THE USE OF THE LAW OF GOD

The mention of the Law of God evokes a wide variety of reactions among Christians and non-Christians. Many a non-Christian is heard saying, "I do not want to be a Christian because Christianity has too many do’s and don’ts." Three things are revealed by this statement. Firstly, by this statement, the unbeliever is in fact enunciating his hatred for God and His laws; secondly, in all probability, he is not referring to the law of God, but to rules that churches have made (though they may be derived from the Law of God), e.g., thou shalt not smoke, thou shalt not drink, thou shalt not go to the movies, etc.; and thirdly, the unbeliever fails to realise that the child of God does not find the commandments of God grievous as he keeps them out of love and gratitude to Him (1 Jn 5:3). On the other hand, there are Christians who say, "We are under Grace, not Law. We are freed from the Law and have no obligation to keep it. Preach the Gospel, not the Law." To support their assertions, these will quote Romans 6:14b—"ye are not under the law, but under grace"; and Galatians 5:18—"But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law."

Paul is clearly talking about the condemnation of the Law and the bondage of sin. Those who have been justified in Christ would not be condemned on account of the impurities attending their works. This becomes clearer if we quote the whole of Romans 6:14—"For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace." The Apostle Paul does not mean at all to say that the Christian is freed from any obligation to keep the Law; otherwise, He would be contradicting the teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ:

Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil [(plêroô), i.e., ‘make full’ or ‘complete’]. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven (Mt 5:17–19).

Having said this, however, we must realise that the laws given in the Scripture may be classified broadly into three categories: Firstly, there are the Judicial Laws,—which were given to Israel as a "body politick" under the Old Covenant and so are not directly applicable to Christians under the New Covenant. Secondly, there are the Ceremonial Laws,—which were given to Israel as the Church under-age to regulate the ordinances of types and shadows which pointed to Christ. With the coming of Christ, these laws have served their purposes, i.e., have been fulfilled (cf. Mt 5:17), and are therefore abrogated. But thirdly, there is the Moral Law.

The Moral Law reflects the glorious and holy character of God. It, alone, was in the summary form of the Ten Commandments, proclaimed audibly by God to His covenant people. It alone was written on tables of stone by God—twice. It is a form of it that is inscribed in the heart of man, he being created in the image of God (Rom 2:14–15). It is the Moral Law that gives man a conscience and a sense of morality that differentiates him from animals. The Moral Law is no doubt perpetually and universally binding.

This is confirmed in the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ, for He summarises the Ten Commandments with the words: "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all they mind. This is the first and the great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love they neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets" (Mt 22:37–40). This being the case, to deny that Christians are obligated to keep the Ten Commandments would be to contradict Christ, and to deny that Christians are to love God and their neighbours.

Christian liberty does not mean freedom from the Moral Law of God as a rule and standard of life. In fact, our liberty from the bondage of sin is applied to our souls individually by an act of regeneration, in which we are given a new desire and will to obey the Law of God. This is why both Ezekiel and Jeremiah emphasise a new ability and will to obey the Law when they spoke about regeneration as a benefit of the New Covenant (Ezk 36:27; Jer 31:33). This is why James calls the Moral Law, the "perfect law of liberty" (Jas 1:25). Since sin is lawlessness (1 Jn 3:4; ‘transgression’ is the Greek [anomia], which is ‘lawlessness’), true liberty from sin must involve an ability to obey the Law.

Having seen that the Moral Law is still applicable to us, it is still necessary for us to ask: in what ways is it applicable? The Apostle Paul says, "But we know that the law is good, if a man use it lawfully" (1 Tim 1:8). How are we to use the law lawfully? We know that we may not be "under the law" as a means of attaining salvation (cf. 1 Cor 9:20; Gal 4:21; Gal 3:10; Rom 3:20a). But if that is so, what are the purposes and uses of the Law?

One of the most useful summaries of the uses of the Law is given by John Calvin in his Institutes of Christian Religion (§ 2.7.6–12). Calvin lists three principle uses:

Theological Use

Firstly, the Law shows God’s righteousness or the righteousness alone that is acceptable to God. In so doing, it warns, informs, convicts, and lastly condemns, every man of his own unrighteousness (see ICR 2.7.6). Calvin calls this the theological use of the Law (Last Books of Moses, 3.197). The Law as such is like a portrait, picturing our Creator and His righteousness; and a mirror, displaying our unrighteousness.

Man, created in the image of God, has by nature the knowledge of good and evil imprinted in his heart so that he is inexcusable (Rom 2:14). However, sin has so blinded his eyes and hardened his heart that, left to himself, man will always judge himself to be right or to be not as evil as he really is. The natural man, for example, does not generally know that lust or covetousness is sin. The Apostle Paul expresses this fact from experience: "I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet" (Rom 7:7b). When he was an unconverted Jew who knew the Law, Paul was deluded into thinking that as long as he had kept the letter of the Law, he would attain salvation. But if that be so, then, one who does not know even the letter of the Law, would practically be blinded to what is truly good in God’s eyes. The Law, therefore, paints a portrait to show man the nature of God; and so to reveal,—in clear, indisputable terms,—what is good and what is evil.

But once the righteousness of our Creator is known, then the Law acts as a mirror showing us how far we fall short of the glory of God: for "by the law is the knowledge of sin" (Rom 3:20b). James must have had this metaphor of the law in his mind when he exhorts: "For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was. But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed" (Jas 1:23–25).

If those who do not have the letter of the Law are inexcusable, how much more inexcusable are we who have the Law and know, through it, what is our duty towards God. If we fail to apply the Law into our lives or fail to see how it should be kept in our culture and time, it is no failure on the part of God or His law, but wholly a failure on our part, not only on account of sin but aggravating our sin.

Pedagogical Use

Secondly, the Law serves particularly to restrain the unregenerate by its dire threats and compel them to Christ (see ICR 2.7.10–11). This may be known as the pedagogical use of the Law. As such, the Law is like a bridle restraining sin and a tutor’s rod compelling the unregenerate to seek Christ.

The restraining function of the Law appears firstly in the conscience which is, by nature, informed by the Law written in the heart (Rom 2:14–15); and secondly, in the response to the explicit revelation of the Law. The Apostle Paul seems to have this function in view when he instructed Timothy on the lawful use of the Law, by saying that "the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, for unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, For whoremongers, for them that defile themselves with mankind, for menstealers, for liars, for perjured persons, and if there be any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine" (1 Tim 1:9–10). By this he suggests that the Law acts as a restraint on unruly lusts that might otherwise burst all bonds. It is this function of the Law that society makes use of for the maintenance of peace when it publishes its laws. But in the Church, this function is particularly useful, through preaching, to restrain the unregenerate until they are visited by the Lord with a change of heart by which they would observe the Law out of love. Calvin explains this use of the Law very beautifully:

Those, therefore, whom he has destined to the inheritance of his kingdom, if he does not immediately regenerate, he, through the works of the law, preserves in fear, against the time of his visitation, not, indeed, that pure and chaste fear which his children ought to have, but a fear useful to the extent of instructing them in true piety according to their capacity (ICR2.7.11).

Through the same preaching of the Law, the unregenerate is made to see the absolute demands of the Law of God and the terror of having to face a perfectly righteous Judge for transgressions against Him. He is also made to see the depth of his depravity, and his utter inability to please a holy God, and so driven to despair of himself, and shut up to Christ as his only hope for salvation. This is what Paul means when he announces: "Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith" (Gal 3:24).

The Gospel is meaningless apart from the fact that the Law slays. Therefore, any preaching of the Gospel without reference to the Law, is like persuading someone who is happily living in an apartment to move to a bungalow with better amenities free of charge. In reality, Gospel preaching is more like rescuing someone who is perishing in a burning house (cf. Jude 23). It may be that, in our modern generation when men and women hate to be offended, the bungalow soft-sell approach brings more to a decision. But, how many who come this way are in fact still in the burning house, and yet was given the illusion that they are dwelling in the bungalow paradise?

Moral Use

Thirdly, the Law shows believers the nature of the Lord’s will, confirms in them the understanding of it, and urges them on in well-doing (ICR2.7.12). We may call this the moral use of the Law. In this regard, it is like a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path (Ps 119:105), showing us where to plant our next step; as well as, a goad to prod us on in our Christian walk (cf. Eccl 12:11); or as Calvin says, "like a whip to the flesh [i.e., remnant of the sin nature], urging it on as men do a lazy sluggish ass."

It is true that the Law is written and engraven in the hearts of the regenerate (Jer 31:33, Isa 51:7) in that they are given,—by the Holy Spirit,—a clearer view of the law of nature imprinted in their hearts, and a new desire to obey God. But no believer can claim to even come close to a perfect knowledge of the Law or to have no need of reminders as to the duties required in the Law. In so far as the Law is expounded in all of Scripture, which teaches us our duty towards God and man, we ought to read and meditate on the Scripture daily. And as the Law is most effective as a goad or whip when preached, let us also faithfully attend to the preaching of it that we may thereby not only be instructed of our Master’s will but be spurred to serve Him with greater zeal and love.

Though the moral use of the Lord is a very important function of the Law, it is, nevertheless, necessary for us to be warned against the abuse of it; for any preaching or meditation of the Law of God without theological and pedagogical elements will result in pharisaical or liberal moralism, i.e., Christ-less moralistic instructions. A godless secular institution, for example, may teach the second table of the Ten Commandments, to inculcate some desirable behaviour in the students. But such instructions may, at best, make the students ‘good’ citizens of a society; while at worst, they give the students the deadly impression, that because they are moral in their behaviour, they are good in the sight of God. This caveat must be borne in mind not only in ecclesiastical instructions, but also when we instruct our children.

Conclusion

"The law is good, if a man use it lawfully" (1 Tim 1:8). May the Lord grant us that we may not only say with the Psalmist: "O how love I thy law! it is my meditation all the day" (Ps 119:97); but that we may use the law lawfully and think of it according to its threefold function..