How the Law Could Give Eternal Life
1. Hypothetically, the law could give life if men kept it. In Leviticus 18:5 it is written: "Ye shall therefore keep my statutes, and my judgments: which if a man do, he shall live in them: I am the Lord." The same idea is repeated in Ezekiel, "And I gave them my statutes, and shewed them my judgments, which if a man do, he shall even live in them" (Ezek. 20:11, 13, 21). Unquestionably our Lord had the same principle in mind when he said to the rich young ruler who was seeking eternal life by works, "If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments" (Matthew 19:17). And these "commandments" were all taken from the Mosaic law. The Apostle Paul summarizes the testimony, "For Moses describeth the righteousness which is of the law, That the man which doeth those things shall live by them" (Romans 10:5).
2. But this keeping of the law had to be perfect. In the first place, it had to include the whole law: "Cursed is everyone that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them" (Galatians 3:10). This obedience did not dare to fail at any point, no matter how small, "For whosoever shall keep the law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all" (James 2:10).
Furthermore, this perfection of obedience included the inward attitude as well as the outward act, the thought as well as the deed (Matthew 5:28). The question has been raised: Did not the law provide for failure to keep it? The answer is: Yes, in a certain sense, through the ritual of animal sacrifice. But here we must be careful to remember two things: First, the smallest failure meant that the law was broken. Second, the blood of animal sacrifices could never take away sins. The sacrifice prescribed by the law did indeed bear witness to a way of salvation, but that way was wholly outside and apart from all law (Romans 3:21).
3. Certainly no man (Christ excepted) ever kept the law in the complete sense. "Sin is the transgression of the law" we are told, and in Christ there is "no sin" (1 John 3:4-5). But with reference to all other men it is just as certain that "all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). This is the testimony of all Scripture from Genesis to Revelation.
4. Actually, then, the law can save no sinner. On this point the witness of the Bible is ample and unbroken. "By the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight" (Romans 3:20). "By him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses" (Acts 13:39). "But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith" (Galatians 3:11).
So crucially important is this truth that the Holy Spirit repeats it no less than three times within the scope of a single verse in Galatians. "A man is not justified by the works of the law ... not by the works of the law ... for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified" (Galatians 2:16). As a matter of fact, Calvary itself should make this clear to all, "for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain" (Galatians 2:21).
~Alva J. McClain~
(continued with # 6 - "Law Unable to Save Men")