Should people depend on their obedience to the law for justification?

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The law doesn’t justify

Legalists, who depend on obedience to law for justification from sin, are building their hopes on an unbiblical assumption. The purpose of the law is only to reveal sin. “Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin” (Roman 3:20). The law can only show the wickedness of sin in its true light. Works performed in obedience to the law cannot justify a sinner before God (Galatians 3:21). All good works, in the light of God’s holiness, are regarded as “filthy rages” (Isaiah 64:6).

Therefore, the works of the law far from justifying the sinner or bringing him peace, it only judges him (Romans 4:15). Paul taught that all men have sinned (Romans 1; 2; 3). Therefore, it follows that anyone who attempt to be justified by the law will be involved only in wrath and condemnation. Consequently, the law to the legalist may produce an effect the very opposite of that which is intended by the promise.

Justification through faith

Paul wrote, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8). God offers salvation to all of His children, as a free gift of His grace. He grants full pardon and reconciliation through His Son. Jesus has suffered, died, and rose for the salvation of the fallen human race. It is by entrusting ourselves to the Son of God that we are saved. Faith is only the channel (Romans 4:3). By faith we can have peace, “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1).

Is Paul denying the importance of obedience to God’s law?

Paul in no way is denying the importance of keeping the law of God. He is only clarifying the function of law in the plan of salvation (Romans 3:20, 31; Galatians 3:21). In fact, he stressed, “Do we then make void the law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law” (Romans 3:31).

Justification by faith shows God’s esteem for His law in demanding and providing the atoning sacrifice of the Son of God. If justification by faith abolishes the law of God, then there was no need for the death of Jesus. There would be no need to free the sinner from his transgression that he may be restored to peace with God. In Romans 3:20, Paul stressed the place of law as a moral principle. And he asserted that the law is fully established by the gospel of righteousness by faith in Jesus Christ. By His life and teachings, Jesus honored and established the law (Matthew 5:17,18).

Is Paul contradicting Himself?

Some verses by Paul seem contradictory if read outside of their context. If we examine some of these verses closely, we will be able to understand what he is saying. Let’s look at two of these verses. Paul’s first statement states, “the doers of the law shall be justified” (Romans 2:13). And his second statement states, “by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified” (Romans 3:20). So, what does Paul mean in these passages?

The first verse simply stresses the fact that those who will be justified are the ones who are willing to do whatever God commands. They are not merely “hearers of law.” In his second verse, he stresses that good deeds of obedience can never buy salvation. Thus, God’s works are merely an evidence to the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer that has obtained justification by faith (Galatians 5:22,23).

In His service,

BibleAsk Team

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