Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The Law of God

Q: Has God's Law passed away and is it irrelevant for Christians today? I often hear the biblical passage, "We're not under law, we're under grace!" tossed around, but I also know that Jesus said the Law would never pass away. What am I missing?

A: The more time I spend sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ, the more often questions like this one come up. Certainly, many different views about God's Law are available. So what does the Bible have to say about it?

First, and perhaps most importantly, the Bible is clear that the Law is not something that Christians are supposed to argue about, because such arguments are foolish, unprofitable, and worthless according to Titus 3:9. Some think that this passage means that we should not even discuss the Law, but this is not what Paul was expressing. Look carefully at what Paul writes:


But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and strife and disputes about the Law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. Reject a factious man after a first and second warning, knowing that such a man is perverted and is sinning, being self-condemned. (Titus 3:9-11, all Scripture citations from the NASB)


What Paul is actually arguing for is for Christians to agree on the purpose of the God's Law, and not to waste time arguing about its purpose because it is clear. Instead, if someone rejects the sound understanding of the purpose and use of God's Law after a first and second warning, then that person is to be rejected. That's strong language!

Since Paul thought the purpose and intention of the Law was so clear, what did he say about it?

Paul stated plainly that the Law is good.

So then, the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good. (Romans 7:12)

But we know that the Law is good, if one uses it lawfully (1 Timothy 1:8)

That second passage indicates that the Law is good, if it is used for its lawful purpose, which Paul explains immediately following:

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 and immoral men and homosexuals and kidnappers and liars and perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound teaching, according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, with which I have been entrusted. (1 Timothy 1:9-11)

According the the Apostle Paul, the lawful use of the Law is to be used by Christians for those who are non-believers and still dead in their trespasses and sins. The Law has not passed away, but it is also not for righteous people, but for unrighteous people. This is where the misunderstanding lies and is why Christians often are duped into arguing with each other about the Law. The Law is not for anyone to earn their salvation by keeping, since if salvation were by works of the Law then we would have no need for Jesus (Galatians 2:21). Instead, the Law of God is a diagnostic tool that is used by followers of Christ to demonstrate to those who have not confessed their need of a Savior why they need Him.

While it may not be immediately apparent, Paul explains explicitly what the Law does. It exposes and defines sin.

because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin. (Romans 3:20)

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." (Romans 7:7)

Why the Law then? It was added because of transgressions, having been ordained through angels by the agency of a mediator, until the seed would come to whom the promise had been made. (Galatians 3:19)

When Christians proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ, part of the message includes that a Day of Judgment is coming and that those who have broken even the least of God's commandments are storing up wrath for themselves on that coming Day (e.g. John 3:36). God has declared that there are transgressions against His Law and He made His Law explicit so that we can see the reality that we have transgressed against Him! Without the Law, we can think we have done nothing wrong simply because we are unaware of the standard against which we are to be judged.

Unfortunately, our present fallen condition leads most human beings to profess their own goodness and to compare themselves to other fallen human beings instead of against God's holy standard. As a result, most people think they have nothing to fear when they stand before the Lord. Exposing them to the Law of God shows them how radically they have fallen short of God's standard of righteousness, which is the only standard that actually matters.

The Law serves as a mirror to reflect the fallen nature of a human being and must be administered according to its lawful purpose, which is a loving act from a Christian to a non-Christian, to show them the relevance and importance of confessing their need for salvation from their violations of God's Law, turning from their rebellion toward the living God, and trusting fully in Jesus Christ as their Savior on the Day to Judgment. Only after understanding the depth of their sin and their need for a Savior, will they understand their genuine need for repentance and faith. Paul states it succinctly:

Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith. (Galatians 3:24)

As a God ordained tool in the hands of His Ambassadors, the Law is surely a good thing. If you want to lead people to Christ that they would be justified by faith, then the Law is the best tool available to you! Sometimes people think that talking about the Law in this way diminishes the role of the Holy Spirit in bringing conviction, but really the opposite is true. The Holy Spirit is able to work most powerfully through the people of God using God's ordained means and methods of evangelism. Conviction from sin comes most powerfully through exposure to the Law. Does this mean that God has never saved anyone without the Law being administered? I'm not the judge of such matters. What we can say is that our experience should not trump the word of God, lest we want to be like the Pharisees who elevated their own traditions above the word of God.

To be as clear as possible, the Bible teaches that the Law is not for believers to take upon themselves in order to attempt to earn their salvation. This heretical idea of salvation by works was clearly taught against in Galatians 2:21 and 3:1-5 and also in Acts 15:1-11. Therefore, to quarrel over these things, saying the Law is not to be used by believers in exposing and explaining sin to non-believers to lead them to Christ or that it is for believers to try and earn their own salvation is foolishness and anyone advocating such ideas should be warned up to twice if necessary and then rejected if they persist in these erroneous beliefs.

Hopefully understanding this clear distinction between lawful and unlawful uses of the Law will help Christians to understand how the Law has been fulfilled by Jesus (Matthew 5:17) and His righteousness is applied to all who confess, repent and believe in Him and walk according to the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:4). The good news of the gospel calls those who are under the wrath of God and under the Law (because all are shut up under sin according to the Law, see Romans 3:19-20) to come out and find refuge in the grace of the Savior. For those who respond with repentance and faith and who are born-again by the Spirit of God, they can genuinely profess that they are no longer under Law, but under grace (Romans 6:14-15)! This is good news!

Despite the reality that we who have believed are no longer under Law, we must not draw the wrong conclusion that the Law has therefore passed away or is irrelevant. Now, we uphold and establish the Law as a tool for leading others to life in the Savior:

Do we then nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law. (Romans 3:31)

The Law is not meant to be a matter of contention for believers. Instead, it is a powerful tool for leading people to faith in Christ. May the body of Christ be equipped to share God's message in God's way, since He is Lord and we are not.