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Uses of the Law in the Church

The Church can't flourish without the Law.

The Law of God and the Church (6)

Do we then make void the law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law. Romans 3.31

No place for the Law?
We’re making the point that the Law of God, which, as we have seen, has continuing validity for believers, and is of crucial importance in establishing a good conscience, requires a community of believers who love the Law for it to have its maximum benefit for each believer.

Only as local churches commit to the Law of God – to learn, obey, and teach it – will individual believers know that supportive and sustaining environment of holiness, righteousness, and goodness to encourage them in taking the Law to heart. And only as communities of believers live out the Law in their daily lives will it have the impact of bringing God’s wisdom to the larger community, and of piquing others to learn more about it and the God Who gives it (Deut. 4.6-9; Mic. 4.1-8).

In our text, Paul had just completed a summary argument against the idea that people can be saved by keeping the Law of God. This is what certain Jewish sects were teaching in his day, and Paul denied such teaching vigorously. Men cannot, by their own efforts at keeping the Law of God, attain the righteousness necessary for finding acceptance with God. Only Jesus Christ can provide that. We are saved, Paul insisted, by clinging to Jesus and appropriating, by grace through faith, His righteousness as our own.

That being the case, it might seem that there is no place for the Law of God in the life of the believer or his church. We might be tempted to agree with one theologian who opined, “For the Christian, the Law is a dead and a useless thing.” Immediately, however, Paul moved to disabuse his readers of any such notion. “Do we then make void the law through faith?” he asked. And then answered emphatically, “Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law.”

But establish it for what purposes, Paul?

Uses of the Law
Obviously, in Paul’s mind, the Law is of much use for believers and their communities. In Romans 7, Paul explains three uses of the law in the life of the church. I know that some will argue that, in Romans 7, Paul is describing his pre-Christian experience. But this argument derives, I believe, from a predisposition against the abiding validity of the Law of God in the life of the believer or the Church. If we let Paul speak for himself, he doesn’t appear to be describing past experience in this chapter; all the relevant verbs are in the present tense. He’s talking about his ongoing experience as a believer, and anyone who reads this passage for its plain meaning can certainly identify with what the apostle describes.

What, then, are the uses of the Law of God, as Paul outlines them in Romans 7?

First, the Law of God is useful to define the nature of sin and to alert the believer or the congregation to its presence or to the presence of temptation (Rom. 7.7). Remember, the Spirit of God is at work within us, to make us willing and able to live within the pleasure of God. A central part of His work is to warn or convict us of sin (Jn. 16.8-11), which He does by shining the pure light of the Law of God on the dark recesses of our souls or paths. Paul says we’ll never know what sin is, or be aware of its presence, if we refuse to subject our mind, heart, and conscience to the searchlight of God’s Law.

Second, Paul insists that the Law of God marks out the path of holiness, righteousness and goodness for the believer. We have been redeemed by grace through faith unto a life of good works (Rom. 7.12; Eph. 2.8-10). Again, the Spirit within us works not only to warn or convict us of sin, but also to teach us the way of righteousness (Jn. 16.8-11; Ezek. 36.26, 27); and the holy and righteous and good Law of God is His instructional aid of choice, the “core curriculum” of our sanctification.

Finally, the Law of God exposes the law of sin that operates within us as result of the lingering effects of the fall (Rom. 7.21-23); thus the Spirit uses the Law to warn us of divine displeasure, should we choose to follow the law of sin instead of the Law of God, and of Fatherly discipline which will surely ensue (Jn. 16.8-11; Heb. 12.10, 11).

We need the Law to bring holiness to completion in the fear of God (2 Cor. 7.1), for without it we will be blind to sin, helpless in the face of temptation, and captive to natural sinful tendencies, unrecognized and unchecked.

Abolish the Law?
The Law of God is thus essential to such elemental aspects of the life of faith as spiritual growth, being equipped for ministry, exercising church discipline, stimulating one another to love and good works, raising our children unto the Lord, admonishing, correcting, and teaching one another, working for justice and righteousness in the larger society, and understanding and learning from the trials and afflictions God brings our way from time to time.

Shall we abolish this holy and righteous and good Law? As Paul would say, “Certainly not!” We need the Law of God, flourishing within communities of faith, for the strengthening of each believer’s soul and the purifying of our conscience; and for the peace and wellbeing of the larger community where we pass our exile in this world (Jer. 29.7).

Abolish the Law? May it never be!

For reflection
1.  Apart from the Law of God, how would we be able to recognize temptation, when it arises in our path? How does the Law work to help us resist the devil?

2.  Meditate on Psalm 1. Suggest a practical way of following the counsel of this psalm with respect to learning the Law of God.

3.  Why do we say that a community committed to God’s Law is essential for each believer to be purified in his conscience by the Law?

Next steps – Conversation: Share your answer to question 2 with a believing friend, and ask your friend to pray for you as you take up this discipline.

T. M. Moore

All the installments in this “Strong Souls” series are available in PDF by clicking here. Check out our newest feature, Readings from the Celtic Revival (click here).

Why does the Law of God still matter? How can we make best use of it? Our book, The Ground for Christian Ethics, addresses those questions in a winsome and conversational manner. Order your free copy by clicking here.

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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in the Champlain Valley of Vermont.
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