Peace if possible. Truth at all costs. ~ Martin Luther

The Perfect Law of God

In today’s church, the mere mention of the preaching of “law” incites looks of disdain and suspicion. Ever heard Christians say something like this? …

  • “Surely to preach law makes you a legalist, and doesn’t the Bible teach against that?”
  • “The law is Old Testament, and now that Jesus has come all of that has been done away with!”
  • “People don’t need to hear about law – they need to hear about grace.”

In fact, the routine training of preachers today usually includes the idea, fostered by the pragmatic philosophy of the church growth movement, that it is not expedient to tell people about their sin or failure – instead we must tell people only about a God who loves them no matter what they have done. Preach positive messages that do not offend, and you’ll keep people coming back to hear more.

These ideas are 180 degrees, diametrically opposed to Biblical evangelism. The preachers of the New Testament, beginning with Jesus Himself and continuing through the apostles, made it their normal practise to preach “Man’s need and God’s gift”. They declared to people that they were sinners who needed to repent, appealing to their consciences by the law of God, they allowed the Holy Spirit to do His great work of conviction in people’s hearts, and THEN (and only then) told of God’s gracious answer in the death of Christ to put away sin.

Is the law an outdated message? Is it now superceded in such a way as to have no part to play?

NO! This is a misnomer. Psalm 19:7 tells us that “The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul.” There is nothing wrong with the law – the failure is with sinful man who in his fallen nature cannot keep it. So, can we be saved by the keeping of the law? NO! Every one of us have already broken it, and stand condemned by it, and thereby cut off from a holy God.

We need to understand the PURPOSE of the law. 1 Timothy 1:8 says “But we know that the law is good if one uses it lawfully”. Notice this is a New Testament text, and Paul (a New Testament apostle) teaches that “the law IS good” … present tense. But it must be used lawfully; that is “rightly” or “correctly”, or “for the purpose it was designed for”.

He goes on in the very next verse (1:9) to say, “knowing this: that the law is not made for a righteous person, but for the lawless and insubordinate, for the ungodly and for sinners, for the unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, for fornicators, for sodomites, for kidnappers, for liars, for perjurers, and if there is any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine…”

In order to be saved, men must “repent and believe”. Repent of their sin, and believe on (cling to, trust in and rely on) Jesus Christ as their only Savior. But how will a person repent unless he sees himself a sinner in need of forgiveness? This is the role of the law. It is to show us how hopelessly short of God’s moral standard we fall, and as such we are under His judgment.

Here is the Biblical principle … it is “Law to the proud, Grace to the humble”. Galatians 3:24 tells us, “Therefore the law was our tutor (schoolmaster) to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith.” The law is given as the canon to blast apart man’s self-righteousness and expose his conscience to the full and unrelenting gaze of Almighty God. Only when his pride is thus broken, and he sees his desperate need will God’s grace be precious to him. The message of God’s grace is meaningless and irrelavent to people, until they see their sinfulness.

John Wesley told young preachers that they ought to preach “90% law and 10% grace”. Some might think this just hyperbole, and if not then it is an extreme view to say the least. But think about it. The real battle is to get sinful man to recognize his true condition. Once this is accomplished and a person is trembling under the knowledge of God’s wrath against their sin, you only need the simplest presentation of the gracious gospel of salvation in Jesus and they will cling to Him immediately.

In discarding the preaching of the law, modern evangelism has given up the real power of God to bring about true repentance. A repentance-less gospel is no gospel at all. There is no true work of salvation without it. Hence, your preaching will produce false converts and a powerless church. Far from saving people, you will only achieve the hardening of their hearts in self-righteousness and false assurance.

May God bring us back to the old gospel, and we shall have the old power!

Pastor Phil