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The Law and Its Uses

September 23, 2013

Sorry about the long delay between posts; life happens… Hopefully this is the beginning of regularly posting articles as well as answering some of your questions in greater length. Thanks for checking my blog out and feel free to leave your opinions/thought behind.

How do you view the Law?

All throughout scripture, we see The Law being presented in many different ways and I want to spend a little time discussing how the Law is supposed to be used and viewed.

So what do I mean by The Law? When we see references to “The Law” in scripture, we understand that it can be referring to several things; it can refer to the 600 or so laws given to Moses (the Pentateuch) or the whole of the Old Testament. I am going to be talking about a very broad view of the Law, in other words, any command given by Scripture that tells you what you must do.

There are certain questions that we must ask and answer in order to achieve a balanced view of the Law; like “how are we to view the Law” and “what is its relation to mankind”.

We also need to keep in mind that the central theme of Christianity is Salvation by Grace through Faith Alone (Romans 3:27-31) and the scriptures clearly tell us that “by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight” (Romans 3:20, Galatians 3:11).

There have been many who have seen this central doctrine of Christianity as a logical gateway to Antinomianism. Antinomianism assumes that since salvation is by grace and the Law cannot justify, therefore, the moral Law is no longer of use to the Christian. This is why we must have a balanced view of the Law because both Antinomianism and Licentiousness spring out of an unbalanced view of the Law.

The 3 uses of the Law were first articulated as such during the Reformation; beginning with the reformer Martin Luther. These 3 uses of the Law give use a good foundation on which to think about the relationship between Salvation by Grace and the Holy, Good Law of God.

1st Use of the Law: Curb

According to the Formula of Concord, the Law was given to men so that “thereby outward discipline might be maintained against wild, disobedient men [and that wild and intractable men might be restrained, as though by certain bars]”

This is the use of the Law that you experience daily but don’t give much thought about it. It is the use of the Law you experience if you are speeding when you pass a fancy car with those little blue lights. This is the use that has been given to the government in order to restrain the evil hearts, minds, and desires of mankind. You can imagine why this use of the Law is called “The Curb”. It provides incentive to stay “on the road” and consequences for those who run foul of this first use of the Law.

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience.
Romans 13:1-5

We already see in this first use of the Law that the Law still has some implications for the Christian. We see that the authorities provide even for us, a curb to restrain our sinful flesh. When we trust in the Gospel of Grace and display the fruits of the Spirit, we are free from the Law but if we exercise our fleshly desires we bump up against that curb.

2nd Use of the Law: Mirror

According to the Formula of Concord, the Law was given to men so that “men thereby may be led to the knowledge of their sins”

This 2nd use is generally considered the primary use of the Law because of Paul’s letters to the Romans and the Galatians. This use acts as a Mirror that shows humanity where they stand in relation to the righteousness and holiness of God. The Law stops the mouths of men, holds the whole world accountable to Christ, and brings the knowledge of sin (Romans 3:19-20). It is considered primary because it “brings the knowledge of sin” and therefore shows all mankind their need for forgiveness and their need for a righteousness not their own (Romans 3:21-22, Philippians 3:8-10).

This use acts in very similar ways with all people but there are some nuanced differences between the Christian and the unbeliever. Whenever we read a command in scripture, the first thing that should come to mind is not “how can I obey this law” but rather “I haven’t obeyed and therefore deserve God’s wrath”. The nuance is that an unbeliever is condemned by the Law and will either accept the Gospel by the Grace of God or will harden their heart and remain in their sin. Christians, when confronted with the Mirror of the Law, are reminded that they are “in Christ Jesus” and are no longer under condemnation (Romans 8:1).

The Mirror of the Law can’t help but point all people back to the Gospel and call all men to repent and receive the forgiveness found in Christ (Luke 24:46-47). The primary point of the Law is not for you to have 5 points to a better marriage or a better life; rather it is to point people to their need for Christ and their hopeless condition if left to themselves.

3rd Use of the Law: Rule

According to the Formula of Concord, the Law was given to men so that “after they are regenerate. . .they might. . .have a fixed rule according to which they are to regulate and direct their whole life”

So what is this 3rd use? This use acts as a rule or a measuring stick by which we know what a good work is and how God expects us to direct our lives.

It is also important to note that this use of the Law is only for Christians. Why? Because the bible clearly teaches us that only those with faith can do good works. You could have two people doing the exact same act and one is doing a good work and the other is not. The difference is Faith.

And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.
Hebrews 11:6 

Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
Romans 8:8 

A good example of this is the book of Proverbs. In the beginning of this book, it is clear that there are only two types of people; foolish and wise. The wise are the ones who fear God (or have faith) and the foolish are those who do not (Romans 1:18-22; Proverbs 1:7). While many nonbelievers can appreciate the wisdom of the Proverbs and can seek to apply it to their lives, all they are doing is seeking to accomplish the demands of the Law apart from the Grace of God given to us in Christ Jesus. Christians, on the other hand, approach the Proverbs from the point of desiring to know what good work God would have them do so that they may honor and glorify God with their lives.

This use of the Law is important to keep in mind because it keeps us from falling into the error of Antinomianism (lawlessness). The bible tells us that we have died to the Law and are now free from the Law

Free from the Law

I do want to quickly explain “freedom from the Law”. I have heard people say that Christian freedom is found when we place ourselves under guidelines; i.e. the Law. Scripture, however, tells us a different story. Galatians 3:23-26, Romans 7:1-6, and Romans 8:1-4 speak about being set free from the Law and not having the Law “rule” over us. This talk about being “free from the Law” scares many people because they assume that “freedom from the Law” means licentiousness. However, this couldn’t be further from the description given by scripture.

We see that disobedience to the Law (licentiousness) is slavery and not freedom. We also see that obedience to the Law is freedom from the Law.

But if freedom requires obedience, aren’t we still bound by the Law and therefore not truly free from it? That is a very good, logical question. The bible teaches that the only way to truly obey the Law and to please God is through faith (John 6:29, Hebrews 11:6). We find that through the new birth, the old man is put to death and the new man is resurrected. The heart of stone is replaced with a heart of flesh and the man dead in sin is made alive in Christ. The reason why we are free from the Law is because we have been regenerated by Grace through the powerful working of the Holy Spirit and we have the fruits of the Holy Spirit. We obey the law (imperfectly while still on this earth) because it is in our nature to do it. Dogs bark, ducks quack, and Christ’s sheep seek to obey the Law; not because they are bound to do it but because they are free to work out of their new natures.

When we take this view of the Law, we can say along with David, “the law of your mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver pieces.” (Psalms 119:72). We see that the Law is something that is good, despite the fact that it shows us all of our shortcomings.

So how do you view the Law? Do you see it as only belonging to the Old Testament and not really important for Christians today? Do you simply see it as the taskmaster that brought you to Christ but now you must move on to other things? Or do you see it as the mirror by which your sin is made clear and the standard by which to live your life out by faith in Christ Jesus?

“At an earlier time there was no pleasure in the law for me. But now I find that the law is good and tasty, that it has been given to me so that I might live, and now I find my pleasure in it. Earlier, it told me what I ought to do. Now I begin to adapt myself to it. And for this I worship, praise, and serve God”
― Martin Luther

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