committed to historic Baptist & Reformed beliefs

 

The Law, Romans 7:12

 

I do not think it would be an exaggeration that today there is a real lack of preaching on the Law of God.

By this I am not referring to the ceremonial duties and rites which were given to Israel... all of which had some beautiful symbolism in that there were clear and precious pictures of Christ displayed ... shadows of His humility- his holiness and sinnlessness- his grace- his atoning death- his High Priestly work; the ceremonial law was at the time of its usefulness a tremendous thing... and at times it is beneficial for us to dip into it and see the accuracy of the detail in portraying so much of Christ- However when I say there is a lack of law preaching it is not with this ceremonial and now redundant aspect in mind that I make that statement.

Nor do I refer to the civil law which is found in places of Ex. Lev. and Deut. in particular. It was vital that in the Theocracy of Israel there should be divine pronouncements regarding civil affairs and issues.

What sort of ruler would God have been if He had justify those upon whom he exercised direct rule to their own devices - if he had not provided laws and guidelines on matters such as financial, judicial and even dietary issues (to name but a few) then He would have been only "Ruler and King of Israel" by name. However He is always faithful - and he did give laws which especially relate to the nation of Israel...laws which make interesting study, but which are not binding today.. since the Church is not a national institution.... it is a spiritual body - which has NT rules dealing with behavior, activity, leadership, discipline and accountability.

So when I say there is a lack of law preaching- I do not refer to the rules given to national Israel for the establishing and preservation of order in the land.

What am I speaking of? I refer to the moral law of God which in essence is contained in the 10 commandments. These commandments are called by theologians the "moral law of God"- this is because this law is a revelation of the holy character of God and as such it is unchanging.

The 1689 confession states.. "The same rule that was first written in the heart of man continued to be a perfect rule of righteousness after the fall, and was delivered by God upon Mount Sinai, in 10 commandments and written in two tables, the first four containing our duty to God and the other six , our duty to man." It is this law that I am afraid has been largely ignored... and not without serious implications I should add.

What the Westminster divines and the Baptist scholars are saying.. (for the West. Confession of Faith is identical on this point) is that the moral law of God , at least in it’s essential principles, and as far as was necessary for the guidance of man in his state of innocence, this law was already written into the very constitution and nature of man. But then came the fall... it was obscured by sin.. although not totally eradicated... Paul says in Rom 1 & 2 there is enough to leave men without excuse.

However God as merciful as he is provided at Sinai this law in the form of 10 commandments... therefore man does not need to rely upon his diminished understanding and his now easily seared conscience... there is a plain statement from God on what he considers to be right and wrong.

I find it ironic that many who love to dabble in types and shadows found in the ceremonial law, something which has it’s place I hasten to add- but within bounds, will at the same time reject any preaching of the moral law of God which has in no part passed away with the coming of the New Covenant.

It seems a totally imbalance to claim to be built up by much study of the OT sacrifices, Tabernacle and priestly activity- all of which is fulfilled in Christ... yet at the same time to denounce the preaching of the 10 commandments and their relevance to this day as "Legalism and irrelevant!!"

The Word of God contains two major themes they are Law and Grace. It is vital that we understand the relationship of both of these themes to one another. The shallow modern thinking.. which has historically never held much sway in the Christian Church until recent years is "We are under grace now.. therefore we are not obliged to obey the law!" This thinking does not stand the test of the Bible.. there have been anti-nomian influences around as long as there have been fallen sinners around.. however they have until very recent years been kept outside the bible based Churches.. not now I am sorry to say.

Indeed it has affected the way the Word of God is preached, and the "gospel" which is preached when this thought is in place becomes rather weak and benign.

We must understand what the purpose of the law was and is. It was never intended to save men. Did you think it was? It never was given so that by it men could be saved.

Look at ROM 3:20 "By the deeds of the law shall no flesh be justified in his sight; for by the law is the knowledge of sin."

Look at GAL 3:21- "Is the law then against the promises of God? God forbid; for if there had been a law given which could have given life , verily righteousness should have been by the law." - it is clear the law was not given to give men life- salvation... how could it ?

For all born into this world by ordinary generation are sinners and depraved entirely .. all have thoughts and imaginations let alone actions and habits which are "only evil continually" ... do you really imagine God thought that if he should tell man what he expects that man would then be able to respond to that and live up to it perfectly and as such attain a condition of absolute holiness which is what God requires- and nothing less than that would do!

It is popular theology today to teach that in the OT God purposed that people should keep his law and thereby be saved... while in the NT God saves by grace and the law is totally out of date...

I wonder what those who teach that think about God... Do they think that He did not know that no-one could save themselves by the works of the law? Do they think that He was able to overlook the sin that did exist in hearts and consider only the outward appearance of going through the motions of doing the things he asked for? Do they think that it is only when Jesus said "You have heard Thou shalt not kill.. but I say unto you He that has hatred in his heart is guilty of murder.." is it only from then on that God took interest in the heart condition? Was it okay to hate in OT days as long as you did not commit murder physically?

I don’t need to read the NT to see that God is interested in heart condition as opposed to outward conformity, the OT is full of that kind of teaching... in your own time read ISA1 and you will see that.... add to that PS 51:6 "Thou desirest truth in the inward parts.." = in the heart... a broken and a contrite heart is more to be desired than outward obedience to the word of God.

The law is not exclusively about outward actions while the grace of God overlooks this and only concerns the inward man.

I want us to spend a few moments today thinking on the nature of the Law and the purpose of God in giving us the law. I hope to nail as plainly as possible the error that it is a bad thing for NT Christians to love God’s law and to seek to pattern their lives according to it.. and that it was given to Israel as their way of salvation... it was never intended for that- if that was the reason then it may be justifiable to ignore it today-

We know that "The just shall live by faith"- the great issue on Martin Luther’s heart and the Reformation’s greatest achievement was the forthright declaration that a man can only be justified by faith in Christ alone and that no amount of works of whatever shape or form can have any part at all in making a man right with God.... this is where this Church stands... that is the Bible’s teaching.

Therefore if the law was an old and failed salvation system then we ought to hold it as historical fact and not for our personal attention and application..... but it was never intended as the way of salvation for anyone! God has always known the impotence of man- his inability to obey what is holy... therefore if the Lord had said "Save yourself by keeping these commands!" It would have been ridiculous—but he never did say or intend such a thing.

Man has always been saved apart from the law... saved by the grace and unconditional mercy of God. There was only ever one man who was capable of obeying the law... Adam. However he fell into sin... and like every man after him he was totally dependent on the grace of God to save Him. The Lord told them in Gen.3:15 that victory over Satan would be achieved in His time and in His way.. and God did provide a way... it is shown in types in OT days... and when the fullness of time fully came God sent forth His Son , born of a virgin, to be the sin bearer...

 

HOW SHOULD A NT CHRISTIAN VIEW THE LAW

(as a current living friend or a dead departed enemy?)

Notice in ROM7:12 the Apostle does not rubbish the law and say it is useless or irrelevant... he does say "The law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good."

This was a perfect opportunity for Him to say the "law WAS holy and just and good.. but now it is not relevant"- but he, speaking in the present continuous tense tells us that the law is holy just and good.

He has a high view of the law! This does not mean he believes that he will get to heaven by keeping it- or trying to. In fact I hope to show clearer that he knew fine well that could never be.

Let us note the high view Paul had of the law... ask yourself.. do I recognize the law to be these things... or have I swallowed the idea that for the first time since the middle ages the Christian community likes- that the law is bad, not to be preached and certainly not to be given to much attention... for after all the key word now is "grace?"

The law is "holy"- To be holy means it is the absolute antithesis of sin and evil. In all that Paul is teaching about the magnificence of the grace of God revealed in Jesus Christ there is not a shred of a hint that he believes the law to be bad.. evil or no good. He is saying the exact opposite. It is holy = separate from all that is wicked and unrighteous. He considers the law of God to be beyond and apart from corruption and contamination... it is holy.

This makes great sense, for remember, the law is an expression of the character of God . It is a revelation of the very being and personality of God. It shows us what we must be in order to have fellowship with God, for this is what he is like. The whole of the law can be summed up by what we read in 1 Peter1 "Be ye holy for I am holy!" The law reveals to us what kind of standards God wants from man... they are the standards he knows and has ... and therefore of course the law is holy!

The Law is "just"- Sin is so deceitful it will seek to make us think that the demands of the law are unjust, unfair and overbearing. Paul however- knowing the struggle that every true saint has against sin and with the potential in himself to feel at times the law asks too much... yet he declares that Gods law is righteous and fair. It is right that God should require these things of men and that the consequence for failing to hit the mark set by God should be "eternal death" = hell.

The Law is "good"- It is good for men to have it... it is good for men to hear it.. it is good for men to know it... it is good for men to heed it and seek to implement it in their lives. "Hold on preacher.. it does not say all that.. it just says it is good!" If a thing is truly good.. then it is a gift of God.. he is the giver of every good and perfect gift. If something is good it is not to be hidden, closed up or disregarded. The words of the Psalmist transcends the OT into the NT era... "the law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul." (PS.19)

I ask you ... how does Paul’s NT analysis of the value of the law compare with what generally you hear today... more to the point how does it compare with your own appreciation of the law of God? I tell you if there is a big difference it is not the Apostle Paul who is out of step with God’s truth.

Someone might say... "Well you have taken that one verse out of context haven’t you?... one verse out of a whole section on the relationship between the law and grace!"

Let us then consider the general context.. we will examine what Paul teaches concerning the use of the law and as we do so I think we will see a case mounting up before us which will prove that rather than off handedly dismissing the law we ought to be more faithful in teaching it and seeking to understand it.

 

WHAT IS THE BIBLES TEACHING ON THE PURPOSE OF THE LAW? (is it the way of salvation or is it to bring us to the Savior?)

 

1. The law gives us a knowledge of sin.

Turn to ROM 3:20 "by the deeds of the law shall no flesh be justified in his sight; for by the law is the knowledge of sin."

ROM 7:7 "What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay I had not known sin, but by the law; for I had not known lust , except the law had said, thou shalt not covet."

In the first verse there could not be a clearer statement to show the law cannot save anyone. What is taught there and in the verse from Rom.7 is that it is through the law that we are made aware of precisely what offends God.

Although the law of God is written in the hearts of men... yet because of original sin and through deliberate willful sinning there is a progressive hardening and numbing of the conscience going on in every man, woman and child.

This means that in a sense we are all ignorant concerning sin; You have , I am sure, at some point in life being doing something that you thought was okay until you heard the Scriptures... and suddenly it struck you, all the time you had been doing wrong... it was not until you heard the law that you were able to discern between what was permissible behavior and what was downright rebellion against God.

The law determines the boundaries between what is right and what is wrong. It is not the case that as long as something feels ok to you then it is ok- there is a definitive statement on what is legitimate behavior and what is illegitimate... that authoritative statement is the law of God.

It is not true that the Spirit can lead someone to act contrary to the law of God... people who "walk in the spirit" without taking heed to the law only imagine they walk in the spirit... for the Holy Ghost has come to empower saints to live lives pleasing to God... what is pleasing to God is that we apply his revealed will, not that we become mystics who do what they "feel" God wants... rather we become strengthened to do "what God says."

It is when the law is preached that we are justify in no doubt that there are certain things God hates and certain things God loves and expects.

What does Paul mean in ROM 4:15- "where no law is, there is no transgression.."

Does he mean that sin does no actually exist in a man who has never heard the law preached to him? Of course not.. for God concludes that all men are under sin and the wages of sin is death.

Paul is showing the function of the law... it is given to enable men to discover what God already knows... their sin! Men without the law sin... but they are unaware that they are transgressing God’s perimeters and going beyond what he has allow, they don’t know exactly where the out of bounds line is , until the law chalks it out plainly... then they know they have transgressed.

The Law does more than inform us as to what is right and wrong... it enables us to feel how wrong it is to do wrong.

Without the law we would never be able to comprehend how repulsive to God sin is... it is because he has declared his holy just and good standards that we can know the serious nature of sin. Sin is regarded as a very light thing by man. Those who speak of sin are considered to be not good for man’s high self esteem and so even in the professing Church , it is viewed as rather oppressive to declare the law.

But it is by the law we know what is sinful and by the law we are made aware that sin is a serious thing.. without the law we would forever be swinging in our own opinions as to the evil or good of a thing.. we would be thorough pragmatists... situation ethics would be the order of the day and who would have the right to condemn it?

The law gives us a knowledge of sin.

 

2. The Law shows us we are in need.

Not only does the law show us what is the Lord’s standards and what sin is, but it shows us also our own sinfulness.

We do not only know what wrong is... but we know that we are personally guilty of doing wrong. We are aware that we are sinning against the most high God.. yet we continue to sin and know ourselves to be powerless to do anything about it.

It is by the law that we are made aware that we are offending God and defying him... not only are we transgressing a law... but we are subjectively rebelling against the law giver.

Before the adulterous man hears the law.. he will know that he is doing wrong. However his sense of wrong may be primarily with his wife and children involved- when he hears the law... suddenly there is a new dimension to it all... there is another party involved in this offense.. it is the God of Heaven, it is the Lord.. it is he who is grieved and offended more than wife and children put together.

Before the thief hears the law... he knows he is doing wrong... that is why he waits until it is dark before he will make his move.. but he is concerned with the property owner finding him out... then comes the hearing of the law and he discovers that God is offended.

It is the law that brings us to the point where we know that no matter who else may be adversely affected by our pride, selfishness, arrogance, covetousness, or whatever sin manifests itself.. we can say with David "Against thee , thee only have I sinned and done this evil in thy sight.."

The law makes us aware that we not only do wrong things... but we do wrong against God and flout His holy standards.

It is vital that the law be preached, for how else will the moral, religious man... who has a good name in the community be confronted with his need of Christ. You can tell him till you are blue in the face that he is a sinner... but he will not think so since there are not lines of people standing waiting to accuse him... he has offended no-one that he can think of... until you tell him that God’s laws have been broken by him and God is offended even if through a lot of hard work at letting folks only see his good side there is not lots of others pointing their fingers.

Martin Lloyd Jones said "It is not surprising that so many people are outside the Church. We have been guilty of preaching the Gospel in a manner that seems to many f them to be irrelevant. We must hold mankind face to face with God, and the moment we do so it is not difficult to prove that there is none righteous no not one, and that the whole world lieth guilty before God."

What was it that brought Paul to the point where he exclaimed "O wretched man that I am!" It was simply the knowledge he had of the law and the difference between it and himself.

 

3. The Law brings us to Christ.

Turn to GAL 3:22-24

"But the Scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe. But before faith came we were kept under the law , shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed. Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith."

- this is what the law does... it is our schoolmaster.. the Greek is PAIDAGOGOS= this is a compound word... composed of the word for boy (pais) and the verb "to lead" (ago). Literally it means that the law was the servant who leads us to Christ. In Greek culture there was a familiar concept... in the home of a rich man there would be a servant who was called the "Paidagogos" - he was not the actual instructor of the children... he would be the one who would take the child from it’s games and lead it into the place of instruction.

The paidagogos exercised general supervision of the child.. looking out for his moral and physical well being. The KJV says "Schoolmaster" the NKJV says "Tutor" however these translations of the word tend to imply that the law is that which gives instruction, while the primary meaning of the word and the main purpose in it’s use is that the law is the means God uses to lead us to the Savior... and he is the one who has the words of life!

This is what the law is shown to be... it leads us to the place and brings us to the point where we are confronted with our need of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The great preachers who have been used in the mighty revivals... men like Whitefield, Edwards, Miller and Tennant... they would labor for a long time in their sermons.. doing what they called "Law work"= showing people what God’s law says and how they have transgressed it... then they would come in with the bright rays of the message of Grace.

You see they did not spend their time trying to touch on every felt need in the lives of their hearers... they did not seek to use psychology to influence their audiences and persuade them that they would be better off in life if they decided for Jesus... they did not try to make the Christian life sound like the best option in the market place of life... they simply preached the law... and they had confidence to believe that the law was good enough to do what God intended... they believed that when the law was declared and the Holy Spirit worked, sinners would flee to Christ.

This is the purpose of the law... it is not a series of do’s and don’ts which form a ladder into heaven... it is the paidagogos which takes us by the hand and shows us our deep sinfulness and then brings us to the point where we can do nothing other than deny any effort on our part to get right with God and lean wholly upon the Lord Jesus Christ.

What use is the law for the believer.. who has been brought to the Lord? It is no longer condemning us ... now it is not the Law of our judge... it is the law of our redeemer... and since we know it pleases him and it is his revealed desire... then we seek to and we gladly seek to live our lives according to all that he has commanded.

It is a clear standard for daily self-examination. It is the touchstone of all that is right and our map through the moral maze of this life.

It is not bondage to seek to keep the law once we know God as Savior through Jesus Christ... it is on the contrary "perfect freedom" ... we are freed up from serving ourselves and serving this worlds agenda... and free to serve our creator.

The very proof of our love to Christ is in the "Keeping of His commandments;" which are none other than the precepts of the moral law, bound upon the Christians heart with chains of gratitude and affection.

It is vital that we preach the law and the gospel.... God does not intend that we should use his grace as an excuse for ignoring his precepts. On the contrary it is only by heeding His law that we can understand the marvelous nature of his grace. And on the other hand.. it is only by also declaring his grace that we keep the law in it’s place and not allow ourselves to be fooled into thinking it was ever intended as a means of salvation to fallen men and women.

John Newton- "Clearly to understand the distinction, connection, and harmony between the Law and the Gospel, and their mutual subserviency to illustrate and establish each other, is a singular privilege, and a happy means of preserving the soul from being entangled by errors on the right hand or the justify! Some in the Apostles time desired to be teachers of the law; understanding neither what they said nor what they affirmed.... this seems to imply the importance , in a Christian teacher, of a clear understanding of the law in all it’s connections. And indeed the momentous matter of a sinner’s acceptance with God cannot accurately be stated without a distinct view of the subject. The Judaizing teachers of the Galatian Church, from mis-conception of this point, had darkened the counsel of God "by words without knowledge"- they had "bewitched" their foolish followers from the simplicity of the gospel and had well nigh entangled them again with the yoke of bondage."

Newton was convinced that the wrong understanding of the connection between the law and the gospel was dangerous.

I happen to agree... I believe that to fail to preach the law at all or on the other hand to preach only the law is unbiblical - I also believe to fail to preach salvation by grace alone through Christ alone is ultimately to hide life from those who need it.

Let me also add that from what we have discovered today... to preach only grace is to preach only part of what God has revealed and therefore it is unbiblical... men who profess faith in Christ without the law having brought them to the point where they know they need him... they claim to be Christians but have never known conviction of sin and they live without the high view of the law that Paul had.... many of these professions of faith will be proved to be wood hay and stubble... oh that they would consider the law... have their sin identified... made to feel the personal sin they have accounted against them and brought to Jesus Christ.

"There is a legal way of preaching the gospel and their is an evangelical way of preaching the law" Martin Luther.

The law and the gospel are not enemies... they do not work against each other... remember they came from the same source... they seek to achieve the same plan... the same end is in their sights... they do have different functions however- the law breaks the sinners heart, smashing the stone and crushing the rebellion... the gospel brings the needed balm and heals from the death of sin which without the law man would be oblivious to.

The Law shows you your need and the gospel reveals the need is met in Jesus Christ. Think of the way God providentially sent John the Baptist before Christ- what an illustration of what we are saying..... the voice of one crying in the wilderness is heard .. he is preparing the way for the coming of the Messiah... What is he preaching? He is preaching law... he is identifying the sin of the people... then comes the Lamb of God who will be the sin bearer - the personification of the grace and Love of God.... Law... making the way ready for Grace.... law- then gospel.

Sinner you need Christ! Not because of the quality of life offered, or because you are lonely and need a friend, or because you have anxiety and you need to get hooked in to something or someone that will calm you- you need Christ because the Law of God condemns you as a sinner ... and as long as you remain in that sin you are according to the Lord Jesus "condemned already!"

I trust that our view of the law and the gospel will enable us to say with David.. "I love thy law o Lord!"

 
 
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