I was able to teach this study last week with my staff and I wanted to share the insights that we attained with you here via this article. The question is, “what is the purpose of the Law?”. There are many people who are confused when it comes to the works of the Law. Some teach that we have to keep the Law in order to please God. Others believe that as people living under the New Testament, there is no longer a need for the Law. Which is correct? Are they both right or could they both be wrong? What does Jesus have to say about this subject?
As a staff we have been studying the Sermon on the Mount for a little over a month now. God has really challenged us greatly in many areas, especially in the area of reconciliation. I would like to turn back to the Sermon to see what Jesus teaches about the Law and Its place in the New Testament.
17 “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets ; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.18 “For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. (Matthew 5)
Notice that Jesus does not do away with the Law. Also notice, Jesus never says that YOU will fulfill the Law. He says that He came not to abolish the Law but to fulfill It. What does this look like practically? Please take a look at this model to which I will refer for the rest of this article.
God preached the Gospel to Adam and Eve all the way back at the beginning. In chapters 1 and 2 we see the creation of all things, including mankind. God gives commands to man and tells him of the consequences of disobedience. Man chooses not to listen to God and do what he wants to do. His life is altered. He is now separated from God. Immediately, God intervenes and makes the promise of a seed that is to come in the future, a seed who will have his heel bruised by the serpent and He (the seed) will crush the serpent’s head.
14 The LORD God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, Cursed are you more than all cattle, And more than every beast of the field ; On your belly you will go, And dust you will eatAll the days of your life ;15 And I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her seed ; He shall bruise you on the head, And you shall bruise him on the heel.” (Genesis 3)
Fast forward about 2,000 years and we come to Abraham. God begins to carry out this promise to Adam and Eve. He intervenes in the life of Abraham and carves out a nation from him. God promises Abraham several things but the most important is a “seed” in the future. God explains through the Apostle Paul, some 2,000 years after Abraham, to whom God was referring when He mentioned “seed”.
16 Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as referring to many, but rather to one, “And to your seed,” that is, Christ. (Galatians 3)
The seed promised to Adam and Eve was Christ. The seed promised to Abraham was Christ. They were looking forward to the promise. We now look back to the promise, Christ. Both sides of the cross are looking in the same direction and at the same person, Jesus Christ.
So where does the Law tie in to all of this and what is Its purpose? Let’s take a look.
When Moses received the Law from God and delivered It to the people, he explained to them why God gave the Law to them.
20 Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid ; for God has come in order to test you, and in order that the fear of Him may remain with you, so that you may not sin.” (Exodus 20)
God gave the Law to test the people, to teach them how to fear them, and to keep them away from sin. Through the Law, we see God’s perfection and it is a test, to see if we will obey or not. There is more so hang in there. If you were just to stop here, you may think that God wants us to keep the Law. Let’s see what the rest of Scripture has to teach us. In Exodus 24, after Moses reads the Law to the people, their response is classic. Instead of crying out, “we cannot possibly keep the Law because of our sin”, they cried out, “all of this we will do!”. They missed the point. Paul gives us some commentary on the purpose of the Law.
7 What shall we say then ? Is the Law sin ? May it never be! On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law ; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, “YOU SHALL NOT COVET.” (Romans 7)
The Law teaches me what sin is and how to recognize it in my own life. In fact, the Law shows me just how much of a sinner that I am and how hopeless I am. When Paul realized his sinfulness and God’s demands, his response was:
24 Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death ? (Romans 7)
The Law shows us just how wretched we are apart from Jesus Christ. The Law was given with another purpose, not only to show me how bad I am but also:
24 Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith. (Galatians 3)
The Law is to point me to Christ. The Law is to be my tutor that takes me to the Promised One, Jesus. Keeping the Law was never the point. The Law was to show me what sin is, show me how bad of a sinner I am and that I have no way of earning God’s favor, and then finally the Law was to take me to the cross of Christ where I could receive forgiveness. The Law was not able to change me because It cannot deal with my heart problem. It can only reveal my heart problem.
9 “The heart is more deceitful than all else And is desperately sick ; Who can understand it? (Jeremiah 17)
Our hearts need to change and the Law cannot do it. The Law can only point us to the New Covenant where the heart is changed.
Under the New Covenant God makes the following promises about the heart.
19 “And I will give them one heart, and put a new spirit within them. And I will take the heart of stone out of their flesh and give them a heart of flesh,20 that they may walk in My statutes and keep My ordinances and do them. Then they will be My people, and I shall be their God. (Ezekiel 11)
Once God changes our hearts in the New Covenant, we are able to live our God laws because not only does He give us a new heart, He also gives us a new Spirit, His Holy Spirit.
The question is, “then how are we to live daily? How does Jesus fulfill the Law in us?”
1Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.2For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.3For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh,4so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.5For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit.6For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace,7because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God ; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so,8and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. (Romans 8)
We now submit to the Spirit’s leading, moment by moment. It is not actually me producing the works of the Law. I submit to the Spirit and the Spirit produces the works of the Law in me. I cannot take credit for it because it is not me. My nature is sinful but I have a new nature in me now, the nature of God. I am able to live out the works of the Law because the Lord is living in me and produces them through me. It sets me free from the toil of trying to be good enough to please God. It is a new way of life. That is why it is the New Covenant.
So my friend, are you trying to accomplish the works of the Law so that you can take credit for doing good, or, are you giving all the glory to God by submitting to Him and allowing Him to produce the works of the Law through you? One is a set up of legalism and failure. The other is life, peace, and freedom. Which one makes more sense to you? May the Lord help us live a surrendered life to Him so that He can accomplish His good works in us and through us.