OK, So What Good Is the Law?
Basket of Figs, July, 2003
Wherefore then serveth the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator. --Galatians 3:19
Notice the time references here? It was added—there was a time when it was not in force. What did Moses add that Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob did not have? There is also an ending point: “till the seed should come to whom the promise was made.” What was added was done away in Jesus Christ, the promised seed.
The context of Galatians 3:19 concerns the inheritance that was promised to the seed of Abraham, Who is Jesus Christ. That promise was eternal life through the Holy Spirit. [see 3:14] There was no commandment which could have given life [see 3:21], because the Holy Spirit is the gift of the Gospel, not of the law [see 3:5]. The Holy Spirit was not given until the obedience of Christ was accomplished [John 7:39]. He is given to the church in a way that He was not given to Israel. He is the reward of Christ’s obedience, not ours.
1. Man is created to be God’s image. Hence, it is impossible that God could ever be satisfied with anything less than full and complete love with all our hearts, souls, minds, and strength. This eternal necessity that God’s image love Him was incorporated into the Law of Moses and has never been repealed, never will be repealed.
2. The requirement for us to love God was not new. The provisions of the Mosaic law which require and define the love that we are to have toward God and His image are clarifications of the law embedded in man’s own nature, but corrupted by the Fall. We call this the moral law, summarized in the Ten Commandments, which are binding on all men everywhere in all ages. It has never been right to steal, to murder, to neglect the times and places of worship, to commit sexual uncleanness, etc. David, with an irresistible faith, could cry out, “Thy righteousness is an everlasting righteousness, and thy law is the truth” [Ps. 119:142]. But these provisions could not set aside the promise given to Abraham, nor were they given to give energy and life to faith, for faith needs no assistance from works.
3. Moses gave the Law, but Grace and Truth came by Jesus Christ. [John 1:17] In the mysterious counsels of God, He determined to honor His Son by giving Him the privilege of clearly revealing the grace and truth that was hidden until He offered Himself up to God as a sacrifice for sins and rose from the dead. The Holy Spirit would be poured out by the preaching of Christ Crucified and Christ would make His dwelling with His people [John 14:15-17]. Until the Gospel was revealed, the covenant people of God must be restrained and confined within the bounds of a discipline that would be unsuited for those to whom the Spirit had been given. So the law was a schoolmaster to bring us to Christ, according to Galatians.
In addition to requiring us to love God, the law served the purpose of preparing the world for the coming of the Lord Jesus. It set apart a people in whom there was a remnant who would believe and receive Him. The law also made sin exceedingly sinful for it exposed the helplessness and depravity of man’s nature. The former of these uses is no longer necessary for Christ has come and the Spirit has been given; the later use remains, for without the law there can be no knowledge of sin. Without the knowledge of sin, the Cross and the Gospel are incomprehensible. The law still serves the purpose of condemning sin in the flesh that it might drive us to Christ, our complete Savior, made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification and redemption.
4. So we are left with Jesus Christ, the Author and the Finisher of our faith. We are complete in Him, for he was delivered for our offenses, and was raised again for our justification [Romans 4:25]. “Let not your heart be troubled,” he said. “Ye believe in God, believe also in me.”
There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. –Romans 8:1-4.
This is one of the paradoxes of the Gospel: the law cannot teach its own use. As Paul said in Galatians 3:1ff [see above], “walking after the flesh” is seeking to be made perfect by the law. Israel, zealous for the law, did not attain the righteousness of God, not because they did not seek it, but because they did not seek it by faith [Romans 9:1ff]. Seeking the righteousness of God by the law, they did not attain the righteousness of God.
But Esaias is very bold, and saith, I was found of them that sought me not; I was made manifest unto them that asked not after me. But to Israel he saith, All day long I have stretched forth my hands unto a disobedient and gainsaying people. –Romans 11:20,21.
This is the reason that Paul in the last chapter of I Corinthians exhorts us to “Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong.” It’s always about faith. We “keep [guard] our hearts will all diligence, for out of them are the issues of life.” [Prov. 4:23] How can I keep my heart, my poor wandering heart that is so prone to error and sin? By surrendering it up to Jesus Christ: “Son, give me thine heart” [Prov. 23:26]. We give it up to Jesus Christ, and he is able to ‘keep that which I have committed unto Him against that day.” [2Tim. 1:12]