Increasing Our Guilt

I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law” (v. 3).

- Galatians 5:2–4

Having established that God will by no means compromise His justice and that the debt we owe for breaking His law must be paid (Gen. 18:25; Ps. 97:1–2; Isa. 5:16; Rom. 3:21–26), the question remains as to who is worthy to pay this debt. Jesus, we understand, is able to pay the debt on our behalf, and we are utterly unable to satisfy it for ourselves. But why is this the case? The Heidelberg Catechism provides the answer in questions 13–19.

Looking to Scripture, as always, the catechism addresses the problem of our inability to pay the debt ourselves in question and answer 13. We can never pay the debt we owe — we can never satisfy the Lord’s wrath — because as long as we are in Adam, we continue to rack up even more debt. As the catechism puts it, “we increase our guilt every day.” As long as we take on the yoke of God’s law as a means of securing our own righteousness and fulfilling the covenant of works to which we are bound in Adam, we will not be able to return ourselves to a point of innocence, let alone the righteous status we must possess to stand before the Lord.

Today’s passage teaches the point by implication, as Paul reminds us of our duty to keep all of God’s standards perfectly if we attempt to use the Mosaic law as a means of self-justification (Gal. 5:2–4). We can try to satisfy the Lord’s just requirements ourselves, but if we make that choice, we cannot go only halfway. Our fallen condition makes it impossible to do everything God desires. As Paul states earlier in the same epistle, the Law was added because of transgressions, to show us our utter helplessness and make us hope in the Messiah (3:19–22). If we start down the path of works-righteousness, we have to finish it, and if we think we can finish it, we are deluded. Not even the most scrupulous actually “keep the law,” and we increase our sin by boasting in our flesh when we believe that we keep what we actually fail at every day (6:12–13; see Rom. 3:23).

John Calvin comments, “He who is a debtor to do the whole law will never escape death, but will always continue to be held as guilty; for no man will ever be found who satisfies the law.” Let us never believe that we can meet God’s standards but realize that in trying to pay our own debt, we only increase it.

Coram Deo

Coming to terms with the extent of our sin takes a lifetime. Even those of us who have trusted in Christ alone for salvation understand how easy it is to think that God loves us because of something that we do or have done. But when we believe such nonsense, we are actually racking up even more sin and should see our need for Christ all the more. As you become more aware of your sin, continue to rest on Jesus.

Passages for Further Study

Genesis 8:21
Deuteronomy 31:24–29
Romans 7:7–25
1 Timothy 1:15

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