That we may know the holy nature and will of God, and the sinful nature and disobedience of our hearts; and thus our need of a Saviour. The law also teaches and exhorts us to live a life worthy of our Saviour.
“Is the law, therefore, opposed to the promises of God? Absolutely not! For if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law. But Scripture has locked up everything under the control of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe. ” (Galatians 3:21,22)
There was nothing arbitrary about the commands of the Law; they were designed to enable God’s people to display the character of their God. The repeated refrain (especially within the book of Leviticus) is: “Be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy.” (Leviticus 19:2) We are not to deceive or defraud, because God is trustworthy; we are to uphold justice, because God is just; we are to care for the poor because God is concerned for the poor; we are to love, because He is love.
But the Law had another very important function. It not only reveals the holy nature of God; it also lays bare the corrupted nature of mankind. For whether we are sinners who disregard the Law or legalists who attempt to obey it, we are all condemned by it: we cannot fulfil all its demands. “For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the Kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:20) There is no way of escape – we need to be rescued. Thus the Law, although it seems superficially to offer a route to salvation, actually demonstrates our desperate need of a Saviour (Luke 5:31,32).
It might therefore seem that the Law is now useless; but that is far from being the case. On the contrary, Jesus assures us that it remains permanently valid (Matthew 5:18), and in His teaching (notably in the Sermon on the Mount) actually intensifies many of its demands. “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48) is not a qualification for salvation but an aspiration for sanctification. We still look to the Law (the new Law of the Kingdom) to teach us what is right and what is wrong, and to set before us what a life of obedience (as a result of faith) should look like.
Go before us, Lord, in all we do
With Your most gracious favour,
And guide us with Your continual help,
That in all our works
Begun, continued and ended in You,
We may glorify Your holy name,
And finally by Your mercy receive everlasting life,
Through Jesus Christ our Lord.
(Collect for 4th Sunday before Lent)