Romans 5:12-21Have you ever wondered about the law? No, I'm not talking about the police. Nor am I talking about the laws of the United States or any local government. More specifically, God's laws. We are all pretty familiar with the Ten Commandments, but how many laws are in the Bible exactly? According to Judaism 101, there are 613 commandments in the Torah (or the laws of Moses, the first five books of the Bible.)
12Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned— 13for before the law was given, sin was in the world. But sin is not taken into account when there is no law. 14Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who was a pattern of the one to come.
If you're like me, you have many questions about the laws in the Bible. Such as, "How can anyone know all the laws?" Or, "Are we still supposed to follow the law? Don't they seem cruel or even barbaric?" Maybe you've even asked this, "Jesus said that He came to fulfill the law, not to destroy it and the Prophets. What does He mean by that?" These are good questions, and you probably have more to add to this list. This is not an attempt to answer all those questions, but to gain a better understanding of the law and what that means for the unbeliever and the believer alike.
In trying to learn more myself about the law, I came across a sermon written by C.H. Spurgeon, God's Law in Man's Heart. This is a good read, if not a little difficult. The sermon is written like Old English, but much of it is still clear enough for someone like me to read it. At the very beginning Spurgeon writes, "WHEN God gave to Israel his law,—the law of the first covenant,—it was such a holy law that it ought to have been kept by the people."At first thought, one could wonder how can anyone keep the whole law? But Spurgeon is right, God's laws should have been kept. Romans 10:5 references Leviticus where Moses says, "Keep my decrees and laws, for the man who obeys them will live by them. I am the LORD." Wait, I thought that was impossible!?!? Well, after becoming a Christian I came to the belief that the Old Testament was valid but not applicable...because it's the old covenant. We don't have to follow the laws now that there's grace and the new covenant. But there's something wrong with that thinking. Jesus said that, "Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill."
So what purpose does the law have now that we live in the era of grace? The answer lies in what the law does - and one purpose is that the law reveals our sin. Does that mean if there was no law, there wouldn't be sin. No, because in Romans 5:12-13, Paul says, "Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned— for before the law was given, sin was in the world. But sin is not taken into account when there is no law." So you see, sin was already in the world. What the law does, however, is magnify our sin. In verses 20 and 21 of Romans 5, Paul states, "The law was added so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord."
C.H. Spurgeon wrote much in this regard in his sermon:
"Who can stand before this terrible law? Who can ever hope to keep these commandments?" You looked to the flames that Moses saw on Sinai and you shrank and trembled almost unto despair, and you entreared that these terrible words should not be spoken to you any more. Yet was it good for you thus to be made to know the law,—not in the letter of it only, but in its cutting crushining, killing spirit for it worketh death to self-righteousness and death to all carnal boastings. When the law comes, sin revives, and we die; that is all that can come of it by itself. Yet is it necessary that there should be such a death as that, and that there should be such a revival of sin that we may know the truth about it, and under the force of that truth may be driven to the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the end of the Iaw for righteousness to every one that believeth."
One thing the Bible is clear on is this, "...all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God..." Romans 3:23 And that, "There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one. Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit. The poison of vipers is on their lips. Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; ruin and misery mark their ways, and the way of peace they do not know. There is no fear of God before their eyes." Romans 3:10-18
So let's consider this..."before the law, sin was not taken into account." What does "before the law" mean? The law seems to be referencing the laws of Moses. Does that mean there was no law or commands from God before Moses? No. Romans 2:12-16 tells us this:
12 For as many as have sinned without law will also perish without law, and as many as have sinned in the law will be judged by the law 13 (for not the hearers of the law are just in the sight of God, but the doers of the law will be justified; 14 for when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves, 15 who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them) 16 in the day when God will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my gospel.
God had a grander purpose in mind when He gave Moses the law. It wasn't just to give the Israelites a bunch of rules to live by. Spurgeon actually says, "It is a perfect law, in which the interests of God and man are both studied; it is not a partial law, but impartial, complete, and covering all the circumstances of life. You could not take away one command out of the ten without spoiling both tables of the law, and you could not add another command without being guilty of making a superfluity. The law is holy, and just, and good; it is like the God who made it, it is a perfect law. Then, surely, it ought to have been kept. When men revolt against unjust laws, they are to be commended; but when a law is admitted to be perfect, then disobedience to it is an act of exceeding guilt."
Nor did God give Moses the law out of meanness or spite. Though it is true that the law exposes our sin, God actually demonstrates his love to us through the giving of the law. This is because the law ultimately reveals God's character, thus Himself, to us. Greg L. Bahnsen, Th.M., Ph.D. says that, "The law reflects the holiness of God, and God's holiness is o permanent standard of morality." It would have been worse for mankind by keeping the law from us because as Romans 5:14 points out, "...death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who was a pattern of the one to come." Death came upon man and reigned in our mortal bodies. At this point, spiritual death was man's only clear destination.
But even more than exposing our sin and revealing God's holiness, the law does something else. C.H. Spurgeon commented on this at the end of his quote earlier, "When the law comes, sin revives, and we die; that is all that can come of it by itself. Yet is it necessary that there should be such a death as that, and that there should be such a revival of sin that we may know the truth about it, and under the force of that truth may be driven to the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the end of the Iaw for righteousness to every one that believeth." The law brings us to a point of decision. It reveals our depravity and clearly shows us that we are incapable of keeping God's commands. That in and of ourselves we are incapable of a righteousness where we can stand before a holy God and declare our self-worth. The law brings us to our knees and helps us to acknowledge our need for a Savior.
Here are other quotes from Spurgeon that are relevant to this discussion:
Now, as you all know right well, that covenant [which was built upon living according to the law] was broken all to pieces; it was unable to stand by reason of the weakness of our flesh and the corruptness of our nature. So God set aside that first covenant, he put it away as an outworn and useless thing; and he brought in a new covenant,—the covenant of grace; and in our text we see what is the tenor of it: "I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts." This is one of the most glorious promises that ever fell from the lips of infinite love. God said not, "I will come again, as I came on Sinai, and thunder at them." No, but, "I will come in gentleness and mercy, and find a way into their hearts."
When the Lord thus writes his law upon our heart, he makes us to know the far-reaching power and scope of the commandment. He causes us to understand that it touches not only actions and words, but thoughts, ay, and the most transient imaginations, the things that are scarcely born within us, the sights that pass in a moment across the mind, like a stray passenger who passes in front of the camera when a photographer is taking a view. The Spirit of God teaches us that even these momentary impressions are sinful, and that the very thought of foolishness is sin.
[The believer] has the law of his God written upon his heart, so that, almost as soon as he looks at a thing, he begins to perceive whether there is evil in it or whether it is good. There is a sort of sensitiveness in his soul which makes him discern between good and evil. When God the Holy Spirit is dealing with him, there is a true, enlightened conscience within him, so that he no longer puts bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter, or darkness for light and light for darkness; but something within him tells him, "This is right," or, "That is wrong." It is a most blessed thing when this is the case, and it is always the work of the Spirit of God.
The law. It still has its purpose, does it not? For the unbeliever, it points them in the way of the Savior. How amazing is our God that He wouldn't leave us in our sinful state? And for the believer, it instills in him a deepened desire to love God. When a believer has the indwelling Holy Spirit leading him, he is then given the power to live according to His commands. Jesus even reassures us that by keeping His commands, we show our love for Him. John 14:21 It's a way for us to reciprocate the love that God has shown for us when He writes His law upon our hearts. Isn't it amazing? This certainly confirms this fact: We love because God first loved us. 1 John 4:19
Aren't you thankful for the law?