f The Wittenberg Door: Why Christians Need to Hear the Law

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Thursday, January 24, 2013

Why Christians Need to Hear the Law

Over at Experimental Piety, in post titled, Calvin on the Third and Principle Use of the Law, Jordan Harris reminds us of our need to hear God’s Law. Here’s a snippet:

The end of chapter 7 of Book 2 presents a very convincing and powerful argument for the centrality of the third use of the law. Calvin argues from the situation of the church under the Old Covenant that the third use is most connected to the law’s original purpose. I’ve often heard from some Reformed Christians that the law is entirely powerless to do anything positive for the Christian. It is certainly true that the law is powerless to effect reconciliation with God since there is no man who can obey even one iota of the law from the heart. Nevertheless, Calvin does speak of the law as possessing a sort of sanctifying power, a power which instructs us and encourages us. In words that might make some contemporary Reformed Christians cringe, Calvin argues that the law, for the believer, arouses the heart to greater obedience. And lest anyone misunderstand Calvin, he is speaking to believers upon whose hearts the law has been engraved through regeneration.

“Again because we need not only teaching but also exhortation, the servant of God will also avail himself of this benefit of the law: by frequent meditation upon it to be aroused to obedience, be strengthened in it, and be drawn back from the slippery path of transgression (Inst. 2.7.7).”

While it’s not my intention to pick a fight in this context, I will say that this understanding of the law is very different from some negative formulations of the law which have recently been popularized and advocated by Reformed and Presbyterian pastors. I understand the desire to keep the cross central, to glory in the indicatives of the gospel, and to avoid at all costs the paralyzing kind of legalism which ruins so many lives and churches. But the answer is not to run away from the law or to downplay or ignore its instructive use. For Calvin, the law, within the context of the gospel promises and the presence of the Spirit, should arouse, strengthen, and draw us back from sin.



Blogger MklGrmz said...

I've heard misguided arguments regarding the legalistic use of the law. Often, however, these arguments ring hollow when compared to proper elucidations of the plain teaching of Scripture regarding the place of the law of God in the process of the sanctification of the believer.

The law was originally given to Moses on Mt. Sinai for the purpose of regulating the conduct of God's people. This occurred AFTER they had been called out of Egypt, and delivered from slavery. The law was to serve as a way of distinguishing Israel from the pagan nations about them in every way (what they were to eat, how they were to dress, how they were to worship, etc.). Their conduct was to illustrate their peculiarity as opposed to the people of the surrounding nations.

In the same way, Christians today are beholden to obedience to God's precepts, commands, & prohibitions. It is the way we show ourselves thankful for the sovereign and gracious work of salvation wrought for us, and in us, by our God. It is to this end we are called "...that we might be to the praise of His glorious grace. " (Eph 1:3-6). Indeed, the Bible tells us that we were "...created for good works..." (Eph 2:10) and we have no better way to quantify "good works" than that which has been handed down to us from the fathers. The Heidelberg Catechism, question & answer 91 reads,
"What are good works? Those only which proceed from true faith, and are done according to the law of God, unto his glory, and not such as rest on our own opinion or the commandments of men." (emphasis added)

When expounded this way, the Law serves it's proper use in distinguishing the Christian as one set aside for the peculiar purposes of illustrating the holiness and glory of God. It is for this reason we have been called and to this end the Holy Spirit works in us to will and do of His good pleasure.

8:03 PM  
Blogger The Catechizer said...

Good stuff, Michael. A hearty, “Amen!”

6:29 AM  

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