Read John 8:2-11 & Mark 10:17-22.
The moral Law of God, as summarized in the Ten Commandments, tells us how we are to be and what we are to do and not to do. We are to love God with all of our heart, soul, and mind, and we are to love our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 22:37-39). God uses His Law as a curb, mirror, and guide for Christians. By nature, man knows nothing of the Gospel. As a result, people view the Law as the means by which they might earn salvation. This understanding leads to some serious and deadly conclusions. The two texts cited at the top of this article demonstrate what happens when a person looks to the Law for salvation.
By nature, we are all good at using the crosshairs of God’s Law to condemn the sins of other people. The scribes and Pharisees brought a woman to Jesus who had been caught in the act of adultery. They knew that the Law condemned her sin. They fell into the sin of self-righteousness because they failed to see that the same Law condemned their own sin equally (John 8:2-11). Jesus said to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.” Then those who heard it, being convicted in their conscience, went out one by one, beginning with the oldest even to the last (John 8:7, 9).
He who prays the prayer of the Pharisee, “God, I thank You that I am not like other men” (Luke 18:11), has not looked into the mirror of the Law truthfully and honestly. By the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin (Romans 3:20). The standard of God’s Law is, “Be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). We become like the self-righteous scribes and Pharisees when we believe that our own sins are not big enough to warrant God’s wrath and condemnation. Whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all (James 2:10).
St. Paul writes: If there had been a law given which could have given life, truly righteousness would have been by the law. But the Scripture has confined all under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe (Galatians 3:21-22). Looking to the Law for salvation can also lead a person to the pit of despair (Mark 10:17-22). A rich man came to Jesus thinking that he could justify himself by pointing to his attempts at keeping the second table of the Law. He soon fell into despair when Jesus exposed the sin of idolatry lurking in his heart. The Law also leads us to the pit of despair when we place our hope of salvation in it. We can never measure up to its standard.
The Law does its main work when it shows us our lost condition and need for a Savior. The law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith (Galatians 3:24).
If righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain (Galatians 2:21). The righteous demands of the Law, and the curse which the Law pronounces on those who transgress it, are both met in the person of Jesus Christ.
As by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous (Romans 5:19). Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (Galatians 3:13). Jesus has paid the wages of your sin with His own life on the cross. In the Gospel, in word and sacrament, Jesus bestows upon you His righteousness, the forgiveness of your sins, and ushers you into the presence of your holy God. By faith in Jesus, you stand before God forgiven and acquitted from the just punishment that your sins deserve (Romans 3:23-24).
What curses doth the Law denounce
Against the man that fails but once!
But in the Gospel Christ appears,
Pard’ning the guilt of num’rous years.
(ELH #489 v. 3)
Rev. Trent Saari
Lakewood Lutheran Church
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church