We need to know the law of God if we would claim to know the grace of God. We need to know what God demands of us. The conclusion of knowing what God demands of us is understanding that we are sinners. We need to know that because we are sinners we are under a curse. Those under a curse deserve one thing: wrath. Those who deserve wrath deserve a place of wrath: Hell. We must understand these things, if we are to look for a Savior and be satisfied with Jesus as the only way.
What the Law Reveals
If you want to know the grace of God, you must know the Law of God. First of all our misery is described in the Law of God. The Law of God describes our status. We are aliens in a foreign land. That, in essence, is the message of the catechism.
Question Three of the Heidelberg Catechism asks: How do you come to know your misery?” The word misery means “alien”. How do you come to know that you are an alien? How do you come to know that you are outside of where you are supposed to be? You are foreigners in a foreign land. You are supposed to be somewhere, but you are not there. You are an alien. When you read the law of God your heart should be stricken. You should be able to say “I am not what I was created to be.” You are in misery. You are an alien. You are outside of where you need to be.
We are foreigners in a foreign land of our own doing. We inherited our sinful flesh through Adam. In addition, the Bible tells us our guilt increases day after day. Who goes to bed at night saying: “Well, I did a little bit better today. Today I was a little bit more perfect. Today I sinned a little bit less”?
No, we do not go to bed that way. We go to bed recalling as the Psalmist says “while you are on your beds, search your hearts”, and we remember our guilt.
We are in a foreign land of our own doing and we are not able to return by our own doing. Lord’s Day Two teaches us that we naturally hate God and our neighbor. We are prone to hate them. No creature can love God unless he is born again of God.
We are in this foreign land of our own doing. We are not able to return of our own doing, and we do not want to return. That’s the message of Romans 3. “There is none righteous; no, not one.” Paul goes on to tell us in Romans 3:9–18 that each part of our body - our tongues, our throats, our bodies - are filled with unrighteousness. We don’t want to come back to God.
The Law of God would have you see that you are accountable to God. We are under the law. When you read Romans 3:19 “Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law”, you can ask yourself who is “under the law”. The very next phrase tells you exactly who is under the law because Paul writes “that every mouth may be stopped”. Who is under the law? Every mouth is under the law. Every mouth is to be stopped, so every person is under the law.
We are silenced because of the Law’s message. We sense our accountability to God and it reveals our failure to please God. Jesus said all the law is to be fulfilled. Not one jot, not one tittle will pass away until the law is fulfilled.
Jesus warns us, “Think not that I am come to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I am not come to destroy but to fulfill” (Matthew 5:17). Jesus came to see that the Law gets kept. Jesus goes on to take Old Testament commandments and explains them in a way that would make sure that they get kept not only outwardly but inwardly in the heart.
The Law reveals that we fail to please God. We fail to love Him, and Jesus would have us know that. By nature we hate God and our neighbor. In Romans 3:18 there is a summary of what Paul has to say about those who know their sin. “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
Why the Law Was Given
To what end or purpose does God give the law? To reveal our sin so we will seek His grace. That’s the simple answer. To make man know his sin. Look at verse 20 again. “Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight.” If you read the law, even if you understand the law, it is not going to help you be better. It is not going to help you live a perfect life.
The Law is going to help you understand that you cannot live a perfect life. You are doing wrong. Your outward sins, your direct disobedience, and your inward sins, your heart and mind sins, are all an offense to God. Man is to know his sin.
God has given you the law to make you know your sin. He has also given you the law so that once you know it, your mouth will be silent.
R.C. Sproul has some wonderful lectures on the Book of Romans. When he gets to this text he says the “essence of this text is God saying ‘Shut up’”. The first time you hear that, it hits you as kind of rude, but if anybody has the right to tell you to “Shut up” it is someone in authority over you, and, of course, that is God.
That means there is no excuse. That means you have no way to wiggle out. God says “Shut up”. Jesus says the Holy Spirit will be sent to the church and into the world to convict of sin, to convict of righteousness, and to convict of judgment. This is where we separate the outward professors of religion from the inward professers of religion. This is where we are able to see the difference between those Christians who have no true faith and those who have true faith. The person without true faith knows nothing of that conviction. He knows nothing of distress when he thinks of his sin. The person who has the conviction of the Spirit is distressed. His mouth is silent. He has heard God say “Shut up”.
Has God told you to “Shut up”? Have you discovered that when you hear of sin that you are to just simply close your mouth and offer no excuse, just own up to it?
Jonathan Edwards made a habit of writing out resolutions. Not New Year’s resolutions, but resolutions for life. He would read those resolutions every Monday morning. One of his resolutions was that whenever he heard of someone else’s sin, any time someone would come and dare repeat to him an offense or sin of another person, that he would use that occasion to think of how wicked and awful his own sin was. Instead of thinking in judgment over that person, he would unite with that person and say “how I hate myself, for I am a sinner and I struggle with those same temptations and failures.”
That is a good way to be silenced. Has God told you to “Shut up”? Has He silenced your mouth? If He has, it is to bring you to grace. Look again at Romans 3:19–20. There you see that every mouth is to be stopped and all the world may become guilty before God. Then especially pay attention to verse 20. “Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in His sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.” We are thankful for that because we also know what verses 21 and 22 say “but now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; even the righteousness of God which is by faith in Christ Jesus.”
What a wonderful world! What a reason to cry! What a reason to have hope in this life! A reason to have a light heart! You know God’s law. You know your own heart. You know what you deserve, and yet you know that you have found grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Rejoice in his love.
Proper Use of the Law
How shall you use this knowledge? To convict you of sin, first of all. You should use this knowledge to let your heart come under the conviction of sin. Is there any one who does not need a healthy dose of conviction? Is there any one who thinks they have risen to such a place where they do not have to everyday search their heart? You need conviction of sin.
Secondly, you should use this knowledge to let God teach you again His grace. You are to come under the conviction of sin so that you can be converted again to rely on the grace of God. Do you take a step forward? It is the grace of God. Do you take another breath?
It is the grace of God. May you speak a word of love to a neighbor? It is the grace of God. Use this knowledge to realize how much you depend on the grace of God.
Third, use this knowledge to see that you are no better than any other man. Many times people come to me and say in so many words, “Pastor, I am better than someone else.”
I have to tell you how many times I do that. In my attitudes, in my words, in my failure to love, in my selfishness, in my contentment with who I am, I tell everyone by my actions and deeds, I’m really doing quite fine. I’m really pretty special. I don’t see myself as I ought and I don’t humble myself as I should.
Use this knowledge, use this information to see that you are no better than any other man. You may be dressed nicer, but you are no better. You may have learned more manners then some, but you are no better. You might have been given better mental ability, better physical ability, you might have great prowess in some skill, but you are no better. Remember Jonathan Edwards’ conviction, if you hear of someone’s sin, let it lead you to loath yourself. Knowledge is not given to you that you may be wiser, it is given to you in the grace of God to change you.
Rev. Zachary Anderson is Pastor of the Seventh Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan.