Law – what is it good for?

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There is nothing really wrong with the law. It is obviously not good to murder someone or steal from them. Paul says the law is “holy, righteous and good” (Rom 7:12) – it is just useless as a way of making us righteous before God, because we could never keep it.

So what is the law good for? 1 Timothy 1:8 says, “We know that the law is good if one uses it properly.” There are several good uses for the law.

1) To take away all hope in our own righteousness and make us depend on God alone and entirely to save us. The law “was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith” (Galatians 3:24). It leads us to Christ by making us desperate for a saviour. The law “kills” you (2 Corinthians 3:6) and leaves you in a position where, if God does not come and do something, you’re dead!

This is great, because then everything to do with your salvation is on his shoulders – nothing depends on you. All you do is to accept it as a gift from him.

2) The law – any law – is good for restraining evil in the world. Lawlessness is anarchy. We need to have a legal system to govern our country; law just isn’t an appropriate means of approaching God. Christians are certainly meant to be “law abiding” in this sense (see Romans 13:1, 1 Peter 2:15).

3) Law is good for bringing up children. Laws give proper boundaries, which give children a sense of security and protection. Without rules like “don’t cross the road” and “don’t hit your brother”, they lack a sense of security and safety in their hearts.

But when children become adults, it is time to release them from the law and let them makes decisions for themselves, now that they are capable of doing that alone (see Galatians 4:1-5).

For reflection:

You might think that it would still be OK to refer to the law on issues which the law directly addresses, but Paul never does that. He didn’t appeal to the law even when there was an obvious law to appeal to. Two examples are the correction of sexual immorality and the encouragement to give generously in 1 and 2 Corinthians.

When there was sexual immorality in Corinth, he didn’t quote the commandment, “Do not commit adultery,” he appealed to them on another level – “you are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honour God with your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). When he wanted to encourage giving, he didn’t quote any laws about tithing, he just said, “Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7).

The way we live now is not guided by the law, but by love for God and people:

“Love is the fulfillment of the law” (Romans 13:10)

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