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The Irrefutable Facts of God's Law

By Dr. Paul M. Elliott
Romans 3:19-20 declares five undeniable facts about God's moral Law, and our relationship to it. In this age of global lawlessness we must understand them - and act upon them.

From the TeachingtheWord Bible Knowledgebase

Part two of a series. Read part one.

Romans 3:19-20 declares five undeniable facts about God's moral Law, and our relationship to it. In this age of global lawlessness we must understand them - and act upon them.

In the first article of this series we briefly presented the evidence of the widespread, global rejection of God's moral Law. If we were to describe this generation in a single word, one of the most accurate would be lawlessness. We concluded last time with a crucial question: What is the cure for this lawlessness - in government, in the church, in the lives of individuals, and especially in the lives of professing Christians? We noted that we find the cure in 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. Therefore by the deeds of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the Law is the knowledge of sin. 

The Holy Spirit through the Apostle Paul is setting before us five great facts about God's Law.

In the original Greek we find two different words for knowledge in these verses. We encounter the first one in verse 19. Paul says, "Now we know" that the following things are true. "We know" in English is actually one word in the original Greek. It means, "we know absolutely" - without question, beyond any possibility of contradiction. We know, Paul declares, that the following things are true.

You see, the Bible is not a postmodernist book. It is not a book of the variable, flawed, often contradictory opinions of men. The Bible is a book of revealed truth given by the unchanging God of the universe.

The evangelical church must purge itself of a mindset that is characterized by Satan's words to Eve: "Has God indeed said?" (Genesis 3:1). The evangelical church must come back to this: "Thus says the Lord" - a phrase we find 418 times in the pages of Scripture. The evangelical church must bow the knee before the God of the Bible, who is the God of absolutes. "Now we know," Paul says. We know absolutely, without question, that certain things are true, because God says them.

What things?

Fact Number One: All Are Subject to God's Moral Law

The first irrefutable fact that Paul declares here is that everyone, Jew and Gentile, is subject to God's moral Law. This is what he means when he says, "Those who are under the Law." In the two-and-a-half chapters that precede these verses, we find that Paul is not speaking of the other elements of God's Law.

He is not speaking of the Jewish ceremonial law or the Jewish civil law. Both of these, as the entire New Testament explains, have been abrogated under the New Covenant (see for example Colossians 2:14-17, Ephesians 2:15-16, and Hebrews 10:1-10).

Paul is speaking in Romans 3:19-20 of the transcendent moral Law of God, embodied in the Ten Commandments. Those commandments summarize God's standard of righteousness for man - both in his relationship to God, and also in his relationship to his fellow man. Everyone is under that Law.

Fact Number Two: Under the Law, We Are All Guilty

Secondly, Paul is declaring that those who are under the moral Law have nothing to say to God. "That every mouth may be stopped," Paul says, "and all the world may become guilty before God." Everyone who is "under the Law" - and that means everyone without exception - is in this position.

The idea of being "under the Law" in the original language is to be "fenced in" by God's Law. The idea is that the evidence of God's Law that is set forth against us is so overwhelming, it is so unanswerable, that we have absolutely nothing to say in our own defense. The only thing that mankind "under the Law" can say to God is this: "God be merciful to me a sinner."

Fact Number Three: Law-Keeping Cannot Save Us

Thirdly, Paul continues the chain of logic. "Therefore" he says - because God declares that the foregoing things are true - "therefore, by the deeds of the Law" - by the keeping of the Law - "no flesh will be justified in His sight."

Now you might say, "How can that be? If I kept God's moral Law perfectly, would that not certainly be enough?" And of course the answer is in the preceding two-and-a-half chapters. Paul has gone to great lengths to prove one thing: We are not sinners because we sin. We sin because we are sinners. We sin because that is our nature.

The child who comes into this world, who has as yet done no conscious right or wrong, is a sinner by nature. David said in Psalm 51, "I was conceived in sin." My parents were sinners, so I am a sinner. And so it goes through all human heredity, all the way back to Adam. We have all inherited that nature from Adam. In Adam, Paul declares, we all died. "And thus death spread to all men, because all sinned" (Romans 5:12).

But when Paul says this, he is not speaking primarily of our own personal acts of sin. What Paul is speaking of primarily is the fact that we all share in Adam's sin because he is the federal head of the entire human race. Our condemnation does not begin when we commit our first act of sin. We come into this world already condemned by the Law. "Therefore," Paul says, "by the deeds of the Law no flesh shall be justified" in God's sight. It is a moral and spiritual impossibility with God.

Fact Number Four: The Primary Purpose of God's Law

And why is that? This brings us to Paul's fourth point in these verses. Again he continues the chain of logic. Notice what he says at the end of verse 20: "for by the Law is the knowledge of sin."

What is the purpose of the Law? The purpose of God's moral Law is not to save anyone. The purpose of God's moral Law is to expose us for what we are. The fact that we cannot obey God's moral Law - none of us - exposes what we are in Adam. It confirms the condemnation we deserve. It confirms our hopelessness apart from Christ.

And this is why the doctrine of double imputation is so important. Some preachers today teach only that our sins were imputed to Christ at the cross. They teach that Jesus Christ took our sins on Himself on the cross in order to pay for them. And that is true. But that is only half the picture.

If it were only true that our sins are imputed to Christ, we would be left in a horrible state of uncertainty. We would be left in a position where we would be, as it were, only half-saved. And to be half-saved would be no salvation at all.

But God did not do a half-way job. Jesus Christ kept the Law perfectly on our behalf before He went to the cross, and even as He was on the cross. He went to the cross as both the perfect sacrifice for sins and as the perfect High Priest to offer that sacrifice. And so His righteousness - His perfect Law-keeping - is imputed to us by faith. We wear the robe of His righteousness. Therefore the true believer in Christ can say with the prophet Isaiah in chapter 61, verse 10,

I will greatly rejoice in the Lord,
My soul shall be joyful in my God;
For He has clothed me with the garments of salvation,
He has covered me with the robe of righteousness,
As a bridegroom decks himself with ornaments,
And as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.

To fully understand God's cure for mankind's innate lawlessness, from which we cannot free ourselves, we must address one further fact about the Law that we find in Romans 3:19-20. We shall take up this final fact, and its cosmic implications, as we continue.

Next: What is "The Knowledge of Sin"?


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