Sunday, March 28, 2010

Third Purpose and the "So-Called" Abrogation of the Law

Yesterday we read about the first two purposes of the Law: (1)The Pedagogical use or the use of the Law to humble us by showing us our own shortcomings and (2) The Restraining or the use of the Law to limit unbelievers through the promise of punishment.  Today we will start of looking at the third, final, and principle purpose of the Law.

The Law still has a prominent place in the life of a believer.  Yes, God writes His Laws upon our hearts, but we still long to do His will and God's Law provides that guidance.  Calvin writes, "It is as if some servant, already prepared with all earnestness of heart to commend himself to his master, must search out and observe his master's ways more carefully in order to conform and accommodate himself to them."  We want to please our master, and by understanding His expectations we can serve him better.  In a similar fashion, the Law also rebukes us when we go against God.  "The law is to the flesh like a whip to an idle and balky ass, to arouse it to work.  Even for a spiritual man not yet free of the weight of the flesh the law remains a constant sting that will not let him stand still."

There were/are Christians who wish to do away with the Law in its entirety.  They totally misunderstand the purposes of the Law and they misunderstand Christ's mission on earth.  What did Christ say he was here to do in regard to the Law?  "Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill" (Matthew 5:17 NKJV).  He was not casting out the Law but he was living it out.  He showed us how to live in a fashion pleasing to God with the Law written on our hearts.  Calvin writes, "We ought not to be frightened away from the law or to shun its instruction merely because it requires a much stricter moral purity than we shall reach while we bear about with us the prison house of our body.  For the law is not now acting toward us as a rigorous enforcement officer who is not satisfied unless the requirements are mat.  But in this perfection to which it exhorts us, the law points out the goal toward which throughout life we are to strive."

The next four sections deal with the "so-called" abrogation of the Law (as Calvin puts it).  As stated earlier, there are those who believe that the Law no longer has a place for Christians.  Calvin argues that the Law still has a place, but in a different capacity than before the resurrection of Christ.  Paul wrote to the Romans, "But now we have been delivered from the law, having died to what we were held by, so that we should serve in the newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter" (Romans 7:6 NKJV). The Law no longer condemns us, but exhorts us.  Calvin writes, "Therefore through Christ the teaching of the law remains inviolable; by teaching, admonishing, reproving, and correcting, it forms us and prepares us for every good work."  See II Timothy 3:16-17.

He continues in telling us the use for the Law among Christians when he writes, "What Paul says about the curse unquestionably applies not to the ordinance itself but solely to its force to bind the conscience.  The law not only teaches by forthrightly enforces what it commands."  But Christ was made a curse for us.  "To redeem us from this curse, I say, Christ was made a curse for us. 'For it is written: 'Cursed be every one who hangs on a tree.''[Galatians 3:13; Deuteronomy 21:23]."  We must still obey the Law.  "Meanwhile this always remains an unassailable fact: no part of the authority of the law is withdrawn without our having always to receive it with the same veneration and obedience."

Ceremonial laws are different from moral laws.  Calvin states, "The ceremonies are a different matter: they have been abrogated not in effect but only in use.  Christ by his coming has terminated them, but has not deprived them of anything of their sanctity; rather, he as approved and honored it."  Ceremonial laws are distractions to the reality of Christ.  "Consequently Paul, to prove their observance not only superfluous but also harmful, teaches that they are shadows whose substance exists for us in Christ."  Paul wrote, "So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ."  These ceremonies are not what is important - Christ is what is important.  Let us not become confused.

This ceremonial law has been blotted out according to Calvin and Paul.  Some have used Colossians 2:13-14 to argue that all of God's Law has been removed, "And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross."  Calvin argues that Paul was solely referring to the ceremonial laws that have been removed, not the moral laws. 

Calvin writes that the sacrifices that the Jewish people offered to God confessed their own sin and uncleanness.  They repeated the rites because of their repeated sins.  In this, the Jewish people "were partakers in the same grace with us."  However, even though the grace from God was the same, we no longer have to repeatedly have ritual sacrifices not because we no longer repeatedly sin, but because Christ has fulfilled the Law.  Christ freed us from the ceremonial laws, "...he abolished those daily observances, which were only to attest sins but could do nothing to blot them out."

Today is Palm Sunday, the celebration of the triumphal entry of Christ into Jerusalem.  This is the beginning of Holy Week.  Thanks be to God that Christ offered himself as a sacrifice to free us from the bondage of sin.  Our relationship to the law has not been totally blotted out, but our relationship to it has been dramatically changed.

Tomorrow's reading: 2.8.1-2.8.4

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