What About the Law

Adam and Christ  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  41:05
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The point of the law is to reveal, and ensure that we realize, we cannot please God on our own!

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A Loose End

We have been studying this last part of Romans chapter 5 for some time now, culminating last time in what I told you was the central argument and point that the apostle Paul was trying to make here in Romans 5:18-19, reading:
So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men. For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were appointed sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be appointed righteous.
And it certainly does summarize and highlight this argument Paul has been trying to make quite nicely, that a person is either in Adam, with him in condemnation and disobedience and death, or a person in in Christ, with him in justification and righteousness and life.
Now if you have been paying attention, you will discover that there is still one significant loose end still lingering in the background, one crucial piece which the logical mind of Paul had brought into the discussion that doesn’t quite seem to fit in yet, and that is the question regarding the Law.
You will recall that Paul had mentioned the Law almost in passing in his first digression, while he was explaining how it is that death spread to all men, because all sinned in Adam, writing in Romans 5:13
Romans 5:13 (LSB)
for until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law.
And so, almost as a footnote, Paul addresses this very matter in these last 2 verses we look at today, verses 20 and 21.
And thank God that the Holy Spirit had him do so! For this very question regarding the proper place of the Law is very misunderstood, even in pulpits across the world this very morning!
Let me show you an example of what I mean, I’m certain that you yourselves have seen this quote, or something very much like it,
“The reason we have 17000 pages in our law books is because we cannot follow 10 lines on a tablet made of stone.” ~ Ravi Zacharias
This person, this statement, was very much rejoiced over when it was made, even in evangelical churches, and many of us have certainly seen this type of thing, pointing back to the decalogue, the 10 commandments as the pinnacle of worthiness and upright living, something which we must always strive to attain to, and to be rebuked if we don’t carry them out.
Is this true? Is our inability to follow the 10 commandments the real reason why we have so many other laws? That we couldn’t manage to keep them, so our governments took over where the Pharisees left off?
Or how about this one? If our schools begin teaching the 10 commandments, if they were posted on the doors and in the hallways, will our society truly be better off? Will our children come out of our schools as Christians, with believing faith in Jesus Christ? Will they automatically on account of the Law be good, moral, upright people who fear God?
Certainly, there are many who seem to believe these things are the case!
And of course there are those who reject the Law and any sort of practice of it as being legalistic and wrong,
antinomianism, (Greek anti, “against”; nomos, “law”), doctrine according to which Christians are freed by grace from the necessity of obeying the Mosaic Law. (Britannica)
People who are described as anti-nomians, those who adhere to antinomianism, being against the Law, or being set against various parts and views of it.

What about the Law?

Paul, of course, knew there would be these difficulties, these questions and mis-understandings about the place of the Law. After all, the same problems existed in his own day. Recall that many in the early church were Jews, and Paul himself spent a great deal of time going first to the Jews, arguing and debating and reasoning out with them in their synagogues and gathering places that Jesus was indeed Messiah, so he had a very good understanding of what their thinking must be at this very point!
For, if you recall, his only mention of the Law is found in that one phrase in v13,
for until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law.
And his point there, was that sin existed in the world before the Law, even from Adam until Moses.
So then, now, we have quite the conundrum – here, Paul has been explaining that a person is either in Adam or they are in Christ; that all in Adam are condemned on account of the sin of Adam, all in Christ are justified on account of the righteous act of Jesus Christ.
The law hasn’t particularly come into the argument, it doesn’t appear to have a place!
But wait, the Jew says! What about the Law?! What about this thing which has so defined his life, filled his days, the Law which he from his youth has been taught and reminded of daily, that has governed his culture and brought his people time and again to ruin.
And even we who are not Jews are forced to admit the presence and effect of the Law has been undeniable. It’s there, it is a real thing that has real consequences!
“But, Paul,” they charge, “you have ignored it completely, you’ve left out the part where the Law condemns all of those sinners!”
But no, no actually, it does not, says Paul. And he’s been telling us that all along. Saying in...
Romans 2:3 (LSB)
But do you presume this, O man⁠—who passes judgment on those who practice such things and does the same⁠—that you will escape the judgment of God?
This indictment on the people of Israel who pointed to the those without the law with haughty contempt, judging them as unworthy because unlike Israel they didn’t have the Law? And that even though they had the Law, they did the same things.
Or again in v12,
Romans 2:12 (LSB)
For all who have sinned without the Law will also perish without the Law, and all who have sinned under the Law will be judged by the Law.
Finally stating the matter most explicitly, in
Romans 3:21 (LSB)
But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets,
And most fully then in Romans 4:13-14
Romans 4:13–14 (LSB)
For the promise to Abraham or to his seed that he would be heir of the world was not through the Law, but through the righteousness of faith.
For if those who are of the Law are heirs, faith has been made empty and the promise has been abolished;
So, it’s not as if Paul hasn’t been clear from the very start! Law does not save.
So what should we make of it, this things which has been so very important to the Jew, so very important to God that he gave them the Law at Sinai with lightning, and thunder, and the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking such that the people trembled and shook as they dared not go near the mountain.

Purpose of the Law made Clear

Here in Romans 5:20-21, he finally makes clear to us the purpose of the law, saying
Romans 5:20–21 (LSB)
Now the Law came in so that the transgression would increase, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more,
so that, as sin reigned in death, even so grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
The legal mind of Paul uses amazingly specific words here, we see them as transgression and sin.
What is the difference between the two? Let’s look a few verses above to explain, in Romans 5:12-14
Romans 5:12–14 (LSB)
Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned
for until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law.
Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the trespass of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come.
There is a difference, in that all trespasses are sin, but not all sin is trespass. The difference is this… sin is a failure to meet the requirement of God. But trespass, on the other hand, is knowing what that requirement is and then failing to meet it.
Adam’s one act was a trespass, a transgression. He knew the command of God, he was clear on it, he had even relayed it to his wife Eve, and yet still, even while knowing God’s command, Adam violated it, he ate the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. In other words, Adam wilfully violated God’s command.
At Sinai, God gave the Law to Moses, we read the account in...
Exodus 20:18–21 (LSB)
And all the people perceived the thunder and the lightning flashes and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking; and the people perceived it, and they shook and stood at a distance. Then they said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself, and we will listen; but let not God speak to us, lest we die.”
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 be with you, so that you may not sin.” So the people stood at a distance, but Moses came near the dense gloom where God was.
And so, once again, the command of God was made known. And with it, came the fear of God, fear that ought to cause people to choose not to sin.
But what of those generations in between? The didn’t have such a Law, they didn’t have a command, so although sin was in the world – it was present, it had entered in through Adam, they themselves even did sin, their sin was unlike the transgression and trespass of Adam. Their sin was contrary to the will of God, but it was not transgression, for “sin is not imputed when there is no law”, there is no charge laid at their feet for this.
Therefore, when we look back at Romans 5:20, this is remedied,
Romans 5:20 (LSB)
Now the Law came in so that the transgression would increase, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more,
So it was alongside this existing transgression of Adam, and the sin that we ourselves do, that the law came in, it joined what was already there. Why? Because although having a purpose, the Law is not something of fundamental importance, but the Law is an addition.
It came in so that the transgression – that legal element for charging – would increase. And since since the legal charge increases, we know that of course sin increased, the mark-missing, the falling short of the glory of God.
So, far from being the means of salvation, the Law came in as the means of increasing our condemnation. It increases condemnation, but does not cause our condemnation - we must be ever so clear on this, lest we go astray!
What will teaching the law in our schools do? Far from making our children moral and upright and reducing the need for other rules, the Law instead increases their trespasses and sin; the Law will never save a generation, that was never its purpose from the very beginning, and those who teach salvation as rule-following, or breaking it into moral, religious, or ceremonial laws and saying you must keep one or more of them.... these are a false and deceptive gospel, which is no gospel at all, instead it abuses and does violence to the gospel of Jesus Christ, to teach such a thing!
No, the Law, the whole thing, every aspect of it, the morals, the religious ceremonies, the whole thing, came in; so that, in order that, for the purpose that, the transgression would increase.
Now recall that transgression is the willful violation of a known limit. The Law given under Moses expresses those limits to us in great detail, limits and requirements in terms of religious service, in terms of ceremony, in terms of moral living, in terms of our relationship with God and our relationships with our fellow man.
When Paul wrote in...
Romans 3:20 (LSB)
because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.
He was telling us even then the purpose of the Law, that it provides knowledge of sin. In our natural state, even before the Law was made clear we had within our conscience a general impression of right and wrong, our “conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them”.
The Law, however, brings specificity to that general impression. Where once we were in ignorance, now we have knowledge, where once there was ambiguity, now it is in black and white.
It’s not that we didn’t sin, for we did sin. Instead, it’s that now we know we are sinning, we can recognize it for what it truly is. It was the Law coming in alongside of sin, giving us a knowledge of its character and its offensiveness to God, which causes our sin to increase, because now it is done knowing that it is offensive to God.
Not only does the Law increase our transgression by revealing the sin that we are presently doing, but it also reveals the things we should have been doing but didn’t; our sins of omission.
Deuteronomy 6:5 (LSB)
You shall love Yahweh your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.
On my own, I would never have thought that this would be a requirement of God. I might have stumbled upon the idea of liking Him, or occasionally thinking about Him, but I would never have considered that failing to love Him with all of my heart, all of my soul, all of my strength on a continual basis as being sin – and yet, that is exactly what the Law has declared. I never would have realized that I couldn’t place my will over His, without the Law.
And so again, the Law increases my trespass, because it reveals to me the enormous extent of my sin, the pervasive grip which it has upon my life.
Indeed, when we arrive at chapter 7, the apostle will reveal even more ways in which the Law increases our condemnation!
But also note this, there is a change in terms once again within this verse, “Now the Law came in so that the transgression would increase, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more,” there is not only an increase in transgression, but there is also and increase in sin as well, for now not only are we sinning, but we also now sin while knowing that we are sinning, so sin itself also increases.
So, far from being a remedy to sin, the Law was added according to the plan and foreknowledge of God as an addition that not only transgression but also sin would increase, even temporarily so, insofar as the law only exists until heaven and earth pass away as Matthew 5:18 says; its purpose was never directly that of redemption!
Notice that I said directly. Yet indirectly, the Law serves a critical function which we must not quickly pass by, made perhaps a little clearer for us by Paul in Galatians:
Galatians 3:22–24 (LSB)
But the Scripture has shut up everyone under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.
But before faith came, we were held in custody under the Law, being shut up for the coming faith to be revealed. Therefore the Law has become our tutor unto Christ, so that we may be justified by faith.
Just as the παιδαγωγός of the Roman world, the Law serves as a severe tutor and guardian, ensuring that we learn the lessons that slave was meant to bring their charge to understand!
You see, the point of the law is this: to reveal and ensure that we realize we cannot please God on our own.
This is why the Law is so very important in teaching, this is why we must never neglect the Old Testament in our reading, this is why we who teach and preach are impressed upon by Paul in Acts 20 to declare the whole purpose of God!
For it is only in the backdrop of this, our sin and our guilt, that we may truly come to understand the magnificent and mighty work of our Lord!
There are many who, in their willful ignorance, wish to remain oblivious to their condemnation, and to their own offenses before God. They declare themselves to be good and moral, they have no need to be concerned about such things as this. Yet in reality, they are openly declaring that God never had to send His Son into the world in the first place, that man can do it all on His own, thank you very much!
And nothing could be further than the truth! For it is the ungodly man who turns to God in faith, the man who has been brought face to face with his great and overwhelming sin and depravity and hopelessness, who admits with finality and conviction that he is entirely unable to make himself acceptable to God!
It is this man, who realizes his need cannot be met by his own ability, that finally turns to God and receives grace!
Romans 5:20 (LSB)
...but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more
Grace didn’t simply bring us back to even – although that, too, would be undeserved grace. No, grace did not simply abound, περισσεύω, but it ὑπερπερισσεύω, it super-abounded, hyper–abounded!
How much more did grace abound?
Romans 5:21 (LSB)
so that, as sin reigned in death, even so grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
The sin of Adam brought on the reign of death; Sin brought judgement, it brought condemnation, on account of Adam’s one act of Sin we were all constituted sinners, guilty and worthy of eternal death and punishment on account of Adam’s sin alone, but then our own actions and our own thoughts and our own deeds heaped up and added to that condemnation a mountain of sin accounted to each one of us, every person who was ever conceived.
But the righteous act of Jesus Christ, His obedience even to the the point of death, death on the cross, not only restores our relationship to God, but offers to we who are ungodly, grace beyond measure, the unmerited favor of God, not just restoring us to life, but to eternal life in righteousness.
And it’s all because of Him! It’s all because of Jesus Christ and His obedience! If I try to add to it, if I try to store up merit for myself to somehow cooperate with Jesus, if I try to get there on my own, I’ll never succeed because it is a grace-gift, it can never be earned in any way.
It must come through faith in Jesus, and faith in Jesus Christ alone. The point of the Law, is to make us to realize that this is the one and only way by which a person might be saved, and that it can never be taken away, that it is full and final, on account of Jesus Christ, God Himself, having done everything, we only receive it.
And this, then, is the essence of assurance - that everything pertaining to eternal life and righteousness comes through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Let us pray!
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