Reformed Baptist Fellowship

The Lawful Uses of God’s Law

In Reformed Baptist Fellowship on July 8, 2011 at 1:30 am

In 1 Tim. 1, Paul urges Timothy to “charge some that they teach no other doctrine” (v.3). He then indicates the nature of their error in v.7, “desiring to be teachers of the law, understanding neither what they say nor the things which they affirm.”  The heretics desired to be “teachers of the law” but distorted the truth.  In v.8, Paul makes a statement for our consideration:  “But we know that the law is good if one uses it lawfully.”  The Reformed confessions of faith summarize the biblical teaching concerning the use of God’s law which is a helpful corrective to the antinomian and legalistic tendencies in the church today, two tendencies which have the same enemy:  the law of God.

The first is the civil use.  Richard Muller defines it as “the political or civil use, according to which the law serves the commonwealth, or body politic, as a force for the restraint of sin” (Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms, p.320).  The LBCF of 1689 teaches that the law written in the heart of man at creation was “delivered by God upon Mount Sinai, in ten commandments” (19:2) and then states that this “moral law doth for ever bind all, as we justified persons as others, to the obedience thereof, and that not only in regard of the matter contained in it, but also in respect of God the Creator, who gave it; neither doth Christ in the Gospel any way dissolve, but much strengthen this obligation.”  The law is used by God for the restraint of His creatures.

The second is the pedagogical use.  Muller defines it as “the elenctical or pedagogical use; i.e., the use of the law for the confrontation and refutation of sin and for the purpose of pointing the way to Christ” (p.320).  This function of the law demonstrates man’s sinfulness and shows his need for Christ.  Paul indicates this in Rom 3:20, “Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin.” WLC #96 says, “What particular use is there of the moral law to unregenerate men?  The moral law is of use to unregenerate men, to awaken their consciences to flee from wrath to come, and to drive them to Christ; or, upon their continuance in the estate and way of sin, to leave them inexcusable, and under the curse thereof.”  Bunyan said “The man who does not know the nature of the law cannot know the nature of sin.  And he who does not know the nature of sin cannot know the nature of the Savior.”

The third is the normative use.  Muller defines it as the use that “pertains to believers in Christ who have been saved through faith apart from works.  In the regenerate life, the law no longer functions to condemn, since it no longer stands elenctically over against man as the unreachable basis for salvation, but acts as a norm of conduct, freely accepted by those in whom the grace of God works the good” (p.321).  The LBCF of 1689 amplifies this use in 19:6 and indicates that while the law is no longer binding as a covenant of works, it “is of great use to them [believers] as well as to others” in that it functions as a “rule of life.”  John Murray observed concerning this use, “It is symptomatic of a pattern of thought current in many evangelical circles that the idea of keeping the commandments of God is not consonant with the liberty and spontaneity of the Christian man, that keeping the law has its affinities with legalism and with the principle of works rather than with the principle of grace.  It is strange indeed that this kind of antipathy to the notion of keeping commandments should be entertained by any believer who is a serious student of the New Testament.  Did not our Lord say, ‘If ye love Me, ye will keep My commandments’ (John 14:15)” (Principles of Conduct, p.182).

Problems regarding the law are manifold in the church today.  A return to the Reformed confessions and an emphasis on covenant theology should prove a helpful corrective in this area of study.  J. Gresham Machen said, “A new and more powerful proclamation of that law is perhaps the most pressing need of the hour; men would have little difficulty with the gospel if they had only learned the lesson of law…So it always is:  a low view of the law always brings legalism in religion; a high view of law makes a man a seeker after grace.  Pray God that the high view may again prevail.”

Jim Butler, Pastor
Free Grace Baptist Church of Chilliwack
  1. […] will actually help you understand how and why the gospel is such good news. You can read it here. Categories: Pastoral Theology, Systematic Theology Click here to cancel reply. […]

  2. Pastor Butler,

    Excellent summary. I think Machen’s statement was prophetic, “A new and more powerful proclamation of that law is perhaps the most pressing need of the hour.” Unless we rightly understand the law the gospel makes little or no sense. If Christ is “the end of the law for righteousness” and if “we establish the law by faith” (or the gospel), then a knowledge of what the law is and does seems necessary.

    Thank you for this timely reminder. May it result in a togetherness for the Gospel. That is, the gospel that establishes the law.


  3. love the Rembrandt!
    nice touch…

  4. Thanks Jim look forward to reading more from you.

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