In order to fully understand the biblical truth that a person cannot possibly earn God’s gracious love and salvation by his own work or merit, we must understand what Man is under the Law and what God declares him to be by His saving grace. The Law or Torah consists of 613 commandments God gave as recorded in the Pentateuch wherein the standard of right and wrong was to be judged by the holy and righteous character of Yahweh.
The Law came through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ (John 1:17). The Law has three elements to it: (1) The moral law (Exodus 20:1-17) as summed up in the Ten Commandments. (2) The civil law (Exodus 21:1-24:18). This aspect of the Mosaic Law involved how the citizens of Israel were to live in proper relationship with one another as a nation and community. (3) The ceremonial law (Exodus 25-40:38; Leviticus).
The ceremonial law covered and dealt with how the sinning community of Israel could acceptably approach a holy God through the appropriate animal blood sacrifices and offerings ordained by the God of Israel. All three elements compose the Law God gave to Moses and Israel on Mount Sinai. “The Law is holy, just, and good” (Romans 8:12). Under the Old Testament economy, if a man were to be accounted in right standing with God, he had to obey all the numerous commandments contained in the Law of Moses.
This meant salvation under the Law entailed keeping all the Law required to the very jot and tittle (the smallest stroke and letter in the Hebrew alphabet) both in outward conduct and in the inner self of the heart.
There are over 600 rules and ordinances contained in the Law of Moses. The Law stated, “Cursed be he who does not obey all the words of the Law” (Deuteronomy 27:26). Thus to fail in one commandment or statute out of the many the Law contains was to violate and be guilty of breaking the entire Law itself. “For whoever shall keep the whole Law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all” (James 2:10). The Law was binding upon all Jews and Gentile proselytes to Judaism (see Exodus 12:49; Numbers 15:15- 16).
The Law was given to the nation of Israel only (Romans 3:2). God will judge the Gentile nations for their active conduct in accordance with the “unwritten law” inscribed in their individual hearts with their moral conscience bearing witness in them by either excusing or accusing them in the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my Gospel (Romans 2:15-16).
The Law of God demands a complete and perfect obedience from all who would seek to be justified by it. This is what Paul meant in Romans 10:5. The Law required perfect obedience (Leviticus 18:5). But since no person can ever do this, the Law then condemned men and placed them under its punitive curse. The moment Adam sinned and transgressed against the commandment of God in the Garden of Eden, he rendered all of his descendents, whom he represented as their federal head, flawed, imperfect and unholy with an inherited sin nature (see Romans 5:18-19). No one can be saved by perfectly obeying the Law. This is not only true in past history, but is proven daily in a world rife with sinful humanity full of hatred, violence, deceit, injustice, murder, crime, strife, and immorality.
The whole world therefore stands guilty before God as transgressors of His Law. Hence, no one can be saved and justified (declared right before the Lord) by the works of the Law (Romans 3:20; Galatians 2:16). If the Law of Moses cannot save, then what purpose does it serve, and why was it given? The question can best be answered by showing what the Law does in the greater context of divine grace.
The Law was given to define, inform, and expose sin that indwells every human
being. Simply stated, the Law shows us we are sinners by nature. The Bible says in
Romans 3:20, “By the knowledge of the Law is sin.” Sin is the transgression of God’s
Law (1 John 3:4) The Apostle Paul wrote, “I would not have known sin, but by the Law. For I had not known covetousness, except the Law had said: You shall not covet” (Romans 7:7). 2. Grace reveals who God is and expresses His love and forgiveness towards the sinner. Grace informs us that God loves sinners and sent His one and only unique Son to die for them in their place.
“Hereby we perceive the love of God, because He laid down His life for us” (1 John 3:16).
The ultimate proof and demonstration of God’s love was demonstrated by the atoning death of Christ. “In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent His only begotten Son into the world to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 5:9).
The Law says: “You are a sinner.” Grace says: “You are a saint.”
Grace reveals who God is and expresses His love and forgiveness towards the sinner. Grace informs us that God loves sinners and sent His one and only unique Son to die for them in their place. “Hereby we perceive the love of God, because He laid down His life for us” (1 John 3:16). The ultimate proof and demonstration of God’s love was demonstrated by the atoning death of Christ.
“In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent His only begotten Son into the world to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 5:9).
The purpose of the Law was not to save humanity and make them acceptable in the eyes of God. The Law demonstrates to mankind what he is by nature—a law-breaking sinner guilty of habitually violating God’s Law in thought and deed. Grace pardons the guilty sinner from all offenses (Colossians 2:13-14). Christ has forgiven all our trespasses and sins by His shed blood on the cross by which He paid the eternal penalty for them.
Note: the handwriting of ordinances that were against us points to the complete Law of Moses in all its minute detail. In the ancient world of the Roman Empire and the New Testament whenever a punishment for breaking the law was abolished it was publicly nailed to a post in a public square. So too Christ Jesus has removed the penalty of the Law from us when He was nailed it to the cross. Now as born-again believers in Him we are no longer under the Law’s curse of eternal death. At the cross Christ vanquished the Law’s damning power and gave us gratuitous pardon and eternal life instead.