In Romans 3:9–12 Paul writes: What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” He ends that description in verse 18 with, “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
Paul is describing both Jew and Greek, basically the “proper” religious ones and those totally ignorant of the true God (therefore, everyone). It is a stunning statement and it is a clear look at how God sees good and bad, Light and darkness. We must remember that he is including here even the man or woman next door who doesn’t hurt anyone and who helps others. None are righteous. No one does good. This is shocking if we are used to defining good and “righteous” by deeds and moral measuring sticks—the kind of defining that leaves us stunned that the “Son of Sam” (see “The Son of Sam and . . . You and I”) might be in heaven one day, and our neighbor or family member who has never done anything so horrific as he has be absent from there, and in hell.
If this reality stuns us, or bothers us, we are probably looking at good and bad as ranking or measured or rated, with people being compared and ranked by their “goodness” or “badness” of deeds. This is dangerous and it will draw us away from God and in to arrogance (or, in some cases, horrible depression if we start to believe we are so much more horrible than others). One thing must be clear in our understanding of the Gospel—the Law, the moral code, is not to encourage and build us up, but to point us to Jesus. Paul continues with verses 19–20 and says: Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.
The Law convicts. The moral code convicts. It makes the whole world accountable to God. By the Law NO ONE will be justified in God’s sight! The Law brings the knowledge of sin, not unlike Adam and Eve gained the knowledge of good and evil and were suddenly ashamed and afraid of God. That is it. That is the Law’s purpose. It is a tutor to bring us to Christ. The Pharisees made the horrible mistake of letting the Law exalt them because they measured good and bad by it, and found themselves “closer” to it than others. That is NOT the Law’s role! It is not to show us we are better than another, but to show us how horribly separated we are from God and how unrighteous we are—to prepare us for Christ and to show us our utter need for Him and His work on the cross as our SOLE basis and claim of righteousness.
When moral works exalt us or puff us up or cause us to esteem ourselves better than another we have completely missed the point of the Law. We were created to live in an intimate, moment by moment relationship with our Creator and Father, led by His Spirit. We were not created to live by a moral code. The Law kills, the Spirit gives life and freedom. What we must understand is that there is no good apart from God. Romans 14:23 will go so far as to say whatever does not proceed from faith is sin, and this is not talking about huge moral acts—but about eating! James tells us it is sin if we know what TO do and don't do it (so there is sin from doing, and from NOT doing!) We can start to see that there are NONE righteous—not one! There is no good apart from faith—none! This is so, so hard to absorb as long as we insist on defining good by works and not God. HE, alone, is good, and we must understand that. We become good and righteous in Him and through Him, only! It is only through a living, faith relationship with Him that we are found righteous—and it is only what is done by His Spirit through us that is good.
But, the amazing and awesome flip side of all this is that when we come to Christ, we become completely righteous! Christ has completely paid for our sin and we are completely crucified with Him at our born again moment, and completely raised with Him as a new creation, paid for and adopted, righteous and alive. It is not because of anything we have done, but all because of what He has done and what we have received in faith in our place. It is positional—just like we can travel at 60 mph in a car without doing anything ourself, but simply because we are in the car. Our righteousness is simply because we are in Christ, and that is the most wonderful news of all. If I didn't earn it by my works and can't lose it by my stumbles, and my God is perfectly able to keep me in Christ, no matter what the enemy might try and throw my way!
Thanks be to God! May the joy and freedom His grace and your total freedom from the Law fill you with joy today. —Erick