Can we save ourselves by keeping God’s law?

Paul was probably looked up to as a good man before he became a Christian, because he was “a slave to God’s law,” Romans 7:25. His obedience to God’s law was immaculate, not a thread out of place, which made him a paragon of virtue among his peers.

But that was only the outward image of himself that he presented to others. Inside his head, meanwhile, a battle raged, because for all his dedication to God’s law he also had to admit that “in the sinful nature I’m a slave to the law of sin.” Outwardly, he knew he looked good, and sounded good too. But the effort it took to maintain that image was excruciatingly painful, because he knew it was all a sham, a fake image of himself that told nothing of the real thoughts going on in his head.   

From a distance he probably looked fine, though. He wasn’t reeling like a drunk or waving his arms around and yelling obscenities. He could walk and talk quite normally, which gave the appearance of a man under complete control of himself. But he knew he wasn’t in control of himself at all. His law-keeping kept his outward actions under control, but it couldn’t control his thoughts. He was having a terrible battle, therefore, keeping up his public image.

But the battle taught him that “what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his Son,” Romans 8:3. Paul now knew by hard experience that keeping God’s law wasn’t the means to making a man good through and through. It required more, and that’s when Paul came to realize it was never in God’s plan for his law to save us, because we humans have a nature far too powerful for any law to contain.

It was never up to us, then, to reel in this monster in our heads, wrestle it to the ground and stab it to death. God sent Jesus to do that for us. But HOW could Jesus do that for us? By coming “in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering,” verse 3. Jesus would come to this planet as one of us, take upon himself and into himself the awful raging mess of thoughts that we humans are, and kill it on the cross, so that no longer would we have to be slaves to the law of sin or have our sinful nature messing up our thoughts again.

The law could never do that for us, but Jesus could.  


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