The Christian’s Relation to the Law

One of the hot and controversial discussions of our day among "sovereign grace Baptists" is concerning the Christian’s relation to the law of God as expressed in the 10 commandments. There is certainly division in the camp over whether or not the 10 commandments are still necessary for Christians.

My response to the issue would depend upon what is meant by "necessary." Justification never has come by way of the law (keeping the 10 commandments). The examples for justification through faith in the NT are taken directly from the OT. David and Abraham are the prime examples used by Paul in Romans 4. Abraham preceded the law of Moses, David was born under the law. Neither of them secured justifying righteousness by way of the law.

In fact, the righteousness of God without the law necessary to justification was witnessed by the law and the prophets (Rom. 3:21). The very fact that God instituted the priesthood, sacrificial system, the tabernacle and the temple all testify that man cannot obtain the necessary righteousness for justification through keeping the 10 commandments (or any other commandments). That justification is by grace, through faith, is no new idea set forth in the NT. The NT unfolds the doctrine more clearly and clarifies the doctrine in the face of much confusion that had crept in to the Jewish ranks. But, the NT does not set forth a new way to be justified.

The Apostle Paul makes it clear that the law was not given to impart life or to justify (Gal. 3:21). The law only condemns. Anyone coming to the 10 commandments for life will only find darkness and smoke and fearful condemnation. Acts 13:38,39, referring to the forgiveness of sin through Jesus Christ, Paul concludes, And by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses.

Not only could one not be justified by way of righteousness obtained through keeping the law (10 commandments), he could not be justified by way of the sacrifices of animals. None of those things, which were pictures of the coming sacrifice of Christ, could justify the sinner. This is plainly stated in Hebrews 10:4, For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goat should take away sins.

So, there is little question or reason for debate over the necessity of the law in relation to our justification. The law does not justify anyone! It was never given for that reason. It does, however, show to us that we are sinners and in need of justification. Paul states this very clearly in Romans 5:20 and 7:7-11.

The issue that is most debated is whether or not the law (10 commandments) is necessary for the Christian in regard to sanctification. This is not an attempt to end the debate, for that will never happen. There are Scriptures that seem to support the position that the law is not necessary and those which support the position that the law is necessary.

Let me just set forth a few thoughts that hopefully will assist saints toward being holy as He is holy and pursuing sanctification of life that is the expressed will of God for His people (I Thess. 4:3).

The law has no power to sanctify. That was never its intent. The Scripture clearly tells us that we are sanctified by the Spirit, through the Spirit and by faith (I Cor. 6:11 ; Galatians 5:5,6 ; Philippians 2:13 ; I Peter 1:22). Walking in the Spirit is the realm in which sanctification takes place. He is the One who gives us the love for God and others and the desire to keep the commandments of God. Simply knowing the commandments (the 10 or the many more specific expressions of God’s will found in all the Bible) will never make us holy or move us toward the likeness of Christ.

Sanctification begins with a heart that is changed by the power of God, that is created in righteousness and true holiness (Eph. 4:24). This is that new creature that II Corinthians 5:17 talks about. All who are in Christ are in the New Covenant, which means a heart and mind that is changed to know and love all that God commands (Heb. 8:10). The child of God does not find the commandments of God to be grievous (I John 5:1-3).

Sometimes it seems that we can complicate matters to a point that confusion reigns. I am not trying to oversimplify a difficult issue, but am trying to make sense of God’s revelation to us. Does it make sense that Jesus Christ would come to fulfill the righteousness of the law so that His followers could do otherwise? It seems that Romans 8:4 is telling us that one of the results of the work of Christ is to enable us to participate in the righteousness of the law like Christ did. Being conformed to His image certainly must include something of following His example (I Peter 2:21).

It seems rather silly to argue that mankind is under the curse of the law apart from Christ and then to argue that the law is irrelevant to us when we come into union with Christ by faith. I do not believe that Christians look to the law for sanctification, but our sanctification includes a glad submission to the law to which we once gave little heed.

There is no conflict between the Spirit and the law. Thus, if the Spirit inhabits us, we will delight to do His will as it is revealed in the law: including the 10 commandments and all other commandments given by the Lawgiver, Jesus Christ! So, it seems Biblically reasonable to conclude that the 10 commandments are a clear and concise expression of God’s will for His people (yea, all of creation) and are summed up by the two statements to love God with all our hearts and our neighbor as ourselves.

These are some simple thoughts that surely do not measure up to the deep thoughts of many who have written on this subject. But perhaps God will use what is written here to bring attention the standard of righteousness which He wrote with His own finger (twice) on stone and placed within that revered ark of the covenant. That covenant is passed and a new covenant has been instituted. Those commandments expressed on those stones by God were lived out by our Savior. In the New Covenant, our hearts are drawn to obey them as we see them lived out and expounded upon by our Savior and the Apostles in the New Testament.

Kyle White, Pastor
March, 2006