spoken of here: (1) “those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality” (those get eternal life), and (2) “those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness” (those get God’s wrath and indignation). According to Paul’s own argument, how many people are there in the first category?

NONE, NOT ONE!!!

Look again at Romans 3:10-18. Except for Jesus Christ, Himself, how many people have there been in history who were righteous enough to fulfill the requirement of God’s Law? None! Not one! Not ever!

How many people have genuinely taken the initiative to seek after God?

“There is NONE who understands, There is NONE who seeks for God; ALL have turned aside, together they have become useless; There is NONE who does good, There is NOT EVEN ONE” (emphasis mine).

The propositions here are clear, simple, and forceful, and leave no room for interpretation.

When men try to create a loophole in this argument so they can say that some people are good enough for God, they are throwing out the clear and precise revelation of Almighty God, and they are replacing it with their own foolishness. The world is full of man-made religions which have done this very thing – many of which call themselves Christian.

Men do a lot of things that are good in their outward appearance, but God knows the hearts of men. He knows our motives, and His Word declares that, left to our own devices, we are useless sinners, consumed with ourselves. We don’t even know how to begin being truly righteous.

All the World Accountable to God
Romans 3:19-20

The culmination of everything Paul has said in the first three chapters is found in Romans 3:19-20. And the truth of these two verses is absolutely foundational to a proper understanding of the true purpose of the Law of Moses:

19 Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, that every mouth may be closed, and all the world may become accountable to God;

20 because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin (emphasis mine).

The Law was never intended to make men righteous. It was intended to prove man’s unrighteousness – to cast the light of God’s holiness on man’s unholiness so that there would be no question about what all men have merited.

If Israel had been able to achieve a righteous standing before God through the keeping of the Law, then there would have been no need of a Savior.

Galatians 3:21-22

In Galatians 3:21-22, Paul says,

21 For if a law had been given which was able to impart life, then righteousness would indeed have been based on law. 22 But the Scripture has shut up all men under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.

So, the New Testament is clear and forceful about the fact that the Law could not make one righteous. That’s great. Hindsight is always 20-20. We’ve seen a few Old Testament quotations from Paul’s writings, but were these few Old Testament passages enough to make it clear to men living in Old Testament times that they ultimately could not keep the Law – that the Law was given to prove them to be unholy?

We will see that the Old Testament was just as forceful and consistent as the New Testament about this matter.

The fact of the matter is this: Judaism – true Old Testament Judaism - does NOT, and NEVER DID, make man the author of his own righteousness or of his own salvation.

Old Testament

After God’s miraculous deliverance of Israel from Egypt, He led them through the desert toward the Mountain of God, Mount Sinai. Along the way, Israel grumbled because they were afraid they were going to die of hunger and thirst in the desert. In spite of their grumbling, God gave them a miraculous provision of manna – daily bread right out of heaven. He made water to spring forth out of rocks in the middle of the desert so that they would not thirst. In the third month after they departed from Egypt, He brought them to the foot of the mountain. Exodus 19 presents the preface to the Ten Commandments and to all the rest of the Law of Moses. The passages immediately preceding and following the Ten Commandments present a fearsome description of God’s manifestation of His Presence on the mountain as the context to the giving of the Law.121

God is Not Like Man. He is Holy and He is Wholly Other than Man
Exodus 19:10-25; 20:18-21

10 The Lord also said to Moses, “Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their garments; 11 and let them be ready for the third day, for on the third day the Lord will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. 12 “And you shall set bounds for the people all around, saying, ‘Beware that you do not go up on the mountain or touch the border of it; whoever touches the mountain shall surely be put to death. 13 ‘No hand shall touch him, but he shall surely be stoned or shot through; whether beast or man, he shall not live.’ When the ram’s horn sounds a long blast, they shall come up to the mountain.’” 14 So Moses went down from the mountain to the people and consecrated the people, and they washed their garments. 15 And he said to the people, “Be ready for the third day; do not go near a woman.” 16 So it came about on the third day, when it was morning, that there were thunder and lightning flashes and a thick cloud upon the mountain and a very loud trumpet sound, so that all the people who were in the camp trembled. 17 And Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. 18 Now Mount Sinai was all in smoke because the Lord descended upon it in fire; and its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked violently. 19 When the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke and God answered him with thunder. And the Lord called Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up. 21 Then the Lord spoke to Moses, “Go down, warn the people, lest they break through to the Lord to gaze, and many of them perish. 22 “And also let the priests who come near to the Lord consecrate themselves, lest the Lord break out against them.” 23 And Moses said to the Lord, “The people cannot come up to Mount Sinai, for Thou didst warn us, saying, ‘Set bounds about the mountain and consecrate it.’ “ 24 Then the Lord said to him, “Go down and come up again, you and Aaron with you; but do not let the priests and the people break through to come up to the Lord lest He break forth upon them.” 25 So Moses went down to the people and told them (Exodus 19:10-25).

18 And all the people perceived the thunder and the lightning flashes and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled and stood at a distance. 19 Then they said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen; but let not God speak to us, lest we die.” 20 And Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid; for God has come in order to test you, and in order that the fear of Him may remain with you, so that you may not sin.” 21 So the people stood at a distance, while Moses approached the thick cloud where God was (Exodus 20:18-21).

The Israelites were terrified of God on that day! They couldn’t bear to hear the voice of God directly, so they requested that He speak to them through Moses, which is exactly what God had intended in the first place. God made it perfectly clear that He could annihilate Israel at will. There should have been no question for Israel that God was nothing like they were! And He was nothing like anything in creation that they could see or hear or taste or touch.

As for idolatry, how could God be represented in the form of a created being when it was so clear that He transcended His creation? How could He be represented in the form of anything that came from the mind of men when men couldn’t look upon Him, couldn’t begin to comprehend Him, and couldn’t even stand to hear His voice?

All that God had done to deliver Israel from Egypt, and all the miraculous signs they were beholding from their vantage point at the base of the mountain, served to drive home the fact that their God is entirely other than they are. This was the setting, the context for the beginning of the Law, and for the Law’s testimony to man’s separation from God.

The Golden Calf
Exodus 32-33

After giving the revelation of the commandments and ordinances and the instructions for the tabernacle and priesthood, God called Moses to come up to the mountain to receive the two tablets with the Ten Commandments engraved by the finger of God.

12 Now the Lord said to Moses, “Come up to Me on the mountain and remain there, and I will give you the stone tablets with the law and the commandment which I have written for their instruction.” 13 So Moses arose with Joshua his servant, and Moses went up to the mountain of God. 14 But to the elders he said, “Wait here for us until we return to you. And, behold, Aaron and Hur are with you; whoever has a legal matter, let him approach them.” 15 Then Moses went up to the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. 16 And the glory of the Lord rested on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days; and on the seventh day He called to Moses from the midst of the cloud. 17 And to the eyes of the sons of Israel the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a consuming fire on the mountain top. 18 And Moses entered the midst of the cloud as he went up to the mountain; and Moses was on the mountain forty days and forty nights (Exodus 24:12-18).

What were the Israelites doing during the 40 days Moses was on the top of the mountain? They were blatantly violating the first two commandments!

2 “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. 3 “You shall have no other gods before Me. 4 “You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth (Exodus 20:2-4).

Could this be any clearer than it is?

Now, let me see – does a calf bear any likeness to anything Israel might have run across in God’s creation? Like, maybe, a calf ?!

God had just given Israel His commandments – and Israel couldn’t wait to break them!

God made it very clear that Israel deserved to be wiped out on that day. He threatened to destroy them and to start over again with Moses. Moses interceded before God and appealed to God’s reputation among the nations (32:12) and to God’s unconditional covenant promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (32:13) as the basis for asking God to forbear with Israel and to continue to go up in their midst. God relented, and, while He executed a painful judgment against Israel that day, He did not destroy them.

Did Israel get better after this? Let’s take a look.

Israel’s Refusal to Enter the Land
Numbers 14

In the second month of the second year after the Exodus, God led Israel to journey from Mount Sinai through the wilderness toward Kadesh Barnea. From Kadesh, He commanded Israel to go up into the land and take possession of it. God swore that He would fight their battles for them and would, Himself, dispossess the nations who inhabited the land so that Israel could dwell there in peace – if they would only trust Him and go into the land. We all know the story. The spies saw the giants in the land. Ten of the twelve spies said, “Can’t do it!” And Israel refused to go up.

Once again, God was angry with Israel because of their faithlessness and rebellion, and He threatened again to destroy them and to start all over with Moses. And, once again, Moses interceded for Israel and pleaded with God, NOT based on anything about Israel that merited His forbearance, but based on God’s reputation among the nations (14:13-16), God’s covenant promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to give them the land (14:16), and God’s own character (14:17-19). God pardoned Israel (14:20). He said that He would not destroy them, but He would punish them, and that those who had sinned would not get to enter the promised land.

The Second Generation After the Exodus
Deuteronomy 9:4-7

God led Israel through their wanderings in the wilderness for 40 years, until that entire generation that had refused to enter the land had perished except for Joshua and Caleb, Moses, and a few of the sons of Aaron.

In the Book of Deuteronomy, we find the new generation of Israelites camped at the eastern shore of the Jordan river, having conquered the pagan nations on the east side of the river, and poised to cross over to the west side to take possession of land. At this point, God says this to them,

4 Do not say in your heart when the LORD your God has driven them out before you, ‘Because of my righteousness the LORD has brought me in to possess this land,’ but it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD is dispossessing them before you.

5 It is not for your righteousness or for the uprightness of your heart that you are going to possess their land, but it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD your God is driving them out before you, in order to confirm the oath which the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

6 Know then, it is not because of your righteousness that the LORD your God is giving you this good land to possess, for you are a stubborn people.

7 Remember, do not forget how you provoked the LORD your God to wrath in the wilderness; from the day that you left the land of Egypt until you arrived at this place, you have been rebellious against the LORD (Deuteronomy 9:4-7, emphasis mine).

The Blessing and the Curses

(Guess which Ones Israel Gets!)

Deuteronomy 27-30

Near the end of the Book of Deuteronomy, God laid out before Israel the blessings of obedience and the curses of disobedience of the Law, and then He made it clear to them in chapter 30 that they would experience the curses. And only after that would they turn to God and He would circumcise their hearts and the hearts of their descendants to love Him and to serve Him. That has not happened yet!

Lest you think that the curses of the Mosaic Covenant were idle threats, read the Books of Jeremiah and Lamentations, and you will see that the curses were fulfilled to the last painful detail during Nebuchadnezzar’s second siege of Jerusalem!

The Commissioning of Joshua
Deuteronomy 31:16-21

In the final chapters of Deuteronomy, we find the narrative of the end of Moses’ life and the passing of the mantle of leadership to Joshua. At the commissioning of Joshua, the LORD says this to Moses,

16 … “Behold, you are about to lie down with your fathers; and this people will arise and play the harlot with the strange gods of the land, into the midst of which they are going, and will forsake Me and break My covenant which I have made with them. 17 “Then My anger will be kindled against them in that day, and I will forsake them and hide My face from them, and they shall be consumed, and many evils and troubles shall come upon them; so that they will say in that day, ‘Is it not because our God is not among us that these evils have come upon us?’ 18 “But I will surely hide My face in that day because of all the evil which they will do, for they will turn to other gods. 19 “Now therefore write this song for yourselves, and teach it to the sons of Israel; put it on their lips, in order that this song may be a witness for Me against the sons of Israel. 20 “For when I bring them into the land flowing with milk and honey, which I swore to their fathers, and they have eaten and are satisfied and become prosperous, then they will turn to other gods and serve them, and spurn Me and break My covenant. 21 “Then it shall come about, when many evils and troubles have come upon them, that this song will testify before them as a witness (for it shall not be forgotten from the lips of their descendants); for I know their intent which they are developing today, before I have brought them into the land which I swore (Deuteronomy 31:16-21).

According to verse 21, God knew before they entered the land that the Israelites were already cultivating in their hearts an attitude of faithlessness and disloyalty toward their Deliverer. He knew that once He brought them into the land, they would embrace the false gods of the Canaanites and would forsake their God.

Moses died without entering the land, and Joshua took the mantle of leadership.

Joshua’s Farewell Address
Joshua 24

Through His servant Joshua, God led Israel across the Jordan river and into the land of promise.

After the conquest of the land, after God had fought all of Israel’s battles and had destroyed 60 cities fortified to the heavens, after the territory of the promised land had been divided up among the tribes and clans of Israel, Joshua gave Israel his farewell address in Joshua 24. He reviewed God’s mighty deeds throughout Israel’s history, and he called the people in verse 14 to: “fear the LORD and serve Him in sincerity and truth; and put away the gods which your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord.”

The people declared that they would, indeed, forsake other gods and would serve the LORD, and they acknowledged His gracious deeds on their behalf (24:16-18). But look at Joshua’s words to them:

19 You will not be able to serve the Lord, for He is a holy God. He is a jealous God; He will not forgive your transgressions or your sins. 20 If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, then He will turn and do you harm and consume you after He has done good to you (Joshua 24:19-20 – emphasis mine).

God is Holy and Israel was not, and they would NOT be able to obey Him. He would not turn a blind eye to their sin – they would be held accountable.

The people once again swore that they would serve God and would obey His voice. Joshua erected a large stone at that place to memorialize their covenant to obey God, and he said,

“… Behold, this stone shall be for a witness against us, for it has heard all the words of the LORD which He spoke to us; thus it shall be for a witness against you, lest you deny your God” (Joshua 24:27).

The Generation After the Conquest of the Land
Judges 2:6-10

6 When Joshua had dismissed the people, the sons of Israel went each to his inheritance to possess the land. 7 And the people served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who survived Joshua, who had seen all the great work of the Lord which He had done for Israel. 8 Then Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died at the age of one hundred and ten. 9 And they buried him in the territory of his inheritance in Timnath-heres, in the hill country of Ephraim, north of Mount Gaash.

Following the death of Joshua, the very next thing that is recorded about Israel is this:

And all that generation also were gathered to their fathers; and there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord, nor yet the work which He had done for Israel (Judges 2:10).122

The Period of the Judges
Every Man Did What Was Right in His Own Eyes

Without skipping a beat, the writer of the Book of Judges presents us with verses 11-23, in which we see a spiral of spiritual decline in Israel during the period of the Judges. God repeatedly smote Israel by the hand of their enemies because of their abominations. Each time, they cried out to Him, and He raised up a judge to deliver them. Then, as soon as they had been delivered from one enemy, they went into an even more corrupt episode of infidelity toward God, and the cycle started again.

11 Then the sons of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord, and served the Baals, 12 and they forsook the Lord, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt, and followed other gods from among the gods of the peoples who were around them, and bowed themselves down to them; thus they provoked the Lord to anger. 13 So they forsook the LORD and served Baal and the Ashtaroth. 14 And the anger of the Lord burned against Israel, and He gave them into the hands of plunderers who plundered them; and He sold them into the hands of their enemies around them, so that they could no longer stand before their enemies. 15 Wherever they went, the hand of the Lord was against them for evil, as the Lord had spoken and as the Lord had sworn to them, so that they were severely distressed. 16 Then the Lord raised up judges who delivered them from the hands of those who plundered them. 17 And yet they did not listen to their judges, for they played the harlot after other gods and bowed themselves down to them. They turned aside quickly from the way in which their fathers had walked in obeying the commandments of the Lord; they did not do as their fathers. 18 And when the Lord raised up judges for them, the Lord was with the judge and delivered them from the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge; for the Lord was moved to pity by their groaning because of those who oppressed and afflicted them. 19 But it came about when the judge died, that they would turn back and act more corruptly than their fathers, in following other gods to serve them and bow down to them; they did not abandon their practices or their stubborn ways. 20 So the anger of the Lord burned against Israel, and He said, “Because this nation has transgressed My covenant which I commanded their fathers, and has not listened to My voice, 21 I also will not longer drive out before them any of the nations which Joshua left when he died, 22 in order to test Israel by them, whether they will keep the way of the Lord to walk in it as their fathers did, or not.” 23 So the Lord allowed those nations to remain, not driving them out quickly; and He did not give them into the hand of Joshua (Judges 2:11-23).

“They Have Rejected Me from Being King Over Them”
1 Samuel 8

At the end of the period of the Judges, in 1 Samuel 8:5, the people said to Samuel, “Now appoint a king for us to judge us like all the nations.” God permitted them to have their human king, but He made it clear what was in Israel’s heart when they made this demand: “… they have rejected Me from being king over them” (8:7). They had the God Who created the universe as their King, but they didn’t want to trust Him. They wanted to trust in a man – just like all the other nations.

The Kings of Israel and Judah

Israel got her kings, and so began a long series of episodes involving kings who were occasionally men of faith, but mostly men of faithlessness and idolatrous disloyalty to YAHWEH; the nation continued in a spiritual trend that was generally downward, until their sinfulness had persisted so long that God banished both the northern and southern tribes into exile to Assyria and Babylon, respectively.

The Prophets – Accusation, Not Approval

During and after the period of the kings, we find the writings of the prophets. And these writings are filled with God’s accusations against Israel – accusations of chronic faithlessness, spiritual adultery in the form of idolatry, hardened hearts, hypocritical adherence to ceremony while their hearts were filled with violence, injustice and callousness toward the widows, orphans and aliens – the downtrodden among them. No compassion, no mercy, no justice, no righteousness.

Israel had been chosen by God to be the instrument of blessing to all the nations (Genesis 12:3-4). But where the Law is concerned, that marvelous blessing did not come through Israel’s obedience – rather it came through Israel’s disobedience!

4 Surely our griefs He Himself bore,
And our sorrows He carried;
Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken,
Smitten of God, and afflicted.
5 But He was pierced through for our transgressions,
He was crushed for our iniquities;
The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him,
And by His scourging we are healed.
6 All of us like sheep have turned astray, each of us has turned to his own way,
Each of us has turned to his own way;
But the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all
To fall on Him (Isaiah 53:4-6).

So What?

Okay, so what does all of this mean?

It means that there was never any basis in Scripture for Israel to see themselves as righteous! On the contrary, there was every basis in Scripture for Israel to see themselves as unrighteous, as unholy and desperately in need of God’s provision of forgiveness and righteousness!

Man’s absolute and continual failure to meet the standard of holiness required by God is not an idea that was first introduced in the New Testament. It was introduced in Genesis 3, and it has been driven home at every juncture of man’s dealings with God and God’s dealings with man. It was clear after the Fall, it was clear after the flood, it was clear after the scattering at Babel. It was clear in every generation after God called out Abraham from among all the people of the world to be the father of a people for His own possession. In every age and in every point of history at which man has been the recipient of God’s grace and forbearance, man has ultimately responded with a high hand, a stiff neck, and a rebellious heart.

The fact is that by the time Christ came in the form of a man, it should have been blatantly obvious to Israel that the Law could not justify them – not because the Law was evil, but because THEY were evil – they and every other nation as well! This is the universal testimony of Scripture ever since the fall of Adam. And it was this testimony to which Paul is pointing in Romans 3. That’s where we started.

The Law in all of its particulars purposed to show the true character of man in the light of God’s character. And man failed that standard utterly and completely. That’s okay, because that’s what was supposed to happen. That’s why the Law was given in the first place – that every mouth might be closed and every man held accountable to God for his sin!

Law keeping and good works will not make you righteous in the eyes of God. It never did. It never will!

The True Standard of the Law

Matthew 5:21-48

In verse 20 of Matthew 5, Jesus makes this stinging statement:

“For I say to you, that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven.”

So the question then becomes, “What kind of righteousness does God require?”

Jesus goes directly to the Law.

21 You have heard that the ancients were told, “You shall not commit murder” and “Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.” 22 “But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever shall say to his brother, ‘Raca,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever shall say, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go in the hell of fire ( Matthew 5:21-22).

He then goes from the level of a man’s words to the level of a man’s innermost thoughts,

27 You have heard that it was said, “You shall not commit adultery;” 28 but I say to you, that every one who looks on a woman to lust for her has committed adultery with her already in his heart (Matthew 5:27-28).

Jesus caps off His teaching about God’s standard of righteousness in verse 48 – one of the clearest and simplest statements in all of Scripture: “therefore you must be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect.” The only kind of righteousness that passes muster with a holy God is His righteousness! Period! I’ve heard preachers and seminary professors try to water that verse down and make it mean something less than it says. But the question on the table in this passage is, “What kind of righteousness is acceptable to God,” and the answer is, “HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS!” The man who makes this declaration of our Lord any less simple or any less forceful than it is does so at the expense of the gospel and at the peril of his soul!

I am convinced that much of Jesus’ teaching during His earthly ministry was intended to bring the Law into sharp focus as God’s perfect and unwavering standard – to show that the true standard of the Law was an infinitely higher standard than the Jews had construed it to be. In short, to prepare men to accept Him as Savior, Jesus worked to show men that the standard of the Law was a standard that men cannot possibly meet in themselves because it was, and still is, the standard of God’s own Holy character!

Lowering the Bar

What Israel did with the true standard of the Law is an approach that is common to man and to man’s religions. My dear friend Bruce Beaty puts it this way:

“A religion that makes law-keeping the basis for righteousness must make law-keeping achievable. To do so, it must lower the bar – lower the standard required by the law.”

That is precisely what Israel did with the Law of Moses. They treated the Law as a matter of external, outward behavior so they could convince themselves that they were meeting its standard. And because there were not enough rules to cover every aspect of their daily lives, they added over 600 additional laws to cover all the bases. This was all nonsense in the eyes of God because the Law was always a matter of the heart, not the outward performance, and the standard of the Law was always the Holy character of God, Himself!

Those who lower the standard of the Law to make it achievable have cast aside the clear and forceful testimony of God’s own Word and have replaced it with the most lethal of all lies! The gospel of Jesus Christ calls us to cast aside our own foolish self-glorification – to agree with God that we are dead in our sins and utterly helpless to make ourselves acceptable in the sight of a Holy God. Only then are we made ready to accept God’s gift of forgiveness and eternal life!

And to believers, I must say this. If you think you are beyond the point where you need to be concerned about the tendency to revert to law keeping, you’d better take another look. Even the Apostle Peter stumbled on this issue. He had walked with Jesus during His entire earthly ministry. He had seen the miraculous signs, the crucifixion, and the resurrected Christ. He had been filled with the Holy Spirit and had been powerfully used by Christ to minister the gospel to others, yet he stumbled over the Law and had to be harshly rebuked by none other than the Apostle Paul as recorded in Galatians 2:11-21. If it could happen to Peter, it could happen to you.

My friends, be vigilant. Legalism by any other name is still legalism, and it is NOT and never will be the basis of righteousness before God. If you are making rules that focus on outward behavior, and you are presuming to be able to judge other men on the basis of those rules, you are guilty of legalism. It happens often in the church.

And to believers I also say this: If you add works to the gospel, you will have stumbled over the grace of God, and your gospel will not be the one revealed in God’s Scripture. The gospel is not a bargain! The gospel is not a promise of obedience made by men to God! The gospel is the gift of eternal life given to people who are dead in their sins until God plucks them from the domain of darkness and plants them in the kingdom of His beloved Son, through faith in Jesus Christ!

And that brings us to the Good News.

The Good News!

Romans 3:21-31

In Romans 3:21 and following, there is a dramatic shift in Paul’s argument – a shift from the bad news to the good news. A shift from the universal condemnation of all men to the free gift of God which saves men from that condemnation through faith in Jesus Christ.

21 But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22 even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; 25 whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; 26 for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. 27 Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith. 28 For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law. 29 Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also— 30 if indeed God is one—and He will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. 31 Do we then nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law (Romans 3:21-31).

The bottom line is this – until you are a child of God through faith in His Son, Jesus Christ – your efforts to comply with God’s righteous standard cannot possibly result in anything other than the proof of your lostness and condemnation!

He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Corinthians 5:21).

It’s His righteousness, not ours! Believers, when you have been in heaven 10,000 years, it will STILL be the righteousness of Jesus Christ, not your own righteousness that allows you to stand holy and blameless in His Presence!

If you have never taken God at His Word – if you have never trusted in the Lord Jesus Christ as the sole provision for your sin and the only way to be righteous in the eyes of God, I invite you to do so today – right now – right where you are.


119 This is the edited manuscript of a message delivered by Tom Wright, teacher at Community Bible Chapel, on January 7, 2001.

120 All Scripture References are cited in this lesson are from the New American Standard Bible.

121 This is a common device in the Old Testament that is typically referred to as an inclusio. It is a sort of verbal parenthesis by which a critical passage is marked off by the repetition of a phrase or idea immediately before and after the passage. The content of the parenthesis itself serves to emphasize some important point concerning the text that lies in between. In this case, the fearsome manifestation of God’s Presence serves as both the context and the persuasive basis for His people to forsake false gods and man-made idols and to obey His Law.

122 Consider this failure in light of the powerful exhortation in Deuteronomy 6:4-9 for Israel to diligently teach the Law to their children. The sacred responsibility of God’s people to pass the knowledge of Him to their children is one of the most pervasive aspects of the Law and especially of the memorial observances in the Law (cf. Exodus 12:24-27; 13:8-10, 14-16). The vivid appeal of these memorials to the sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch of a child was to prompt them to ask their significance so that their parents could diligently explain the mighty and faithful acts of God in calling out a people for His own possession.

Related Topics: Law