7What shall we say, then? Is the law sinful? Certainly not! Nevertheless, I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” 8But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of coveting. For apart from the law, sin was dead. 9Once I was alive apart from the law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died. 10I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death. 11For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death. 12So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good. 13Did that which is good, then, become death to me? By no means! Nevertheless, in order that sin might be recognized as sin, it used what is good to bring about my death, so that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful.
Did They Earn Their Righteousness?
God did not give us the Law to make us righteous. This is a misconception that I have heard over and over in recent years. “The Law was how the people in the Old Testament were made right with God, but it is through Jesus in the New Testament.” This is wholly untrue. The Law was no more a means of grace in the Old Testament than it is today.
The Law is not a set of rules God intended us to follow. It was a set of standards by which one is proclaimed perfect. His kind of perfect. We are not His kind of perfect, and only One has ever fulfilled the Law. We are not Him.
In that way, the Law was not a standard we had to live up to, but a mirror that showed us our true selves. God’s commands were righteous, because they were largely descriptive of Him, but when we view ourselves in light of the law, we are utterly sinful.
Think of it this way: have you ever, even unintentionally, driven faster than the speed limit? I dare say I’ve never met a person who hasn’t. That means that one of the most basic and ever-present laws we have as human beings today proves that we are all lawbreakers. No one is justified as a law-abider, because the moment you go over that speed limit by a fraction, you have broken the law. It doesn’t matter if you get caught, you have broken the law.
We are wholly unjustified by the Law today just as those who heard it the first time were. God is a lawgiver not because He intended us to be justified in following it, but to show us the true sinful nature inside us. The Law was a way for Him to help us see our need for His grace, not a means to attain it.
The Mirror of the Law
God gave us the Law that we might see ourselves as we are: sinful and unrighteous. God also gave the promise—that those who seek Him in faith will forever be made righteous. And we know that the Promise is greater than the Law.
For if the inheritance depends on the law, then it no longer depends on the promise; but God in his grace gave it to Abraham through a promise.