Thursday, January 26, 2017

Understanding The Law of God: The First Use Of The Law Is To Discourage Human Rebellion & Curb Societal Evil

Image result for police cruisers
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 legal dramas that depict two detectives or two police officers interrogating a suspect in a "downtown" police station. One cop plays "good cop" - trying to "soften" the suspect's defenses to gain the needed information or confession. If "good-cop" doesn't achieve his goal, then he leaves the room and his partner rushes in and plays the role of "bad- cop". Whoever does this second role resorts to more aggressive methods of interrogation. Often threatening means are used to scare the suspect into a confession. The polarized efforts of the "good-cop" and "bad-cop" illustrate different uses of man's law to achieve a given purpose: acknowledgement of the truth. Today's post wants to begin exploring this important concept of "law" as found in the Bible. 

The importance of understanding the distinction between "Law" and "Gospel"

Charles Haddon Spurgeon was a famous 19th century London minister who has been hailed by many as "the prince of preachers". In his sermon "The Perpetuity Of The Law Of God", Spurgeon notes:

"It has been said that he who understands the two covenants is a theologian, and this is, no doubt, true. I may also say that the man who knows the relative positions of the law and the gospel has the keys of the situation in the matter of doctrine. The relationship of the law to myself, and how it condemns me : the relationship of the gospel to myself, and how if I be a believer it justifies me - these are the two points which every Christian man should understand."

One point of clarification needs to be offered to bring Spurgeon's insights into our 21st century context. When he makes mention of knowing the "two covenants", he is speaking of the so-called "covenant of works" which Adam and Eve broke in the Garden. God had given them a handful of commands, whereupon if they obeyed them would lead into an eternal state of bliss. Once the covenant of works had been broken, God offered a second covenant - a covenant of grace - whereupon man's response of faith to God's overtures of grace as expressed through the shed blood of an innocent substitute would result in reconciliation of God and man. 

When Christ came, He came as the New Adam to fulfill the broken covenant of works in his earthly life of active obedience and became a curse on our behalf (see 2 Corinthians 5:21). The first covenant had to be fulfilled by a man since it had been broken by one. Jesus did that by way of His incarnation. The covenant of grace, initiated in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:20-21) and recapitulated or repeated in various forms as the Abrahamic Covenant (Genesis 12:1-7); David Covenant Covenant (2 Samuel 7:13-16) and New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31; Ezekiel 36), was paid for by the Lord Jesus on the cross and validated in His resurrection. 

The two covenants described above are embodied in the other two-fold classification which is the focal point of Spurgeon's quote - namely the Law and the Gospel. As Spurgeon further notes: 

"To form a mingle-mangle of law and gospel is to teach that which is neither law nor gospel, but the opposite of both. May the Spirit of God be our teacher, and the Word of God be our lesson book, and then we shall not err."

Is the Christian not obligated to God's law?

A very practical issue comes to the forefront when Christian people begin to discuss the relative relationship between Christians and the Law of God. Some people are under the impression that the law is no longer needed when one becomes a Christian. 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. In calling to mind Spurgeon's emphasis on knowing the difference between law and gospel, one of the best approaches throughout the historic discussions on these issues has been to note the law's "various uses". 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. Man of course had been made in God's image according to Genesis 1:26. As an image bearer, man had inscribed on his heart the moral law of God. Man fell, marring the image and thus requiring the Law of God to be revealed in written form on Mount Sinai. The Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, page 675, has this insight regarding how the law of God functions relative to man:

"Humankind is the living, personal image of God; the law is the written, perceptual image of God."

Like we noted already, even after the fall, man's moral nature retained the testimony of God's law on the heart. Whether we are talking about the written law of God (i.e the ten commandments) or the unwritten version of the law operating in the human conscience (Romans 2:14-15) still functions in one sense to curb the tide of social evil. Watch what happens when fast-moving traffic approaches the flashing lights of a police cruiser. The consciences of every driver respond by "easing-off" the accelerator and depressing the brake. Whether they like it or not is irrelevant. The point is that the law of God, the moral intuitions of every human being, are bounded by God's moral precepts and reinforced in the written form of the ten commandments. 

More next time....

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