Many people have the (mistaken) idea the 10 Commandments is a list that can be ticked in order to feel good. And let’s be honest, I suspect only a small minority would have any real inkling as to the commandments that relate to God. They all do of course, but the first four specifically relate to God. And so the majority completely miss the purpose of the law of God. It’s only the free Grace of God that permits any of us to see the real purpose of the law.
Reformed theology mostly puts forward three uses of the law. These are:
1) The law serves as a means to restrain sin.
2) The law shows people their sin and points them to Christ.
3) This third use of the law is for those who trust in Christ as a standard of living, though still driven to Christ for help to live Godly lives.
A decent summary of the three uses can be found at The Reformed Reader. A different or amended view, that I came across via Monergism, by Bill Baldwin can be found here. I also came across an article by Greg Bahnsen that readers may find helpful but without subscribing to his view of Theonomy. And so to:
The law that Points to Christ – the second use
For now then, let’s concentrate on the work of the law that convicts of sin – the second use – as it’s this one that’s probably misunderstood the most. I’ll maybe try to come back to the other two later.
The Law must point outside of ourselves, so that it’s an objective standard, and not some inner feeling. Feelings may come into it but that cannot be the primary mover.
The verse that clearly portrays this aspect of the law is found in Gal. 3:23-24
23 But before faith came, we were kept under guard by the law, kept for the faith which would afterward be revealed.
24 Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith.
The word Tutor (above in Bold), Guardian or Schoolmaster, as some other translations have it, refers to the work of a slave ‘responsible for a child’s training, especially for pointing out and punishing misbehavior. Like a guardian, the law pointed out sin and punished it’. (From Reformation Study Bible – Resources for Gal 3:24 Bible Gateway) As the Apostle Paul says in Romans 3:19 ‘Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.
And this is exactly our position by nature before God. And make no mistake, it’s an act of boundless mercy for God to make us aware of the fact. Many, most it seems, carry on as if there is no God, no Judgement and no Lawgiver to whom we are accountable.
If you are overwhelmed with the profound sense that ‘something is wrong’ inside, with you, then it’s not counselling you need to overcome feelings of guilt, but a Saviour, a Rescuer to whom you must flee in Faith & Repentance. The feelings you may have point to the FACT that you like the rest of humanity are lawbreakers. This is true whether you feel it or not. So having tears and a sense of unworthiness might be good but they will not save you. Only a person can do that.
We should also be aware that the law is an expression of the Holy & Righteous Character of God and because of this He has the right to demand of His creatures perfect compliance with that law. This isn’t to do with the ‘compliant’ child because none of us are compliantbut are in fact lawbreakers – every last one of us. As God, He rightfully demands perfection of His creatures. ‘Nobody is perfect’ I hear you cry. And that is the point. Nobody is perfect – except Jesus. And so as James says: ‘For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it’ James 2:10.
Read the Sermon on the Mount in Mathew chapters 5 – 7 (another part of the Bible that people take as a ‘rule for living’ that without Christ is pure law) for an exposition of the 10 Commandments and you will find that it’s not just about an outward morality – many manage that to some extent – but goes to the very fibre of our being to explore motives and the working of the inner life that only God sees! As John says in 1 John 1:8 ‘If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us‘. And verse 10 ‘If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
So then, if we say we have just one tiny sin we have condemned ourselves as lawbreakers and under the wrath of almighty God. It will do no good to compare your performance with others – rapist, murderers and the like. The uncomfortable truth is that we all fall under the condemnation of the law of God. None of us keep the 10 Commandments.
Now here’s the Good News
Unless the above has been taken to heart, that is, the realisation your own righteousness might just as well be filthy rags in the sight of God, the Good News will not be good news. The Self Righteous see no need of ‘Good News’. They see no need of a Saviour. It’s a delusion to think keeping part of the law – any part – will earn any favour with God.
The Law points towards another – not us. Salvation must come from outside ourselves. We simply do not have the resources to save ourselves either in terms of what we do or what we are. But God in Christ provides all we need. We need righteousness. We have none. God provides it in Christ.
Sin Must be dealt with
Sin however, must be dealt with. God cannot simply right off the debt. Someone must pay. And this is what God does through the Cross of Christ. The Cross is not a lesson in passive suffering, an example for us to follow. No. The Cross is where Jesus bore the punishment for sinners. It’s what theologians call Penal Substitutionary Atonement.
And so as another verse says: Romans 10:4 For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes. And I trust by now the following verses will have real eternal significance – even for you!
Rom 3:21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it–
Rom 3:22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction:
Rom 3:23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
Rom 3:24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,
Rom 3:25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.
Rom 3:26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
I said far more than I intended and there are probably many questions in your mind. I have no doubt left things out but in closing 3 simple truths:
1. God demands you keep His Law – this is impossible! You are a sinner under the wrath of God.
2. Jesus has kept the Law.
3. You need to call upon Jesus for Salvation – He is able to Save! He died on the Cross but Rose from the dead and is a living Saviour!
- The Law/Gospel Distinction: A Staple in Reformed Theology (reformedreader.wordpress.com)