“The law must do its God-given duty today”

At Wednesday night’s Bible study, we dealt with the question that Paul raises in Galatians 3:19: “Why then the law?” Up to this point in his letter, Paul has argued that, contrary to the message of his opponents in Galatia, obedience to God’s law can play no role in saving us. So it’s only natural that his readers might wonder, What’s the point of the law?

His answer? God’s law “imprisons everything under sin” (Galatians 3:22). In other words, the law makes clear how helplessly sinful we all are. It teaches us that our salvation will come only through an act of sheer grace on God’s part. It reminds us of our desperate need for a Savior.

The law prepares us to receive God’s Son Jesus.

I’ve said in previous sermons that our failure to keep God’s law is at least one-half of the gospel of Jesus Christ. If we miss this point, we’ll miss the gospel entirely.

The late Anglican theologian John Stott describes the role of the law as follows:

After God gave the promise to Abraham, He gave the law to Moses. Why? He had to make things worse before He could make them better. The law exposed sin, provoked sin, condemned sin. The purpose of the law was to lift the lid off man’s respectability and disclose what he is really underneath—sinful, rebellious, guilty, under the judgment of God and helpless to save himself.

And the law must still be allowed to do its God-given duty today. One of the great faults of the contemporary church is the tendency to soft-pedal sin and judgment… We must never bypass the law and come straight to the gospel. To do so is to contradict the plan of God in biblical history… No man has ever appreciated the gospel until the law has first revealed him to himself. It is only against the inky blackness of the night sky that the stars begin to appear, and it is only against the dark background of sin and judgment that the gospel shines forth.[†]

No man has ever appreciated the gospel until the law has first revealed him to himself.

The law reveals to us who we truly are, without which the gospel will seem irrelevant. I like that!

1. John R. W. Stott, The Message of Galatians (Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity, 1968), 92-3.

7 thoughts on ““The law must do its God-given duty today””

  1. I may be a simple man, but I always thought “The Law”, as in The Ten Commandments, was a cornerstone of western civilization. Isn’t it considered the basis on which all other civil and criminal law stands? Don’t we write it on the courthouse walls? It seems to me that it does much good and is more than just a reminder of how sinful we are.

    What say you lawyer Tom?

    1. I didn’t mean to imply—nor did John Stott—that the Law wasn’t good! It’s perfectly good. It’s just impossible to keep. If the Law doesn’t first condemn us for our sins, then the gospel will be incomprehensible. That’s Paul’s point in Galatians 3. As for the Law’s goodness, Paul emphasizes that in Romans 7. No passage of scripture says everything it needs to say about the gospel.

  2. I tend to agree with you, Grant. Paul says that the law is good–it paints us as bad because we can’t live up to it, not because there is something faulty about it. I think the role of law is thus twofold, not “one-fold.” It shows us how we are bad, and it also tells us how we can be good.

  3. I understand that the “Law” cannot save you. But, I think God had another purpose in giving it. He laid down standards for behavior in life with it. Boundaries, if you like.
    All civilized societies must decide what behavior they will accept and not accept. Just didn’t want to “throw the baby out with the bathwater”, so to speak.

  4. Rev. Brent L. White
    You’ve referenced Gal. 3:19 and partially quoted “Why then the law”?, but you are erroneously assuming that Paul has referenced OT law. He hasn’t.

    “Wherefore then serveth the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was ordained by angles in the hand of a mediator.” Gal. 3:19 KJV

    “What then, was the purpose of the law? It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come.” Gal. 3:19 NIV

    “The law was added so that the trespass might increase.” Rom. 5:20 NIV

    “Moreover the law entered, that the offense might abound.” Rom. 5;20 KJV

    The law written on stones was not written by the hand of a mediator nor was it put into effect through angles. Isn’t it apparent to you that the law has been changed, Heb. 7:12? Therefore what is the law that has been added to increase a singular offense of the written code?

    1. There’s no question that Paul is talking about the law of the Old Testament. But if you have an argument to make to the contrary, please make it. As it stands, your last paragraph contradicts what Paul clearly says here.

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