Once again, I’m going to pull a topic from my Bible study on covenants. In the first chapter of Romans, Paul begins by commending his readers for their faith, which is “spoken of throughout the whole world” (Rom. 1:8). He goes on to talk about the importance of belief. Lest any think he is going to present a “one saved, always saved” doctrine, they are immediately refuted.
For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “The just shall live by faith.” For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness (Rom. 1:16-18)
He goes on to list a number of sins and concludes “those who practice such things are deserving of death” (Rom. 1:32). Obviously, the emphasis on faith does not exclude commandment keeping. With this foundation, we move into the second chapter.
Judged According To Our Deeds
God expects us to live by faith, keeping the law and worshiping Him in spirit and in truth (John 4:23). “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets,” Jesus said. “I did not come to destroy but to fulfill,” or fill to the fullest extent (Matt. 5:17). Under the New Covenant, we are still expected to keep the commandments and will be judged by a righteous God,
who will render to each one according to his deeds: eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality; but to those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness—indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, on every soul of man who does evil (Rom. 2:6-9)
How we conduct ourselves in obedience to God is the basis for how we will be judged. However, this does not simply refer to a rigid obedience to the letter of the law. Physical adherence to the law means nothing if you are not keeping the law from the heart (Rom. 2:25-29). To illustrate this point, Paul writes,
(for not the hearers of the law are just in the sight of God, but the doers of the law will be justified; for when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves, who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them) in the day when God will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my gospel. (Rom 2:13-16).
In essence, this is repeating a statement made in 1 Samuel: “the LORD seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart (1 Sam. 16:7). Outward appearance means nothing if our hearts are not right with God.
Knowledge of Sin
In chapter 3, we read that human beings “are all under sin” (Rom. 3:9). No one is inherently righteousness, not matter how closely they have adhered to the letter of the law. The law lets us know that we have sinned, but does not give justification from that sin.
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. (Rom. 3:19-20).
It is only through Christ’s sacrifice that we can be cleansed of our sins. Human being cannot earn eternal life by keeping the law because the law was missing a vital aspect. Rather than replacing the law, Jesus Christ’s sacrifice supplied that missing piece.
What purpose then does the law serve? It was added because of transgressions, till the Seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was appointed through angels by the hand of a mediator. Now a mediator does not mediate for one only, but God is one. Is the law then against the promises of God? Certainly not! For if there had been a law given which could have given life, truly righteousness would have been by the law. But the Scripture has confined all under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. But before faith came, we were kept under guard by the law, kept for the faith which would afterward be revealed. Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. (Gal. 3:19-24)
Faith does not negate the importance of the law. It adds to the law, giving it new meaning and layers. Because we have been redeemed from sin by Jesus Christ’s sacrifice (1 Cor. 6:19-20), we have an obligation to obey His commandments. These commandments include the updated law, followed in spirit and in truth. Distilled to it’s most basic level, this means we must love God and love our neighbor as ourselves.
Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not bear false witness,” “You shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. (Rom. 13:8-10)