February 25, 2021

What Place Does the Law Have in the Christian Life?

Nathan W. Bingham & W. Robert Godfrey
What Place Does the Law Have in the Christian Life?

Since we are unable to obtain salvation by obeying the Lord's commands, how should Christians make use of the law of God? Today, W. Robert Godfrey explains the positive and helpful function of God's moral law in our lives.


NATHAN W. BINGHAM: I am here on the Ligonier campus and I'm joined today by Ligonier's chairman and one of our teaching fellows Dr. W. Robert Godfrey. Dr. Godfrey, what place does the law have in the life of a Christian?

DR. W. ROBERT GODFREY: That's a great question, and it's a big question because we have to think a little bit about what we mean by law before we can really relate it to the Christian life. When we think about law, we can think about many parts of the Bible that give directives to us. Traditionally, theologians have divided the law into three elements: the moral law, which is forever binding on all of God's creatures; the ceremonial law, which governed Israel in its life in the temple; and the civil law that governed Israel in its life as a nation. Probably, by that question, you want to focus on the moral law. What place does the moral law have in the life of the Christian?

Paul, in reflecting on that in Romans 7, talks about how the law is good and holy and spiritual. So, we always have to remember that's true. It's the expression of God's holy will for us as creatures. It's good; it's reflecting the goodness of God. It's holy; it holds up for us a mirror of what a holy life will look like. It's spiritual; it comes into us by the Spirit.

Sometimes we hear Paul being critical of the law, and when he's being critical of the law, he's being critical of the law if it is treated as the path to justification. He's critical of the law, if it's being taken as a way to God. We cannot come to God by law keeping since we are sinners. The law, in fact, in its first use in our lives is a constant reminder to us of our failure, our sinfulness, our need for mercy, and drives us to Christ. It drives us to the One who has kept the law perfectly, who has redeemed His people in His love and mercy. The law has that very necessary and continuing function of showing us our sinfulness.

But on the positive side, what's often called the third use of the law, the law also directs us as to how we are to live. If we have moral dilemmas, moral questions, the law helps us and shows us the path in which God would have us walk. In that sense, the law has a very positive and very helpful function in the Christian life.