“For by works of the law no human being will be justified in His sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.” (Romans 3:20)
For centuries, the Jewish people believed that their hope of salvation lay in their ability to keep the Law of Moses. Their religious leaders dedicated themselves to the study of the Law, striving for perfection in themselves and in those around them. They believed in God’s promise of a Messiah, but by the time Jesus actually came to earth, many of the Jews believed He would be a political leader instead of the Savior the prophets had proclaimed. The Pharisees, the dominant religious leaders of the time, clung to absolute adherence to the Law, demanding that the people follow their strict, legalistic interpretations. In so doing, they hoped to eventually attain salvation.
But when Jesus came, He preached something radically different. According to Him, salvation could not come by works. In fact, God’s reason for the Law was to show His people their sin, revealing to them just how wicked they were. Thus, it was not an agent of life but a tool of condemnation.
In his letter to the Roman church, the apostle Paul elaborated on this new mindset. Everyone is subject to the Law, he explained, whether they work to follow it or not. We all have God’s Law written on our hearts, and therefore we have no excuse for not obeying it. Because of that, we are all condemned from the very beginning of our existence. There is absolutely no way we can keep every single one of God’s commandments. There are simply too many of them, and we in our sinfulness will always choose to disobey. If there were no law, then we would all be innocent of sin, because we would not be breaking any of God’s rules. But in reality, we are all subject to His commands. Every day we choose to rebel against Him, and so we drift further and further away from His perfect standard.
But fortunately, that isn’t the end of the story. We don’t have to perish under the impossible demands of the Law. God knows we can’t meet His standard, and so He has provided a way of salvation. He came to earth as a man and died for all of us, paying the debt for our sin and making a way to Himself. There is nothing we can do to earn His salvation; rather, He offers it freely, an overflow of His grace and mercy towards us. He is a God of compassion, taking pity on us as we perish apart from Him and reaching down to save us. He doesn’t have to do this—spending eternity in Hell is exactly what we deserve. But He is a God of great grace. He loves us, and His greatest desire for us is that we know Him and live for Him forever. And through Jesus, we can at last do just that.
“[F]or all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus….” (Romans 3:23-24)