Summary: We should be especially thankful for God's graciousness.
Today, as we continue to think together about thanking God for who He is, we’re going to consider how thankful we should be that our God is gracious. And because our God is also unchanging, that means he’s always been gracious. In fact, this was how God described Himself when He gave the law to Moses in Exodus 34:6-7a.
“And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, ‘The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.’” - Exodus 34:6-7a (NIV)
I wanted to point this out because we often think that the law of God is the opposite of the grace of God. Instead, we need to understand that the law of God reveals our need for the grace of God; and that the grace of God enables us to fulfill the law of God.
Some make the mistake of thinking that God somehow changed when we come to the New Testament. That in the Old Testament, God was cruel, demanding and judgmental, while in the New Testament, He suddenly became kind, encouraging, and forgiving. But that is not true.
Our God is, has always been, and will always be, a gracious God. Paul deals with this subject in our passage for today, as he speaks about the purpose of the law of God and the provision of the grace of God.
1. The purpose of the law of God - v. 19-21
A. To show what God expects of us - v. 19
Now, here’s a question: “Who is under the law?” We might answer, that the Jews in the Old Testament were under the law; or that people who practice religion as opposed to trusting in Christ are under the law; or that all unbelievers are under the law. But what does Paul say? He answers the question in the latter part of this verse: “so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God.” Every person, believer and unbeliever, Old Testament and New Testament, will be held accountable by God according to His standard of righteousness as represented by the law.
“He (God) will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples in his truth.” - Psalm 96:13b (NIV)
Of the 613 commands in the law given in the Old Testament, the Ten Commandments summarize the standard of righteousness represented by God’s law. The first five commandments focus on our relationship with God; and the last five focus on our relationship with our fellow man. This is why Jesus further summarized the law of God by saying:
“‘You must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” - Matthew 22:37-40 (NLT)
Love God and love others. This is the standard of righteousness demanded by the law. Yet, even with this simple summary, man still cannot measure up. Which brings us to the second purpose of the law.
B. To show that all have sinned and all are condemned - v. 20
The purpose of the law is not to provide us with a way of being declared righteous; but to provide us with a way of recognizing that we need to declare ourselves to be sinful. (READ Romans 4:10-18).
Aren’t some people better than others? Yes, but God won’t judge us according to the popular idea that He’ll weigh our good deeds against our bad deeds and then declare righteous those whose good deeds outweigh their bad deeds. He judges only by the righteous standard of the law; which means that even the best among us aren’t good enough.
You might be at the top of Mount Everest; and I could be at the bottom of a valley. But there is really “no difference” (v. 23), since neither of us can touch the stars. We need help beyond ourselves. Which brings us to the third purpose of the law.
C. To convince us of our need for a Savior - v. 21
Paul mentions how the Law and the Prophets testify that the way of righteousness is not found in the law. The Law is but a means to an end. The Law is given to point us to our need to trust in our gracious God, who has ultimately revealed Himself in the person of Jesus Christ.
(Show “The Law” video from The Bible Project)
If salvation was never possible by keeping the Law, how were people in the Old Testament saved? The same way we are, through the work of our gracious God - Jesus Christ. Old Testament salvation is based on the cross as much as is New Testament salvation.