From the Pulpit: The law is our friend
As we covered last week, Christians are not under the law of God as a covenant. When it comes to being made right with God, the law has no place. “For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law” (Rom 3:28). But that does not mean that the law as a standard for good and evil goes away; nor does it mean Christians are lawless and are free to sin. Paul makes this qualification in 1 Corinthians 9:21, “We are not outside the law of God but under the law of Christ.” Also, as Samuel Bolton has said, “If Christians are bound not to sin, then they are bound (by the Spirit and out of gratitude) to keep the law” (The True Bounds of Christian Freedom). The Apostle John tells us, “Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness, sin is lawlessness.” John goes on to teach us the reason Jesus came was to save us from lawlessness and “his commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 3:4-5; 5:3).
But let’s make clear again how we are not under the law: 1) We are not under law as a covenant to perform—to merit salvation. Salvation is by grace through faith. 2) We are not under the curses of the law (Gal 3:10). 3) We are free from the judgment and accusations of the law (Rom 8:1). 4) We are free from the rigor of the law; in the sense that we don’t have to perform to merit God’s acceptance.
But like Paul says, “We are not outside the law of God.” The law is simply a revelation of the character of God. The standard for good and evil in God’s world is God’s character, and that is reflected in the moral law. For the standard of good and evil to change—God would have to change.
Historically all the major traditions have understood that the believer still has a relationship with God’s law. The exception is Antinomianism which sadly has heavily influenced Evangelicalism today. Historically, the best Protestants theologians have understood that there are three uses of the law for the church today.
First use of the law is like a mirror. It shows the perfect righteousness of God and then also how we fall short – it shows us our sin. This purpose is to make clear our condemnation and drive us to Jesus (Rom 3:30).
The second use is that the law restrains sin by threat of punishment and reward for good. We are talking about the civil use of the law here. Although the law cannot change the heart, society benefits from this civil restraint, punishing evil and rewarding good conduct (Rom 13:3-4).
The third use is as a flash light for our sanctification as believers. This use is only for the saved who have the Spirit. With the leading and power of the Spirit—the law serves to show what kind of behavior is pleasing to God (Rom 13:8-10). How do I live in gratitude to God for the grace He has given me in Christ? Obey his commandments (John 14:21).