Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Uses of the Law

"If we cannot be saved by our good works, why did God give the Law with all its commandments, if we are not saved by doing them?" This is an objection I have run into many times and would like to deal with. However, in approaching this, I am aware that among those who believe in salvation by grace there are substantial disagreements over how the Law and its purpose should be understood. One of the more useful categorization of the uses of the Law is the one by Martin Luther, which mentions three uses. But let's see if it stacks up to Scripture.

The first use is as a muzzle that serves to restraint gross outbreaks of sin. We see this purpose frequently pointed out in the Old Testament--that the people seeing sin punished would avoid it (Deuteronomy 13:11; 17:13; 19:20). This does not change the nature of those involved, but merely restrains them out of fear (like a muzzle on a wild beast). But it does make civil society possible.

The second use is as a mirror to show us we are sinners and need a savior (Romans 3:19, 20; Galatians 3:23-25; 1 Timothy 1:9-16). This use of the law cannot save, but seeing my sin sends me to Christ for salvation. My bathroom mirror may show me that I need a shave, but the mirror cannot remove my whiskers. I need a razor to do that. Paul puts this forth as the primary use of the law. There are those who would put forth something else as the primary purpose, but I believe we can rely on the direct statements of Paul in this regard.

The third use of the law is as a measuring stick to tell those who are already saved how they should live (Matthew 22:36-40; Romans 13:8-10; Galatians 5:14; James 2:8-12). Now it is clear in Scripture that we cannot fulfill the requirements of the law just by knowing them; we need the work of the Spirit of God in our lives (Galatians 5:14-26; Romans 8:3-9; 2 Corinthians 3:15-18). But we also need (and Scripture gives us) specific commands to know whether how we are living fits with how God wants us to live. There are also specific provisions of the law that were done away with at the coming of Christ (Galatians 4:1-11; Colossians 2:16-23: Hebrews 10:1-14). But the substance of the law is to be written in our hearts (Hebrews 8:10) so that we will observe it. Further, when it speaks of not being under law but under grace, it speaks in context not of a change of times, but of the new state of the believer, who is saved by grace and no longer subject to the penalty of the law (Romans 6:14, 7:1-6; Galatians 5:18; 2:19-21).

Therefore, the law has uses, but it cannot in itself save or transform the individual. Only God's grace can do that.

1 comment:

  1. Good points. Seeing the law gives me a view of the holiness of my Father and a view of how short I fall of it in my own works. But knowing where I was and where I was headed it gives me a good picture (mirror) of the changes the Spirit has made in my heart and really makes me grateful for the grace that covers me overall. The law is a good schoolmaster to bring us to Christ but in itself it doesn't provide or define the relationship that would incorporate it into our lives. Glad for a Fathers love.