For no person will be justified [freed of guilt and declared righteous] in His sight by [trying to do] the works of the Law. For through the Law we become conscious of sin [and the recognition of sin directs us toward repentance, but provides no remedy for sin].
For no person will be justified (made righteous, acquitted, and judged acceptable) in His sight by observing the works prescribed by the Law. For [the real function of] the Law is to make men recognize and be conscious of sin [not mere perception, but an acquaintance with sin which works toward repentance, faith, and holy character].
We know what the message of the Law is, to those who live under it—that every excuse may die on the lips of him who makes it and no living man may think himself beyond the judgment of God. No man can justify himself before God by a perfect performance of the Law’s demands—indeed it is the straight-edge of the Law that shows us how crooked we are.
Now do you see it? No one can ever be made right in God’s sight by doing what the law commands. For the more we know of God’s laws, the clearer it becomes that we aren’t obeying them; his laws serve only to make us see that we are sinners.
So where does that put us? Do we Jews get a better break than the others? Not really. Basically, all of us, whether insiders or outsiders, start out in identical conditions, which is to say that we all start out as sinners. Scripture leaves no doubt about it: There’s nobody living right, not even one, nobody who knows the score, nobody alert for God. They’ve all taken the wrong turn; they’ve all wandered down blind alleys. No one’s living right; I can’t find a single one. Their throats are gaping graves, their tongues slick as mudslides. Every word they speak is tinged with poison. They open their mouths and pollute the air. They race for the honor of sinner-of-the-year, litter the land with heartbreak and ruin, Don’t know the first thing about living with others. They never give God the time of day. This makes it clear, doesn’t it, that whatever is written in these Scriptures is not what God says about others but to us to whom these Scriptures were addressed in the first place! And it’s clear enough, isn’t it, that we’re sinners, every one of us, in the same sinking boat with everybody else? Our involvement with God’s revelation doesn’t put us right with God. What it does is force us to face our complicity in everyone else’s sin.
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