January 29th, 2009, 10:08 PM
What Was the Purpose of the Law?
What Was the Purpose of the Law?
by Dan Nuckols
In Galatians, Paul confronts the Galatians for returning to legalism in order to “earn” their salvation. However, legalism will never save one anymore than paganism will. Legalism nullifies God’s free gift of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Paul makes it clear that righteousness from God has never depended on the law - it cannot give life. Rather it imprisons people under their sin, so they see their need for The Savior, Jesus Christ. “For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe” (Galatians 3:21-22).
Paul makes it clear the righteousness that comes from God never depended on works of the law. Paul says in Galatians 3:7 that righteousness from God is based on faith. Also that Abraham was considered righteous even before the law came (v.17)!
Since keeping the law is not a means for salvation, what is the purpose therefore of the law? That is the goal of this paper – to address that question.
The Bible says that the function of the law is to convert the soul. Psalm 19:17 says, “The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul.” The primary function of God’s Law is to convert the soul. The question then is how the law used to convert the Soul.
Before this paper goes into depth on how the law is used to convert the soul, it is important to discuss however, who does the converting. Jesus said in John 16:7-8, that when He goes away He would send the Holy Spirit to convict the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment. “Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.” Therefore one must understand that the Holy Spirit is the one that does the convicting, not the Law. However, the Bible makes it clear that the Holy Spirit uses the law to bring conviction of sin. “sin” by definition is transgression of the moral Law of God. John says in 1 John 3:4, that “sin is lawlessness.”
1) The Law Brings Knowledge of Sin
Paul said in Romans 7:7-8, that he did not know sin until the law came. In other words, the law showed Paul that he was a sinner. “Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, "You shall not covet." But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead.”
Paul says in Romans 7:5, “For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death.” Sin is made “alive” or “aroused” by the law. If there is no law, there is no transgression. However, since God has written His law down on stone and in the consciences of mankind, all men are without excuse.
2) Stops Self-Justification
One function of the moral law of God is to stop sinners from self-justifying themselves by claiming to be morally good.
Paul says that the law killed him. Instead of the law giving him life, the law made sin become alive for him, and proved to be the death of him; “I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died. The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment deceived me and through it killed me. So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good” (Romans 7:9-12). Any hope of keeping the whole law, is hopeless for every human being. Actually, that’s just what the Bible says in Romans 3:23; “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
“The law brought man face to face with his sins; it demonstrated his need for salvation. ‘It’s function was, by means of commands and prescriptions, to bring him to despair and to cause the desire to be born in him that he fulfill the will of God in freedom.”
Stops the Mouth
Romans 3:19 says, “Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God.” The law stops the sinner’s mouth from justifying oneself.
Sign of Unrighteousness
According to Martin Luther, the law does not justify men, but it is actually a sign of unrighteousness. Luther says that the presence of the law shows that evil needs to be restrained, as it is with civil laws.
Paul said that the law was a “schoolmaster” to bring him to Christ (In Galatians 3:24), the Greek word used is, Paidagogos, literally means “child-custodian” or “child-attendant.” This differs somewhat from the traditional view of a “schoolmaster.” In wealthy Greek and Roman families a Paidagogos was a household slave. The primary task of this slave would be watching over a family’s child getting the Child to go to and from School.  In the same way Paul says that the law is a Paidagogos. The law is always watching over us and judging the things we do. Because we are all under the law, and fail, this drives us to the feet of the Savior. “So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith” (Galatians 3:24, ESV translation). So the law was our guardian over us, until we got a new guardian, Jesus Christ. Because we have a new owner, we have now we have become slaves to righteousness. “For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?”(Romans 6:14-16).
Brings us to the Cross
Martin Luther summarizes the purpose of law well in the following quote: “If the law do not justify, to what end doth it serve? Although it justifieth not, yet it is profitable and necessary. For first it civilly restraineth such as are carnal, rebellious, and obstinate. Also it is a glass that showeth unto a man himself., that he is a sinner, guilty of death, and worthy of God’s indignation and wrath. To what end serveth this humbling and bruising? To the end that we have an entrance into grace. So then the law is a minister that prepareth the way to grace….(sinner says) “the law has tormented me sharply, now is the time for grace, now is the time to hear Christ out of whose mouth proceeds the words of grace and life.” 
Luther summarizes it well. The primary function of God’s law is first to show us that we are sinners. The failure to obey the law drives us to the foot of the cross of Christ for forgiveness. The law should “torment” as Luther puts it, and convict, and it should bring about godly sorrow, that works repentance, unto salvation - “for godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation” (2 Cor 7:10). This is the purpose of the law – to drive us to the Cross. Jesus is the Savior promised Savior mankind had been waiting for since Genesis 3:15. Matthew 5:17 says that Christ came to fulfill the law. He is the fulfillment (what the whole purpose of the law was), to be the only Savior for mankind.
 Gaebelein, Frank E. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. Vol.10 ( Romans through Galatians), Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1976. pp. 457, 461.
 Picirilli, Robert E. The Randall House Bible Commentary (Galatians through Colossians), Grand Rapids, T: Randall House Publications, 1988. p.57
 Luther, Martin. Commentary on Galatians., Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Classics, 1979. p.189
 Gaebelein, Frank E. p 467.
 Luther, Martin. p.194
Gaebelein, Frank E. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. Vol.10 ( Romans through Galatians), Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1976.
Luther, Martin. Commentary on Galatians., Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Classics, 1979.
Picirilli, Robert E. The Randall House Bible Commentary (Galatians through Colossians), Grand Rapids, T: Randall House Publications, 1988.
All verses are taken from the English Standard Version (ESV).