THE LAW IS FOR EXPOSING MAN
We need a word of explanation here. Why did God give us the law? The Spirit of God gave the answer through the words of Paul: "The law entered in alongside that the offense might abound" (Rom. 5:20). Because of the presence of sin, the law was added. Paul also told us that the law exposes man’s sins (Rom. 3:20). In other words, the purpose of the law is not to remove our sins, but rather to reveal them. If the law is for the removal of sins, then we have to keep it. But the law is not intended for that. It is there to expose us. "The law entered in alongside" for the purpose of showing us our sins.
God knows very clearly what kind of people we are. He knows all too well our weaknesses and corruption. He realizes that our conduct and behavior are such that even if we wanted to do good, we could not. Inwardly, we are corrupted; outwardly, we are degraded. The root problem is that we do not merely have an evil behavior but an evil life.
Here is the problem: God knows our wickedness, but we are ignorant of it. He realizes our utter depravity, but we have not given up hope in ourselves. We think that if we could be a little stronger or have a little more will power, we could obey God’s words. Or we may think that what we lack is more effort, higher doctrines, or some other kind of help from God. We think that we can do something, but God knows that we can do nothing! For this reason God gave man a long list of laws, not for man to keep, but rather to break. In this way man will be exposed by his evil and realize that salvation can never come by the law.
God knows us all too well. But we do not know ourselves. God knows that we are only little children, and running the way we do, we will fall. Yet we do not realize it. Eventually, we fall, and then we believe that we are fallible. We do not know ourselves.
For this reason, the Bible says that the law has shut us all up under sin (Gal. 3:22). Throughout the centuries, God has been teaching us one lesson, that we would know the impossibility of keeping the law. We can never make it. None of the commandments are there for us to keep. They are all there for us to break. The result is that we would come to know ourselves. When we know ourselves, we will say, "O God, I quit! Now I know what You want to do with me!"
WHAT TO DO?
When Christ was on the earth, a young Israelite came to Him. This man was a very noble and refined person. He asked, "What shall I do to inherit eternal life?" (Luke 18:18). On that day, the Lord did not tell him what we are used to hearing, that if he believed in Him he would have eternal life. Rather, He said, "You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not bear false witness, honor your father and mother’" (v. 20).
After the young man heard this, he said confidently, "All these things I have kept from my youth" (v. 21). The Lord knew that he did not know himself. He said, "Still you lack one thing." It seems as if He was saying, "So you think you are perfect. Let’s see if this is the case or not." He continued, "All that you have, sell and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in the heavens; and come, follow Me" (v. 22). How did the young man react to these words? He began to realize that what God requires he could never fulfill. This additional item was something he could not do. So he left sorrowfully. He needed to know himself; he needed to realize that he was unable.
(The Normal Christian Faith, Chapter 14, by Watchman Nee)