Conscious of sin

Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.

Romans 3:20

Tomorrow morning one of my lessons is being observed. In theory, my boss should be more concerned about this, since the purpose is to train him in observing lessons and providing valid feedback. I can’t help but worry about it, though. I always have a sense of dread, mild panic, and concern that I might get caught out! In the past I’ve always received positive feedback from observed lessons but there is always a first time. Lesson observations are supposed to be constructive; even if a teacher does something wrong, an observation means that they can be alerted to their weaknesses and given an opportunity to improve. Observers are supposed to point out in a positive way where things can be improved.

In today’s verse Paul outlines the purpose of the law – that is, the rules and regulations that we find in the Old Testament. We saw a couple of days ago that Paul believes the law to be holy, righteous and good. Yesterday we saw that Paul understands that people are not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Christ. In Romans 3:20 he explains precisely why the law is still so important: through the law, Paul says, we become conscious of our sin. He elaborates on this a little later in Romans when he says, ‘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”‘ (Romans 7:7). The law does not provide a means for our salvation from sin, but it does hold a light up to our lives so that we might understand what sin is, and how and where we commit it. The law shows us the sinful state of our lives. The law also, therefore leads us to Christ. It shows us our need for salvation, but it also makes it clear than we cannot win justification for ourselves. It shows us that we need to accept Christ as our saviour, since there is no other way to escape from sin, destruction and death. Indeed, the better understanding we have of the law, the more we understand the significance of our wrong doing, and the more we understand that we need Christ.

Rather than overlooking the law and the books of the Old Testament in which it is found, therefore, we should ensure that it becomes part of our personal Bible study. It will point us to Christ and ensure that we are clear on our need for a saviour. Whilst having our weaknesses exposed and pointed out to us is never an enjoyable experience, it does enable us to move forward and improve our standing.

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