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The Purpose of the Law

One of my first impressions of God as a child was a disciplinarian. If I made a mistake, did something bad or really screwed up, God would punish me like disobedient Israelites in the Old Testament. Perhaps, the Roman Catholic priests that I grew accustom of listening to each Sunday at mass ingrained this concept into my head. Everything seemed so absolute with right and wrong clearly defined in the Bible. Yet, from a logical perspective, I didn’t know the purpose of God’s laws.

What then do we conclude? Is the Law identical with sin? Certainly not! Nevertheless, if it had not been for the Law, I should not have recognized sin or have known its meaning. [For instance] I would not have known about covetousness [would have had no consciousness of sin or sense of guilt] if the Law had not [repeatedly] said, You shall not covet and have an evil desire [for one thing and another]. But sin, finding opportunity in the commandment [to express itself], got a hold on me and aroused and stimulated all kinds of forbidden desires (lust, covetousness). For without the Law sin is dead [the sense of it is inactive and a lifeless thing], Romans 7:7-8.

The apostle Paul devotes an entire chapter to clearing up this matter for anyone who still may be confused or uncertain. According to the passage above, the purpose of the law is to recognize sin. When anyone goes outside the defined boundaries set in the Bible, you are proceeding into troubled waters. You may not feel any different at first. In fact, you may be amoral, not knowing right from wrong. Yet, the more you read the Bible, these words are like a lamp for our feet to guide your steps, Psalm 119:105.

For sin, seizing the opportunity and getting a hold on me [by taking its incentive] from the commandment, beguiled and entrapped and cheated me, and using it [as a weapon], killed me. 12 The Law therefore is holy, and [each] commandment is holy and just and good. 13 Did that which is good then prove fatal [bringing death] to me? Certainly not! It was sin, working death in me by using this good thing [as a weapon], in order that through the commandment sin might be shown up clearly to be sin, that the extreme malignity and immeasurable sinfulness of sin might plainly appear, Romans 7:11-13.

However, the Sermon on the Mount may reveal another purpose of the law. Jesus urges listeners of this famous speech to strive for perfection, Matthew 5:48. Unfortunately, anyone who seeks perfection will be consumed by disappointment and failure. This is what the apostle Paul realized as a former Pharisee. Despite possessing a zeal that surpassed most religious leaders of his day, Paul’s sinful tendencies was laid bare by God’s law. The true purpose of the law is to help human beings see their sinful nature so that confession compels trespassers to cry out to the Savior of the world, John 3:16-17.

by Jay Mankus

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