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Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Law and Grace # 8

The Divine Purpose in Giving the Law (continued)

4. Another purpose served by the law is to show the terrible nature of sin (Romans 7:8-13). In this remarkable passage the Holy Spirit shows us that although the law was something wholly good, nevertheless the sin of man is of such a terrible character that it actually works through the law, so that the good and holy commandment of the law not only fails to eliminate sin but actually stimulates sin! Quoting the commandments, "Thou shalt not covet," the Apostle Paul affirms that the effect of this command was actually to revive sin instead of killing it - "When the commandment came, sin revived," he cries (Romans 7:9).

This is the damnable thing about human sin; it can take a holy commandment of God and work that which is evil through the commandment. "Sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence," Paul writes (Romans 7:8). Who is there among the saved, enlightened by the Spirit of God, that has not found this true in his own experience? The injunctions of law actually stimulate sin instead of putting an end to it. That is why Paul speaks of the law as "the strength of sin" (1 Corinthians 15:56).

(Note: It may seem that there is a contradiction between paragraphs 2 and 4 above. How can the law both restrain sin and also at the same time stimulate sin? The answer is that the law contains two elements and it has two effects. The two elements are the command and the penalty, and the  two effects are internal and external. The command inwardly stimulates the attitude of rebellion in men with sinful natures. On the other hand, the penalty externally restrains the outward act of rebellion. Thus the contradiction is only apparent.)

5. Looking at the matter now from a slightly different standpoint, we find that the law was given to reveal how vast is the number of our sins. "Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound" (Romans 5:20.) The term "offence' here refers not to sin in general, but rather to every individual act of sin committed under the law. Thus the law by multiplying the requirements of God reveals to men the multitude of their offenses. In this sense, the law does not make men worse than they are, but rather shows more clearly how bad they are already. When Paul writes, "The law entered," he employs a Greek verb which "applies to an actor who does not occupy the front of the stage, but who appears thee only to play an accessory part." How true! In dealing with sin, it is the grace of God in Christ which occupies the center of the stage in the divine drama of the ages.

6. The law was given to shut every mouth and establish the guilt of all the world. This is an important function of divine law - "that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God" (Romans 3:19). The English word "guilty" has unfortunately been weakened in popular usage. To say that a man is guilty of a specific crime means only, in popular thought, that he committed the crime. But in the Bible, as well as in the terminology of our courts, to say that a man is "guilty" means not only that he has broken the law but also that he is under an obligation to suffer the penalty for what he has done. The Greek word is "upodikos", which may be rendered "under judicial sentence." Thus it is the function of divine law, in whatever form it may be revealed, to bring all the world under the judicial sentence of God. And from this judicial sentence there can be no appeal - every mouth is stopped. It is not difficult to get men to admit they have sinned. It is not so easy to get them to admit that they deserve to be punished for their deeds. This is the real meaning of "guilt", and until we acknowledge our guilt God can do nothing for us.

7. The law was given to set a restraining guard upon men until they find true freedom in Christ by faith (Galatians 3:23-24). "But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed" (Galatians 3:23). Both verbs carry the idea of restraint; we were "kept" and "shut up" as if in a prison or under a military guard.

The 24th verse in the King James Version has been the source of considerable misunderstanding. The apostle certainly did not write, "The law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ." The words "to bring us" do not occur in the original text. This whole idea of the law serving as a schoolmaster conducting the sinner to Christ, as Lightfoot has declared, ought to be "abandoned." The "paidagogos (schoolmaster) of ancient times was a slave who exercised restraint over the child until he was made a son. So the law was the 'paidagogos" until Christ came and sonship was acquired by faith in Him.

The law does not bring men to Christ, therefore, but rather imposes a necessary restraint upon them until they find true moral freedom by faith in Christ. (For an excellent discussion of his passage, see Denny's article on Law in Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible). This does not mean that the law has no useful function in the work of bringing men to Christ. The law reveals to men their sin and their doom, and in this sense makes the sinner conscious of his need. But this is not the idea taught in Galatians 3:24.

~Alva J. McClain~

(continued with # 9)

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