Biblical Principles‎ > ‎Law‎ > ‎

Purposes for God's Laws

The ThreePurposes of God’s Law — An Answer to the U.N. Disabilities Treaty


The U.N. Convention treaty on the Rights of People WithDisabilities has been held up in the U.S. Senate now for about a week. Althoughit was signed by President Obama in 2009 and has bi-partisan support, some U.S.Senators are pausing to consider the outcry of homeschoolers concerned thetreaty would  enable “international bureaucrats” to tell them how toraise their children. The purported goal of the treaty is to set uniformstandards around the world for the treatment of people with disabilities.

“Part of this treaty deals with abortion and the rights ofchildren, issues that should be addressed by states, local governments andAmerican parents, not international bureaucrats,” Senator Jim DeMint’s officestated. “Sen. DeMint strongly opposes this treaty, as the United States isalready the world leader in addressing the needs of the disabled and it’sfoolish to think Americans need to sign away our sovereignty to exert ourinfluence around the world.”[1]

The centralization of law-power toward the United Nations. Hatecrimes laws. Laws that make it their aim to eradicate poverty and disease.Do these modern political trends reflect a Christian view of law?

“But we knowthat the law is good, if a man uses it lawfully,” says I Timothy 1:8. As theLaw-Word of God expresses the unchanging holy and loving nature of our Lord, itexudes His “righteousness,” as Deuteronomy 4:8 tells us,[2] in a supremelygreater way than any law of man ever could. To be brought back into fellowshipwith God through the atonement, thus, involves being brought back intofellowship with God’s Law. So a Christian should not shun God’s Law-Word, butembrace it and embrace its intended purposes. He should seek to apply thoseintended purposes as he performs his role in civil affairs.

Our Christian forefathers, who by God’s grace triumphed theReformation, spoke with great unity about the purposes of God’s Law. The earlyGerman Reformers summarized that unified position in this way:

It is established that the Law of God was given to men for threecauses: first, that certain external discipline might be preserved, and wildand intractable men might be restrained, as it were, by certain barriers;secondly, that by the Law men might be brought to an acknowledgment of theirsins; thirdly, that regenerate man, to all of whom, nevertheless, much of theflesh still cleaves, for that very reason may have some certain rule afterwhich they may and ought to shape their lives.

The Formula of Concord.[3]

Expoundingupon the purposes of God’s Law expressed by the the German Reformers, Dr. R.J.Rushdoony dedicated the fourth chapter of his book Politics of Guilt and Pity to explain the pagan purposesof law and contrast those purposes with the biblical and historical Christian,trinitarian purposes.

First Purpose: To Condemn Moralism

John Dewey(the humanist educator who made the Dewey Decimal System used by mostlibraries) presented a moralistic view of law when he wrote, “Law is astatement of the conditions of the organizations of energies which, whenunorganized, conflict and result in violence—that is, destruction or waste.”[4] In other words,according to Dewey, destruction and waste could be stopped by law.

Aristotle defined the purpose of political science as making thecitizens “to be of a certain character, viz., good and capable of noble acts,”[5] and stated the purpose of the law to be thetraining of citizens “in habits of right action—this is he aim of alllegislation, and if it fails to do this, it is a failure.”[6]Thomas Aquinas also popularized this moralistic view of law.

Moralism led the Briand-Kellogg Pact of Paris to outlaw war in1928. By August 1932, sixty-two of the sixty-four nations in the world hadsigned the pact. But it did not stop World War II. Despite that failure, theUnited Nations stands as a monument to the continuing hope in moralism. As peoplehave become aware of the internal nature of sin, they have sought to applymoralism even to man’s heart through “hate crime” legislation that attempts togovern an area God never purposed for human government to control: a man’ssoul.

What is wrong with moralism? Why does moralism fail? Toexplain, Dr. R.J. Rushdoony begins by writing: “[The] first office of the lawis the radical condemnation of moralism wherever found, in Christian andunbeliever alike. For a Christian to hope in law as a means of making men good,whether negatively or positively, is thus to sin radically and place a burdenon the law forbidden to him.”[7]

Dr. Rushdoony went on to explain how Marxism, Socialism, andWelfare Economics are each dependent on the idea of moralism — as are many“Roman, Anabaptist, Puritan, and modernist versions of the same arrogant prideand presumption.”[8]

Legalistic moralism or Phariseeism seeks to legislate men intogoodness, and to so order society that man will become inevitably andnecessarily good as well as happy. . . .

The Roman Church, both by its penitential system and by itsmoralistic concept of salvation, seeks to legislate man into heaven, and by itconcept of the Christian state, strives to create an order where men must begodly.

Protestant Christianity, by seeking legislation against personalvices as the means to social order on the one hand, and by means of its socialgospel on the other, seeks to make men good by means of the state rather thanby Christ.

Marxism, a modern form of Phariseeism, affirms the same faith inthe ability of law to recreate man, and the purpose of the state is to uselegislation to reshape man and society.

The welfare state has a similar function. In each and every oneof these forms, the law is moralism and a maximum use of the whip. No moralitycan forego the whip, but every morality becomes a beggarly moralism when thewhip replaces religious faith as the basic impetus to action. In morality, thepriority in action is a God-centered motivation; in moralism, the theocentricimpetus is either gone or secondary.

R.J. Rushdoony, Politicsof Guilt and Pity.[9]

The great Reformer John Calvin taught extensively on the purposesof God’s Law. When defining the purposes of God’s Law, John Calvin wrote inhis Institutes:

[T]he law is like a mirror, in which we behold, first, ourimpotence; secondly, our iniquity, which proceeds from it; and lastly, theconsequence of both, our obnoxiousness to the curse; just as a mirrorrepresents to us the spots on our face. For when a man is destitute of power topractice righteousness, he must necessarily fall into habits of sin. And sin isimmediately followed by the curse. There for the greater the transgression ofwhich the law convicts us, the more severe is the judgment with which itcondemns us. This appears from the observation of the Apostle, that “by the lawis the knowledge of sin” (Rom. 3:20). For he there speaks only of the firstoffice of the law, which is experienced in sinner not yet regenerated.

John Calvin, Institutesof the Christian Religion.[10]

Galatians 3:24 says that “the law was our schoolmaster to bring usunto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.” By forcing us to realize ourutter moral inadequacy, we realize our need for Jesus Christ’sredemption. I Corinthians 1:26-30 asserts that God calls people untosalvation and righteousness who are not trusting in their human powers andabilities “[t]hat no flesh should glory in his presence.”

Second Purpose: To Provide Social Order

“The secondoffice of the law is social order,” writes Dr. Rushdoony, “the protection ofsociety from the ravages of evildoers”.[11]Calvin confirms that the law is “to cause those who, unless constrained, feelno concern for justice and rectitude, when they hear its terrible sanctions, tobe at least restrained by a fear of its penalties.”[12]

Romans 13:3-4 says those who enforce the law “are not a terror togood works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do thatwhich is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: For he is the ministerof God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he bearethnot the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to executewrath upon him that doeth evil.”

“Social order is necessary to create the measure of disciplineneeded for the birth of a godly culture,” Dr. Rushdoony continues. “Indeed, thevery word ‘culture’ implies discipline and restraint. But that order can followonly if the law rests on God’s eternal order.

“A prostitute who knows she is a whore, and that she is sinningagainst God, is thereby a greater source of social order than an intellectual,whether a probing mind as yet without crime, or a ‘justified’ murderer, whodoes not recognize the fact of sin and asserts a moralistic autonomy.”[13]

Third Purpose: To Guide Christians in theDivine Will

The Law of God gives Christians, Calvin wrote, “from day to day, abetter and more certain understanding of the divine will to which they aspire,and to confirm them in the knowledge of it.” Study of the law will “excite toobedience, confirm man therein, and accordingly restrain him fromtransgression.”[14]

Can the moralist claim that the Christian view of law is just likehis view? Dr. Rushdoony does not think so.

At this point the moralist assumes that he has both Scripture’sand Calvin’s warrant for his use of law, but a fundamental difference exists.The moralist believes that ‘love’ for his neighbor or enemy will change thatman into the desired person; the godly man is under no such illusion as to the‘power’ of his activity. . . . If I can ‘change’ men by loving them, or by mylaw-keeping, then I have a very real social control over them, which, for theirgood and for a faster social result, I can apply through legal and coercivemeans. . . . [I]f I have no power to ‘change’ men . . . , but have only a dutyunder God to them, I cannot legally claim a power over them which abrogates myreligious duty.

Rushdoony, Politicsof Guilt and Pity.[15]

Thus, Rushdoony denied the use of the Law as a mechanism tomanipulate man into true goodness by outward conformity to the Law. No amountof manipulation can change a man so he will truly subject himself to the Law ofGod and live faithfully by it in his flesh. In contrast, genuine salvationin the heart of man, changes him from the inside-out. As redeemed man becomes anew creature in Christ, his devotion to the Lord  flows out to otherhuman relationships and transforms the way he lives in his family, church, andcivil government. “If ye love me,” said Jesus Christ, “keep mycommandments” (John 14:15). Obedience to God’s commands revealed in His Law canonly come from a transformed heart that is enabled to genuinely love God.


“Wherefore, the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just,and good” Romans 7:12. The Law reflects God’s unchanging, holy and lovingcharacter. One cannot have God without having the work of God found in His Law.

The historically biblical, Christian view of law hasbeen theonomic. That is, it has been based on the idea that God is thesource of righteous law order. The Greek word theos means “God”andnomos means“law.” Put those two Greek words together and you have theonomy, the Law order given by God.

The purposes of God’s Law have always been: First, to convict manof sin by removing any confidence he may have in his moralism. Second, toprovide society with order. Third, to guide Christians in following God’s will.

Under God’s Law, legislation cannot be issued to manipulate peopleinto goodness. Law is simply the responsibility placed on me by God — aresponsibility I owe to Him and my neighbor. It is a responsibility that can befulfilled only in the grace of God through the power of His Holy Spirit.

“Jesus said unto them, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with allthy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first andgreat commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thyneighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and theprophets.” Matthew 22:37-40. The righteousness of the Law isfulfilled in the Christian, says Romans 8:4, “who walk[s] not after the flesh,but after the Spirit.”



1.       See Julian Pecquet’sarticle ”Sen. DeMint taps brakes on UN treaty as home-school oppositiongrows” from The Hill at thislink. []

2.       “And whatnation is there so great, that hath statutes and judgmentsso righteous as all this law, which I set beforeyou this day?” Deuteronomy 4:8. []

3.       The Formulaof Concord, Art. VI, in PhilipSchaff: The Creeds of Christendom, Vol. III, p. 130f. []

4.       JohnDewey, Intelligence in the Modern World 489(New York Modern Library, 1939). []

5.       ThicaNicomachea, I, 9. []

6.       Id., II, 1. []

7.       R.J.Rushdoony, Politics of Guilt and Pity 109(Ross House, 1995). []

8.      Id. []

9.       R.J.Rushdoony, Politics of Guilt and Pity 103(Ross House, 1995)(paragraph breaks added). []

10.   JohnCalvin, Institutes of the ChristianReligion II, vii, vii. []

11.    Id. at 109. []

12.    Institutes II, vii, x.[]

13.    Rushdoony, Politics at 110. []

14.    Institutes II, vii,xii. []

15.    Rushdoony, Politics of Guilt and Pity 112-13. []