Gal 3:21 says, “if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law”. Rom 10:5 says, “the man which doeth those things shall live by them”.
These verses seem to contradict. How is it that the law can’t give life and yet a man can live by the law? What is this? To understand this apparent contradiction, you must understand the ten commandments.
The ten commandments warn of sins that kill.
When Adam and Eve fell prey to the temptation of the devil, sin entered the world and death by sin, Rom 5:12. So, this world is filled with sin which, ultimately, kills you, Jas 1:15.
God gave us the commandments to keep us out of the traps the devil has set to kill us by sin. According to Rom 7:10, the commandments were ordained to life. According to Rom 7:13, sin by the commandment becomes exceeding sinful. Thus, the Lord uses the law to help you see the deadliness of sin. The law is like a KEEP OUT or DANGER sign to warn you.
The devil wants you to worship him. He tempted Jesus with this sin. So, the first commandment says, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me”. You see, this is to keep you out of trouble with the devil. When you worship any other god besides the Lord God, you’re worshipping the devil. And he has the power of death. He does not have the power of life. He came to kill. You live by keeping this commandment.
The devil wants you to bow down and worship an image. That’s idolatry, which is the devil’s specialty. During the tribulation, he will have an image that the world will worship under the threat of death. The second commandment says, “Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them” (images). You see, the Lord is trying to protect you from this deadly sin. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego followed this commandment and so Nebuchadnezzar was not able to kill them in the fiery furnace. They lived.
The devil wants you to blaspheme. Blasphemy is deadly, because by it you despise the very God who made you. So, the third commandment says, “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain”. God is not an egotist; but he is a jealous God, because he is the only true God. There is no one higher than God who can spare you when you blaspheme. He wants you to keep you from killing yourself with this sin.
The devil wants to work you to death and keep you distracted from the things of God, just like he did with the Jews in Egypt. Because of the curse, men have to work to eat. But God doesn’t want us to work ourselves to death. So, the fourth commandment says, “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy”. The Lord made the sabbath for man, to give you a day to rest. On the sabbath, in the Bible, men and women gathered in synagogues to hear the words of God. Today, we don’t keep the Jewish sabbath. Instead, we keep the first day of the week, the day on which Jesus arose, as our day of rest. On this day, we should rest and hear God’s words in an assembly. By keeping this law, you’ll live longer.
The devil wants you to rebel when you’re young so that you will rebel when you are grown. Rebels bring death on quickly. “Bloody and deceitful men shall not live out half their days”, Ps 55:23. “The years of the wicked shall be shortened”, Prov 10:27. So, the fifth commandment says, “Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee”. When you learn to be obey your parents, you grow up knowing how to obey God. And he will keep you alive.
The devil wants you to destroy your life and others’ lives with anger, sex, stealing, lying, and covetousness. Murderers, adulterers, thieves, liars, and covetous men, whom the Bible calls ‘idolaters’, kill themselves and others with sin. They die here and they die the second death in the lake of fire in eternity, Rev 21:8. Therefore God gave you the commandments: don’t murder (the devil is a murderer), don’t commit adultery (the Pharisees, for example, were all adulterers), don’t steal (the devil is a thief), don’t bear false witness (the devil is a liar), and don’t covet anything that is your neighbors (pride and covetousness were the devil’s doom). God wants you to live. The devil, on the other hand, is always trying to kill you and use you to harm others, here and hereafter.
See, here’s the problem with sin. The devil will never let you have what you want from sin without paying a price for it. There is no such thing as a free ride with sin. Initially, he may let you enjoy sin without cost, but not for long. He’s like the dope pusher who might let you have a little dope for free at the beginning. But the pusher always has in mind the amount of money you will pay in time to feed your habit once you’re hooked. And he wants to keep you in bondage to your addiction until you die. The devil plays this game very well. That’s why the Bible talks about the “deceitfulness of sin”. Ultimately, in sin, you will pay with your life. “The wages of sin is death”, Rom 6:23.
The ten commandments warn of God’s judgment on sin.
God, because he is a just, righteous, and holy God, gave us commandments that are “holy, and just, and good”, Rom 7:12. Therefore, he must enforce them and punish those who break the law. Murder is a capital offense. God said, “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man”, Gen 9:6. Adultery is a capital offense. David and God both professed that adultery is a sin against God, Gen 20:6; Ps 51:4. This is why God executes his wrath against it and other sins, as well, Eph 5:6.
The devil knows this about God. And so he sets you up to reap the wrath of God for the laws you break. For example, Satan filled Ananias’s heart to lie to God, and God killed him on the spot, Acts 5:3-5. Lie the Bible says, “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap”, Gal 6:7.
The ten commandments show you sin for what it is so you will stay away from these things upon which God’s wrath is poured out. In this way, you live by the law.
Yet, the ten commandments can’t give life.
When people keep the commandments, they keep themselves alive longer, barring medical conditions, accidents, etc. And when they sin, the law is here to point out their guilt, so that they will seek forgiveness from God, Ps 32:1-5. Yet, the commandments have no way to give life to those who keep them. Everyone eventually dies because sin has passed upon all men, Rom 5:12. And all men are sinners, Rom 3:23.
The Old Testament saints who kept the law didn’t go to heaven when their bodies died. They went into a place called Abraham’s Bosom in the heart of the earth, Lk 16:19-26. They waited there until Jesus Christ died and was buried. During those three days that he was buried, Jesus appeared to these saints in Abraham’s Bosom and he gave them life, 1 Pet 4:6. And when he arose from the dead, he took these souls with him when he ascended into heaven, Eph 4:8-10. They are alive with him now and will live for ever with him when he returns. Their bodies will be resurrected to live with the Lord on earth.
The ten commandments are our schoolmaster to bring us to Christ, who gives us life.
As we’ve seen, you can live by the ten commandments. Paul did. He said, “touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless”, Phil 3:6. But to enter the kingdom of God and live forever, you need more than the law.
In Mk 12:28-34, a scribe questioned Jesus about the law. And when Jesus replied to his question, the scribe confirmed the truth of Jesus’s response. Yet, to this scribe, who understood the law perfectly, Jesus said, “Thou art not far from the kingdom of God”. He needed more than the law to enter into eternal life.
The commandments can’t give you eternal life. Only Jesus Christ can do that. He, the life-giver, Jn 1:4, gives you life, Jn 10:10. The law points you toward Jesus, Gal 3:24. He has already fulfilled the law and paid for your sins with his death that you might have life and righteousness, Rom 10:1-4. In Jesus “we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins”, Eph 1:7. He rose from the dead that he might give you life, when you put your faith in him. “The gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord”, Rom 6:23.
Conclusion: As you have seen, you can live by the law but the law cannot give you life. To have eternal life you need Jesus. “That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord”, Rom 5:21. “He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life”, 1 Jn 5:12. Will you receive him and eternal life today?