Establishing the Law
“Do we then nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law.” - Romans 3:31
The Law of God creates an interesting phenomenon, those who proclaim that obedience to the Law is a necessary element of our ultimate salvation are the same people who change or minimize the requirements of the Law. The underlying reason that those proclaiming the role of obedience to the Law in salvation must ultimately undermine the Law itself is that, left intact, the Law condemns everyone as sinners.
“…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” - Rom 3:23
“All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.” - Gal 3:10
As soon as we turn to the Law, we find ourselves cursed. Not only have all of us sinned in the past, but all of us continually “fall short”. None of us does “everything” written in the book of the Law, yet “everything” is what the Law requires. James 2:10 tells us that breaking any part of the law, even a small item like showing partiality to one person over another, makes us guilty of breaking the whole law. Think about the implications of what James has written. Showing partiality (or prejudice) in how we treat people makes us guilty of murder, theft, adultery, idolatry, and worshipping other gods. And it is particularly important to notice here in James that breaking a Law that is not included in the 10 Commandments makes a person guilty of breaking these commandments as well.
Some people work hard attempting to show how Paul and James don’t teach the same things. But they certainly aren’t looking at their teachings on the Law and sin. You can’t be a little bit of a law-breaker, just like you can’t be a little bit pregnant. Once you break the Law, you are a sinner. You are under a curse, and you have earned death.
Is it any wonder that someone promoting the importance and even necessity of observing the Law would have to soften the requirements of the Law? Unless those requirements are softened, their situation is hopeless. What are some of the ways in which people soften the requirements of the Law?
- By concluding that God grades on a curve, so salvation comes from sinning less than the people around you.
- By concluding that God’s judgment is based on the trend of your life. If you are sinning less this year than you were in prior years God is going to reward your progress.
- By grouping sins into big sins that really matter (the Catholics call these Mortal sins) and smaller sins that, while bad, don’t prevent you from being saved.
- By limiting the scope of God’s command, so keeping the Sabbath holy means going to church on the correct day and loving your neighbor means only those neighbors who believe the same things that you believe (this was the issue behind the question asked of Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?”).
Those who look to their deeds of the Law as a form of righteousness are forced to either continually conclude that they are a failure or to lessen the full demands of the Law into something that they can come closer to achieving. When one lessens the demands of the Law, they are undermining both the Law itself and the Holiness of God (and minimizing the value of Christ’s death!). But when one has been truly freed from the demands of the Law by a full and complete pardon, they no longer have a fear of that Law. They can see their shortcomings within that Law and not require any softening of its demands, because they know that all of the demands of the Law have already been met and freely credited to them. They aren’t afraid to admit that they are a sinner when they truly know that God has already forgiven that sin.
Our righteousness comes from God’s work, not our own. It is the result of faith from beginning to end, as expressed in Rom 1:17a (NIV)
“For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed,
a righteousness that is by faith from first to last”