The Law of God and the Christian
What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet” (Romans 7:7).
“What is the place of the Law of God in the life of the Christian?” “Is the Law of God still relevant for the people of God today?” These are the questions that I am going to attempt to answer in this post.
My answer to both of these questions is an emphatic “Yes!” I say that boldly because I believe this is the biblical answer. When we turn to the Scriptures, we find that this is what the Lord God expects of His people.
In Reformed theology, we talk of the three uses of the Law, namely:
1. The Civil Use of the Law: In this case, the Law works as a force to restrain sin in society – and this applies to both Christians and non-Christians as it falls under the realm of what is known as “Common Grace” or “General Revelation” (cf. Romans 1 – 2).
2. The Pedagogical Use of the Law: This simply refers to the Law working as schoolmaster. In this case, the Law shows people their sins and points them to the only One who can save them, namely Jesus Christ – who mercifully and graciously saves all who trust in Him for their salvation (Romans 4:5).
3. The Normative Use of the Law: This only applies to those who have put their faith in Jesus Christ alone for their salvation. In this case, the Law works as a standard of life (Romans 6:1-11).
It is this third use that I would like to focus on. I am not particularly concerned about the civil or ceremonial laws that we find in the Old Testament simply because with the coming of Christ, they have all become obsolete and no longer binding for Christians. As Richard Pratt writes,
Christ’s one sacrifice for all time continues to satisfy the requirements of actual sacrifice….Just as Israel was to render civil obedience to laws pertaining to Israel’s theocracy; we are now to render obedience to Jesus the King, the Ruler of our Christian theocracy. The principles of God’s character that the Old Testament laws reflected have not changed, but the ways in which we are to act in accordance with His character have changed.
My main concern here is the moral law summarized in the Decalogue or the Ten Commandments. The preface to the Ten Commandments recorded in Exodus 20:1-2 reads, “And God spoke all these words, saying, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” One main point to note here is the fact that the LORD God saw it necessary to preface the Ten Commandments with these words. I believe this was so that the children of Israel would not confuse the meaning and application of the Ten Commandments (literally, the “Ten Words”) that God was about to give them.
Remember the sequence of events which preceded the giving of the Law. The children of Israel had been in bondage for many years in Egypt. God saw their need and came to their rescue through His servant Moses. When we come to Exodus 20, the children of Israel are no longer in captivity. They had been freed by the mighty hand of God. And so when God comes to them with these “Ten Words,” He is not setting them up as a condition for their deliverance. Rather, He is describing the kind of life that He expected the children of Israel to live because they had been delivered. He was their God and they were His people – and He is telling them (to paraphrase this), “I want your life to reflect My character because you are My people and I am your God.” The relationship that existed between the LORD (YHWY) and the children of Israel is what necessitated their obedience to the Ten Commandments. I think understanding this point is very helpful in answering the question(s) at hand because when we move to the New Testament, the same principle applies.
Christ came into this world to “redeem those who were under the law” (Galatians 4:4). That’s a reference to all who have put their faith in Him. Before the coming of Christ, we were all under the law and under its curse. Christ came to remove that curse from us by:
1. Perfectly obeying the Law of God for us,
2. By His atoning death for us whereby He died as the “cursed” One in our place.
So when we as Christians today think about the Law of God, we must first consider the fact that we are already redeemed from bondage to the Law through Jesus Christ. This means that for the Christian, obedience to the Law of God does not merit salvation or add to it – if you trust in Christ, you are already redeemed/saved forever! Rather, obedience to the Law testifies to the new relationship between God and the believer. Those who are the sons of God will walk in His ways. Thus, it is inconsistent for a Christian to live in outright rebellion against the Law of God. “If we say we have fellowship with Him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:6-7).
John Calvin, the great theologian of the 16th Century wrote,
To be Christians under the law of grace does not mean to wander unbridled outside the law, but to be engrafted in Christ, by whose grace we are free from the curse of the law, and by whose Spirit we have the law engraved upon our hearts.
The Westminster Shorter Catechism says the following about the preface to the Ten Commandments: “The preface to the Ten Commandments teacheth us, that because God is the Lord, and our God, and Redeemer, therefore we are bound to keep all His commandments.” Those who want to do away with the Law altogether hate God and are not of Him (see John 14:21). Someone has said, “the regenerate person loves the law, not as savior, but because it perfectly reflects the heart of the Savior.”
The psalmist wrote, “Oh how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day” (Psalm 119:97). Yes, the Law of God still applies to the Christian today! And those who have been redeemed from the bondage and curse of the Law take great delight in obeying the Law – not so that they can be saved! But because they have been saved by the grace of God through Jesus Christ and because they want to please the LORD (YHWH) who is their God and Father through Jesus Christ!