God’s Law is written on everyone’s heart. No matter where you go it’s probably a bad idea to break into your neighbor’s house, kill him, and take his stuff. It’s frowned upon to tell lies about my neighbor or slander him. It’s a good idea to be content with what you have. Honoring and following the governing authorities and one’s own parents is always encouraged. It’s just like Paul says in Romans, “When Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves, who show the work of the law written in their hearts.” (Rom 2:14–15)
The fact that God has written His Law in our hearts has another outcome. Paul continues, “Their conscience also bears witness, and their own thoughts are condemning or also defending them.” (Rom 2:16) What Paul means here is that the Gentiles are still sinners, but their consciences either condemn them or defend them based on what they’ve done or haven’t done. Thus they seek to do works to make up for their failings. Works to placate their gods or just make themselves feel better.
This all makes sense, even to us Christians. It all makes sense because the Law is written on our hearts. The following ideas are ingrained in us. Good deeds get rewarded, bad deeds punished. “The good I do now or in the future can, in some small way, make up for the bad things I’ve done in the past. The Law must be fulfilled, and therefore it can be fulfilled. If it’s fulfilled in some way, then it will be good for me. I’ll get rewarded for what I’ve done or haven’t done.” But this is all the mind and conscience apart from Christ.
“Works are recognizable among human beings. Human reason naturally admires works. Reason sees only works and does not understand or consider faith. Therefore, it dreams that these works merit forgiveness of sins and justify. This opinion of the Law naturally sticks in people’s minds. It cannot be driven out, unless we are divinely taught. The mind must be recalled from such earthly opinions to God’s Word.” (Apology of the Augsburg Confession, V.144–45)
This opinion of the Law sticks even in our minds as Christians. Because of this, we always need to strive against our flesh. The flesh, the Old Adam, wants to be saved by what he does or doesn’t do. When it comes to the Law, it’s true “the man who does them shall live by them.” (Lev 18:5; Gal 3:12) But there is no end to the works. Works upon works. That bad thing is still there no matter how hard we work. The Law must be fulfilled—fulfilled perfectly. This is a burden that we cannot and could not bear, as Peter said to the Judaizers, “Why do you test God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?” (Acts 15:10)
There is only one mediator who could negotiate our release from under the Law: Jesus Christ. “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree’).” (Gal 3:13) And indeed Christ Jesus, by His death and resurrection, “is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” (Rom 10:4) The rescue from the Law and from the opinion that we can and are rewarded for doing the law is in Christ. Jesus from start to finish does this.
Even now our flesh seeks to get us back under the Law: to have our checklists, our measurements for ourselves and those around us. But as Paul says, “Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?” (Gal 3:3) But that’s what our flesh wants to do—leave the Spirit and go on alone. Our flesh thinks that works don’t play any part in our becoming a Christian, but they do play a part once you are a Christian. Our flesh must be kept at bay, and Jesus does so with His Spirit-filled Word. He bears the two-edged sword to kill our flesh, but then He raises us up to new life in Him, daily killing us and making us alive. From font to grave to all eternity, Jesus is saving us, saving us from the curse of the Law and our opinion of the Law. We can’t be saved or moved in any better direction at all by the Law. It’s impossible because Jesus has already done all of that for us.