WHEREFORE THEN SERVETH THE LAW?
The title for this chapter is borrowed from Galatians 3:19, such a wonderful, needful question. We are going to answer this question by examining several passages. First, Paul gives us an answer in that very passage: “It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to who the promise was made; and it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator. Now a mediator is not a mediator of one, but God is one. 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 righteous should have been by the law. BUT the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe” (Gal 3:19-22, Emphasis added). Paul just said there is no law that can give life, otherwise righteousness COULD have come by such a law. But the promise is by FAITH OF CHRIST is GIVEN TO THOSE WHO BELIEVE. The emphasis is on faith, not works. But let us study out other passages and confirm what Paul has said in Galatians.
The Judaizers (wanna-be Jews) creep into churches to subvert the naïve and unstable in doctrine, drawing them away. We explained in the introduction that this is possible only because in many “churches” today people are not being fed the doctrine they need to help resist. The allurement of the Hebrew Roots CULT is the fact that they—unlike many “Christians” today—stand for something; they actually believe what they say (though they do not always do); they are actually zealous! Unfortunately, many cults put Christians to shame in their zeal.
The Ten Commandments are ten laws in the Bible that God gave to the Hebrews after their exodus from Egypt. They are a summary of the approximate 613 commandments of the entire Old Testament law. The first four commandments deal with our relationship with God; the last six deal with our relationships with one another. They are intended to show mankind their inability to perfectly follow God’s laws so they will turn to his Son, Jesus Christ who did live perfectly for us.
God’s law is perfect (we do NOT deny that), as the God who created it is; but man is imperfect. An imperfect being cannot perfectly keep a perfect law. Romans tells us “Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good. Was then that which is good made death unto me? God forbid. But sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me by that which is good; that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful…O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 7:12,13, 24a). Paul comes to a great conclusion: the law makes sin exceeding sinful. Why? The law is good, and if man strives to keep the law, sin will “revive” and the man will die. Paul writes to the Corinthians, “The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law” (1 Cor. 15:55). Sin revives when, even in our best attempt, we fail. The law brings knowledge of our shortcomings to mind and thus strengthens it. The sting of that sin is death, “For the wages of sin is death” (Rom 6:23). The purpose of God’s law is to reveal sin in mankind. Paul rejoices and praises Jesus for deliverance from the strength of the law, which is, ultimately, deliverance from sin! Thus, the crux of Christianity is that, although “…all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;” we who believe are “…justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus. Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law” (Rom. 3:23-28). The law no more holds any strength against us—there is no sting—because of Jesus’ bodily resurrection. Death was not powerful enough to keep Christ in the grave. Therefore, we rejoice with Paul, “O death, where is thy sting?” (1 Cor 15:55).
No man can keep the law perfectly. If they could, Jesus would not have needed to die. Christians do not boast in “our works of righteousness” (see Rom. 3:10), but we boast in Christ who made the way (see John 14:6). Man is not justified by his good works or keeping of the law, but “through faith in his blood” by “his grace.” The Bible says, “For by grace are ye saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is a gift of God; not of works, lest any man should boast” (Eph. 2:8,9).
The law is not an invitation of cooperation between God and man for everlasting life but an explicit denial that any such cooperation is possible.
In realizing this, the sinner then falls at the feet of Jesus and, in repentance and faith, exclaims, “Have mercy on me, a sinner!”
Great examples of the contrast between Old and New is Jesus’ declarations, “Ye have heard it said…” in Matthew 5, especially vv. 27-29. Jesus says, “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.” There are no “new commands.” These are old commands explained by God (Jesus). Jesus is “getting to the heart of the matter.” The Jews aimed to keep the law, but, as it has been noted, they did not understand the purpose of the law. In the commandments, it says, “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” and many even today will say, “Yes, I’ve never physically committed adultery,” but the real question is have you ever lusted after a woman?—or, if you are a woman, have lusted after a man? That is adultery, and that is what the Hebrews missed! The fact is that he is explaining the deeper, heart issue of the law TO JEWS who have heard and believe the Law of Moses, but who need to get to the “heart of the issue.” Jesus is explaining all of this as a warning against hypocrites (Matt 7). But there are other wonderful places in the Bible where we learn about the Law in light of the New Covenant.
In Hebrews, we get a great explanation of what makes the New Covenant “new.” The writer explains, “But Christ being come an high priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building; Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us. For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh: How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” (Heb. 9:11-14). This is but one of many, many examples of what the difference between law and grace is. In Levitical law, the high priest would go into the tabernacle made with hands to offer a spotless bull or goat before God on the altar on behalf of the people, as well as for himself. Fast forward to the book of Hebrews, and we learn Christ has become an high priest for his people, and when he died on the cross, he did it to satisfy the wrath of God (propitiation); he did this once for all, whereas the Levites entered yearly. The preparation of the goat/ bull is a “type” of Christ; the sacrifice (spilling of blood on the altar, the burning, etc.) is a “type” of Christ; the priest himself is even a “type” of Christ. Everything pointed to Christ. David, Abraham, Noah, and other heroes of the faith in the Old Testament were saved by grace through faith; no person has ever been justified by a goat, or bull, or by keeping the law (see Romans 4 for the example of David and Abraham). The goats, bulls, and the law, were to direct the Hebrew children to their coming Messiah.
So what purpose does the law serve? Simply, to bring men unto Christ!