by Jeremiah Hill

We believe that the Law of God is the eternal and unchangeable rule of His moral government; that it is holy, just, and good; and that the inability which the Scriptures ascribe to fallen men to fulfill its precepts, arises entirely from their love of sin; to deliver them from which, and to restore them through a Mediator to unfeigned obedience to the holy Law, is one great end of the Gospel, and of the Means of Grace connected with the establishment of the visible church.

The Substance and End of the Law

Calvin defines for us three uses of the Law. The first is ‘a mirror,’ in which we see our own hearts in light of God’s Law. This purpose is to drive us to Christ, the only true Law-keeper, as our hope. The second use refers to that part of the Law which is meant to govern society at large. In part, we see this at use in all places such as our own government as it restricts our right to take the life of another. Parenthetically we might ask the question of how anyone other than a believer rightly knows the laws of God. The answer is simply that the Law of God is written on the hearts of man (Rom. 2:15). There is an innate sense of knowing what God abhors and what he loves. It must also be noted that as people continue to defy the true God, they are given over to and begin to cherish more their own sin and idolatry. This process leads to a forfeiture of our intuition of God’s Law. The third use of the Law is that part of the Law that we use as Christians to guide our holy living.

The third of these uses is the most widely debated of the three. To begin we must look briefly at both salvation and sanctification in the Old Testament (OT). Salvation in the OT was never achieved through Law-keeping or moral uprightness. Post fall, the only way for final harmony to exist between Man and God is through the taking away of death and the giving of life. This was always done through faith in the mediation of God, symbolically portrayed in the slaying of animals (Heb. 10:4), and finally fulfilled in the slaying of the Son. Therefore the mode of salvation has always been through faith in God’s promise of a mediator.

Regarding sanctification, we must ask whether God’s demands in the Law are anything other than a concrete expression of God’s very own character. In giving the Law, does God impose a character foreign to his own? Does God intend through the Law for them to conform to an ideal other than himself? Of course, God does not have to keep his own laws regarding mediation or maintaining physical purity. Assuming that God’s commands are never arbitrary, the purpose of every command must be seen in light of its end, experiencing divine and brotherly harmony. Every command maintains and establishes life to that end. I conclude here that the very substance of the Law is none other than the character of God the Trinity, chiefly manifested to us in the person and life of Jesus Christ. In both salvation and sanctification, continuity has always existed between the OT and the NT because Christ is the substance of salvation and the Law.

If we put forth that the Law has an entirely different aim than that of Christ, there will be little use for the Law. If the Law was intended to be bounce-house rules for the nation of Israel and they alone, we have no use. But based on what we have shown so far, and from Christ coming to fulfill the Law, not destroy it (Mt. 5:17), we can see that the Law was intended for all of God’s people, before or after Christ came, to follow. God’s character is manifest in the Law such that conformity to the Law is conformity to Christ. But as we move throughout the OT Law, there are several laws that cannot apply to us; for example, those regarding animal sacrifice for atonement (Lev. 16). How then do we go about discerning what we are to following with regard to OT Law? No simple answer will be offered here (there is not simple answer). We can at least say that the civil and ceremonial laws terminated in Christ. Beyond this, Christ enlarges and reinterprets different laws such as adultery and loving our neighbors (Mt. 5). Those laws which pass through the lens of the teaching of Christ and his apostles are clearly required of us. In addition, those closely associated with these laws should not be easily cast aside.

Thus the moral law set forth in the OT which is both reiterated and reinterpreted by Christ is for us a guide to living like Christ. To dismiss the application of the Law is to look at Christ – who perfectly loved and honored God apart from any images or ill-utterance, who perfectly rested on the Sabbath (in spite of the rabbinic traditions), who perfectly submitted to Mary and Joseph, who perfectly loved men and women alike, who spoke nothing but truth, who had no want to even think of stealing or doubting his Father – with little significance given to his Law-fulfilling obedience.

Select Bibliography

The Cross and Salvation – Demarest

Calvin – Institutes 2

Theology for the Church – Akin