Romans 5:20 is pretty clear. “Now the law came in to increase the trespass” (ESV).
Come again? God gave the law in order to increase sin? The NIV translation runs like this: “The law was added so that the trespass might increase.” God’s Word translation seems starker: “Rules were added to increase the failure.”
Galatians 3:19 conveys the same idea. “Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions” (ESV). Several scholars believe the idea behind the Greek word (translated here “because”) is to increase. The Modern English translation by J. B. Phillips gets closer to the idea: “Where then lies the point of the Law? It was an addition made to underline the existence and extent of sin.”
Those who think that by obeying the law they will be saved miss the whole point of the law. It wasn’t given to provide us a means of salvation. It was added to highlight our need of salvation. The law actually increased sin! (Also helpful in this regard is Romans 7:7-13, where 13 says, “But in order that sin might be recognized as sin, it [the Law] produced death in me … so that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful” [NIV].)
One of the primary points of Galatians 3 is that the only way to be saved—the only way to enter heaven, the only way to avoid hell—is by faith in Jesus Christ. Obeying the Law of Moses doesn’t get you there, because it’s impossible to obey it perfectly; God knew that before he even issued the Law to Moses on
. Mt. Sinai
“That seems wrong. How can God be considered loving and good if he actually gave to us something that actually increases our guilt and condemnation?” The truth is, it is because he is loving and good that he gave us something (the Law) to increase our guilt and condemnation.
“The Scripture [i.e., Law] imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe” (3:22 ESV).
“Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed” (3:23 ESV).
“Or, to change the metaphor, the Law was like a strict governess in charge of us until we went to the school of Christ and learned to be justified by faith in him” (3:24 Phillips).
The purpose of the Law is to reveal the hopelessness of our condition—we are utterly sinful—so that we will feel the weight of our sins and the horror of our future (condemnation and punishment). In feeling that, we God’s goal is that we will seek salvation, the only salvation there is, faith in Christ. The NIV translation of 3:24 captures the idea: “So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith” (emphasis added).
We human beings are inclined to overlook our own faults and overemphasize what we do right. If that is our habit, why would we seek salvation? What do we have to be saved from? We’re not aware of our utter sinfulness. God gave the Law to make us aware. Why do some people not want to go to the doctor? They prefer the bliss of ignorance. If they become aware of something wrong, then they have to deal with it. So are the doctor and his x-ray machine a foul ogre or an agent of mercy? We tend to see them as the latter. Even though the news isn’t pleasant, at least it tells us the truth so that we can pursue procedures that will bring healing.
So the statement, “God gave us the Law of Moses to make us sin more” is true. But it isn’t the whole truth. Better: God gave the Law of Moses to drive us to seek salvation through faith in Christ.
The whole intent might be diagrammed as follows:
People ignorant of their sins and guilt> God gave the law
> sins increased
> people became aware of their sins and guilt
> felt their helplessness and hopelessness
> sought salvation
> embraced by faith salvation offered through Christ