Set Apart: Not by the Law

The single passage in all of the Bible that most clearly and completely explains the gospel is Romans 3:19–26. A minister friend of mine calls this passage “The Heart of the Gospel.” So if we are going to preach the gospel to ourselves every day and learn to live by it, we need to understand Romans 3:19–26. To help us examine that passage, I will quote it here in its entirety.

Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.
But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished—he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.

As we look over this statement of the gospel, we can see seven truths that we need to clearly understand:

No One Is Declared Righteous Before God by Observing the Law (Verses 19–21)

The word righteous means exact and perfect conformity to the law of God. When I use the term the law of God here, I am not referring specifically to the Law given to the nation of Israel through Moses. Rather, I am using the term in a more general sense to refer to the transcript of God’s nature and the rule of obedience that He requires of all human beings. It includes all of the ethical commands scattered throughout the Bible.

The standard of obedience required by the law is absolute perfection, for James 2:10 tells us, “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.” The apostle Paul said essentially the same thing when he wrote, “All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law’ ” (Galatians 3:10).

Only perfect obedience is acceptable to God. Years ago Ivory soap had a slogan, “Ninety-nine-and-forty-four-one-hundredths-percent pure.” Apparently that is quite an accomplishment for soap, but that is not good enough for God. Only 100 percent is acceptable. Yet the average person walking around today, if he or she has thought about it at all, is confident God will accept him or her because he or she is generally a decent sort of person.

As Christians we know better. We readily acknowledge that we can never through our own obedience attain a righteousness that is sufficient for salvation. But then as believers we act as if we can live lives acceptable to God. Think of the good-day—bad-day scenarios I described in chapter 1. More than 80 percent of the people I’ve questioned in a group setting indicate they would be more confident of God’s blessing when they’ve had a “good” day. None of them, however, would claim 100-percent obedience. Not one of them would want to stake his or her hope for eternal life on his or her performance on the very best day. Yet, in our everyday relationship with God, most of us are no different in our thinking than the unbelievers who think they will go to Heaven because they’ve been good enough. To live by grace, we must rid ourselves of such thinking.

written by Jerry Bridges

Published by Intentional Faith

Devoted to a Faith that Thinks

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