The Purpose of the Law
Preached at Cornerstone Church in Cascade on November 19, 2017.
Let us begin this morning by reciting our November memory verse. Romans 3:10-12, “as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; 11 no one understands; no one seeks for God. 12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”
This week, my wife asked me, how many verses was I going to preach on in Romans this week. She had been writing it out and studying it, and she recognized the dilemma that I run into every single week; where to draw the line. There is no doubt that each week I leave out more than I actually teach on. And because this is true, I would encourage each of you, not to be fully dependent upon me in the preaching of a specific text; for a sermon is usually the tip of the Scriptural iceberg, and beneath the surface there is so much more substance or treasure to behold.
One easy way to explore the iceberg is to read all of the cross-references that are associated with the weekly text. If you have a study Bible, the cross references are the little letters that you find within verses that refer you to a footnote that lists another bible verse. Another option is to use an Web based App such as Bible Hub where you can click on the individual verse and see some of the associated cross references. Another option is to do a word study. Pick a few primary words in the text and read other verses that use the same word. One way you can do this is using a concordance. Or once again a web based app, such as the Bible Hub. Another way is to read a commentary such as Matthew Henry or John Gills, both which are free online and are found on almost all Bible Websites. Of course, the best approach would be all three, but my point is,
So with that said, how far will we go today? Not far. Today we will be examining Romans 3:19-22a, and next week, God willing, we will examine, perhaps, the greatest paragraphs in the entire Bible. But today, I thought it would be wise unpack a very important word and concept, the law. So let us stand for the reading of God’s Word, then we will pray, and then we will unpack our text for this morning.
Romans 3:19-22a – “Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. 21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.”
In our text for this morning we see the word “law” mentioned six times. Not only doe the Word law play a prominent role in our text, but it also plays a prominent role in the book of Romans, in the New Testament, and the entire Cannon of Scripture. Understanding the law is fundamental in understanding your existence and your eternity.
Many of you may be surprised to know that the word law is used 224 times in the New Testament. In the book of Romans alone it is used 53 times. The word grace, on the other hand, is only used 118 times in the New Testament and only 18 times in the book of Romans. Having said that, few Christians have a good grasp on what the law is, and why they should care. In fact, many Christians get upset if a Church teaches with a law focus, for the see themselves purely under grace and the law is no longer relevant to their life. Well, if that is the case, the Apostle Paul must not have gotten the memo. For the word law saturates his writings.
In our text this morning, what does the Apostle Paul mean when he says, the law? I have to admit that this is, at times, a very confusing question, especially in our text for today. For I believe Paul uses the word “law” in three somewhat different ways. However through each of those ways we see the purpose of the law and today we will examine three purposes of the law as they are laid out in Romans 3:19-22.
Purpose #1: To Be the Highest and Final Authority
The first purpose of the law is that it is the highest and final authority over man. Let’s begin by looking at how Paul uses the word law in verse 19. Paul says, “Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God.”
When Paul uses the word law in verse 19 he is most likely referring to the entire Old Testament. The reason I say this is because of context. If you recall, Paul, in Romans 3:2 mentions the phrase “Oracles of God”. When Paul says the oracles of God he is thinking of all of the written Word of God. At the time of Paul, this would have include the entire Old Testament Cannon of Scripture.
Likewise, as we saw last week, in verse 10-18, Paul begins his thought with “As it is written” and then quotes from at least six different Old Testament passages to overwhelmingly prove that everyone is unrighteous before God. These passages were taken from two places in the Old Testament, the Psalms and the book of Isaiah. Therefore the law that is most likely on the mind of Paul in verse 19 is the entire Cannon of Scripture as found in what we call the Old Testament.
And this law, the Old Testament, the oracles of God, has the power to shut the mouths of man. Look at verse 19, “so that every mouth may be stopped.” What is meant by every mouth? I believe that every mouth are those who are under the law. Who are those who are under the law?
It definitely would include the Jews, for we see that they were given the Oracles of God, but I would also argue that it is more than just the Jew, but would also include all humanity. The reason I say this is once again the context. First, it says every mouth. Second it says, the whole world, which obviously means more than just the Jews. Third, the quotations from the Psalms and Isaiah in verse 10-18 have a global declaration, not just a Jewish one. And fifth, back in Romans 2:14-15 Paul says this about the Gentiles, “For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them.”
What Paul is saying is that even though the Gentiles do not have the written law, God has given them a conscience. This conscience is God's law. This is what we call the moral law and covers things like murder, stealing, lying, marriage. These are things that cross cultural. All people have an innate sense of what is right and what is good to some degree. This is humanity behaving under the moral law of God. Therefore I would argue that everyone is under the law of God, both Jews and Gentiles.
So what does it mean to be under the law? The word under is simply the Greek word “en.” So if you read under the law, it simply reads “en-to-nomos”. Nomos is Greek for law. And “en” designates a position in relation to. So to be under the law is to describe a positional hierarchy. God’s Word is above us, and we are beneath it. This is the proper relationship that man is to have with God's word.
And this is why mouths are shut, because God’s Word is a higher authority and the determinative declaration of all things. God’s Word is the ultimate standard. The debate is over. There is nothing left for man to say. We are to place ourselves under the Scriptures.
500 years ago, in 1517, Martin Luther sparked what is called the Protestant Reformation by nailing his 95 thesis to the door of All Saints Church in Wittenberg, Germany. And this was the beginning of the true Church of Christ separating itself from the false Church of Roman Catholicism. Many people might say that the issue for Martin Luther was the sale of indulgences by the Roman Catholic Church for the purpose of increasing money for the Catholic Coffers in exchange for the salvation of soles from purgatory, and in a sense, you would be right. That was one of many complaints that Luther had against the Church. However, the fundamental issue that was at stake was the relationship of the Word of God with man.
The Protestant Reformation was ultimately about what has higher authority, the word of Man, or the Word of God. Catholicism then, and Catholicism now, claims that man has the highest authority and God’s word bends to the Pope and to the Cardinals. True born again Christians call this blasphemy and rightly declare that the final and highest authority in this universe is the Word of God. We are to be under the law, not over the law, or even side by side to the law. Our rightful position as it relates to God’s Holy Word is to shut our mouths and submit. As Paul says in Romans 9:20, “But who are you, O man, to answer back to God?”
Likewise, it says in Revelation 22:18-19, “I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, 19and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.” Those statements should make us tremble. This book is no trite thing, we are called not to question God, but to joyfully submit to what he says in his words, and may God have mercy on you, if you do not. The purpose of God’s law is to be the highest and final authority in our life.
Purpose #2: To Display Our Sin Nature
The second purpose of the law, as it is laid out in our text today is that the law displays to us our sin nature. Look at verse 20, “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.”
Now, in my opinion, this is where Paul’s use of the word law is nuanced, or tweaked. At this moment, he is thinking slightly differently about the law then what he was thinking about in verse 19. Paul uses the phrase, “by the works of the law.” What does this mean, “By the works of the law”?
I believe this meaning coincides with our normal understanding of the word law. On my desk at work I have six volumes of the Iowa Code. In those volumes there are 916 code sections. Within each code sections there are numerous restrictions as to how an Iowan has to live within this State. The Iowa Code books is the guide to how to live in Iowa.
Likewise, God's Word, all 66 books, the law, tells us how we are to live in accordance to God's will. In Psalm 119, the longest chapter in the Bible, the word law is mentioned 25 times. Verse 1 says, “Blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the LORD! “ Verse 34 says, “Give me understanding, that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart.” Verse 136, “My eyes shed streams of tears, because people do not keep your law.”
What are some examples of those laws? Well, we can start with the ten commandments. You shall have no other God's before me. You shall not serve idols. You shall not take the Lord's name in vain. Remember the Sabbath. Honor your father and mother. You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not bear false witness. You shall not covet.
Then from their you could look at the words of Jesus in Matthew 5, don't get angry with your brother. Don't insult your brother. Don't call your brother a fool. Don't lust in your heart for another man's wife. Turn the other cheek. Love you enemies. Give to the needy without boasting.
Now, all of these laws in both the Old Testament and the New Testament can be summed up with just two laws according to Jesus in Matthew 22:37, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38This is the great and first commandment. 39And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
So there you have it, pretty simple. Just do those two things, and everything will fall into place. Easier said that done. The problem is that we can't just do it. We cannot keep the law. We have no capacity to keep the law. We don't love God with all our hearts. We don't love each other as we love ourselves. We covet. We steal. We lust. We dishonor our parents. As it says in verse 20, through the law no one will be justified. We have no ability to live up to God's standard. We cannot work our way to heaven.
So, if that is true, that you cannot work you way to heave, what is the point of the law? The law is not a ladder that we climb up. It is a mirror that we look into. By looking at the mirror of God's law, what we see staring back at us is a wretched sinner. This is the purpose of the law. To show you that you are not good. To show you that you are a sinner. To show you that your heart is desperately sick.
The law of God is like a physician having you go through numerous tests to determine if you are sick or not. After going through the diagnostics of God's Word, the final conclusion for every man is sinner. And this is important to understand, committing a sin does not make us a sinner. Instead, we are sinners, therefore we sin. Sinning is a symptom of being a sinner. And that is the purpose of the law, to show us that we are by nature sinners.
Purpose #3: To Bear Witness to Jesus Christ
Which leads us to the third purpose of the law. The law bear's witness to Jesus Christ. Verse 21, “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—“
What does Paul mean when he says “the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law”? He is referring to Jesus of Nazareth. Look at verse 22, “the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.” Jesus is the righteousness of God manifested. How so? By fulfilling the law. Jesus perfectly lived out the law of God.
Jesus says in Matthew 5:17, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.”
The coming of Jesus was not the end of the the law, it was the fulfillment of the law. Jesus is the only human being that has ever existed who has fulfilled the law. He did not break the ten commandments, he did not lust in his heart, he loved the Lord his God with all his heart, and his neighbor as himself. Our inability to uphold the law, points us to the one and only person who did uphold the law, Jesus.
However, there is more. Paul says that the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it. What is “it”? “It” is the righteousness of God that we already said is Christ. Second, what are the Law and the Prophets? This is just another way to say the Old Testament. Paul is saying that the Old Testament is like a witness testifying to the jury of humanity. Genesis to Malachi pointing forwards to the coming of Jesus. When you read the Old Testament you should see Christ.
Jesus himself says this in two places during his earthly ministry. In John 5:39 Jesus says to the Jews, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me,” And then again on the road to Emmaus Jesus said in Luke 24:27, “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.”
This is exactly what the Apostles did as they went out and proclaimed Christ as the Messiah. The began with God's Word and showed the world everywhere in Scripture that pointed to Jesus.
Here are a few examples: Jesus is the seed of Eve that would crush the head of the snake. Jesus is the Ark that carries us through God's wrath. Jesus is the blessing of Abraham to all nations. Jesus is the true Israel. Jesus is the prophet greater than Moses. Jesus the Passover Lamb. Jesus is the water from the rock, the manna from heaven. Jesus is the perfect judge. Jesus is the perfect King. Jesus is the great high priest. Jesus is the temple. Jesus is the root of Jesse. Jesus is the branch of David. Jesus is the child that is born who will be called wonderful counselor, mighty God, everlasting Father, and prince of peace. Jesus is suffering servant. Jesus is the anointed one of God, the only begotten Son. Jesus is all an all. And all of Scripture bears witness to this.
So let us not, avoid the law, but embrace it, for in it are wonderful blessings of God.
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