How does God’s law work? Hint! The law was never intended by God to make a bad person good or a good person better. The reason? “There are none who does good, no not one” (Rom. 3:12). Why? “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). The only payment for sin is death (Rom. 6:23). “The soul who sins shall die” (Eze. 18:20a). Every sinner will stand before God to give an account for his or her own sin. No one can opt out and no one can shift the blame. “The son shall not bear the guilt of the father, nor the father bear the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself” (Eze. 18:20b).
How can we know for sure that we are all sinners and guilty before God? What if I told you that God has provided a spoon to stir up sin in order that we may know its character? You would probably silently chuckle. “The law entered that sin might abound” (Rom. 5:20a). A period follows this statement because it is a truth that stands alone. The word “entered” is translated from a word that was often used in a script for a Greek play to indicate the entrance of an actor onto the stage to play a supporting role. The Law of Moses entered onto the stage of God’s plan of grace to play a part. The part played by the law was to cause sin within us to abound, to be stirred up, to be known.
There is the illustration of a small jar filled with water retrieved from a drainage ditch. One sets it on a shelf for a while, and the trash will then settle to the bottom. The water gives the appearance of being clear and pure. However, if a spoon were used to stir the water, the trash on the bottom would be stirred up and become visible, and the true character of the water would be evident. In like manner, the spoon of the Mosaic Law stirs up and reveals the real character of sin within man. The law is given that sin might be stirred up so that our silent, unknowable sin can become known.
If we are honest before God, we know that we have not kept His law. In fact, we have broken it many times. We are, therefore, rendered sinners before God and in need of His grace. The law gives sin its strength. “The strength of sin is the law” (1 Cor. 15:56b). Without the law, the death nature within us has no strength. God uses the law to mysteriously set in motion the hidden impulses of sin that are born within. These sinful impulses were already there but were aroused by the law. The law, as the strength of sin, gives sin a little nudge. “For when we were in the flesh, the passions of sins, which were aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit to death” (Rom. 7:5).
Young Johnny had come into the kitchen with his mom many times. One day, however, she said to him, “Sweetheart, do you see that big jar up there on the top shelf?” “Yes, mommy,” he replied. “Well, dear, there is something in that jar that mother does not want you to see, so please do not ever look in it, okay?” “Sure, Mom,” was his reply. But now the hidden impulses of Adam’s sin that were always within began to vibrate like a tuning fork struck by a mallet. These vibrations nudged him to take just one peek into the jar. Because of sin within, his ability to disobey his mom was always there, but the command stirred the sin. Why? Because the strength of sin is the law!
The law provides the muscle that Adam’s death nature within us needs to express itself. God was gracious in providing this spiritual aspect of the law to expose our sinful condition, and to give us a thirst for His wonderful grace. 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” (Rom. 3:19). The law of God is a single unit. It must be kept as such. But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident, for “The just shall live by faith.” Yet the law is not of faith but the man who does them shall live by them” (Gal. 3:11-12).
God’s law is not like a religious cafeteria where we can pick and choose the rules that we want to keep or the ones that we want to break. The law is one document that demands perfect obedience. The Jew could never receive the righteousness demanded by the law by just having faith in the law, or even having faith in their own ability to keep the law. One could never keep part of the law all the time or all of it some of the time. It must be kept perfectly all the time. “Keep the law perfectly and live,” it shouted to them. But if just one law is broken, and only one time, then the lawbreaker would have broken the whole unit of the law and must suffer the penalty. “For whoever shall keep the whole law and yet stumble in one point he is guilty of all” (James 2:10). When just one law is broken or one small portion of the law, it tells me that I am dead and in need of life. It tells me that I am a sinner and in need of a Savior. The law then brings the guilty to Jesus Christ – that we may be justified by faith (Gal. 3:24). Blessings!