Love fulfills the letter of the Law. Faith in Jesus justifies that work of love.
By Benjamin H. Liles
All those who sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all those who sinned under the law will be judged by the law. For the hearers of the law are not righteous before God, but the doers of the law will be declared righteous. So, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, instinctively do what the law demands, they are a law to themselves even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts. Their consciences confirm this. Their competing thoughts will either accuse or excuse them on the day when God judges what people have kept secret, according to my gospel through Christ Jesus. ~ Romans 2:12-16, Holman Christian Standard
Since we know that God's word, His Law through Moses, condemns us as we have broken these Laws, we see ourselves in that light as guilt sinners. And that's the thing: Jonathan Edwards in His sermon Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God said, "In this verse is threatened the vengeance of God on the wicked unbelieving Israelites, who were God’s visible people, and who lived under the means of grace; but who, notwithstanding all God’s wonderful works towards them, remained (as Deut. 32:28) void of counsel, having no understanding in them."
So, what does it say in Deuteronomy 32:28-35? "Israel is a nation lacking sense with no understanding at all. If only they were wise, they would figure it out; they would understand their fate. How could one man pursue a thousand, or two put ten thousand to flight, unless their Rock had sold them, unless the Lord had given them up? But their “rock” is not like our Rock; even our enemies concede. For their vine is from the vine of Sodom and from the fields of Gomorrah. Their grapes are poisonous; their clusters are bitter. Their wine is serpents’ venom, the deadly poison of cobras. “Is it not stored up with Me, sealed up in My vaults? Vengeance belongs to Me; I will repay. In time their foot will slip, for their day of disaster is near, and their doom is coming quickly.”
We see that with what Edwards is saying, then, is that we are all guilty of offending God for having not heard what He says of our condition towards Him. If He says to us, "Hear this now, O foolish people, without understanding, who have eyes and see not, and who have ears and hear not" (Jeremiah 5:21, New King James), we stand before Him without any kind of works attributed to us. For we are told, "But someone may well say, "You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works" (James 2:18, New American Standard).
It means our standing before a just and righteous God is not good in the least bit. At best we are under His judgment. We have His wrath upon us. And we rightfully deserve it! How can we then afford His great grace? Can we earn it through our faithless deeds, our works? By any means no we cannot. As it says in Deuteronomy 32:28, "Israel is a nation lacking sense with no understanding at all." And even though this is in regards to Israel, are we not all under that same condemnation He gives to all of us? Even Paul argues, "For it is not the hearers of the Law who are righteous before God, but it is the doers of the Law who will be declared righteous" (Romans 2:13, Berean Study).
If we only hear the word of God without doing what it says we stand accused and condemned that we aren't actively listening. If we listen, and not just hear His words, and apply His word to our lives we experience something far greater. We are then doing His will. For as Jesus said, "Love God with all of who you are." This is the first and greatest commandment. The second is like the first, "Love your neighbor as yourself" (Mark 12:30-31). So, we see by doing God's commandments which is love we are doing this by faith. By only hearing and doing nothing about it we stand therefore in our guilt and condemnation before God.
But then some say, "'There is no God,' the result being their deeds are abominable, they are corrupt. None of these do good" (Psalm 14:1). These stand accused before God, through the blood of Jesus the Messiah. Even though they didn't purposefully do as the religious leaders of Jesus' day, the people of Israel, or even the Romans, they still stand among them as people who crucified the Lord and Savior of mankind. "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them" (Romans 1:18-19, New King James).
What is the charge against such people? "And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful; who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them" (Romans 1:28-32).
God's grace isn't something to earn through unrighteousness. In fact, His great grace isn't even earned. For if it was we have no need for the blood of Christ. We stand judged and justified before God Almighty as sinners. And in accordance to what Jonathan Edwards says in his sermon, "They deserve to be cast into hell; so that divine justice never stands in the way, it makes no objection against God’s using his power at any moment to destroy them. Yea, on the contrary, justice calls aloud for an infinite punishment of their sins. Divine justice says of the tree that brings forth such grapes of Sodom, 'Cut it down. It’s just taking up space in the garden'" (Luke 13:7, New Living Translation).
And so we see how deserving we are to being punished for simply hearing the word of God. We don't act upon His word. We don't do anything to deserve His love and merciful kindness. But we can do something about it. We can allow His word to illuminate the darkness within our hearts. We can hear His voice again by allowing Him to show us the wrongs which we committed against Him. In this light we see that our sins have put Christ on the cross. And more than that He went willingly in order we can stand justified by His mercy. In this way we see "the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe" (Romans 3:21-22).
God's great grace is a gift. It is given freely to those who have faith in the Son to deliver those who once were enslaved to sin by the darkness. They allow Him to bring every stronghold imaginable in their lives down (see 2 Corinthians 10:4). Therefore we are justified freely through our faith. The works we have then are by doing His word by our faith to accomplish His saving love in and through our lives. His reward for this service is greater love than any can imagine. By enduring all slings, slights, persecution and death we are raised to life just as God brought Jesus back to life from death (see Romans 6:4). I pray this helps you to understand we stand condemned before God. With this we can have newness of life and bodily resurrection. But in order to do so we have to put off this body of death. We take up immortality by believing in the One who conquered death and the grace. In Jesus' name I pray. Amen.