What does God’s law do? To answer that question we are going to look at the three types of law and the three uses of the law in the Bible.
Three Types of Law
In the Bible, there are three types of law. It is critical for our understanding and application of the Bible that we understand what they are.
The ceremonial law outlined Israel’s worship (see e.g. Lev. 1:1ff). This form of the law pointed forward to Jesus and is no longer necessary for Christians to follow (see e.g. Col. 2:17; Heb. 10:1ff). Although it is important for Christians to understand how the ceremonial law served to point forward to Jesus the Messiah and Lamb of God (Jn. 1:29).
The civil law was the law for the people of Israel (see e.g. Deut. 24:10-11). Christians today are to obey the laws of the land in which they reside unless they contradict a clear command of Scripture (Rom. 13:1; Titus 3:1; 1 Pet. 2:13).
The moral law is for all people at all times and in all places. The 10 Commandments from the Old Testament (Ex. 20:1-17) and Jesus’ command to love God and love your neighbor as yourself (Matt. 22:36-40) are two examples of the binding moral law.
Three Uses of Law
Besides the three types of law, there are also three different important uses of the law. It is important that we don’t confuse these uses.
Convicting Mirror (the first use)
The law shows people the ugliness of their sin that they wouldn’t see otherwise. So, it is a mirror that convicts. The Apostle Paul said, “I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, ‘You shall not covet'” (Rom. 7:7).[i] In this way the law is also a teacher, showing us our need of Christ Jesus the one and only Savior (Rom. 3:20; Gal. 3:24).
Civil Morality (the second use)
The law is a form of common grace because it can limit the extent of the impact of sin. To the extent that the law is implemented and functioning, it helps towards the flourishing of society. Of course, morality itself never brings heart change. Only the Spirit through the good news of Jesus brings a person from spiritual blindness and death to abundant life. And yet, civil morality is a good thing (see e.g. Rom. 13:3-4).
Christians Model (the third use)
Christians have a whole new level of motivation for their morality. Christians love because Jesus first loved them (1 Jn. 4:19). Christians strive to be holy because their Father in heaven is holy (Matt. 5:48; 1 Pet. 1:15-17). Christians walk in love because Jesus walked in love (Eph. 5:2). This is the “family function” of the law. We don’t obey to earn God’s grace. We obey, in part, in response to God’s grace.
Christians seek to model their lives off of Christ’s life. They seek to live more in more like Him (2 Cor. 3:18). Christians strive to “fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2).
What does God’s law do?
The law provides the moral guidelines we need to know how to live. Yet, it also shows us that we can never perfectly keep the law on our own. So, it points us forward to our need for Jesus the one and only Savior. Lastly, the law tells us how to live in light of the “so great a salvation” (Heb. 2:3) that we have received.
[i] The law also highlights God’s holiness. The LORD is separate from sin. When we see the law we see how seriously God takes sin and we thus see how holy He is. So, the law both shows us our sin and need for a Savior and shows us God’s radiant holiness.
*Photo by Sean Foster