Thursday, June 1, 2023 – Romans 3:1-20

Yesterday we talked about how the law works to mend the world. It sets the chosen people apart as different, makes it possible for sinful people to live together, and makes God’s people a light to the Gentiles by showing them God’s way to live. All of this together is what Martin Luther called the first use of the law. He said this use brings order into a chaotic world.

That is important, as you can imagine, but it isn’t the law’s main purpose. The second use—the theological use—is what we get clobbered with in Romans 3. And yes, if you are paying attention, it does feel like getting clobbered. It is the feeling you get when you are in trouble with your mom and you expect her to just let you have it, but she doesn’t yell at you, she just says, “I’m not even mad, I’m just so disappointed.” It makes you feel terribly small and inspires mountainous regret.

This is the point where you start to think, “Well forget that! If that is the second use of the law, who needs it!?!?” The answer, and what Paul has been building to for the last three chapters, is that we all do. Without the work that the law is doing, we never turn to Jesus—not really. The second use of the law is a mirror that reflects back to a person their own sinfulness so that she or he loses all hope in self-sufficiency. The point is that you WILL NOT earn a place in heaven. You DO NOT deserve to be with God in his Kingdom.

This leads us to two choices. We find ourselves in utter despair, or we throw ourselves completely on the mercy of Jesus. And now you see why the second use of the law is so important. Our human nature will always convince us that we are good enough on our own. We are adept at excuses and crafty in self-justification. We work and work through our thoughts until any horrific thing—up to and including genocide—becomes permissible. We look at the sins of others in disgust but make allowance for our own faults, and we would keep doing so endlessly if the law of God didn’t silence us with its “ENOUGH.”

“No one is righteous, not even one” (v. 10) This truth you cannot escape, “For no one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands. The law simply shows us how sinful we are” (v. 20).

God of grace, I have no hope in my own strength. Only you are mighty to save, and I need you. I pray with David, please create in me a clean heart and renew a right spirit within me. Don’t cast me away from your presence, and don’t take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and sustain me with a willing spirit. Amen.

Questions for reflection:

  1. When the second use of the law is at work, God’s holiness causes sinners to become aware of their unworthiness. Look at Isaiah 6:1-5, and 2 Samuel 12:1-9. How do you see this play out for Isaiah and for David? What are their choices?
  2. Can you think of times when self-sufficiency led to greater suffering? How does Jesus’ encouragement of humility relate to this topic?
  3. Can you think of a situation where “kind” words spoken without truth ended up being cruelty? Can you think of a time when a hard truth was actually the loving thing to say?