Of the three uses of the law, the so-called “civil” use may strike us as the least interesting theologically. It involves no inward transformation of the heart or Spirit-wrought righteousness that is pleasing in God’s sight. By this use, the law restrains the sinful excesses of sinners through the fear of shame and punishment, promoting an external obedience to moral standards and a measure of peace in society. It may be hard to get excited about this civil use of the law in comparison to the pedagogical use, which exposes people’s unrighteousness and drives them to repent of their sins …
Get a group of conservative Christians together and before long someone will probably express shock at the latest evidence of cultural decline: “Can you believe what they did?” It’s not nearly as common in such settings for someone to say, “Well, of course outrageous things happen in society — we’re all a bunch of rotten sinners.”
In the second chapter of Hebrews, the author notes that God did not appoint angels, but human beings, to rule the world to come (v. 5), and he quotes Psalm 8 to prove it: “You made him for a little while lower than the angels; you have crowned him with glory and honor, putting everything in subjection under his feet” (Heb. 2:7–8). Then the inspired author makes a statement that is both obvious and profound: “At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him” (v. 8). This statement is obvious because everyone recognizes that we human …
Dr. David VanDrunen is Robert B. Strimple Professor of systematic theology and Christian ethics at Westminster Seminary California. He is contributor to By Faith Alone: Answering the Challenges to the Doctrine of Justification.