Have you ever been a victim of injustice or victimized unjustly? Someone misapplied (or over applied) the law against you, or you misapplied against someone else?
- It could be civil - an officer falsely pulling you over or treating you with a bias.
- Cultural - someone judging you for the manner in which you say or do something.
- Moral - someone assuming something about you that wasn’t true.
The flip-side is we often treat others with injustice. We long for mercy ourselves while we seek justice against others. We condemn for a speck in another’s eye while we have a log in our own.
Paul wrote Timothy warning him against some elders who were using God’s law unlawfully . . . that is, they were taking something good (God’s law and word) and using it against people for their own benefit.
If we are going to be a people who demonstrate justice and mercy then our understanding of the purpose of the law is vital. So . . . what is the purpose of the law of God?
Here are three pictures to illustrate:
In the first use, the Law restrains sinful behavior and promotes righteous behavior. It keeps people from doing things like murdering each other and stealing each other’s property.
In this use, the law functions much like a strait-jacket. It restrains people’s behavior. But this is external. The law’s function in this capacity does not penetrate the heart. It is mere behaviorism. God, through the authority which he grants to common societies and governing authorities, restrains evil in the world. Paul speaks of this in his epistle to the Romans (13:1-7). Do what is good and you will have praise from rulers and governing authorities; do what is evil, and you rightly fear (vv3-4).
Here, the Law functions as a means of grace in driving people to see their need of Christ and His righteousness. For the unbeliever, the perfect moral Law reveals one’s sinfulness and inability to keep God’s Law. For the believer, the perfect moral Law continues to reveal our sinfulness and inability to perfectly keep God’s Law. In this second use the Law shows our need for Christ and His righteousness – an alien righteousness that is not our own, but can be ours through faith. The Law shows our need to be justified by faith in Christ.
In Romans 7 Paul said, “It was the law that showed me my sin. I would never have known that coveting is wrong if the law had not said, “You must not covet.” But sin used this command to arouse all kinds of covetous desires within me! If there were no law, sin would not have that power. At one time I lived without understanding the law. But when I learned the command not to covet, for instance, the power of sin came to life, and I died."
After our sinfulness is revealed, the law points us to where righteousness may be found: Galatians 3:24 "So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith." The King James version reads, "Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith."
The law shows us the way to live as believers in Christ. “How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! Through your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way. Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:103-105).
The law is the revealed will of God for His people. Only believers in Jesus who have God’s Spirit are able to keep it properly. The Psalms begin with this (third use) understanding of God’s Law: “How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, Nor stand in the path of sinners, Nor sit in the seat of scoffers! But his delight is in the law of the LORD, And in His law he meditates day and night” (Psalm 1:1-2). Through faith in Jesus Christ, we see God’s law in a new light: purposing to love God, we keep His commandments, and His commandments are not burdensome (1 John 5:2-3).
This third purpose of the law leads the Psalmist to delight in the law of God: “How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! Through your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way. Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:103-105).
In summary, Steve Brown of Key Life ministries writes, “What does it mean to be radically free in Christ? It means we are free from the rules we thought bound us to God. It means we are free from the manipulation other Christians use to make us like them—free from having to fit into the world’s mold, free to be different. We are free from the slavery of religion and from the fear of rejection, alienation and guilt. We are free from the fear of death. We are free from masks, free from pretense, free to doubt, free to risk, free to question. It means we are free to live every moment. But, most of all, we are radically free to follow Christ, not because we have to but because we want to.”
Hymn-writer, William Cowper, penned this stanza in Love Constraining to Obedience:
“Then all my servile works were done
A righteousness to raise;
Now, freely chosen in the Son,
I freely choose his ways.”
We are called to extend the mercy and justice of Christ to others just as He has extended mercy and justice to us. In order to do that, we must learn how to use the law lawfully. That is, we must know that the law is not to be used against people, but for people. It welcomes sinners to find Jesus as their only means of righteousness. To think lightly of the law and sin is to think lightly of Jesus and true justice. To think only of the law is to neglect the mercy of God for others. Walking in righteousness from a motive of delight in Christ's righteousness on our behalf, demonstrates both the justice and mercy of God.