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by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached on Lord's Day Evening, June 19, 2005
at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles

"Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin" (Romans 3:20).

The law of God is not preached adequately in our churches, if at all. There is usually a short exposition of a few verses on Christian living, with an invitation tacked on at the end. But since the terrors of the law are mentioned very little, if at all, the power of the law is not brought down in full force on the sinful person sitting in church. There are preachers today who tell us that the law need not be preached. So they do not preach the law in their churches. Thus, they do not preach the law where it is needed most - to those attending church, who truly need to hear the thunderings of God's law against their greed, self-centeredness, pride, lack of love for God, and various other sins.

Luther says that such preaching is foolish, because it never startles sinners regarding the fact that they are lawbreakers who deserve God's wrath.

Luther says, "Nowadays you may find many who are offended [in the churches] by the [hard] preaching of the law, and so they avoid hearing this kind of preaching. But [they think] they are fine Christians, yet they do not stop sinning. They keep on being greedy, being angry, lusting, and desiring to gorge themselves [with too much food and silly pleasures]" (Martin Luther, remarks on Genesis 18:19 and the fearful destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah).

Luther was right. And so the preaching of the law should never be silenced if we want to make the gospel plain. The preaching of the law must rebuke the sin of those sitting in the pews in the church whether they like it or not - otherwise they will not see their need for the gospel.

Most preaching today avoids telling people that they are sinners, and so, when the preacher's Bible study is given, the lost in his congregation have never been challenged by the frightening proclamation of God's law. I think this is probably the greatest single error in modern preaching.

People are told they have a "need" in their lives, not that they are sinners who have broken the laws and commandments of a Holy God. No wonder such weak preaching seldom produces conviction and real conversion today. People must be told that they repeatedly break God's laws, inwardly in their minds, and outwardly in their actions. They must be told that their rebellious, unconverted natures cannot keep the law. They must be told that their hardened hearts do not even want to keep the law, that their unregenerated hearts actually hate the law, and that they do everything in their power to resist God's commandments.

"Because the carnal [unconverted] mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be"
    (Romans 8:7).

The lost person's mind is so ruined by sin that he is the literal enemy of God. A lost person cannot even force himself to obey the law from a right motive. "Neither can be." No matter how he tries he cannot escape from his enslavement to sin and his inner hatred of the law of God. There are no exceptions to this in the fallen and ruined human race. The Bible proclaims that you are the enemy of God, do not want to obey God's laws, and, in fact couldn't obey them even if you wanted to - which the Bible plainly says that you do not want to do.

"Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin"
    (Romans 3:20).

This leads us to the first point of our sermon.

I. First, no one is justified by the deeds of the law.

Dr. W. A. Criswell said,

One of the strangest enigmas [mysteries] is the continuing persuasion of most religious people that a man can somehow make himself acceptable to the Holy God through the observance of Law, ritual, and moral precept; whereas the [Apostle Paul] goes to great lengths to refute that theory (The Criswell Study Bible, note on Romans 3:20).

The "deeds of the law" refer to any human effort regarding justification. As I said on Sunday evening, June 5,

"Justified" is the translation of the Greek word "dikaioo." W. E. Vine says that justification is "the legal and formal acquittal from guilt by God as judge" (An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, Revell, 1966, volume II, p. 285).

The Roman Catholic Church teaches that justification comes by a man's own works, and the works of the saints. Dr. Francis Pieper points out that, "Most modern Protestant theologians have adopted the Roman [Catholic] view of the doctrine of justification…[they] hold that conversion is effected by man's 'self-determination' (synergism); it maintains that faith justifies as an ethical act…Thereby modern Protestant theology has taken its place in the camp of the Romanists" (Francis Pieper, D.D., Christian Dogmatics, Concordia Publishing House, 1951, volume II, pp. 555-556).

Is Dr. Pieper wrong when he says, "Most modern Protestant theologians have adopted the Roman Catholic view of justification"? I don't think so. I think he is exactly right. Another way to put it is to say that most modern Protestants (and evangelicals in general) are "decisionists." Decisionism replaced the old Protestant and Baptist doctrine of justification through faith in Christ with the false view that man is justified by making a decision for Christ, followed by a series of "rededications."

The modern idea shifts salvation from salvation by Christ to salvation by a decision. Instead of being Christ-centered, it is man-centered.

Now I want to make this as clear as I possibly can. That is the religion of Cain. It is the religion of the Devil. It is not what the Bible teaches! No decision you make can save you. No words that you learn can save you. No prayer that you say can save you. No dedication or "Lordship commitment" can save you. No belief or acceptance of the "plan of salvation" can save you. These are all "deeds of the law," and they cannot and will not save you.

"Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight" (Romans 3:20).

That is what the Bible teaches. Period!

II. Second, the purpose of the law is to give the knowledge of sin.

Let us stand and read the text again, out loud.

"Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin"
    (Romans 3:20).

You may be seated.

In verses nine through nineteen the Apostle Paul gives a detailed explanation of mankind in sin. He concludes the argument by saying that the law of God reveals that everyone is "guilty before God" (Romans 3:19). The purpose of God's law is not to save you, but to show that you are guilty,

"For by the law is the knowledge of sin" (Romans 3:20).

You have not kept God's law. In fact, your very heart and nature rebel against God's law. Only by the work of the Holy Spirit can you become aware of your guilt before a Holy God. And only when your guilt becomes heavy in your heart will you become interested in justification by Christ Jesus.

See how often this appears in the history books, when we read about classical conversions. John Bunyan, our great Baptist forefather, seems to have been driven half mad by guilt before he found justification in Christ. The greatest of all evangelists, George Whitefield, starved himself and gave all his money to the poor, while under conviction of sin, driven to the edge of sanity by guilt, before he found justification in Christ Jesus. John Wesley ran half way around the world in a ship trying to escape from his guilt by preaching to the Indians. When that failed, we see him running back home across the ocean, plodding up and down the streets of London, half crazed by guilt. And I might add the horrible guilt that kept the young Spurgeon awake all night, and found him trudging through the snow, trying desperately to find some way to get rid of his guilty burden. Or see R. A. Torrey, standing before a mirror with a straight razor, ready to cut his own throat because he could no longer stand the pain of guilt.

All of these famous preachers knew full well, by experience, the meaning of our text,

"Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin"
    (Romans 3:20).

And now I turn to you. Have you experienced any of that? Has the sword of God's law pierced your heart? Has your mouth been stopped? Have you become guilty "before God"? (Romans 3:19).

I say to you as seriously as I possibly can - until you become guilty before God, until your sin becomes hideous and fearful and ghastly in your emotions - until you feel the pain of guilt - there is no hope of you being justified in Christ Jesus.

"Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin"
    (Romans 3:20).

I have given you the experiences of Bunyan, and Whitefield and Wesley and Spurgeon and Torrey. But I add one last witness, Luther - the man God used to bring the light of the Reformation to mankind. Do you know anything about Luther? Do you know that he became a monk out of guilty fear? Do you know that he kept long vigils, prayed the rosary by the hour, starved himself, and even beat his own body with a whip to try and rid himself of guilt? I would never recommend that anyone go to those extremes - and yet he did - until the Spirit of God showed him,

"Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin"
      (Romans 3:20).

And I never tire of quoting the Great Reformer Luther on conversion, for I have yet to find a better explanation of it. Luther said,

It is necessary, if you would be converted, that you become terrified [not of Hell, but of your guilt before God]; that is, that you have an alarmed and trembling conscience. Then, after this condition has been created, you must grasp the consolation that comes…from [Christ]. This is the only way conversion is brought about; other ways are wrong ways (Martin Luther, Exposition of Psalm 51:13, A.D. 1532).

Bunyan, Whitefield, Wesley, Spurgeon, Torrey and Luther all bear testimony to the fact that justification through Christ Jesus will never become vitally important to you until you have a feeling of guilt over your sin, and an awareness that you, yourself, can do nothing to get rid of that guilt. Only by feeling your guilt, against the backcloth of God's law, will you ever be awakened to take hold of Christ, who

"was wounded for our transgressions [and] bruised for our iniquities [and by those] stripes we are healed" (Isaiah 53:5).

Mr. Griffith, please come and sing that song by Joseph Hart again.

Much we talk of Jesus' blood,
But how little understood
Of His sufferings, so intense,
Angels have no perfect sense.

See the suffering Son of God,
Panting, groaning, sweating blood!
Boundless depths of love divine!
Jesus, what a love was Thine!

Through the wonders Thou hast done,
Are as yet so little known,
Here we fix and comfort take,
Jesus died for sinners' sake.
    ("Thine Unknown Sufferings" by Joseph Hart, 1759).

You can read Dr. Hymers' sermons each week on the Internet
at Click on "Sermon Manuscripts."

Scripture Read Before the Sermon by Dr. Kreighton L. Chan: Romans 3:9-20.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:
"Thine Unknown Sufferings" (by Joseph Hart, 1712-1768).



by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

"Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin" (Romans 3:20).

(Romans 8:7)

I.   First, no one is justified by the deeds of the law, Romans 3:20a.

II.  Second, the purpose of the law is to give the knowledge of sin, 
Romans 3:20b, 19; Isaiah 53:5.