Since no one can keep the law, what is its purpose?

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That we may know the holy nature and will of God, and the sinful nature and disobedience of our hearts; and thus our need of a Savior. The law also teaches and exhorts us to live a life worthy of our Savior.

Romans 3:20

No one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.

For by works of the law no human being will be justified in God’s sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.

Commentary

After God gave the promise to Abraham, he gave the law to Moses. Why? Simply because he had to make things worse before he could make them better. The law exposed sin, provoked sin, condemned sin. The purpose of the law was…to lift the lid off man's respectability and disclose what he is really like underneath—sinful, rebellious, guilty, under the judgment of God, and helpless to save himself. And the law must still be allowed to do its God-given duty today. One of the great faults of the contemporary church is the tendency to soft-pedal sin and judgment…. We must never bypass the law and come straight to the gospel. To do so it to contradict the plan of God in biblical history…. No man has ever appreciated the gospel until the law has first revealed him to himself. It is only against the inky blackness of the night sky that the stars begin to appear, and it is only against the dark background of sin that the gospel shines forth. Not until the law has bruised and smitten us will we admit our need of the gospel to bind up our wounds. Not until the law has arrested and imprisoned us will we pine for Christ to set us free. Not until the law has condemned and killed us will we call upon Christ for justification and life. Not until the law has driven us to despair of ourselves will we ever believe in Jesus. Not until the law has humbled us even to hell will we turn to the gospel to raise us to heaven.

John Stott (1921–2011). An English Anglican preacher who for many years served as rector of All Souls Church in London, Stott was one of the principal framers of the Lausanne Covenant (1974). His numerous books include Why I Am a Christian and The Cross of Christ.

From The Message of Galatians in The Bible Speaks Today Series (London and Downers Grove: IVP, 1968), 93.

Further Reading

“Law in Action” in Concise Theology, by J. I. Packer.

Prayer

The Lord reveal himself more and more unto us in the face of his Son, Jesus Christ, and magnify the power of his grace…and of his tender mercy encourage us; and persuade us, that since he hath taken us into the covenant of grace, he will not cast us off for those corruptions, which as they grieve his Spirit, so they make us vile in our own eyes: and…the Lord add this to the rest of his mercies…to let the prevailing power of his Spirit in us, be an evidence of the truth of grace begun, and a pledge of final victory, at that time when he will be all in all, in all his, for all eternity. Amen!

Richard Sibbes (1577–1635). An English Puritan theologian, Sibbes was known in London in the early 17th century as "the Heavenly Doctor Sibbes." Preacher at Gray's Inn, London and Master of Catherine Hall, Cambridge, his most famous work is The Bruised Reed and Smoking Flax (from which this prayer is taken).

From “The Bruised Reed and Smoking Flax” in The Works of the Reverend Richard Sibbes, Volume 1 (Aberdeen: Chalmers, 1809), 80.