Wednesday, February 15, 2012

What are the purposes of God's Law

Romans 7:7 What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be! On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, “YOU SHALL NOT COVET.”

Good cop, bad cop

I'm sure you have watched T.V cop shows that depict two detectives or two police officers interrogating a suspect in a "downtown" questioning room. One cop plays "good cop" - trying to be the suspect's friend for the purpose of gaining the needed information or confession. If that tactic doesn't work, the one cop leaves and his partner comes in and plays "bad cop", wherein more aggressive, threatening means are used to scare the suspect into a confession. Both scenarios illustrate different uses of man's law to achieve a given purpose: acknowledgement of the truth. God's Law too has various uses for accomplishing various purposes, as will be demonstrated in today's blog.

Is the Christian not obligated to God's law?

Some people are under the impression that when one becomes a Christian, the law is no longer needed. They will cite passages such as Romans 6:14 that states at the end: "you are no longer under law, but under grace". Furthermore, they will also appeal to 1 Timothy 1:9 - "realizing the fact that law is not made for a righteous person, but for those who are lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers." Now the question is: "once a person believes on Christ by grace through faith, are they exempt from the law of God?" To answer that question, we need to first of all look at the purposes of God's Law.

The Three uses of God's law in the Bible

Just like man's law, knowing how the law functions in different cases will result in a clearer understanding of the biblical relationship between law and grace. 1 Timothy 1:8 gives us this principle: "But we know that the Law is good, if one uses it lawfully".

The Law's First Use: Discourages Human Rebellion

Romans 2:14-15 states - "14For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, 15in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them." No matter where you go in the world, there is a universal sense of right and wrong. Why is that? Because the law of God, as revealed on the tablets of stone in the ten commandments (Exodus 19-20) were already inscribed upon the conscience of man. Even after the fall, man's moral nature retained the testimony of God's law on the heart. Thus God's law functions in one sense to curb the tide of social evil.

The Law's Second Use: Demonstrates the sinner's need for Jesus Christ

Whereas the 1st use of the law operates everywhere and all the time, this second use of the law is more evident in the context of the Holy Spirit's call to sinners in the gospel. Paul states plainly in Galatians 3:24 - "Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith." When sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ, it is vital to first share the bad news of man's condition through the law. It is by the light of the law that we come to know that sin is sin. (Romans 7:7) When Jesus was sharing the Gospel with the rich young ruler in Mark 10, He used the law. The man's rejection of the testimony of the law revealed He was not ready to receive the grace of God through Jesus.

When Paul is writing here in Romans 7:7-13, he is referring back to his pre-conversion days. The law of God came. He thought he was doing good as a religious leader. However when the law revealed him to be an enemy of God, he wanted to inwardly rebel and reject that testimony. However the Spirit of God worked through the needle of the law to prick Paul's heart, preparing it for the scarlet thread of the Gospel to point Paul to Christ. It is this second use to which 1 Timothy 1:9-10 speaks of, revealing the law's use in the realm of evangelism.

The Law's third use: Delighting the Saint in Christ

When Jesus came, He fulfilled the Law of God. (Matthew 3:15). Thus at saving faith, not only is the righteousness earned by Christ's death credited (imputed) to the believer, but also the life that He lived. The Ten commandments function to point us as Christians to Jesus Christ, since it is He who is living His life through us by the Holy Spirit's work. (Colossians 1:27) Its not that I aim to live by "law keeping", rather I can live the Christian life because the requirements of the law are deemed fulfilled in me. (2 Corinthians 5:21).

The Law for the Christian shows us what delighting in Christ should look like

As Christians, though we are saved by grace through faith apart from the law, our salvation is not a faith that operates lawlessly. The Holy Spirit's fruit of attitudes and actions do not conflict with the intent of God's moral law. (Galatians 5:22) When Jesus summarized the entire law in Matthew 22:37-39 as loving God and loving my neighbor, He was showing that God's love, working in and through me, is pictured by the truth of the ten commandments. When He preached His sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7, the foundation for all ethics in the New Testament, He used the law of God as His base. Christ fulfilled the ceremonial and civil commands of God's law in Moses, however the moral intent of the law in the ten commandments were revealed to picture Christ in written form.

If anything, ten commandments point to the need for Grace to live the Christian life

The the ten commandments function to show me what should be operating in my Christian life, since they reveal what Christ was like. If anything, Christianity exceeds the law. Law keeping would be concerned about: "what I have to do to get by", whereas Grace filled living goes further and says: "Why would I want to live for the Lord, since He is living in me so that I can live for Him." Delighting in God and not merely rule-keeping was the original intent of the law. As Paul reveals elsewhere in Romans, the Law could not make people delight in God. The Law demanded delight, pointing to the Grace of God in Christ - who alone through the Christian could fulfill God's desires.