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Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Law and Grace # 7

Law Unable to Save Man (continued)

The death of Christ did more than save sinners; it declared the righteousness of God while He was in the very act of saving sinners, so that God "might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus" (Romans 3:26). Read carefully Romans 3:23-26. Not even an infinite God, absolute Sovereign that He is, could play fast and loose with His own law. Therefore, the law was left standing in all the absolute holiness and severity of its demands. But God in Christ met those demands in our stead. Let us leave the matter where God has left it. Only in this way can 'we establish the law" (Romans 3:31).

It was Isaiah, that prophet who perhaps saw most clearly what God would do at Calvary, who said, "it pleased Jehovah, for his righteousness' sake, to magnify the law, and make it honorable" (Isaiah 42:21). We shall never understand the full glory of the Cross until we see there, not only the love of God for sinners, but also the righteousness and holiness of God in maintaining the inexorable standards of His own law while at the same time saving sinners who were guilty of breaking it. This is the glory of God's grace!

In Romans 8:3 the apostle speaks of "what the law could not do." The last three words of this quotation represent but one Greek word which means literally "powerlessness." The law of God can do nothing to save sinners. It cannot save us from the guilt of sin. It cannot provide a sufficient motive for obedience to the law. It cannot supply the power necessary to keep its requirements. It cannot recover us when we break the law. May God open our eyes to understand that our "help cometh from the Lord" (Psalm 121:2). Our only hope is in Him.

The Divine Purpose in Giving the Law

If the law can neither save us nor help to save us, why should we be concerned about it? Why was the law given? The Apostle Paul, who had most to say about the law in the New Testament writings, recognized the legitimacy of this question when he asked, "Wherefore then serveth the law?" (Galatians 3:19). A literal translation would be, "Why then the law?" Paul has fully answered his own question.

1. The law was added because of transgressions (Galatians 3:19). The verb "added" indicates that the law was not primary in God's dealings with sinners. The covenant and promises of God were first. The law was added. And the divine reason is found in man's "transgressions." This general statement will be amplified in other more specific statements. But the heart of the matter is that the giving of the law is related to man's sin. There is a time element in the matter - the law was given because of transgressions until "the seed should come to whom the promise was made." Thus the giving of the law was neither first nor is it final with God in saving sinners or dealing with the problem of sin. It was "added" and temporary. This indicates a dispensational aspect.

2. The law was enacted for the lawless and ungodly (1 Timothy 1:9-10). The idea in this important passage seems to be primarily that of restraint. Viewing the matter from the social standpoint, this is a highly beneficent purpose. The laws of nations are all imperfect reflections of the divine law and are intended to restrain evil and protect society. And in the administration of law and its penalties, the government official is a "minister of God" (Romans 13:4).

3. Another purpose of law is to give men "the knowledge of sin" (Romans 3:20). The Greek term is "epignosis", suggesting not merely knowledge, but a full knowledge of sin. It is true that men totally without any positive law codes are nevertheless conscious in some degree of the fact that they are sinful. And the law was given to increase and heighten this knowledge. Thus, man becomes more fully conscious of his sin and the need of some help which is outside and beyond the law. In this sense alone, law may be said to prepare lost men for the gospel of Christ by making them more conscious of their need. But no preacher should ever be guilty of preaching law to produce conviction without preaching at the same time the good news of salvation in Christ "without the law." it is fine to show men their need of the Bread of Life, but let us beware of sending them away unfed. And the law by itself does not give bread; it only gives a recipe for making bread, a work which is totally beyond the ability of sinners.

~Alva J. McClain~

(continued with # 8)

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