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Three Uses of the Law

The Law and the Christian

 

Here is an excerpt on law taken from the Geneva Study Biblewhich was edited by R. C. Sproul. The proper role of law within the life of theindividual and the culture is a vital issue. It is one of the issues you willrun into when discussing the particulars of a biblical worldview and itsapplication to culture. While we are saved by grace alone, there is still arole the law should play in the life of the Christian, at least according to the Reformed worldview. 

Our culture has rejectedGod’s law. However, the fact is that the much of church previously rejected God’s lawwhen it adopted dispensational theology. This theology was introduced into to the churchin the 1860s and spread quickly with the wide use of the Scofield Study Bible which contained the theology. 

Thecorrect use of the law by Christian leaders is a major issue that impacts ourrelation to the cultures that surround us. It is an issue you will encounter whendiscussing and teaching worldview concepts – so hopefully this article will prepare youto address issues related to the question of the law’s correct use today. Knowledge of thisissue helps us to understand why the ethical behavior of many Christians differslittle from nonbelievers. This theological perspective also influences otherareas of life dealing with the application of a biblical worldview within theculture. This is a clear example of how individual theologies can develop theirown unique worldviews with ideas that have serious consequences. 

The Three Uses of the Law

Scripture shows that God intends His law to function inthree ways, which Calvin crystallized in classic form for the church’s benefitas the law’s threefold use.

Its first function is to be a mirror reflecting to usboth the perfect righteousness of God and our own sinfulness and shortcomings.As Augustine wrote, “the law bids us, as we try to fulfill its requirements,and become wearied in our weakness under it, to know how to ask the help ofgrace.” The law is meant to give knowledge of sin (Romans 3: 20; 4: 15; 5: 13; 7:7-11), and by showing us our need of pardon and our danger of damnation to leadus in repentance and faith to Christ (Galatians 3: 19-24).

A second function the “civil use,” is to restrain evil.Though the law cannot change the heart, it can to some extent inhibitlawlessness by its threats of judgment, especially when backed by a civil codethat administers punishment for proven offenses (Deut. 13: 6-11; 19: 16-21; Romans 13: 3, 4). Thus itsecures civil order, and serves to protect the righteous from the unjust.

Its third function is to guide the regenerate into thegood works that God has planned for them (Eph. 2: 10). The law tells God’s children what willplease their heavenly Father. It could be called their family code. Christ wasspeaking of this third use of the law when He said that those who become hisdisciples must be taught to do all that He had commanded (Matt. 28: 20), andthat obedience to His commands will prove the reality of one’s love for Him(John 14: 15). TheChristian is free from the law as a system of salvation (Rom. 6: 14; 7: 4, 6; 1Cor. 9: 20; Gal. 2: 15-19; 3: 25) but is “under law toward Christ” as a rule of life(1Cor. 9: 21; Gal. 6: 2).   (NewGeneva Study Bible, p. 258).