Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin. Romans 3:19-20 (NKJV)
The Bible teaches that we have all sinned (Rom 3:23). The idea that we have all sinned is pretty common knowledge but what isn’t as common is knowing what exactly that means. What is sin? What does it mean that I have sinned and what if I don’t feel like a sinner? The folks in our world need answers to these questions. It is unreasonable to tell people, “You have sinned and you need Jesus to forgive you of that sin” if we don’t take the time to explain to them what sin is.
Scripture teaches that sin is a violation of God’s Law (1 John 3:4). Think the Ten Commandments with this. The Ten Commandments make up God’s perfect measuring stick to determine whether someone is guilty or innocent. Paul says that when we read the Ten Commandments, our guilt becomes obvious. In fact, according to this passage that is the purpose of God’s Law. When I read God’s Law, it exposes me for what I am. I am a sinner and I am legitimately guilty before God. This becomes more clear as we study the Ten Commandments and see their implications for our lives.
“You shall have no other gods before Me.” (Exodus 20:3 NKJV) Right off the bat it gets hard. To have perfectly obeyed this Law you would have to have had God as the supreme object of your love, devotion and service. You would have to have done this every moment of every day of your life. This couldn’t be in words only. It would have to be in your speech, your attitude and your actions.
“You shall not make for yourself a carved image…” (Exodus 20:4 NKJV) This is essentially a command about worshipping the right God in the right way. To have perfectly obeyed this Law you would have to have kept yourself from worshipping, or being devoted to, the false gods of self, money, sex, pleasure, wealth, politics and possessions or any other idol that can be made on this earth. You would have to have done this every moment of every day of your life.
“You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain…”(Exodus 20:7 NKJV) When you read the Bible it’s pretty obvious that God takes His name pretty seriously. This is a command against misusing His name in any way. To have perfectly obeyed this Law you must have kept yourself from using His name as a curse word, using His name in a flippant or insincere way or doing anything that caused His name to be profaned or dishonored. You would have to have done this every moment of every day of your life.
“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.” (Exodus 20:8 NKJV) The Sabbath day was a day set aside for rest and the worship God. To have perfectly obeyed this Law you must have had one day every week where you did no labor and spent the day focused on God and on worshipping Him. You would have to have done this every week of every month of every year of your life.
“Honor your father and your mother…” (Exodus 20:12 NKJV) To honor your father and mother included obedience to them but was not limited just to that. To honor them is to ensure that nothing you do brings shame to them, demeans them or makes light of them. To have perfectly obeyed this Law would mean that never once in your life did you disobey your parents or do anything that brought shame to them, demeaned them or made light of them.
“You shall not murder.” (Exodus 20:13 NKJV) The meaning of this one is pretty obvious and for most of us it seems that it’s easy enough to keep. Until we get to Jesus and see what He had to say about it that is. In the SOTM Jesus says that being angry with someone without cause, despising someone or calling them a fool was the spirit behind this Law (Matt 5:22). To have perfectly kept this Law would mean that not once in your life have you taken another human life, been angry at someone without a valid and righteous reason, despised someone in speech, thought or action and have never called anyone a fool.
“You shall not commit adultery.” (Exodus 20:14 NKJV) This was a command on the sanctity of marriage so obviously sexual relations outside of marriage were forbidden. Jesus also takes this one and moves it deeper. He says that having lustful thoughts about one someone other than your spouse is the spirit behind this Law (Matt 5:28). So this would not only include the physical act of adultery but also pornography and probably even romance novels. To have perfectly kept this Law would mean that not once in your life have you had sex outside the bonds of marriage or had lust filled thoughts about someone other than your spouse.
“You shall not steal.” (Exodus 20:15 NKJV) This is a command against taking and keeping something that belongs to someone else. There are so many ways that this could be done. It can be done by employees on the job, politicians in government and customers in retail stores. To have perfectly kept this Law would mean that not once in your life have you ever taken anything that didn’t belong to you.
“You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” (Exodus 20:16 NKJV) The broadest understanding of this Law is that it is a Law against lying. This would include little lies, twisting the truth, telling half-truths, telling gossip without really knowing the truth or intentionally seeking to discredit someone through falsehood. To have perfectly kept this Law would mean that not once in your life have you ever told a lie, told a half-truth, passed on gossip you weren’t sure about or intentionally tried to discredit someone through falsehood.
“You shall not covet…” (Exodus 20:17 NKJV) Covetousness is consuming desire for what you do not have. Covetousness covers a lot of ground. You can covet money, stuff, success, looks and even people. When we covet something we have an overwhelming desire to have something we don’t currently possess. Acquiring this thing, whatever it is, becomes the consuming passion and desire of our lives. To have perfectly kept this Law would mean that not once in your life have you ever let the acquisition of something you didn’t currently possess become the driving force of your life.
If we have violated even one of these Commandments, in even the smallest of ways, then we have sinned by violating God’s absolute standard of right and wrong. These violations make us legitimately guilty in the courts of heaven. What we have to realize about this is that this is a pass or fail test. Even if you scored 90% on this, you still failed. It’s not the size of the violation that makes us guilty it’s the violation itself. We also have to understand that a perfect score isn’t that at some point in time we have kept all ten. Instead, a perfect score is that I have perfectly kept all ten every day of my life from the time I was born. To keep a perfect score I must perfectly keep all ten every day of my life until the day I die. We cannot even have one slip up ever and still claim to have a perfect score.
Pretty tough right? Yeah it is and that is why Paul says that no one will be righteous because of his or her adherence to the Law. What this means is that no one will ever stand before God, have God review their obedience to the Law and then have God say, “Good enough. Welcome to heaven.” Instead, if we were to stand before God and have God review our obedience to the Law, God would say, “You are guilty. Depart from me.” The Law wasn’t given to make men righteous. It was given to us to prove to us that we are guilty and therefore unrighteous.
One of the main things that is important for us to see here is that our guilt isn’t dependant on our feelings. If you have ever violated even one of the Ten Commandments, then you are guilty before God whether you feel bad about your violation or not. The guilt the Bible describes here is a judicial guilt and not a feeling of guilt. If you have ever violated even one of God’s commands, then you are judicially, legitimately guilty before God regardless of how you may feel about this.
For further study read 1 Timothy 1:1-11.
Who was the Law made for?
What then would be the purpose of the Law?
What should this lead to?