The Laws of Liability--Part 3
Feb 21, 2008
Periodically, I am questioned about my view that people other than Israel may be liable before God to be obedient to His law. So let us proceed from the general to the specific. The Apostle Paul deals with the broad view on the law, telling us in Rom. 3:19 and 20,
" (19) Now we know that whatever the law says, it speaks to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be closed, and all the world may become accountable to God, (20)because by the works of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the law comes the knowledge of sin."
Paul had just shown that "there is none righteous, not even one" (vs. 10). Anyone who attaches his salvation upon his own righteousness--that is, his ability to do what is right in the sight of God--has a misplaced faith. His faith is in himself and his own righteousness, not in Christ's righteousness. Paul says that all have sinned, and that no man is righteous. In other words, all men need some other method of achieving righteousness (salvation) other than by their own self-discipline, learning, and ability.
In the course of this argument, he writes verses 19 and 20 above. The law gives us a knowledge of sin. It identifies sin, because, as 1 John 3:4 says, "sin is lawlessness." But the law cannot give us the ability to keep it. Only the Holy Spirit working in us can do that. And so, Paul says, whatever the law says, it speaks to those who are under the law.
To whom does the law speak? Which people does the law convict of sin? "Every mouth" and "all the world." Here it is plainly said that all the world is accountable to God because they are "under the law." It is not just Israel, nor any other limited group of people. Paul goes on to say in verse 22, "for there is no distinction" between Israel and non-Israel when it comes to putting one's faith in Christ to get out from "under the law."
The term "under the law" has often been misunderstood, so let me illustrate it. If a man steals a million dollars, wastes it on gambling, but then is caught and convicted of the crime, the biblical judge would sentence him to pay two million dollars to his victim. But, of course, he has no money to pay restitution. So he would be "sold for his theft" (Ex. 22:3) and have to work for the one who bought his court-imposed debt note.
As long as the debt existed, the sinner was held accountable for it by law. He was said to be "under the law" for as long as the law was imposing sentence upon him. If the debt was later paid, he came "under grace," and the law had no further jurisdiction over him. Of course, if he stole again and was convicted of the crime, he would again come "under the law" until the penalty was paid.
So it is with us on the broader level. The whole world is "under the law" because the law convicts them of sin. The whole world is accountable to the law on some level, for "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Rom. 3:23). The way to come "under grace" is by faith in Jesus Christ, whose death on the cross pays the full penalty for our sin. Faith applies His death as payment for our sin. Once that debt is paid, we are not under the law, but under grace (Rom. 6:14).
Does this mean we have the license to continue in sin that grace may abound (Rom. 6:15)? Of course not. Just because the law no longer condemns us does not give Christians a license to continue sinning--that is, to continue violating the law. Just because we are no longer under the law's penalty does not mean that the law has no further use and purpose. In fact, those who continue in sin are abusing grace, and their faith itself is called into question.
This problem was prevalent in Jeremiah's day, when he confronted the people in Jer. 7:9, 10,
" (9) Will you steal, murder, and commit adultery, and swear falsely, and offer sacrifices to Baal, and walk after other gods that you have not known, (10) then come and stand before Me in this house, which is called by My name, and say, 'We are delivered to do all these abominations'?"
There are Christians also who think they have a license to sin, and who then go to Church and say, "We have been delivered by Jesus Christ to do all these abominations." Jeremiah says that this makes the temple a "den of robbers." A robbers' den is a safe-haven from the law, a hide-out, where they can be lawless with immunity.
God's righteous standard was not put away. Only the means by which we attain that righteous standard changed. Under the Old Covenant, the people were told to achieve it by the power of their own works and self-discipline. Under the New Covenant, we achieve it through the three steps laid out in the feast days. We get an imputed righteousness up front through Passover, then go through obedience training in Pentecost, and finally are made actually righteous in the fulfillment of the feast of Tabernacles.
It is not about doing away with all righteous standards, for God is not satisfied to leave all men in their current condition and simply label them "righteous." No, God will not be satisfied until we all look like Jesus Christ.
Back in the Garden when Adam and Eve sinned, God could have allowed them access to the tree of life after their sin. But the mercy of God did not want them to be immortal sinners. What could be worse than leaving men in their sinful condition for eternity? So God drove them out of the Garden and set Cherubim to guard the way of the tree of life. That was an act of merciful judgment.
The same holds true under the New Covenant. God does not intend to create immortal sinners today, any more than in the Garden.
If you do a study of the New Testament word anomia, "lawlessness," you will be enlightened to find that such an attitude and practice is nowhere condoned by any author. Jesus condemns it in Matt. 7:23, saying to such people "depart from Me, you who practice anomia." Paul exhorts us in Rom. 6:19 to cease from the lawless (anomia) way of life that we practiced before coming to Christ. John says "sin is anomia" and that those afflicted with this heart-attitude are "of the devil" (1 John 2:8).
Paul took the Gospel beyond the borders of Judea and Judaism. To him, the whole world was in need of a Savior because everyone was accountable before the divine law. All had sinned, whether or not they had even heard of the Ten Commandments. All were condemned by the law impartially, and likewise, all were to be saved through Christ impartially and in the same manner.
I was asked recently how God could judge the non-Israelite nations for sin when they had not received the law. Read Psalm 19. The heavens tell of the glory of God. Verse 4 says, "Their line has gone out through all the earth, and their utterances to the end of the world." Everyone has some level of knowledge. Israel had MORE knowledge, and this made them MORE accountable, and God certainly judges according to one's level of knowledge, as Jesus tells us in Luke 12:47, 48.
Hence, God judged the whole earth for its wickedness at the time of Noah's flood. He judged Sodom and Gomorrah for their "sin" (Gen. 18:20). In Amos 1 and 2, God judged Damascus, Gaza, Edom, Ekron, Philistia, Tyre, and Moab as well as Judah and Israel for their "transgressions." Without a law to transgress, they would have had no transgression for God to judge, for Paul says in Rom. 4:15 that where there is no law, there is no transgression. God has always held the nations accountable, or else His judgments would have been unjust.
This is the final part of a series titled "The Laws of Liability." To view all parts, click the link below.
Dr. Stephen Jones