Though in one sense, as we saw, the law
empowers sin, in another real way the law is terribly impotent. How can the same object be both powerful and impotent at the same time?
Here again, the difference lies not in the law but in the person. For the one who discovers that he is a sinner, the law forces him to acknowledge that he is going against God’s will and is consequently on a path to death. Upon discovering his sinfulness, the sinner may decide to follow the law to the letter. However, the fact that he has already sinned has made him a candidate for death.
Some people believe that strict adherence to the law will grant salvation, but this is not a biblical teaching. The law defines sin (Rom. 7:7); it does not forgive it (Gal. 2:21). Hence, Paul remarks that the same law that empowers sin is also weak (Rom. 8:3). It is able to convict the sinner of sins but cannot make the sinner righteous. A mirror can show us our faults; it just can’t fix them. As Ellen G. White wrote: The law cannot save those whom it condemns; it cannot rescue the perishing.-The Signs of the Times, November 10, 1890.
When we fully consider the purpose of the law, it is easier to understand why Jesus became the atoning sacrifice for the human race. The death of Jesus placed formerly sinful human beings in a right relationship with God and with His
holy and righteous and good law (Rom. 7:12, NASB). At the same time, too, His death showed us the futility of salvation by keeping the law. After all, if obedience to the law could save us, Jesus would not have had to die in our place. The fact that He did reveals that obedience to the law could not save us. We needed something much more drastic.
Though we are promised again and again the power to obey God’s law, why is this obedience not enough to secure our salvation? In one sense the answer shouldn’t be that difficult. Look at yourself and your law-keeping. If your salvation depended upon your obedience, how much hope would you have?