20 Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin.
Therefore [a consequence, a reason, because] by the deeds of [obedience to] the law [God’s revelation] no flesh will be justified [declared right, vindicated] in His sight,
The purpose of the law was not to justify people. The phrase “by the deeds of the law” occurs here and verse 28, as well as Galatians 2:16 (three times); Ga 3:2, 5, 10. In each case God contrasts it to justification by faith or the reception of the Holy Spirit.
The word “justified” in this passage is forensic in meaning. This is a courtroom term referring to the judge’s verdict to pronounce a person right. God acquits us by faith, not by the “deeds” of the law. In this case, the person is pronounced right before God, the ultimate Judge. There is no person on earth who can be justified before God by works.
“Justified” does not mean to make righteous. God does not change the character of believers so that they are perfectly righteous in their conduct. No, the idea is that God views the justified person as forensically right in God’s eyes. The law that people think will save them by obeying is what will condemn them.
No amount of obedience to the law is adequate to justify anyone. Many people commit to salvation by works as a way of salvation. Some think that the Golden Rule is God’s idea for saving man. Justification by works is one thing that we cannot attain. The absolute standard of the law (which reflects God’s absolute character) is impossible to reach, but there is one thing that the law can do—show us our sin for what it is, a violation of a perfect God.
The law is like a mirror; it drives us to use soap and water. The purpose of the law relating to sin is to reveal, not redeem. The criterion of the law is an X-ray that shows the true condition of our soul before God.
for by the law is the knowledge [full knowledge] of sin.
“Knowledge” carries the idea of clear and exact knowledge about the nature of sin. The law pinpoints our sin and reveals our spiritual ailment before God. It brings us out of our hiding place and shows our utter hopelessness before a perfect God.
Instead of the standards of the law having the capability of justifying anyone, God gave them to make us conscious or convict us of sin. The standards of the law cannot justify but they can condemn. The law helps us to recognize sin for what it is.
No one is acceptable to God by observance of the law.
Scriptures show the true nature of violating God’s standards. We can understand the full knowledge of sin through Scripture. There is no righteousness that man can manufacture before God.
Justification is more than being pardoned. God’s forgiveness of our sins is foundational to justification but not equal to it. Justification is our permanent legal status before God; God declares us as right as He is right forever by the death of Christ for our sins.
Justification does not make the individual right in his character, although it does carry implications of righting our character as an effect of being declared righteous. The issue has to do with God’s character and righteousness rather than man’s righteousness.
Ac 13:38-39, 38 Therefore let it be known to you, brethren, that through this Man is preached to you the forgiveness of sins; 39 and by Him everyone who believes is justified from all things from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses.
Ro 3:28, Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law.
Ro 4:2,6, 2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 6 just as David also describes the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works . . .
The law diagnoses the condition of our souls before a perfect or absolute God. Man thinks of the law as a life raft, but it is an anchor pulling him down and hastens his parting from God.