Why The Law Then?

Ryan Goodwin




          Paul asks the question in Galatians 3:19, “Why the Law then?” We must ask the same question today! Why was there a Law before Christ? We sometimes do not recognize the value behind studying the Old Law. It was, after all, the oft-forgotten law of a people that are no longer recognized by God. It was a series of seemingly tedious codes of conduct that regulated everything from marriage, to treatment of livestock, to animal sacrifice, and everything in between. We are no longer under this law, either. Turn to Galatians. “Man is not justified by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ” (Galatians 2:16). By “the works of the law shall no flesh be justified” (2:16).

          Consider the problem from our perspective; we do not often see the usefulness of the Old Law because we are the partakers of Christ’s Law, the more perfect system of faith combined with works of obedience. We seem to have every reason to disregard the Old Law completely. But Christ’s covenant with us is established because of [or in fulfillment of] that first covenant! Understanding the importance of the Old Law in the scheme of redemption and history is absolutely important in understanding the structure and purpose of the New Law. If we do not have ourselves grounded in the Old Testament, then we will never truly comprehend the New Testament! The two of them go hand-in-hand. Notice the way that John puts it in John 1:17. He writes, “For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ.”  Though the Law of works came through Moses the prophet, the system was perfected by the grace found in the sacrifice of our Lord.


To Help Men See God’s Holiness


          Turn to Psalm 119:137-138. From the psalmist’s perspective, every law of God, all His statutes and regulations, is what makes God Holy. From the pure and righteous God comes forth pure and righteous judgments! The Law of Moses was so perfect, in fact, that it would have taken a perfect person to fulfill all the parts of this Law. God made His edicts so that mankind would fully understand its place as sinful and lowly; there is no conceivable way for man to achieve perfection by the Law (Galatians 3:10). It is a standard too far above man in every way to make us perfect (Hebrews 7:19 says, “for the Law made nothing perfect”).


·        We have in the Old Law a set of rules meant to regulate God’s people. These rules are perfect in every way. They cannot all be followed by simple men. If they cannot be followed completely, then no man can ever be saved by them.

·        How better to show God’s righteousness and man’s sinfulness than such a scenario? God is very clearly stating, “This is what I expect, and it is unachievable by you!”

·        Not that God’s purpose is to arrogantly deride and despise us. Just as a parent lays down rules for his children, God does the same for His people. In order to emphasize the one-way dependence of the relationship, God gave rules that required perfection. In lieu of perfection, the alternative is grace and forgiveness, which can only be given by God (Luke 5:19-24).

·        The Law was also given by God to show how sinful man is in comparison to God! “Whereas God’s laws are an expression of His righteous character, they are also a reminder of man’s lawlessness and iniquity” (Hymel, The Law of Moses) . Take a look at Romans 3:10-12. It reads, “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks after God. All have turned aside, they have together become worthless; there is no one who good, not even one.” It is a quotation from Psalm 14:1-3.

·        The Law showed how much man had fallen short of God’s glory. All of the rules and regulations were meant to be targets toward which the Jews could aim. The Law was the ideal, the perfect, the way to be like God. If they could follow this standard, they would be as Godly as humanly impossible in this life! At the same time, though, it reminded the Jews how much they had missed that mark.

·        And that is exactly what sin is! Notice the Greek word hamartia (amartia), which literally means “to miss the mark” (Vine’s Dictionary). Every departure from God’s divine word is missing the mark He has set for man. It is missing the standard and falling below what is expected of us!  


To Define Sin and Its Consequences


          The purpose of the Law was not to eliminate sin from the world. It could not extinguish it, nor did it abolish unrighteousness from man. Instead, the Law brought about the knowledge of sin. It made sin “utterly sinful” (Romans 7:13) in order to define what transgression is! So God enacted this Old Law of Moses to help define sin and righteousness so clearly that there would be no excuse for the people of Israel. He wanted His people to be so clean and pure that every nation around them would marvel at the wisdom of their God (Deuteronomy 4:6-8). And it worked! There were times in Israelite history when heathens (Gentiles) were more impressed with God’s law then Israel was! Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 4:2-3, the Assyrians in Jonah 3, King Artaxerxes in Ezra 7:25-28, and Cornelius in Acts 10:1-2 are all examples of Gentiles who saw the Law of God and admired it, in some cases followed it, and had a hand in fulfilling the will of the Lord. 

          I want to take a look at Romans 3:19-20. It is through or by law that lawlessness is clarified. If we did not have a law prohibiting murder, there would be no legal reason why murder is wrong. As Paul puts it in Romans 7:7, he never would have known that coveting was wrong had the law not said, “Thou shall not covet.” Law tells us what truth and goodness are, and it also clearly tells us what the antithesis is. Without an enacted law, something is not unlawful, as exemplified by the statement in Romans 4:15, which states that where there is no law, there is no violation. But do not be deceived – First of all, there has always been a law of God in some form. Since the day of creation until now, and until the day that this world is destroyed in intense heat, there will always be a law of God! Second, we are all held accountable to whatever that law is.


·        We know for a fact, that there was a law given to mankind before Mt. Sinai. Laws of morality and cleanliness were apparent in the book of Genesis, indicating that even before God outlined a specific Law in the times of Moses, He has moral and ethical requirements for His created beings.

·        Gentiles understood that adultery was wrong (Genesis12:18-20, Genesis 20:6-10).

·        All sorts of immoral behaviors were being practiced by the entire population of the world in the time of Noah. Sin was so prominent, in fact, that God felt the need to destroy mankind with a great flood. We cannot imagine how awful that world must have been to destroy such a judgment!

·        Pride was a sin (Tower of Babel, Genesis 11).

·        Homosexuality was a sin (Genesis 19).

·        Personal revenge was wrong (Genesis 27:42).

·        Stealing was wrong, even punishable by death (Genesis 44:9). And many, many other sins were apparently wrong even before the time of the Law of Moses.


          There are those out there who want to argue that no definitive law has been given to man, except for the Old Law. And since we are not under the Old Law anymore, than all of the “specifics” of morality are no longer applicable to us. But we know that even those who have not pledged obedience to Christ (i.e., those who have not confessed and been baptized into Christ) are accountable to His words. Indeed, a truthful, doctrinal, observable law is in authority right now for all mankind! We know that it is observable because of 2 Timothy 1:13-14. We know that all mankind is accountable to it from John 12:48.

          Understand that it is not the action alone that saves us. Neither is it faith alone which saves us. The Law of Christ is a law of grace, whereby we are shown grace for our sins, and forgiveness toward making ourselves new, clean and whole. Law does not do this for us! Law is limited to simply revealing our sins to us, and it is a guide to helping us pattern our lives after Jesus Christ. The Law of Moses was to help man see the benefit of the gospel. Turn to Romans 3:31. We read that we do not nullify the Law by having faith in Christ. Instead, we establish it or uphold it. The laws of God, when taken seriously and applied to our lives, will break our arrogance, shut our mouth, pin down our guilt and make us see ourselves as the “wretched man” that we are (Romans 7:24).

          God’s laws, specifically our law from Christ and not Moses, tell us what is right and wrong, in order to make us pure in spirit. While it is faith and grace that save us, it obedience to His law that is truly the manifestation of that faith. God came to save sinners, and His law, if used lawfully, will allow men to see their sins and receive mercy.


To Show The Need For a Savior


          “For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Hebrews 10:4). As already noted earlier, sin became utterly sinful when the Law came into existence. With all this sin in the world, even the animal sacrifices offered in the Temple of God were not able to cleanse. Instead, the sins of one year were simply pushed forward to the next year, and so on. No person under the Law was ever forgiven of his sins under that law. No person could ever find salvation. Turn with me to Hebrews 10:1-3. 1 For the Law, since it has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of things, can never by the same sacrifices year by year, which they offer continually, make perfect those who draw near. 2 Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, because the worshippers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have had consciousness of sins? 3 But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins year by year.”   


·        It all goes back to sacrifice. Under the Law, sacrifice was necessary for sins. Blood of animals was used to atone for the transgressions under the covenant, but it was always impossible for that blood to take away the sins. “In those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins year by year.” It only pushed them away, saved them for later judgment.

·        Blood was a key component of the Law. After Moses had finished reading all the oracles of the Law, he sprinkled the books with blood (Hebrews 9:19). And the writer of Hebrews puts it well in Hebrews 9:21-22.

·        So if it was necessary for that Old Covenant to be founded upon blood, then it becomes even more necessary for the New Covenant to be founded upon blood that is even more pure! Instead of sacrificing animals every year at a feast, or on certain days when certain sins were committed, it has become a new system with only one sacrifice, for all time, for all sins: Christ. We do not need to kill thousands of animals now to obtain forgiveness. All we need now is Christ’s one and only death (Hebrews 10:14 reads, “For by one offering, He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified”).

·        One important point to note is that the sacrifice of Christ was retroactive. While the Law itself was unable to save people under it, those who followed as best as they could were granted grace when Christ arrived. Obviously, we know of some very righteous people who were given the keys to eternal life before Christ died. Moses, is often cited as one of the most righteous men of all time, although we know he had his faults and sins. King David transgressed the Law numerous times, but He still was righteous. The prophets under the Old Law are mentioned by Christ as being saved. And countless other men and women from under the Old Law are granted grace under Christ. Although none of them were able to perfectly follow the Law, and they were cursed by that Law (as it says in Galatians 3:10, “Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the Law, to perform them”), these Jews did their best, and looked forward to the day when Christ would come and finally free all men from the bondage of sin (Romans 8:1-4).


Practical Applications


·        We are the ones who now have the opportunity to believe in Christ and gain salvation through His blood.

·        We are the ones who have the opportunity to place membership in His body, and become citizens of His glorious Kingdom. We can do this right now!

·        We can look back at the Old Law, with its rules and regulations, with its unachievable standards, with its Godliness and righteousness, and we can learn some lessons from it. The Old Law, which is the law of the Jews, is no longer in effect today, but its value is immeasurable (Psalm 19:7-14).

·        We can look back the stories of old and see that the situations believers faced thousands of years are very similar to what we face.

·        We can see their triumphs and know that it is within our capacity to be victorious.

·        Notice the love that Old Testament followers had for the Scriptures, yet there were few copies in circulation. How much more should we adore the Bible?

·        Why waste the Old Testament? It makes us more than half the Bible, and it is the thing that Christ and the apostles quoted at length! When we spend all of our time on the Epistles, we miss out the valuable and exciting lessons from David, Samuel, Elijah, Ehud, Abraham, and all of the other godly men who came before us.