Part One: The scriptures conclude all under sin
Sin refers to God’s law alone
The word ‘sin’ is a rarity nowadays and like the gospel words ‘holiness’ and ‘righteousness’, might soon disappear from our vocabulary. The reasons is two-fold: ‘sin’ in its traditional meaning is the opposite of holiness and righteousness, theological terms which relate to the Person of God. Thus, there can be no awareness of sin where there is no awareness of our sovereign, absolute and holy God. Where there is no sense of sin, there can be no sense of righteousness. The second reason follows from the first. Our holy God has given us a clear definition of sin in His Word. God’s eternal nature is revealed to us in His law which is God’s standard not only for all time but for all eternity. Sin is the rejection of this standard. Neither God’s standards, nor the Word that contains them, will ever pass away. We can only understand what sin is in this context. Thus Paul said, “I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet.” (Rom. 7:7.). Thus, without God’s law, we can neither understand ourselves nor God.
The temporal and eternal functions of the law
Some might challenge this statement, claiming that God has no eternal laws. Did not Jesus claim that ‘the law’ was only of time duration and not of eternity when He said, “Till heaven and earth pass, one jot and one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled?” (Matt. 5:18). The significance of the words “when all is fulfilled,” is taken to mean that after this world is no more and the Day of Judgement has passed there will be no more law. Here we must distinguish between God’s eternal standards and the law that reveals them to us. Romans 3 and 7 show the function of the law. It holds up before us a mirror of our own sinful state so that “every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.” (3:19). The law is not there as the righteous-making arm of God to justify us. It is there to reveal to us our damnable nature and to show us that the wages of sin is death. Thus, although the law reveals God’s righteousness to us, at the same time it reveals our sin and shame. Fallen man cannot justify himself by the deeds of the law as the law finds no righteousness in man. The law reveals that “all have sinned and fallen short of the Glory of God” (3:33). This side of the law teaches that it is appointed unto man once to die, and then comes judgement. Once the law has judged all, its condemning purpose has been fulfilled. This does not mean that God’s standards will change because the law is the revelation of God’s eternal standards whatever the duration of its condemning powers.
Christ, not the law, is God’s full revelation
The law is not God’s total revelation to man. If it were, there would be no story of salvation which we know to be the main teaching of the Christian gospel based on God’s Word. This does not mean that the law’s purpose is merely negative. It reveals most positively the righteousness of God. The shadow side is that it does not help us to gain that righteousness which we have rejected in our sin. This is not the law’s fault, nor does it show any weakness in the holy law. It is entirely due to our sinful state. In other words, if we are to be saved, it must be from some source outside of the law. This is why the Scriptures speak of the law as a schoolmaster who brings us, like the old Greek pedagogues brought their Roman masters’ children to school, to Christ, who is God incarnate (Gal. 3:24-25). Paul tells us in Romans 3 to give up all hope of finding salvation in and through the law and concentrate on the righteousness of God. This righteousness is plain to see, says Paul, through the work of the law and the prophets who point to Christ. God’s righteousness is thus seen plainly in the Person of Jesus Christ who is, in the truest meaning of the word, righteousness personified. This righteousness, Paul tells us, is attainable also for us, “Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all that believe.” We need to be, says Paul, “justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus; whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God.” Paul explains that there are two laws to be observed which are both centred in God’s righteousness: the law of works and the law of faith. The one is the condemning side and the other is the forgiving, propitiating, restoring and justifying side of God’s nature. This is why great evangelists such as John Gill always pointed to the dual action of the gospel, to condemn sin, yet to justify the sinner. Paul repeats, broadens and deepens this doctrine in Galatians 3 where he tells us that Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us. Christ has paid the penalty of sin for us that we may be pronounced innocent before God. We are justified through the faith exercised by Christ in going to the cross as our vicarious and victorious representative (Galatians 2:16). Thus, even our faith is a vicarious, substitutionary work of Christ who risked all, trusting in the promises of the Father, that we, in Him, might gain all:
There was no other good enough to pay the price of sin;
He only could unlock the gate of heaven, and let us in.