Letter to an inquisitive friend…

Dear Reggie,

Thank you for sharing your thoughts with me and giving me an opportunity to interact with you.

I have been thinking about our recent conversation and would like to respond to it. I was very happy to hear that you have a good understanding the importance of faith in Christ and his work on the cross for sinners. It is apparent that you have a solid grasp of the gospel of Christ, believe it, and want to live for Jesus. I’m also delighted to learn of your high view of Scripture and your desire to honor God.

I heartily agree with your appreciation for God’s law and think it would be helpful if you could make a distinction between the law of God and the law of man. Sometimes you confused the two and conflated their meanings. At other times you recognized that there is a huge difference between the law of God, and the laws of man (civil government, etc.) You rightly reflected a will high regard for the law of God. This important distinction was pointed out by Jesus who said, “Give unto God the things that are God’s and give unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.” The relationship between the two is usually clear when we honor God first and then recognize the rightful place of the civil government as subordinate to God’s law.

Since your concerns mainly had to do with the law of God as reflected in the Old Testament Scriptures, it will help you to be familiar with the 3 kinds of laws in the Old Testament. Here is a quick overview:

  1. Civil laws – these have to do with the Old Testament nation of Israel, which was a theocracy – the LORD, God of Israel was to be recognized as King. These laws have to do with living within the nation of Israel as a nation of God’s particular people. These laws are often associated with penalties. The particulars of the circumstances may vary and change, but the principles remain true and valid. Dietary laws probably fit well here.
  2. Ceremonial laws – these have to do with the worship of God and are given in connection with the tabernacle and temple as prescribed in detail in the Old Testament, especially in the book of Leviticus. Feast days probably fit in this category. In one way or another, these laws all point forward to or anticipate Christ. Jesus’ person and work – his life, death and resurrection have fulfilled the requirements of all these laws. These laws are no longer binding as they have been fulfilled by Christ. Studying them can reveal to us the beauty of Christ’s person and work, especially aspects of his atonement. The New Testament book of Hebrews has these and view. In the new covenant, these (in particular circumcision and The Passover) are replaced by Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Believers in Jesus also anticipate The Marriage Feast of the Lamb at the last day when Christ returns.
  3. Moral law (eternal law of God for all people, the declared will of God for all people, at all times, in all places. Summarized in the 10 Commandments). This shows us the will of God for our lives and the lives of all people, everywhere. We are not able to keep this fully, but Jesus has done this for us who believe. Praise the Lord. The moral law remains binding on all people, whether or not they recognize it, believe it or like it. Everyone is accountable to God.


At the time of the Reformation (1550 – 1650), the gospel was being rediscovered and crystallized. God used men like Martin Luther and John Calvin to refocus the attention of the church (God’s people) on justification by faith. This brought them to consider the relationship of law of God to salvation. They agreed that the Scriptures teach that no one can be saved by keeping the law, but only by the grace of God in Christ, which is received by faith.

As the Reformers reflected on the law they came to see three uses for it. First, the law serves as a guide to society in promoting civic righteousness. Secondly, the law convicts sinners and drives them to Christ. Thirdly, the law directs Christians in holy living.

So, one of the many benefits coming to us from that time is John Calvin’s explanation of the 3 uses of the law. He had in mind the moral law of God as summarized in the 10 Commandments (Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5). Here are the 3 uses he suggested:

  1. The law reflects God’s will for all people to preserve and order society. It promotes civil righteousness, that is, it shows how people should live and relate to one another.
  2. The law convicts sinners of sin – it shows us our need of Christ by showing us our particular shortcomings and failures. Thus, it drives us to him for forgiveness.
  3. The law shows Christians how to live in order to please God. Having found forgiveness in Christ, the law now becomes our standard for living – it shows us how to be holy or to please God. It directs our lives and shows us how to live to please our heavenly Father. This is often referred to as “the 3rd use of the law.”

I hope this clarifies some things for you and gives you a bit of a framework for your study and thinking. I will be happy to dialogue further with you about this. Keep in the word and keep in touch!


Pastor Kip


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