The bible makes this point over and over again that only repentance and faith in Jesus, will save us from spending eternity in hell and ultimately in the lake of fire. If you are not a Christian and you are reading this message, you will realize by the end of it that by rejecting Jesus, you have no hope of ever entering heaven. This message is for you and hope you repent as a result and put your faith in Jesus.
Paul is the author of Romans and he wrote this letter from Corinth around AD 56-58, most likely AD 57. Paul was at this stage facing a lot of opposition from those who did not agree with him, and even those who believed that Paul’s preaching was affecting their livelihood. By the time Paul wrote the letter, there were both Jewish and Gentile Christians in Rome. However, Gentiles were in the majority. The purpose of writing this letter was threefold.
- Paul wanted to explain his gospel to those in Rome so that they may support his trip to Spain
- Paul was writing a defense of his gospel to the Romans as a rehearsal for his defense in Jerusalem
- Paul was writing to unify Jews and Gentile Christians in Rome
Our passage in this message, which is Romans 3:19-20, is the final portion of Paul’s sustained argument, since from chapter 1 verse 18. In chapter 1 from verses 18 to 32, Paul argued and proved that all human beings are under the wrath of God. Then from chapter 2 until chapter 3 verse 8, he turned towards the Jews, to prove to them as well, that they are also under God’s wrath, despite their possession of the law and their circumcision. This is because despite having the law of God, they were not obedient to it. Then from chapter 3 verses 9 to 18, Paul used the Old Testament to prove beyond reasonable doubt, that every single human being is a sinner who is not meeting the standard of righteousness, required by God, and are therefore, under God’s wrath. Having proven to the Jews that their mere possession of the law would not save them, he then reminds them in chapter 3 verse 19 to 20, which is our passage, what the purpose of the law is.
Now, let us take a look at Romans 3 verses 19 to 20, and it reads:
“Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.” (Romans 3:19–20, ESV)
The Law of God Speaks
“Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, ……..” (Romans 3:19(a), ESV)
The word translated “now” is used by Paul, to link the previous section to what he is about to say, and functions to bring attention of the Jews, to what he is about to remind them of. The two Greek words translated as “we know” here were used in Paul’s time to speak about something that was generally known and accepted as a fact. Therefore what Paul was about to remind the Jews of, was something that everyone accepted as a fact including the Jews. This is not something that the Jews could have disputed since they had already known and accepted it as a fact.
Paul reminded the Jews that whatever the law says, it speak to those who are under the law. In other words, whatever the contents of the law are, whatever the demands of the law are, whatever the law commands, it speaks directly to those who are under the law. The Jews would have accepted that they were under the law. Although it can be argued that the law here refers to the Mosaic Law, I turn to agree with those scholars who say that the law here extends to the whole Old Testament Law. The Jews would have agreed with Paul that they are indeed under the law and, it is true that the law speaks to those who are under the law. An example is that every human being who lives within the borders of South Africa today, is under the constitution of the country, and therefore whatever the constitution says, it speaks to them. This is what Paul was saying to the Jews. Since the Jews were also under the Old Testament law, whatever the law commanded or demanded, it was a command to the Jews.
The Law of God Has a Purpose
“……so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God.” (Romans 3:19(b), ESV)
The law does not just speak for the sake of speaking, to those who are under the law, but it has a purpose. Paul gives us the purpose and says it is so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. The words translated as “may be stopped”, means to cause someone not to have anything to say, that is to be silent, to remove any reason to speak, and in this verse it means in order to stop everyone from having anything to say. When the law of God speaks, it reveals to the one who is under the law that they have nothing to say. But that is not all, the law also speaks so that the whole world may be held accountable to God, and being accountable describes the state of an accused person who cannot reply at the trial initiated against him, because he has exhausted all possibilities of refuting the charge against him, and averting the condemnation and its consequences which naturally follow. Therefore, the purpose of the law is to render every single human being, who is under the law of God, absolutely defenseless against the charges of having broken God’s law that are laid against them. The only thing a person can do who is facing these charges is to stop speaking as there is nothing to say in their defense. When the law of God speaks, it pronounces that every single human being who is under the law of God, is guilty beyond reasonable doubt, guilty of breaking God’s law and they have no defense whatsoever. What awaits them, is God’s judgement against them.
The Law of God Cannot Save You from Hell
“For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.” (Romans 3:20, ESV)
Paul, do you mean that the law cannot save us? The answer is in verse 20 and it is yes, the law cannot save and the reason is that by works of the law, no human being can be justified in God’s sight. What does “works of the law” mean? Works of the law refers generally to everything done in obedience to the law. Works of the law simply refer to obedience to the law. Being justified simply means to be made right with God, to be found innocent or to be declared innocent before God. Therefore, Paul says that no human being will be justified or found innocent before God, by obeying the law.
Paul goes on to say that it is because through the law, comes the knowledge of sin. This means all what the law does is to make every single human being aware of how sinful they are before God, how incapable they are of obeying God’s law, and how much they are deserving of God’s wrath. In this way, how then can the law save. Paul makes it very clear that he does not mean that there us something wrong with the law: “What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.”” (Romans 7:7, ESV). There is nothing wrong with law, the law is simply doing what it was intended to do.
In summary, God’s law speaks to those who are under the law, and when it speaks, it speaks so that every single human being who is under the law of God, becomes guilty beyond reasonable doubt, guilty of breaking God’s law, and they have no defense whatsoever. This is because no one will ever be found to be innocent by obeying the law because, with the law, comes the knowledge of how sinful every single human being is before God, how incapable they are of obeying God’s law, and how much they are deserving of God’s wrath.
Who are those who are under the law? Are we under the law? The following are verses that will shed light to these questions:
“Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed.” (Galatians 3:23, ESV)
“But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.” (Galatians 5:18, ESV)
“For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” (Romans 8:14, ESV)
From the above verses, those who have not placed their trust in Jesus Christ, are under the law of God. These would have included and still includes the Jews, and also every other human being who has not repented and placed their trust in Jesus. This means if you are not a Christian today, you are under the law of God and you have no hope of being saved from God’s wrath. Your destiny is hell and then the lake of fire, where you will be tormented, in the presence of Jesus Christ, forever and ever. The Jews rejected Jesus and placed their trust in the law they could not obey. If you reject Jesus today, you also are placing your trust in the law of God that you cannot obey. Why, because you have rejected Jesus, you need to prove to God on judgement day that, you have complied 100% to His law and you cannot do that. Since they rejected Jesus, the Jews were and are still under God’s wrath, and since you also reject Jesus, you too are under God’s wrath.
There are two ways to meet the standard of righteousness required by God so that you can be declared innocent, firstly, it is to place your trust in Jesus, and His righteousness is credited to you, and by His rightlessness, not yours, you are declared righteous and therefore innocent before God, and secondly, it is to obtain righteousness through 100% obedience to the law of God, and you cannot. Therefore, by rejecting Jesus, you have no hope but to burn in hell. I urge you to repent and place your trust only in Jesus, to be saved from God’s wrath. There is nothing apart from placing your trust in Jesus that you can do, to meet the righteousness requirements of God.
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