The Purpose of the Law—Romans 3:19-20

Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin" (Romans 3:19-20)

This came as a complete shock!

I assumed the Law was given as the way to God until the time of Christ. In the deep recesses of my mind, Jesus was Plan B when God got tired of the lack of obedience. In His wisdom, He sent a Savior, then defaulted back to Plan A as the necessary boundaries in relating to Him.

This played out in the way we lived. I got invited to a birthday party in the 4th grade, but since the group was going to a movie I didn’t get to go to the party until the end. It was so awkward, but the rules of our church said we could not go to movie theaters, and we related to God by following the rules so this became a necessary sacrifice.

But nothing changed after that, except perhaps that I was a little resentful that I didn’t get to go to the movies with my friends.

Why didn’t anything change in my relationship to God after this sacrifice?

In short, because the Law is powerless to bring change. That was never its purpose. Paul shocks everyone through this statement: “through the law we become conscious of sin.”

Imagine how life-changing this was when I saw it clearly for the first time! The Law strengthens sin in us arousing the need for a Savior. It speaks to those under its power in making us accountable to God. It strips every excuse imaginable by making us conscious of sin, but in the end, it is powerless to do anything about it.

Why do we assume that we should use this system in relating to God?

This is the absolutely wrong application of the Law.

But this is good news for us because this awareness brings us toward repentance and faith. It breaks deceptive thinking that we can be good enough and takes away every hope of salvation, except faith in a savior.

This is its purpose!

It is also Paul’s closing argument against the condemnation of mankind. Throughout the first three chapters of Romans, he is proving the case against both the Jews and the Gentiles of the impossibility of salvation apart from Christ. He has made such a powerful case that no one could argue against a sentence of condemnation. But now that the groundwork for our guilt is firmly laid, so, too, is the groundwork for a savior, and Paul will start building the case for Christ.

Previous: Romans 3:9-18  Next: Romans 3:21

Original article published June 20, 2009.

Juli Camarin

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