Romans Supplement 1

The Law of God and the heart of men

We must understand the Law of God before we can correctly and clearly understand the salvation message of the book of Romans. First of all, the Law of God is not limited to the Ten Commandments which God gave to Moses on Mount Sinai. The Law was given to man the moment that God spoke to him (Gen. 2:16,17). Sometimes the Bible seems to make a distinction between the Law and the prophets and the psalms, as if the Law is contained in only a portion of Scripture. However, we can find the Law of God in every part of the Bible (Micah 6:8, John 15:12). It is helpful to think of the Law as the whole Bible. The Bible is that part of the God's will which He has decided to reveal to man and which He expects men to obey (Deut. 29:29).

Secondly, the Law is not something new which God added to the universe in reaction to men's sin. God did not first create the universe and then, after seeing men rebel, invent the Law as a device to police men, in an attempt to curb their evil tendencies. The Law is as eternal and unchangeable as God Himself.

Thirdly, the Law does not have an autonomous existence independent of God. It is not as if God selected out of a group of self-existent rules, those which He felt would make a good code of conduct for men and then called them the Law. Rather, the Law is an expression of what God Himself would do. God holds men, His creatures, accountable to the Law because He conforms to His Law too. It is not as if God is constrained by His Law or that His Law somehow has an independent and higher authority than He does. Rather, God has a character that causes Him to think and behave in a certain way, and the Law of God is the expression of what He desires to do. The Law of God reveals what kind of heart He has. In other words, God is what He is, and the Law tells us how that kind of God behaves and what He expects from His creatures. Therefore, it is not just that God expects a certain performance from men, but that God expects men to desire the same thing that He does. God wants men to have the same kind of character and heart that He does, which would automatically lead them to behave as He would.

Finally, we must set aside any notion that the Law of God is in any way in competition or in conflict with the grace of God. We must not think that, having been saved by grace, men need not concern themselves with the Law of God. The role of the Law in men's lives can be briefly described in the following way: The Law is designed to show men's sin (Rom. 3:19, Gal. 3:22), God's salvation (Rom. 15:4, Gal. 3:24), and love's service to God and man (Rom. 12:2, 13:10, Gal. 5:14).

It would be profitable to let the book of Romans tell its own story about the Law of God. While many other words, such as "Scriptures," "God's will," and "the truth" are used in the book of Romans in a similar way that the word "Law" is used, we shall keep things simple and only trace the use of the Greek word, nomos, translated more than 75 times in Romans as "Law."

According to Romans 2:12-15, all men, without exception, must be doers of the Law. The demands of the Law are binding on both Jew and Gentile. No matter what their heritage, all men must obey the Law perfectly in order to avoid condemnation. The Gentiles, who were not given the written Law of God, as well as the Jews, who were stewards of the Scriptures, are accountable for their performance in light of the Law. In the case of the Jews, Romans declares that having the Law in a clear, written form is not a substitute for doing the Law. In the case of the Gentiles, the book of Romans declares that not having the written Law is no excuse for not doing what it demands, for they have the law written upon their hearts. All men know what God demands. Jews and Gentiles have consciences that tell them what God expects of them.

Romans 2:17-27 points out that obedience to the ceremonial law does not compensate for failure to obey perfectly the whole Law of God. Many Jews believed that their obedience to the ceremonial laws, such as circumcision, would cancel any liability that they had accumulated by their disobedience to the moral law. However, if a man breaks one part of the Law, God does not accept his efforts to obey any other parts of the Law. Jews who do not obey the Law perfectly are considered to be exactly like the Gentiles who do not obey the moral or the ceremonial laws. In fact, the surprise is that if a Gentile, who did not know and therefore did not obey the ceremonial law, were to obey the moral law perfectly, God would consider him to have obeyed the ceremonial law too. Not only that, as a perfect doer of the law, a Gentile would have the right to judge any Jew who sinned, just as Jesus has the right to be the judge of all men (Rom. 2:16).

From Romans 3:19,20, we learn that the Bible declares all men, Jews as well as Gentiles, have failed to measure up to the standards of the Law of God. Examining the performance of all men reveals that no man has, through his own efforts, attained the perfection that the Law demands. No matter what arguments, excuses, rationalizations or alibis men might present, they all are guilty before God's demands. In fact, instead of a program that shows men how to be righteous in God's eyes, the Law is a revealer of the enormous rebellion of every man in the world. In principle, the Law of God stands before men and says, "Do these things. If you do not, you will go to Hell." All men are His creatures, and God can expect them to be perfectly obedient to His will. In practice, it is clear that no man fulfills the demands of the Law by means of his own deeds and the Law says, "Look at what a miserable failure you are!" Therefore, obedience to the Law of God is not the way for a man to be right before God.

The amazing news of Romans 3:21,27,28, is that a sinful man can be just before God without the requirement of personal perfect obedience to the Law. It is not a new way, but it is a way which God always had in mind and of which He spoke through His prophets. That wonderful way is that a man can be just, not by any of his own deeds, but by trusting in what God alone has done to satisfy the demands of the Law on his behalf. The phrase "law of faith" in verse 27 can refer either to the Law that explains that men are saved because of Jesus Christ's faith (Gal. 2:16,20) or to the command of God to believe (Mark 11:22, Acts 16:31).

While it might seem that the Law of God has been set aside or abrogated because righteousness apart from the Law has been manifested, Romans 3:31 states that such an impression is not true. God vindicated the just and indelible demands of His Law inasmuch as in Jesus Christ He perfectly obeyed the Law. Jesus upheld its standards since He was subject to it (Matt 4:4, Gal. 4:4). In particular, God revealed the irrevocable authority of the Law as He faced its penalty for disobedience by dying for sinners on the cross. Jesus endured rather than dismissed the penalty which the Law demanded for the sin of His people. In addition, the Law is vindicated, as Romans explains later on, by the fact that it is God's will that believers have the desire and power to properly fulfill the Law. It becomes their guide for how to please the God whom they love and for how to live a life that blesses others.

Romans 4:13-16 explains the consequences of, on one hand, trying to obey the Law for righteousness, and on the other hand, living by means of faith. Verse 13 states that God made a promise to Abraham. The contents of that promise was eternal life in heaven (a more detailed explanation of the promise is found in the portion of the Romans survey course that discusses this verse). However, the focus in verses 13-16 is not on the content of God's promise but on the method God uses to distribute His promise and the results of that method of distribution. Verse 13 states that God's promise was not bestowed upon Abraham as a consequence of his obedience to the Law, but simply due to the fact that Abraham trusted that God would make him righteous, thereby qualifying him to receive the promise.

Romans 4:14 explains that if a man could obtain eternal life by means of his own obedience to the Law, then a promise of eternal life is worthless and there is no point in trusting in it. There would be no value in a promise if someone could obtain the same thing by his own efforts. However, we must not get the idea that verse 14 presents obedience to the Law and faith in the promise of God as two methods of achieving the same thing. It is not as if a man could have obtained righteousness by his own efforts and therefore qualified himself to receive eternal life through obedience to the Law but that he messed up and so the only remaining alternative is God's promise. Verse 14 is not implying that it might have been possible to obtain the inheritance through personal obedience but no man could attain to the requirements. Rather it is stating that it was never God's plan to insist that a man obey the Law to obtain the inheritance. The point of verse 14 is that obedience to the Law and faith in God's word are two different plans with two very different consequences. A man who tries to obey the Law perfectly misses the promise of God not just because he does not have a very good record but because obedience to the Law is not way to obtain it.

The first half of Romans 4:15 reminds us that the results of trying to keep the Law is wrath because, as we learn elsewhere in Romans, all men are sinners. However, even though all men have transgressed the Law, they could not have gotten the promise of God through obedience anyway. The reason is that the Law does not promise anything to those who obey it. As long as a man is already righteous and continues to obey perfectly, there is no problem. He stands right with God. However, all a man has earned is a right to continue to maintain his perfect record. God has no obligation to give him any thing else. However, one slip and he is a goner. All he has coming to him is the wrath of God. His previous record of obedience merits him nothing. It is only by a promise of God that there is hope of receiving eternal life.

Therefore the contrast between obeying the Law and trusting in God is seen not only in the fact that a life of perfect obedience is impossible for men and any attempt by men to obey the law perfectly results in failure and disqualifies them from receiving any blessing from God, but also in the fact that obedience to the Law is not the way God planned to distribute His blessings. As the last half of Romans 4:15 states, if the Law is removed from the picture, then it is not a matter who is a transgressor and who is not. And that is just what God did. His method of distributing His blessings is completely unrelated to the Law and men's terrible record of disobedience. It is dependent totally upon faith in God's promises. God sovereignly decided that Abraham would receive the promised blessing, and He graciously gave Abraham the faith to trust in Him who made that promise (Rom. 4:16). The consequences of that method of distributing His promises is that God is able to give the blessings to all those He has chosen, even to those Gentiles who do not have the Law and that those to whom God has promised His blessing will be assured of receiving it inasmuch as the distribution is dependent upon God's word and not men's' efforts.

The logic of Romans 5:13,14 is as follows: The obvious and undeniable fact is that, since the time of Adam, all men eventually die. Since God has declared that the soul that sins shall die, and since sin and its consequence, death, exist only because the Law exists, the necessary conclusion is that the Law has existed since the time of Adam.

The Law is not something that began with Moses, nor does it apply to the Jews alone. Romans 5:13,14 explains that from the beginning of time, men have always had to deal with the Law. The proof is the fact that there has been death in the world since Adam, until Moses, and on to the present time. Therefore, these verses show that all men are sinners and can expect the inevitable consequences of sin, spiritual death now and eternal death later.

According to Romans 5:20, one of the reasons that God brought His Law to men was to reveal how sinful they were. The Law magnifies the sin of men, in the sense that when they are confronted by the explicit demands of God, all pretenses of righteousness, all deceptive veneers are put aside. In the face of God's commandments, men's resistance stiffens. The rebellious reaction of men to the clearly expressed will of God is not only itself a grievous sin, but also reveals the character of men's hearts. When the Law enters the picture, it becomes clear that men are sinners. The love of God is shown in that He is honest with men, exposing their problem so that it can be squarely faced.

However, God does not show what men are really like and then abandon them. This verse also states that no matter how bad the Law reveals men to be, God shows His love in that He is willing and able to save all those who trust, not in their own works, but in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Romans 6:14 teaches that when someone is saved by the grace of God, the Law is no longer his master as it once was. The Law can no longer demand of him perfect obedience to maintain a right relationship with God nor can the Law condemn him for his failure to obey. Any liability for his failure to keep the Law perfectly, in the past, present, and future, has been taken care of by Jesus Christ.

Romans 6:15 warns that freedom from the obligation to obey the Law in order to be right with God and freedom from the penalty for disobedience to the Law is not equivalent to freedom from the Law altogether. A man who has obtained righteousness by grace continues to conform his behavior, to a large extent, to the Law. However, a man's performance does not determine his standing before God. Instead, his obedience is evidence that he has been saved by grace and is already right with God.

According to Romans 6:17, one important result of salvation is that there is a change inside a man that drives him back to the Law, creating in him a desire to obey the Law out of his heart. The motivation of an unsaved man is far different than it was when he was unsaved. A saved man seeks to do the will of God, not because he must to be right with God, but because he wants to, based upon the fact that he has a heart that loves God and therefore loves to do His will.

Romans 7:1-7 illustrates how salvation changes the relationship between a man and the Law. Verses 1 through 3 teach that only death can break a marriage bond. Therefore, a man's relationship to the Law of God is called a marriage, in the sense that it is a relationship which only death can sever. Unsaved man has an obligation to obey the Law until death releases him. Verse 4 says that a man who has been saved has died, and therefore his bond to the Law is broken.

The message of Romans 7:1-4, that a man's relationship to the Law can be terminated only by death, is repeated in a different way in the next two verses. Verse 5 states that when a man is unsaved, he is motivated by the sinful desires of his flesh. Because he is obligated to obey the Law perfectly and he does not, his disobedience to the demands of the Law result in death, that is, death in Hell as payment for sin. That is the same death that would separate him from the Law because once the payment was complete he would free from the condemnation of the Law. However, in his case, the payment is never complete, for he must spend an eternity in Hell to make full payment for his sins. His obligation to the Law is never terminated, and he is left in Hell forever. Verse 6 states that a saved man has died, in the sense that Christ died, on his behalf, the full death which the Law required of him and the Law no longer has any claim on him. Jesus Christ endured, in a finite space of time, the equivalent penalty of an eternal death. Because of Jesus' work, a believer is released from any claim the Law may have upon him.

However, salvation is not simply a payment for sin by means of Jesus' death. Salvation does not mean that a man has a clean slate with no outstanding liabilities, but must henceforth live a life of perfect obedience to the Law of God in order to maintain his righteousness. Salvation does not mean that a man gets a second chance to live by his own obedience and must be careful how he lives because he will not get another chance. Salvation does not mean that a man is insulated from the penalty of the Law for his own transgressions, but nevertheless must now do the best he can to live a good life with the personal resources available to him.

Salvation results in more than just release from the Law. It also results in a new life. Verse 6 states that a man who is saved has a different power, motive, and goal than an unsaved man. As verse 4 puts it, "Ye also are become dead to the Law...that ye should be married to another," namely, Jesus Christ. That is a bond that is never broken. In accord with the illustration of a marriage in which the two partners become one, we can say that a Christian lives by means of Jesus' own life (Gal. 2:20).

Additionally, salvation is a marriage bond which is based upon love rather than obligation. God loves those whom He saves, and He changes their hearts so that they love Him too. Even though a saved man does not now always obey the Law as he ought to, he is righteous before God because he serves God with the proper motivation. He does not serve God by outward conformity to the words of the Law in order to attain some personal righteousness; rather, he serves God with a heart desire to conform to the intent of the Law, because he loves the God who gave that Law.

Romans 7:7-9 states that it is not the Law's fault that men sin and die. The Law just shows them for what they have always been. It should be enough for men to listen to the Law that is written on their heart. They ought to obey the knowledge of proper conduct that God has implanted in their conscience. However, men have a way of searing and suppressing the Law within themselves. In order that men have no excuse, the explicit Law of God enters the picture.

The idea of these verses is that although it might seem that men are not sinners until the Law comes, they really were all the time, and we cannot blame the Law for simply showing what men are. The Law does not create sin, but exposes the sin that is there already. According to verse 9, the Law reveals a man to be more sinful than he had previously thought he was. Before the Law confronts a man, he thinks that he is alive, able to please God, and in control of his life. However, once he faces the Law, he realizes that he is dead, unable and unwilling to please God or live obediently.

Romans 7:12-14 emphasizes that the Law is perfect and untouched by sin. It simply shows a man's sinful desire and behavior more clearly. The Law forces a man to take the first honest look at himself, providing him with a complete and accurate display of his sin.

The source of sin is the flesh. There is nothing wrong with the Law. After all, it is not fleshly but spiritual. On the other hand, all men, even Christians, have a carnal part and therefore sin. Romans 7:16 adds the fact that since Christians sometimes do sinful things in contradiction to their heart's desire, since their sinful behavior is a distress to them, they agree that the Law is good, without sin, and that the problem is with their own sinful members.

Romans 7:21-25 concludes the matter this way. The inward part of a man that has been changed by the grace of God delights to do the Law of God. However, his flesh is still sinful. It seeks to dominate him and cause him to deliberately sin against God. The blessing is that salvation not only releases a man from the penalty demanded by the Law because of his sin, but also enables him to overcome the power of sin that still resides in his flesh. A saved man does indeed do God's will, not only in the sense that he obeys with the right motive and so his performance is acceptable to God, but also in the sense that more and more he can successfully overcome the challenge of his flesh and properly do what God wants him to do.

Romans 8 explains the contrast between a Christian's and a non-Christian's relationship to the Law. To begin with, verse 3 reminds us of the weakness of the Law. The Law could not free men from the condemnation and the sentence of death that it pronounced upon them. Only the Spirit of God could do that. Jesus did what the Law could not do. Jesus died in order to remove men's guilt, while the Law could only accuse.

According to verse 4, the Spirit of God was given to Christians so that they would have the ability to fulfill what the Law requires, in the sense that the Spirit gives men the proper motivation as well as the power to act as God wills. Not only is a Christian's debt to the Law paid in full, but also the Spirit lives in him and a Christian lives by a new heart and ability.

On the other hand, a man who is not a Christian, a man who tries to live according to the Law, out of the power of his own flesh, will not be able and will not want to do God's will. No man can obey the Law of God without the Spirit motivating and empowering him (Rom. 8:7,8).

Romans 9-11 illustrates some of the important ideas about the Law that were presented in the previous chapters, especially some of the ideas found in Chapter 8. The people of national Israel, who tried to obtain righteousness in their own power by obedience to the Law, did not obtain the righteousness which they sought. They may have had the right goal, but they had the wrong motivation and method, and none of the power to reach their objective. They should have trusted in God's promise that Jesus would take care of the demands of the Law for them and that He would give them the heart to serve Him as they ought. After all, as Romans 10:4, points out, Jesus Christ fulfills all the demands of the Law and makes righteous those who believe in His promise to save them apart from their obedience to the Law.

The irony is that the gospel of righteousness by grace through faith was prophesied by the same Law which many in national Israel tried so zealously to obey in their own strength. Furthermore, the gospel gave the Gentiles, who previously did not have the Law, the righteousness which the Israelites sought.

Romans 13:8,10 is the last place the Law is mentioned by that name. These verses are a fitting conclusion to our quick look at the presentation of the Law. The message here is that Christians do indeed have a debt or obligation. However, it is not an obligation to the Law. Rather, it is an obligation to live out of a heart that God has given them, to live out of love for God and others.

The amazing fact is that living out of love fulfills the Law automatically. From God's point of view, because a Christian's heart or motivation is right, his performance of the Law is acceptable, even though he may not be perfectly obedient. Furthermore, because he is empowered by the Spirit, a Christian will more and more conform to what God wants as he matures in his life of faith.

Home     NT Page     Top of Page     Suppl#2