Now Paul tells us what the basis is for God’s acceptance of us as sinners. He talks a lot about law. He talks about ‘works of the law’. He talks about being ‘justified’, and he talks about having ‘died to the law’. He talks about having been ‘crucified with Christ’.
These expressions may seem hard to understand, but I want you to think and pray through these verses very carefully because they are saying something that is important for you to grasp. In this and the next study we will look at each of these truths one at a time.
Firstly, what is law? A law is a rule or a code by which we can measure whether or not something else conforms. Recently I visited Greenwich (in London) and saw the zero meridian from which all the world’s time is measured. That’s a law.
You have probably used a ruler many times to draw a straight line or to measure something. That’s a law. On the road, drivers are expected to keep their car between the marked lines. That’s a law.
Without those lines it would be very difficult to drive in a straight line on a very wide road. Cars would be all over the place! Just imagine the chaos! Well, those lines are a law, and a very helpful one at that.
Now when it comes to moral issues, there are laws. All of us have laws about what is right and what is wrong. You had them in your games when you were young. The trouble was, your playmates had laws too, and they were not always the same as yours!
The only real moral laws are those which God has given us. Think about the Ten Commandments. If we were to keep these perfectly, all the time, every day, in every circumstance, right throughout our life, then we would be perfect. We would not have sinned, ever!
Unfortunately, none of us can keep God’s moral laws in that way. We are constantly breaking them, no matter how hard we try not to. And every time we do not perfectly obey His laws, something happens to us. We come under guilt. Somehow we just know that we’re in trouble!—in trouble with God.
When this happens, we always try to justify ourselves. In other words, we make excuses for why we should be let off, or why it was someone else’s fault! Of course, we may not consciously try to do it directly to God. More often it is to ourselves or to other people.
Let me give you some examples, and then you can think up some of your own. Can you remember being asked by Mum to do something, and you didn’t do it? Even if you didn’t feel it, you were instantly guilty.
Inside, some little process began by which you tried to justify— first to yourself, and then to Mum—why you didn’t do it: ‘I was tired’; ‘It wasn’t my turn’: ‘The cricket hadn’t finished yet’; ‘I did it the day before’ and so on, and so on. This is nothing but straight-out disobedience.
However, in spite of our self-justification efforts, the guilt remains. And the more we disobey, the more the guilt builds up. We become cranky and irritable as a result. We begin to blame others in an effort to get rid of the guilt on our conscience. But we can’t. It just keeps on building up. We get caught deeper and deeper in the problem.
Now if this happens at the level of our relationships with other human beings, can you see what happens when we disobey God? The guilt is constantly building up, and we have to spend our time trying to work out how we can justify our disobedience. And this can all be going on without our consciously thinking about it.
Remember what I said about law? If it were possible for us to perfectly obey God’s moral law, then we would not have to try to justify ourselves. There would be no wrong to have to justify! The word ‘justify’ comes, in fact, from the word ‘just’. It means to be ‘right’ with respect to a law. So then, if a person could perfectly keep God’s law, that person would be called a just person.
Now, think carefully about what I am going to say. Can you ever be a just person in God’s eyes? If you can’t perfectly obey His moral law, how can you ever be ‘right’ from God’s point of view? If you can’t be just by obeying His law, then you must still be a guilty person.
How then can you get rid of that guilt? How can you stop having to justify yourself, when I have already shown that it doesn’t do a thing. Rather, it makes matters worse! This is the dreadful problem all human beings are faced with. And there is no human solution to it, though we all try to manufacture one!
In verse 16, Paul tells us that ‘a man is not justified by works of the law [obeying the law] but through faith in Christ Jesus’. He goes on to say that it is impossible for anyone to be justified by obeying the law, but rather, we are justified by faith in Christ Jesus.
Paul highlights the real issue: we are accepted by God as being ‘just’ only by virtue of faith in Christ. No law can aid us in being accepted by God. No rule or regulation or ritual or rite or observance is of any value in obtaining release from our guilt. Somehow God Himself must justify us.
He must do it. because we can’t. The way in which God has done it is through His Son Jesus on the cross. As we come, by faith, to accept that fact, God counts us as being ‘just’ in His sight. It all comes back to His grace.