What is the purpose of God’s Law?

Following on from the ‘Gospel Discussion’ there is a need for a new thread. The question in hand now is “what is the purpose of God’s law?” Allow me to offer an answer by a little bible study. :o)

Lets first clarify that the Christian is no longer under law, but under the grace of Jesus Christ. So, as DL Moody says, the law can chase us to Calvary and no further. In response to Will Stranger, the context of Galatians is indeed ‘anti-law’ but only because there were Christians who were trying to say that you are still justfied by keeping the law, which is, of course, not New Covenant theology. The law is not for the Christian.

Paul (in Romans 7:7-11) says:
What shall we say, then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! Indeed I would not have known what sin was except through the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “Do not covet.”But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of covetous desire. For apart from law, sin is dead. Once I was alive apart from law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died. I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death.

We cannot be saved by the law, but what Gal 3:24 is saying is that the law acts as a schoolmaster (KJV), it was ‘put in charge'(NIV) to lead us to Christ. In other words, the moral law of God shows us our total depravity and out need for a saviour. Paul testifies to this in the above passage saying that the thing that he thought would justify him actually brought him to the point of spiritual death and knowledge of his depravity.

Paul says in Romans 8:1 that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ, but previously the law of sin and death (God’s law) left him condemned because no-one could be justified by keeping it (the whole reason why Calvary was necessary).

In 1 Timothy 1:9 Paul (in the context of warning against false teachers) says:

“We know that the law is good if one uses it properly. We also know that the law is not made for the righteous but for the lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious; for those who kill their fathers and mothers, for murders, for adulterers and perverts, for slave traders and liars and perjurers – and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine that conforms to the glorious gospel of the blessed God..”

Why is it for these people? Simply because if shows and convicts of sinfulness. Now, again Paul is here outlining that the law is not to give Christians a set of rules to bind, but is intended to “show unbelievers their sin and bring them to God” (NIV Life Application bible note for 1 Tim 1:7-11).

We are instructed in Romans 5:20 that :

“the law was added so that trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more so that just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

In other words, the law shows us a huge standard to live up to if we try and live it to achieve righteousness, it simply leads to sin and knowledge of it. But grace exists to lift us out of the burden of trying to ‘keep’ the law.

If you look at the teaching of Jesus, in Matthew (the sermon on the mount) we see here Jesus teaching the spiritual nature of law. He points out in 5:17 that Jesus is not here to abolish the law, but to fulfil it and in 5:19 that the law is to be honoured. We still shouldn’t murder, steal, lie, covet, commit adultery, make idols, blaspheme, disrespect our parents, neglect the importance of ‘sabbath rest’, or worship another god. But we live this not to achieve salvation or justification, but so as to live in such a way as to honour God.

There are countless scriptures that could be explored, but I guess you get the picture that the function of God’s law is to show what sin is, to bring conviction by the Spirit. The law of the Lord is written on every heart and when it is expounded, the Spirit brings conviction that we have transgressed God’s law thus showing our need for some other to appease the wrath of a holy God for us…we simply cannot do it.

If you ask an unregenerate person if they are a ‘good person’ they will say ‘yes.’ Most people think they are heading for heaven too. This shouldn’t surprise us as the scripture says that every man will proclaim his own goodness. Now, if people think they are good enough for heaven already, the gospel will be foolishness to them because they don’t see their need for a Saviour. If they do ‘try’ Christianity, they will be looking for the life enhancement package. Then, when persecution or hardship comes, they who have believed for life enhancement quickly throw the gospel aside and trample the sacrifice of our Lord underfoot.

We don’t come to the Lord for happiness, we come for righteousness. ‘Without holiness no-one will see the Lord’ (Hebrews somewhere).

However, if you help people asses their goodness by expounding the law, you will be surprised how many people will re-think their goodness in the light of the commandments…they discover that, in fact, they aren’t that good by God’s standards and if they are to face God in judgement they don’t stand a chance. Who of us can say we’ve kept the Ten Commandements perfectly? That’s why we need a Saviour!

Their spiritual condition then makes sense to them….it is HERE that the gospel of grace is preached. When people realise that they are sinners deserving Hell, the fact that Jesus Christ can save them is indeed good news. Why? Because the law has showed them what sin is and the Spirit has convicted them of the need for a Saviour.

Let me leave you with a couple of quotes from the evangelists of old to think on:

“Before I can preach love, mercy and grace, I must preach sin, Law, and judgement” (John Wesley)

“The Law is the surgeon’s knife that cuts out the proud flesh that the wound may heal. The Law itself itself only sweeps and raises the dust, but the gospel sprinkles water upon the dust, and all is well in the chamber of the soul. The Law kills, the gospel makes alive; the Law strips, and then Jesus Christ comes in and robes the soul in beauty and glory.” (Charles Spurgeon)

“God, being a perfect God, had to give a perfect Law, and the Law was given not to save men, but to measure them. I want you to understand this clearly, because I believe hundreds and thousands stumble at this point. They try to save themselves by trying to keep the law; but it was never meant to save themselves by” (DL Moody)

“You understand that the word of the Law is the revealing of sin. Furthermore, when I speak of sin, I include all kinds of sin external, internal, hypocrisy, unbelief, love of self, and contempt for or ignorance of God which are certainly the very roots of all human works. In the justification of sinners the first work of God is to reveal our sin; to confound our conscience, make us tremble, terrify us, briefly, to condemn us. The beginning of repentance consists of that work of the Law by which the Spirit of God terries and confounds consciences…Just as the Christian life must certainly begin with the knowledge of sin, so Christian doctrine must begin with the function of the law. (Melanchthon)

“It is the ordinary method of the Spirit of God to convict sinners by the Law. It is this which, being set home on the conscience, generally breaketh the rocks in pieces. It is more especially this part of the Word that is quick and powerful, full of life and energy and sharper than any double edged sword” (John Wesley)

“The Law cuts into the core of evil, it reveals the seat of the malady, and informs us that the leprosy lies deep within.” (Spurgeon)

“Paul had a very quick and piercing judgement and yet never attained the right knowledge of indwelling sin till the Spirit by the Law made it known to him. Though brought up at the feet of Gamiliel, a doctor of the Law…he had the letter of the Law but not the spiritual nature of it…He has the Law in his head, but not in his heart.” (Matthew Henry)

“Lower the Law and you dim the light by which man perceives his guilt; this is a very serious loss to the sinner rather than gain; for it lessens the likelihood of his conviction and conversion. I say you have deprived the gospel of its ablest auxiliary when you set aside the Law. You have taken away from it te school master tat is to bring men to Christ..They will never accept grace till they tremble before a just and holy Law. Therefore the Law serves a most necessary purpose, and it must not be removed from its place.” (Charles Spurgeon)

4 thoughts on “What is the purpose of God’s Law?

  1. Actually it is Stanger, not Stranger, but that’s okay.Thanks for the clarification. I guess I wasn’t fully reading what you were saying.John Stott gives a concise picture of this in his commentary on Galatians:We cannot come to Christ to be justified until we have first been to Moses to be condemned. But once we have gone to Moses, and acknowledged our sin, guilt and condemnation, we must not stay there. We must let Moses send us to Christ.

  2. I liked the line from Moody you chose to use: “the law can chase us to Calvary and no further.” Living up to every law is impossible as we have all sinned (Romans 3:23). But God still calls us to model our lives after Jesus. A life blameless and true. But We will never be Jesus no matter how hard we try and thus will always need him as a\our savior. If we could obey every law; we wouldn’t need a savior. We are sinful, but can still spend our lives striving to live how God intended. Carrying with us the knowledge that we are sinful and that when we do fall down God will be there for us.Peter (Canada)www.lublink.ca

  3. Apologies for mispelling your name Will.Thats a helpful Stott quote…similar to others I’ve given in the main post.My point in all of this is that God has given us all we need to share the gospel, but we so often shy away from using the law to ‘expose the dust’ of the sinful heart. I have seriously found it to be so effective.This isn’t hellfire preaching, this is helping people so see that there is an issue, and when they are humbled by the law we can lavish the grace of the gospel upon them and they readily respond. Peter…its true that holiness must follow conversion. Of course, we are still no longer under law, but that doesn’t mean we live ‘lawlessly.’ Paul, in response to the knowledge of his own sin said that because grace exists that doesn’t mean there is an excuse for sin.I’d just add though, that we must get away from the idea that we can ‘do’ anything to earn any sort of favour of God. God’s favour is free in Christ, its given to us because of Christ, not because of anything we have done. We live a holy life to worship God with our life and in holy fear of him, not to earn brownie points. We don’t live holy because we are trying to live law, but because we are enabled by grace.

  4. “I’d just add though, that we must get away from the idea that we can ‘do’ anything to earn any sort of favour of God. God’s favour is free in Christ, its given to us because of Christ, not because of anything we have done.” Very true, thanks for adding to my thoughts. Thats the trouble with comments, getting it all in.Peter http://www.lublink.ca

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