“Obviously, the law applies to those to whom it was given, for its purpose is to keep people from having excuses, and to show that the entire world is guilty before God. For no one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands. The law simply shows us how sinful we are.”
Romans 3:19-20 NLT
Paul’s references to the Law in these two verses seems to be in error, if taken on their own. The Law included far more than Paul would seem to indicate. But in the context of this chapter in Romans, a different picture emerges. The Law was given by God to the Israelite nation, and it had several purposes, ranging from how they should worship God through to rules for daily living. And in the process, it provided the Israelites with a “yardstick”. Something which they could use to determine their spiritual states, and, worse, show them how far short they were of keeping the Law in the way God intended.
Jesus pointed out the problems associated with trying to obey the Law. In His “Sermon on the Mount”, Jesus said He didn’t come to abolish the Law. Matthew 5:17, “Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose“. And then in Matthew 5:19-20, He said, “So if you ignore the least commandment and teach others to do the same, you will be called the least in the Kingdom of Heaven. But anyone who obeys God’s laws and teaches them will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven. “But I warn you—unless your righteousness is better than the righteousness of the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven“. And that’s the issue. To achieve the standard of righteousness required of God can never be attained. Regarding following the letter of the Law, the Pharisees – don’t forget Paul himself was one of them – were faultless. But they failed to follow the Law in the way that God intended. Jesus provided some illustrations in the remaining verses in Matthew 5. For example, His teaching about adultery, “You have heard the commandment that says, ‘You must not commit adultery.’ But I say, anyone who even looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:27-28). Jesus pointed out that behind the letter of the Law was a whole raft of heart attitudes, together forming the spirit of the Law.
Paul suggested to his readers that just going through a box-ticking exercise will not make them right with God. Christians can also fall into the same trap, even though they don’t follow the Jewish Law. Imagine trying to list all the things that we think we must do, to conform to a modern equivalent of the Law. Things such as following the laws of the land in which we live. Going to church on a Sunday, and the prayer meeting on a Wednesday. Having a daily “Quiet Time” with prayer and Bible reading. Taking our turns on the toilet-cleaning rota. Paying our tithe each month. And so on. Before we know it, we have developed our own version of a Law, which we think will stand us in good stead before God. None of these things are wrong in themselves. But they become pointless if they replace the relationship and respect we should have with, and for, our Heavenly Father.
So, pilgrims, what is your approach to the Christian life? In asking myself that question, I am conscious of a need to reach out to my Heavenly Father, because only He is my Source. Only He has the love and grace I need to live this life in the way He requires. and I will never achieve that my ticking a few boxes.
Dear Heavenly Father, thank You for Your presence in my life, and the lives of my brothers and sisters who are journeying their way through the Scriptures with me. I pray a blessing on them all, Lord, and a transforming touch of Your presence, to make a difference in their daily lives. In Jesus’ name. Amen.