“We need to be taught and instructed, then taught and instructed again. Do you not feel that too? We need definitions and designations about right and wrong—teachings to visit and revisit. We are indeed ‘prone to wander.’ So, God gave the law as a concrete, definitive designation—reflective of his righteous and holy character—about how to honor him in this life he has given. How good that we have this gift!”
As Christians, we champion grace. Rightly so. We read, “For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace” (Romans 6:14), responding with an emphatic, Amen! The law is a great burden, one that you and I could not fulfill. Praise God that we are under his grace! Our salvation rests upon this.
In the New Testament (NT), the Old Testament (OT) law is described as something that “proved to be death” to us (Romans 7:10), “came to increase trespass” (Romans 5:20), and held us “captive” and “imprisoned” (Galatians 3:23).
So, in addition to being life-long advocates of the grace we have been given in Christ, we read these verses about the law and perhaps find ample reason to dismiss it. If the law proved to be death, came to increase trespass, and held us captive, are we not given reason to believe that Christianity in the NT has advanced in an alternate direction—away from the law of the OT?
However, we also have to contend with NT expressions. For example, in Matthew 5:17, Christ teaches that he is indeed not progressing away from the law: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” If that is not enough to convince you that Christ did not intend for us to abandon the law, I submit to you Romans 3:31: “Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.”
An important question we may have is of the correct interpretation of the OT law in the NT age—for example, how exactly does all of Leviticus apply to us today? My purpose here is to write about our attitude toward the law, not to answer our questions of interpretation. My hope is that we will be motivated to learn more about interpretation after reading of the benefits of that work.
So, if according to NT teachings, we are not moving away from the law—if God indeed did not push some proverbial re-set button with Christ, nullifying it for us—then we are left with this question: What benefit does the law possibly have for those under grace?
We See Our Need More Clearly
The law serves to inform us of and increase our awareness of our sin.
We need to be taught and instructed, then taught and instructed again. Do you not feel that too? We need definitions and designations about right and wrong—teachings to visit and revisit. We are indeed “prone to wander.” So, God gave the law as a concrete, definitive designation—reflective of his righteous and holy character—about how to honor him in this life he has given. How good that we have this gift!
Following the law out of a motivation of love for the Lord and his character is an incredibly life-giving way to live. Think of an area of sin over which you have gained freedom. How much more abundant is life on the other side of every sin! Being freed of sin is not merely the absence of that sinful behavior. Being freed of sin is deeper communion with God and lasting joy from faithfulness to him. That is why Paul could say that law promised life.
The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. (Romans 7:10)
Yet, the law also proved to be death to those with a sinful nature. The law did not keep sinners from sinning. The law is holy, righteous, and good. But mankind has a propensity toward sin. Commandments plus the sin-nature do not function well together at all.
For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death. So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good. Did that which is good, then, become death to me? By no means! Nevertheless, in order that sin might be recognized as sin, it used what is good to bring about my death, so that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful. (Romans 7:11-12)
Perhaps you too have heard this oft-cited example:
If you draw “do not write here” on the chalkboard and leave the piece of chalk right underneath, our nature produces in us a desire to defy—to write on that chalkboard. So, whereas the law itself is a good provision for which to be thankful, mankind’s sinful nature becomes revealed clearly for what it is.
Christians can relate as Paul pinpoints the condition of our hearts: “For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing” (Romans 7:18-19). Later he speaks of himself: “Wretched man that I am” (Romans 7:24)!
Wretched are we! The law is necessary for us. It is not to be neglected because through it we see ourselves more clearly, as Romans 4:15 teaches: “Where there is no law there is no transgression.” Our awareness of our sin is increased. It points us to the true source of our salvation, Christ: “From childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:15).