(For not the hearers of the law [are] just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified.
This is a verse that without paying careful attention to context and to systematic theology is one that you could easily take to mean the exact opposite of what Paul actually means.
Paul is talking to religious people. He has essentially just told that God has no favourites and that they will be judged by the law. They think because they know the law they will escape condemnation and be welcomed into heaven. There are still people like that in the world today – I go to church, I will therefore go to heaven.
Nothing could be further from the truth. You cannot be justified by hearing the law. You cannot be just (righteous) by hearing the law. It does not matter how many times I stand up in the pulpit and tell people “Do not lie”, that will NEVER make them right with God.
So many preachers seem to have no idea of this Biblical truth: you cannot be made righteous by hearing the law. I could get in the pulpit and go to people “Do not lie”, “Do not commit adultery”, “Do not steal” and it would not make anyone right with God. It might make someone feel guilty or condemned, it might make someone feel out of sorts, depressed and sad, but it will never make someone right with God.
Yet today there are whole sections of the church where if you go to their churches and conferences, you will be a hearer of the law. They will tell you what to do, what the law says, what holiness is all about. I was in discussion with someone about one of these preachers once and they say “I love that preacher, when he preaches it is like a kick in the kidneys”. Who wants a kick in the kidneys? Who goes to church to be told how vile and horrible they are and how much they have broken the law?
Yet some people want to get involved with sermons that tear them to pieces. Some people venerate sermons that are hard-hitting and condemning. One example is a sermon once preached called Sinners in the Hands of Angry God. We are not sinners in the hands of an angry God. God’s not an angry God – He is a loving Father. Sending Jesus to redeem us was HIS IDEA! The man who preached that we were sinners in the hands of an angry God depressed people in his church so much people went and killed themselves! When he was told, he said that God made them kill themselves. That’s not Biblical – and no matter how much law you hear, it will never make you right with God.
But religious people think because they have heard the law, they are right with God. Because they went to church heard the sermon and now feel like dirt, they think they are right with God. Everyone else who has not heard the legalistic message of the law is not right with God, and being religious they then judge everyone else. Especially if you know about grace and love and you have some joy and some contentment and some security in your walk with God. They want to drag you down to their level and have you meditate on how evil you are. There is one guy even calls his radio ministry “Wretched” to emphasis that we are wretches. That is true without God’s grace and goodness, but we are never without God’s grace and goodness.
But then Paul says this: you are made righteous by obeying the law. Now, in several places in Romans Paul makes it more than clear that we are not made righteous by obeying the law. But here Paul says: doers of the law will be made righteous (justified).
How can this make sense? It makes sense when you realize the point Paul is trying to make: if you want to use the law to be made righteous, you need to do it. Yes, all of it. Every single bit. Just hearing a message on the law is not enough, you need to put it perfectly into practise. Paul is trying to take the sails out of the wind of the religious people by saying just hearing a condemning message is not enough – you need to put it entirely into practise!
If you cannot obey God perfectly and obey the entire law of Moses perfectly, then you are never going to be made righteous listening to the law. So, go and listen to the gospel instead. The word gospel means good news – find a preacher preaching good news. Find someone preaching life and faith, find someone preaching repentance and the kingdom. Stay clear from people who punch you in the kidneys and find someone who places a hand on your shoulder and tells you: God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.