On Eagles Wings Ministries
The Purpose of the Law
To Reveal Sin
The first main purpose of the law is to show men their sinful condition.
Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin (Rom. 3:19-20).
Notice, first of all, the very emphatic statement “by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight” (Rom. 3:20).
In other words, no human being will ever achieve righteousness in God’s sight by the observance of the law.
Side by side with this, Paul states twice, in two different phrases, the primary purpose for which the law was given. He says first that “all the world may become guilty before God.” An alternative translation is “that all the world may become subject to the judgement of God.” Second, he says, “by the law is the knowledge of sin.”
We see, therefore, that the law was not given to make men righteous but, on the contrary, to make men conscious that they were sinners and, as such, subject to the judgement of God upon their sin.
What shall we say then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! On the contrary, I would not have known sin except through the law. For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, “You shall not covet” (Rom. 7:7).
Therefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good. Has then what is good become death to me? Certainly not! But sin, that it might appear sin, was producing death in me through what is good, so that sin through the commandment might become exceedingly sinful
Paul uses three different phrases which all bring out the same truth.
I would not have known sin except through the law (Rom. 7:7).
But sin, that it might appear sin . . . (Rom. 7:13).
. . . so that sin through the commandment might become exceedingly sinful (Rom. 7:13).
In other words, the purpose of the law was to bring sin out into the open – to show sin in its true colours as the subtle, destructive, deadly thing that it really is. Thereafter men were left without any excuse for being deceived as to the extreme sinfulness of their condition.
In the practice of medicine, when treating diseases of the human body, there is a certain order which is always followed: first the diagnosis, then the remedy. First of all, the doctor examines the sick man and tries to ascertain the nature and cause of his disease; only after he has done that does he attempt to prescribe a remedy.
God follows the same order in dealing with man’s spiritual need. Before prescribing the cure, God first diagnoses the condition. The basic cause of all human need and suffering lies in one condition common to all members of the human race: sin. No satisfactory remedy for human needs can be offered until this condition has been diagnosed.
The Bible is the only book in the world which correctly diagnoses the cause of all humanity’s need and suffering. For this reason alone, apart from all else it offers, the Bible is invaluable and irreplaceable.
To Prove Man’s Inability to Save Himself
The second main purpose for which the law was given was to show men that, as sinners, they are unable to make themselves righteous by their own efforts. There is a natural tendency in every human being to desire to be independent of God’s grace and mercy. This desire to be independent of God is in itself both a result and an evidence of man’s sinful condition, although most men do not recognise it as such.
Thus, whenever a man becomes convicted of his sinful condition, his first reaction is to seek some means by which he can cure himself of this condition and make himself righteous by his own efforts, without having to depend on the grace and mercy of God. For this reason, throughout all ages religious laws and observances have always made a strong appeal to the human race, regardless of differences of nationality or background. In practising such laws and observances men have sought to silence the inward voice of their own conscience and to make themselves righteous by their own efforts.
This was precisely the reaction of many religious Israelites to the law of Moses. Paul describes this attempt of Israel to establish their own righteousness.
For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God (Rom. 10:3).
As a result of attempting to establish their own righteousness, Israel failed to submit to God and to God’s way of righteousness. Thus, the basic cause of their error was spiritual pride – a refusal to submit to God, a desire to be independent of God’s grace and mercy.
Nevertheless, whenever men are really willing to be honest with themselves, they are always obliged to admit that they can never succeed in making themselves righteous by the observing of religious or moral law. Paul describes this experience in the first person; he himself had at one time striven to make himself righteous by the observance of the law. Here is what he says, as recorded in Romans 7:18-23:
For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.
Here Paul speaks as one who sincerely acknowledges the righteousness and desirability of living by the law. The more he struggles, however, to do what the law commands, the more he becomes conscious of another law, another power, within his own fleshly nature, continually warring against the law and frustrating his strongest efforts to make himself righteous by observing the law.
The central point of this inward conflict is expressed in verse 21.
I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good.
This is an apparent paradox, yet it is confirmed by all human experience. A man never knows how bad he is until he really tries to be good. Thereafter, every attempt to be good only brings out more clearly the hopeless, incurable sinfulness of his own fleshly nature, in face of which all his efforts and good intentions are entirely in vain.
The second main purpose for the law, then, was to show men that not merely are they sinful, but they are wholly unable to save themselves from sin and make themselves righteous by their own efforts.
To Foreshadow Jesus
The third main purpose for which the law was given was to foretell and to foreshadow the Saviour who was to come, and through whom alone it would be possible for man to receive true salvation and righteousness. This was done through the law in two main ways: The Saviour was foretold through direct prophecy, and He was foreshadowed through the types and ceremonies of the ordinances of the law.
An example of direct prophecy, within the framework of the law, is found in Deuteronomy 18:18-19, where the Lord says to Israel through Moses:
I will raise up for them a Prophet like you from among their brethren, and will put My words in His mouth, and He shall speak to them all that I command Him. And it shall be that whoever will not hear My words, which He speaks in My name, I will require it of him.
Peter later quotes these words of Moses and applies them directly to Jesus Jesus (see Acts 3:22-26). Thus, the prophet foretold by Moses in the law is fulfilled in the Person of Jesus in the New Testament.
In the sacrifices and ordinances of the law many types foreshadow Jesus Jesus as the Saviour who was to come.
For example, in Exodus 12 the ordinance of the Passover lamb foreshadows salvation through faith in the atoning blood of Jesus Jesus, shed at the Passover season upon the cross at Calvary. Similarly, the various sacrifices connected with expiation of sin and approach to God, described in the first seven chapters of Leviticus, all foreshadow various aspects of the sacrificial, atoning death of Jesus Jesus upon the cross.
For this reason, John the Baptist introduced Jesus to Israel with these words:
Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! (John 1:29).
By the comparison of Jesus to a sacrificial lamb, the people of Israel were directed to see in Jesus the One who had been foreshadowed by all the sacrificial ordinances of the law.
This purpose of the law is summed up in Paul’s words in Galatians:
But the Scripture has confined all under sin, that the promise of faith in Jesus Jesus might be given to those who believe. But before faith came, we were kept under guard by the law, kept for the faith which would afterward be revealed. Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Jesus, that we might be justified by faith (3:22-24).
The Greek word here translated “tutor” denotes a senior slave in the household of a wealthy man whose special responsibility it was to give the first elementary stages of teaching to the wealthy man’s children, and thereafter to escort them each day to the school where they could receive more advanced instruction.
In a corresponding way, the law gave Israel their first elementary instruction in God’s basic requirements concerning righteousness, and thereafter it was a means to direct them to put their faith in Jesus Jesus and to learn from Jesus the lesson of the true righteousness which is by faith, without the works of the law.
Just as this slave’s educational task was complete as soon as he had delivered his master’s children into the care of the fully trained teacher in the school, so the law’s task was complete once it had brought Israel to their Messiah, Jesus Jesus, and had caused them to see their need of salvation through faith in Him. For this reason Paul concludes:
But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor (Gal. 3:25).
That is, we are no longer under the law.
To Preserve Israel
In the words of Paul, there is a phrase which reveals one further important function of the law in connection with Israel. Speaking as an Israelite, Paul says:
We were kept under guard by the law, kept for the faith which would afterward be revealed (Gal. 3:23).
The law kept Israel as a special nation, set apart from all others, separated out by its distinctive rites and ordinances, preserved for the special purposes for which God had called them. The prophet Balaam, in his God-given vision of Israel’s destiny, sets forth God’s plan for them.
A people [Israel] dwelling alone,
Not reckoning itself among the nations (Num. 23:9).
God’s perfect will for Israel was that they should dwell alone, as a unique and separate nation, in their own land. But even when Israel’s disobedience frustrated this first purpose of God for them and caused them to be scattered as exiles and wanderers among all nations of the world, God still ordained that they should not be reckoned among the nations.
In the past nineteen centuries of Jewish dispersion among the Gentile nations, this decree of God has been most wonderfully fulfilled. In all the lands and nations whither they have come, the Jews have always remained a distinct and separate element which has never been assimilated or lost its special identity. The main instrument in keeping Israel a separate nation has been continued adherence to the law of Moses.
In conclusion, we may sum up the four main purposes for which the law of Moses was given.
1. The law was given to show men their sinful condition.
2. The law also showed men that, as sinners, they were unable to make themselves righteous by their own efforts.
3. The law served to foretell by prophecy and to foreshadow by types the Saviour who was to come and through whom alone it would be possible for man to receive true salvation and righteousness.
4. The law has served to keep Israel a separate nation throughout the many centuries of their dispersion, so that even now they are still preserved for the special purposes which God is working out for them.
Perfectly Fulfilled by Jesus
Our examination of the relationship between the law and the gospel could not be complete without taking into account the words in which Jesus Himself sums up His attitude and His relationship to the law.
Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfil. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled (Matt. 5:17-18).
In what sense did Jesus fulfil the law?
First of all, He personally fulfilled it by His own spotless righteousness and by the faultless, consistent observance of every ordinance.
God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons (Gal. 4:4-5).
Notice the words “born of a woman, born under the law . . .” By His birth as a man, Jesus Jesus was a Jew, subject to all the ordinances and obligations of the law. These He perfectly fulfilled throughout the entire course of His life on earth, without ever deviating one hair’s breadth from all that was required of every Jew under the law. In this sense, Jesus Jesus alone, of all those who ever came under the law, perfectly fulfilled it.
Second, Jesus Jesus fulfilled the law in another sense by His atoning death on the cross.
Who committed no sin, Nor was guile found in His mouth . . . who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness (1 Pet. 2:22, 24).
Himself without sin, Jesus took upon Himself the sins of all those who had been under the law and then paid in full on behalf of them the law’s final penalty, which is death. With the full penalty thus paid by Jesus, it became possible for God, without compromising His divine justice, to offer full and free pardon to all who by faith accept Jesus’s atoning death on their behalf.
Thus Jesus fulfilled the law first by His life of perfect righteousness and second by His atoning death, through which He satisfied the law’s just demand upon all those who had not perfectly observed it.
Third, Jesus fulfilled the law by combining in Himself every feature prophetically set forth in the law concerning the Saviour and Messiah whom God had promised to send. Even at the beginning of Jesus’s earthly ministry we read how Philip said to Nathanael:
We have found Him of whom Moses in the law, and also the prophets, wrote – Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph (John 1:45).
Again, after His death and resurrection, Jesus said to His disciples:
These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me (Luke 24:44).
We see, then, that Jesus fulfilled the law in three ways: 1) by His perfect life, 2) by His redeeming death and resurrection, 3) by fulfilling all that the law foretold and foreshadowed concerning the Saviour and Messiah who was to come.
We thus find ourselves in perfect agreement with the words of Paul:
Do we then make void the law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law (Rom. 3:31).
The believer who accepts the atoning death of Jesus Jesus as the fulfilment of the law on his behalf is thereby enabled to accept, without compromise or qualification, every jot and tittle of the law as being completely and unchangeably true. Faith in Jesus for salvation does not set aside the revelation of the law; on the contrary, it fulfils it.
For Jesus is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes (Rom. 10:4).
The Greek word here translated “end” has two related meanings: 1) the purpose for which something is done, 2) that which brings something to a close. In both senses, the law ended with Jesus.
In the first sense, once the law has successfully brought us to Jesus, it is no longer needed in this capacity. In the second sense, Jesus by His death put an end to the law as a means of achieving righteousness with God. Faith in Him is now the one, all-sufficient requirement for righteousness.
In every other respect, however, the law still stands, complete and entire, as a part of God’s Word, which “endures forever.” Its history, its prophecy and its general revelation of the mind and counsel of God – all these remain eternally and unchangeably true.