For most of the church’s 2000 year history this was the accepted norm for gospel preaching. Today, however, it seems such a radical idea that one has to defend it.
Well, let’s take a look at just one chapter in Romans – chapter 3. The apostle Paul, who wrote in numerous places in his letters to the churches about the law, gives us understanding of its role in the gospel and the conversion of sinners.
1. To whom is the law directed?
Verse 19 – “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.”
There’s the answer: “those who are under the law”. That is, all those who have not yet come under the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus. (See Romans 8:2) The unbeliever.
2. What does the law accomplish?
Verse 19 – It silences all arguments and objections by bringing the conviction of sin. “… that every mouth may be stopped and all the world may be guilty before God.” There is certainly a place for apologetics – reasoning together with unbelievers about the truth. These arguments, however, are usually only aimed at the intellect and have limited results. But the law of God goes directly to the conscience of man.
3. Who is saved by the law?
Verse 20 – “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 answer is plain, that no one is saved by the law! It’s function is to bring “the knowledge of sin”. As D.L.Moody said, “The law can drive a man only to Calvary, and no further.”
Notice again that emphatic “no flesh”. If a person objects to simply clinging to Christ, and decides instead that (since the law of the Lord is perfect) they are going to try keeping the law to justify themselves before God, they will find themselves only condemned by it. The natural man has already broken it (and thereby stands as a guilty lawbreaker before God), and in his sin nature cannot keep it fully no matter how hard he tries in the future.
This “no flesh” statement also confirms that both Jews and gentiles are the same under the law. Keeping of the law is not a path that will save any Jew, despite the false teaching of some Christian preachers who are no real friends to Israel. If you love the Jewish people you will point them to Jesus Christ as their only hope of salvation. (Their own consciences bear witness that they are only condemned under the law).
4. Now that grace has come, is the need for the law ended?
Verse 31 – “Do we then make void the law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law.”
Is the law now made void by the New Testament? No! It fulfills exactly the same role as it always has. It is the “schoolmaster” which drives us to Christ to be justified by faith (Galatians 3:24) When we come to faith in Christ we “establish the law” – we show it’s effectiveness, because if we have abandoned all to put on Christ by faith it can only be that we have come under conviction of our sin. The law, then, has fulfilled it’s function in us to bring us to Christ.
So, paradoxically, it is only the Christian (not the religious or the moral man who is trying to keep the law and makes their boast in the law) who truly “establishes” or shows the power of the law.