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There Ought to Be A Law

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In our sermon series at ACC this autumn we are exploring the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17; Deut. 5:1-21). The Ten Commandments serve as a synopsis of God’s moral law, showing us what a well-lived human life looks like in the eyes of God.

This raises a question: What role does God’s moral law play in the life of a Christian? Do these old rules still apply? If so, in what way? 

The Protestant Reformer, John Calvin (1509-1564) suggested that there are three “uses” of the law that are beneficial for our lives as believers.

First, the law serves as a mirror. (James 1:23-25) Just as peering into a mirror shows us what we really look like to others, peering into the law shows us what we really look like to God. It reveals our sinfulness. Paul wrote, “I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law.” (Rom. 7:7) The reason God wants us to see our sinfulness is not so that we will feel condemned or even so that we will try hard to change. God wants us to see our sinfulness so that we will turn to Christ for forgiveness and salvation. The law helps bring this to pass. Just as beholding your dirty face in a mirror causes you to turn on the water for cleansing, seeing our dirty souls reflected in the law moves us to turn to Jesus to be cleansed and forgiven.

Second, the law serves as a leash. Romans 2:15 says that “the requirements of the law are written on [people’s] hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.” God has created human beings so that almost all people have an innate understanding of the basic principles of right and wrong. This inborn sense of morality is reflected in the legal codes that societies create to restrain evil behavior. There is a lot wrong with the world we live in, but things are not nearly as bad as they could be. Most people do not wake up in the morning with plans to murder, pillage, and create mayhem. Most people understand that they ought to be honest and helpful toward their neighbors. God’s moral standards, written on our consciences and encoded in our laws, serve as a leash to restrain us from such behavior. We should thank God for this fact every day.

A third important function of the law is to serve as a map. As people redeemed by the blood of Jesus, we will certainly want to live in ways that please our God. The moral laws found in Scripture guide us in doing this. Like a good map, God’s laws show us what path to follow to express our gratitude to the Lord through our obedience. The law helps us to “find out what pleases the Lord” (Eph. 5:10). Because the Lord has saved us, we love him and want to please him by obeying his commands. 1 John 5:3 says, “In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome ….”

It is important to remember, however, that though the law is a great mirror, a necessary leash, and a helpful map, it is a horrible ladder. To use the 10 Commandments to attempt to climb up into heaven through our own effort will only lead to frustration and failure. Romans 3:20 says, “No one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.” We are people saved by grace, not by works!