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Author:Rev. Ted Gray
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Congregation:First United Reformed Church
 Oak Lawn, Illinois
 www.oaklawnurc.org/
 
Title:The Purpose of God's Law
Text:LD 2 Romans 3:1-20 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God's Law is Good
 
Added:2024-06-01
Updated:2024-06-01
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Praise Ye the Lord (vss. 1-3, 23)

Lord, Like the Publican I Stand

How Shall the Young Direct Their Way?

Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


“The Purpose of God’s Law”
Romans 3:10-20; LD 2
 
When we moved to Oak Lawn, we had trouble finding the best table for the parsonage kitchen. We looked at a table and set of chairs that were nice; we liked them, but they were just too large for the kitchen area. Then we began to look at those small breakfast nooks with benches and tables, but we couldn’t find any that we liked at a reasonable price.
 
Then one day, in the discontinued section of a furniture store, we saw a kitchen table with the two little benches and chairs that would be just right for the parsonage. And the price was right, too. The only thing is, the table is warped. It’s not warped enough to notice at first glance, but if you put a level on the table, the bubble goes to the side. And as time goes by, the level will show greater and greater warpage. 
  
The passage of Scripture we read from Romans 3 tells us that the law is a lot like that level. The law teaches us how warped and sinful we really are. The passage ends by declaring in verse 20: Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.” That verse is used as the proof text by the catechism for Q&A 3: “How do you come to know your misery?”  Answer: “The law of God tells me.”
 
Later on, in Romans 7, Paul described how he didn’t really know what it meant to covet until he read the law. Then the very fact of reading, “You shall not covet,” incited within him a desire to covet what others have. No wonder he went on in Romans 7 to tell what a wretched man he was. The law shows us that we are miserable sinners, severely warped, unable to attain righteousness by our own efforts.  
 
We read that same truth throughout Scripture, including in Matthew 18:16-30. That passage describes the wealthy young man who thought he had perfectly kept the law since he was a boy. He didn’t realize that for people who have spiritual eyes through faith in Christ, the law reveals sin. He looked into the law of God with unregenerate eyes and confidently said he had always kept the law. 
 
But he was far from the only one who has done that. Many people sincerely believe they have kept all ten commandments because they look only at the external aspect of God’s law without realizing its internal application. The person who does that will try to justify themselves by using their perceived obedience to the commands of God. They might reason, “I have never murdered anyone. I never robbed a bank. I never slept with my neighbor’s spouse. I don’t have any idols of wood or stone in my house, and I don’t worship Allah, Buddha or any other false god. I have kept the law so I must be OK with God.”
 
But Jesus left no doubt that the law is broken not just outwardly but inwardly by our thoughts and motives. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus clearly taught that we commit murder by the hatred we have in our heart toward another person (Matt. 5:21). And he added, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matt 5:27)
 
The law of God tells us that we are sinners, even if we haven’t outwardly committed murder, adultery, or robbery. We have served other gods, even if we haven’t bowed down to Buddha, Allah, or some other deity of man’s imagination. When we read the law with the conviction of the Holy Spirit we are cut to the heart and see that we are warped and crooked sinners in need of the only Savior, Jesus Christ.
 
Our Inability
 
The summary of the law also reminds us of our inability. For instance, Q & A 4 quotes the familiar summary of the law that Jesus gives in Matthew 22 (and parallel passages). And yet as we read that summary, we are reminded of our inability to live up to the requirements of the great commandment.
 
Consider what it means to love the Lord our God. To love the Lord means that we must see him as supremely worthy of our love. To love the Lord means that we see his divine perfections and attributes and realize that he, above all others and above all things, is worthy and deserving of our love.
 
After all, he is omniscient and sovereign; he is the self-existent, immutable, and eternal God. He has perfect knowledge, wisdom, and goodness. He is absolutely pure and perfect in his love, holiness, righteousness and truthfulness. He is indeed supremely worthy of our love, our adoration, our time, and attention. But do we spend much time loving the Lord by contemplating – meditating – upon these attributes and characteristics of God?  Or do we spend more time thinking about ourselves, our goals, our plans, and our material blessings?
 
We are commanded in this great commandment, not just to love the Lord, but to love the Lord with all of our heart. That means that our entire self is to be devoted to loving God. It means to love with an undiluted love, a love free from the desires of the world: from self, pleasure, money, or any other object or person that might vie for our attention. That is one reason why Jesus made that striking statement, in Matthew 10: 37, 38: “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” But here again, do any of us really love the Lord with all our heart?
     
Jesus teaches us in the great commandment not only to love the Lord our God with all our heart but also with all of our soul. Dr. Zacharius Ursinus, one of the authors of the catechism, comments that “the soul signifies that part of our being which wills, together with the exercise of the will, as if he would say, ‘You shall love with all your will and purpose’” 1 But can you and I honestly say that we love God with all of our will and purpose?
 
We are also to love the Lord with all of our mind. When our minds are captivated by something, we want to learn all about the person or thing that has captivated our attention. A young person who falls in love wants to know all about the one who makes their heart leap. Or the person who has an interest in astronomy will look over the weather forecast, looking for the most crystal-clear weather. That person will calculate when it is best to gaze at the stars and they will take their telescope to the highest and most remote ridge or mountaintop to view the galaxy that has captivated their attention. The greatest commandment tells us that you and I are to love the Lord our God – the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit the same way – with all of our mind.
       
Yet do we search the Scriptures daily? Do we spend time in God’s Word each day systematically studying it and applying it to our lives? Do we commit portions of God’s Word to memory so we can meditate on the wonders of knowledge that God has given us in the holy Bible? Even if we do, our time spent in the Word is so minimal compared to our time spent in the other activities of life.
 
We are also to love the Lord with all our strength. And our love is not just to be an outward obedience to God’s law, but an inner obedience as well. We might, by God’s grace and Spirit’s power, outwardly keep parts of God’s law. For instance, most of us have not committed murder in the sense of taking someone’s life, but we have all committed murder by hating another person, perhaps even a stranger who cut us off in traffic.
 
In regard to our love for the Lord, Zacharius Ursinus wrote: “This embraces all actions, and exercises at the same time, both external and internal; that they may be in accordance with the law of God.” But here again, we all fall short in loving the Lord with all our strength, inwardly as well as outwardly.
 
Do you see our inability? We are unable to love the Lord as we ought, and because of that, we are unable to love our neighbor as ourselves. The second commandment flows from the first. But since we are unable to meet the requirements of the first commandment, we are also unable to meet the requirements of the second. In fact, because of our sin and inability, we have a natural tendency to hate God and our neighbor. 
 
Question and Answer 5 might sound too blunt: “Can you live up to all this perfectly?”  Answer: “No. I have a natural tendency to hate God and my neighbor.”  We might object that maybe at times we are lukewarm. Or maybe we aren’t focused enough. Or maybe we don’t use every opportunity to be close to our neighbors and to witness to them. But hatred? Isn’t that too harsh? Can that really be the case?
 
Romans 3 uses similar terminology. Consider Romans 3:10-12:
 
“There is no one righteous, not even one;
     there is no one who understands,
    no one who seeks God.

All have turned away,
    they have together become worthless;
there is no one who does good,
    not even one.”

 
That is another way of answering question 5 of the catechism: “Can you live up to all this perfectly?” “No. I have a natural tendency to hate God and my neighbor.”
 
Sin and Misery
 
This portion of the catechism is aptly titled “Man’s Misery.”  If you take just this snapshot of yourself, as Lord’s Day 2 focuses the lens of God’s Law on your sin and mine, you have a truly tragic picture. 
 
Our English word, “misery” comes from the German word for “alien.”  It is reminding us that the law shows us that we are alienated from the Lord by our sin. We are alienated because none of us can measure up to God’s standard. In the words of Romans 3:23 “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” When God puts his level on your life and mine, it will always show that we are crooked and warped with sin.
 
The law not only shows how warped we are, but it also serves as a mirror. God’s law as a mirror is perfect because it shows us as we really are apart from Christ. When we look at God’s law with regenerated eyes – with true repentance and saving faith in Jesus – we see that we are misshapen, contorted, and stained with our sin.
 
The law of God can also be likened to a measuring stick that is so tall that no one can measure up to it “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). Decades ago, at the Boardwalk Chapel, a ministry of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Wildwood, New Jersey, various skits were acted out to teach biblical truths to catch the eye of the crowds on the boardwalk. One particular skit focused on a tall – ten foot or so – measuring stick. The volunteers from the chapel would invite people from the Boardwalk to measure themselves by the measuring stick that towered far above any person. The point they drove home is that no one can measure up to the demands of God’s perfect and holy law.
 
The law is like a level; it shows us that we are warped and crooked. It is like a mirror; it reveals our true self with all our warts and pimples. And it is like a measuring stick that we can never measure up to. No wonder Romans 3:19 and 20 declare: “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 whenever we speak of the law we must also speak of the gospel. The two go hand in hand.  The gospel falls on deaf ears without the law. And the law, apart from the gospel, can only show the problem, not the solution. It was Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the well-known preacher of an earlier era who wrote:
 
I do not believe that any man can preach the gospel who does not preach the law. The law is the needle and you cannot draw the silken thread of the gospel through a man's heart unless you first send the needle of the law to make way for it. If men do not understand the law, they will not feel they are sinners. And if they are not consciously sinners, they will never value the sin offering. There is no healing a man until the law has wounded him, no making him alive until the law has slain him. (C.H. Spurgeon, A Plain Man’s Sermon)
   
The Law as a Tutor to Christ
 
In Galatians 3:24 we read another purpose for the law: Not only does it reveal to us our sinful condition. It also leads us, by God’s grace and convicting Spirit, to Christ. Galatians 3:24 explains: “The law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith.”
 
What a wonderful consolation the gospel is! The law reveals our sin, and then the gospel reveals our Savior who came to seek and to save what was lost. That is how Jesus described his purpose in coming to this earth. When he was at the home of Zacchaeus, the tax collector, Jesus said, in Luke 19:10, “The Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.”
 
Zacchaeus serves as an excellent example of one who was led by the law to Christ, and having been forgiven, strived out of gratitude to love God and to love his neighbor as himself. As a tax collector Zacchaeus was a known cheat. Tax collectors were hated in the first century because it was well known that they took advantage of others and cared nothing about the people who they cheated. But when Zacchaeus came face to face with Jesus, the law and gospel were used by the Holy Spirit to transform Zacchaeus. 
 
When Zacchaeus was convicted by the law and brought to salvation through faith in Jesus, his whole life turned around. Luke 19:8 describes how Zacchaeus said to the Lord: “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” That is a 180-degree turn! A remarkable change! In fact, it is so remarkable that it reminds us that no one is so sinful that they cannot be saved. 
 
We have the blunt assessment of all humanity in the light of the law in Romans 3:20. But even the vilest offender can be saved – whether a cheat like Zacchaeus, a thief like the criminal on the cross, or an adulterer like David. God’s grace is far greater than our sin! John Newton, the author of Amazing Grace, was well known for his wild and sinful life in the British Navy. But after he had been saved, he said, “If God could save me, God can save anyone.”
 
The conversion of Zacchaeus also teaches us that converted sinners will always give evidence of their conversion. In the law we see our inability. We see it in just glancing over the greatest commandments: We cannot love God and our neighbor as we ought. The law sticks that needle painfully and deeply into our heart as the Holy Spirit convicts us.
 
But then through the gospel, as we see that we are saved by grace alone through faith in Christ alone, we are greatly comforted and we begin to earnestly try to keep the law, out of gratitude for what Christ has done, just as Zacchaeus did when he sought to pay back those whom he had formerly cheated.
___
 
I can run my hand underneath that table in our kitchen and feel that the wood trim where two pieces come together is separating further apart. It reminds me the table is warped, just as you and I are warped. I don’t know how to fix the table. But I know how God fixes our sinful condition. He uses the law just like a level to show us how warped and sinful we really are. He uses the law like a mirror to show us our transgressions and true condition. And he uses the law like a measuring stick, showing us the truth of Romans 3:23, that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” And then the Holy Spirit, in convicting and regenerating power, drives us to Christ Jesus, who forgives, restores, and grants eternal life.
 
May you and I rejoice always in both the convicting power of the law and in the saving power of the gospel, and, like Zacchaeus, be transformed as we confess our sin and live in gratitude of our Savior’s redeeming love! Amen.
 
 
1 (Zacharius Ursinus, Commentary on Heidelberg Catechism, pg. 24)
 
 
Bulletin outline:
 
“... through the law we become conscious of sin.” - Romans 3:20b
 
                      “The Purpose of God’s Law”
                         Romans 3:10-20; H.C. LD 2
 
I.  God’s law shows us our sin (Romans 3:20; Q&A 3)
 
 
 
 
 
 
II. The summary of the law reminds us of our inability (Matthew
     22:37-40; Q&A 4)
 
 
 
 
 
 
III. Because of our sin we are alienated from God and have a natural
      tendency to hate God and our neighbor (Romans 3:10-18; Q&A 5)
 
 
 
 
 
 
IV. Our consolation: The law, as it makes us conscious of our sin, 
       leads us to Jesus Christ (Galatians 3:24) who came to seek and to
       save what was lost (Luke 19:10). Being saved by grace through
       faith, we then live lives of gratitude (Luke 19:8; Ephesians 1:6, 12)
 
 
 
 

 




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright, Rev. Ted Gray

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