Wednesday, April 3, 2024

What Use Is The Old Law?

Over the years, As Bereans Did has posted multiple articles regarding how the Ten Commandments were the base terms of the Old Covenant, how the Old Covenant was never binding on Gentiles in the first place, how the New Covenant has replaced the Old Covenant, how it is not true that the terms of the Old Covenant come forward into the New Covenant, how Gentiles do not need to become Jews to be Christians (and Jews do not need to become Gentiles to be Christians), how the law is not actually being kept by those who demand it must be kept, and how the new law (which is the oldest law) is love and faith. You can find our articles listed in the Categories page.

One thing we've not addressed well enough is what good and what use does the Old Covenant law hold for us today. There is a use for it. I have asked and have been asked, "Why would God write this law just to get rid of it?" Because it was designed for a purpose and that purpose is now fulfilled. I propose a different question, "Why would God write this law and leave record of it if there is no use for it at all?" Because there remains a use for it. The book of Romans tells us what that is.

I am going to bluntly state this right at the start: the use of the Old Covenant law is not in keeping it. But that is for another post, like the ones mentioned above.

I believe the Old Covenant law has two uses: 1) to show the wicked how they need a Savior, and 2) to help guide the righteous to a better understanding of God.

I invite you to come with me. Let's spend some time in Romans together.


Paul spends two and a half chapters of his epistle to the Romans charging everyone with sin. All have sinned (ROM. 3: 23), both Jew and Gentile - those with the law and those without the law. (Notice Romans was written in 56-57 AD, and the Gentiles are still without the law.) He basically repeats this in I Corinthians 9: 20-21. Then he defends God that His judgment against us is righteous and just. The one thing we've earned from God is His wrath.

For all of those who say the definition of sin is "the transgression of the law", notice how Paul makes it abundantly clear that the law is not necessary for sin to be present.

(ROM. 2: 12a) For as many as have sinned without law will also perish without law...

(ROM. 5: 13-14a) For until the law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. 14 Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses...

The definition of sin cannot be transgressing the law if sin existed before the law. The law is not necessary for sin to exist.

Nor is the law necessary to do good.

(ROM. 2: 12) for when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves

(ROM. 3: 21)  But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law

So, we do not need the law to sin nor to do good, nor can the law judge us because the Old Covenant is abrogated. The law can't help or judge. So, what good is the law?
Use it for what it can do!

(ROM. 3: 19-20) 19 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. 20 Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin.

Not, "by the law is the existence of sin," or "by the law is the definition of sin," or even, "by the law is the overcoming of sin," but, "by the law is the knowledge of sin." In other words, the knowledge that sin is in us.

I will try to come up with an analogy to make it more understandable.
A young child keeps touching her mother's keepsakes. One day, she drops and breaks one. Fearing the rest will get broken, the mother makes a rule that if the child touches the keepsakes she will get a smack on the hand. The child touches the keepsakes anyway and gets the punishment promised.
Did the rule create the offense? No. She was doing the same undesirable act before the rule, only without understanding. Did the rule, which was good and meant for the child's good, change the child's heart? No. It may have changed this one particular behavior, but deep in that child's heart she still wants to get her little hands on anything and everything. The only thing that prevents her is she fears getting smacked on the hand. Chances are, now that they are forbidden, she wants those keepsakes even more than before. Maybe she will sneak a touch when mom isn't looking.

(ROM. 7: 7, 11-13) 7 What shall we say then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! On the contrary, I would not have known sin except through the law. For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, “You shall not covet.” ... 11 For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it killed me. 12 Therefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good. 13 Has then what is good become death to me? Certainly not! But sin, that it might appear sin, was producing death in me through what is good, so that sin through the commandment might become exceedingly sinful.

Indeed, "the law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good" (ROM. 7: 12). It is useful in helping a lawless and sinful heart to realize - to have knowledge of - their sin. If they pay attention, they might even come to know that their need is exceedingly great. After all, what is the point of knowing about sin or the greatness of sin except to know of the need for a Savior and the greatness of that Savior. The law can be used to help a person who is trapped in sin to understand the reality of their situation.

(I TIM. 1: 8-11) 8 But we know that the law is good if one uses it lawfully, 9 knowing this: that the law is not made for a righteous person, but for the lawless and insubordinate, for the ungodly and for sinners, for the unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, 10 for fornicators, for sodomites, for kidnappers, for liars, for perjurers, and if there is any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine, 11 according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God which was committed to my trust.

The law is not for the righteous - the one who has their Savior. I used to believe the righteous are the very ones the law was most for. It was the law that made us righteous, I thought. This says otherwise. The law is not for the righteous, but it is the unrighteous who can find some use in the law. But not to make them righteous! Only to make them consciously aware of their unrighteousness.

I want to point something out.
It is important to understand that we are not judging a person when we use the law to bring them to the knowledge of their own sin. Their conscience can judge them plenty on its own. We stand as witnesses for the defense, not the prosecution, and never as judges. God is judge. We are trying to HELP those who are trapped as slaves to unrighteousness, not condemn them. Too many Christians judge and condemn. We are not to condemn! We are all sinners in need of a Savior. We are not better, nor stronger, nor one bit less in need of a Savior. Spitting the law at our fellow sinner is not the proper use of the law. If we use the law as a hammer then we don't understand our own sin, and if we don't understand our own sin then we have no business addressing anyone else's sin in the first place. It's one thing to use the law as a mirror to hold up to a sinful heart so it can see itself and seek God, it's another thing to beat someone over the head with it. Too many Christians hold themselves up as the standard, abusing the law as a witness of their own righteousness, but that is not right! The law is holy and just and good, not us. The law doesn't make us anything but aware of our sin. Even Paul, who kept the law better than any of us could, still saw it all as worthless (PHP. 3: 8). And he said, "O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?" (ROM. 7: 24).
Beware when using the law!

Now, where were we? Oh yes. About that righteousness...


Someone might ask me, "If the law shows us our sin, doesn't heeding its warning mean we keep the law? Doesn't Paul say, 'For circumcision is indeed profitable if you keep the law' (ROM. 2: 25)?"

Are we keeping parts of the law? Yes. Does that do us any real good? Not really. You keep the Ten Commandments? That's fine. Now, only 603 more laws to go. Keeping 3% of the law isn't keeping the law. If you're not keeping all the law, you're not keeping the law at all. Paul did say it's profitable if you keep it, but half his point is no normal human has or can. Over and over, he mentions the Gentiles don't have the law and the Jews don't keep the law. It's even worse now that no one can keep the whole law as written. Our hearts are weak to sin. The law proves this. The law doesn't fix the heart, or super-power it so it is no longer weak to sin. It was weak to sin before the law, and it is weak to sin now. Attempting and failing to keep the law does nothing to change this.

Didn't I bluntly say, "the use of the Old Covenant law is not in keeping it"? Because showing us our sin is not the same as overcoming our sinful nature. The law can show us our hands are dirty, but it can't wash that dirt off. If it could do that, it would have done so in at least one case during the 1,400 years it existed before Jesus. It did not. The law can only punish us for getting our hands dirty. The only thing that can wash these hands clean is the blood of Jesus.

(ROM. 8: 3) For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh...

(I John 1: 7) But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.

Once your hands are clean, there is no further use for the law. "The law is not made for a righteous person."

(ROM. 6: 14) 14 For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace. 

(GAL. 5: 18) But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

Didn't you read the opening paragraph in this article? I started there for a reason. Didn't you read our FAQ page? Didn't you read any of our articles on the New Covenant? Didn't your read the epistle to the Romans? Sin exists apart from the law. Sin takes advantage of the law to kill us. The law is indeed good, but our flesh is weak to sin. Because of our weakness, the law gives sin its teeth. Sin kills us by the law. The law says 'obey or else', but sin causes us not to obey, so then we get the 'or else'. Try to keep the law all we want to but it will not help because it cannot help, because it has no power or provision to help. Our power naturally comes from our (sinful) heart, which cannot keep the law. So, the law can only punish us for failing. To set out to keep the law is to set out to fail. Indeed, we've already failed, so it's already too late.
The solution? God does not want our flawed attempts at righteousness under the law. That's not righteousness, that's self-righteousness. No, He wants His perfect righteousness imputed to us by faith.

(ROM. 10: 1-3) Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel [the people who have the law] is that they may be saved. 2 For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. 3 For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness [through law-keeping], have not submitted to the righteousness of God [imputed by faith].

(PHP. 3: 9) ...and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith...

None of the things in the following list comes from the law:
  Justification (GAL. 2: 16; ROM. 3: 20)
  Righteousness (GAL. 2: 21; ROM. 3: 21; PHP. 3: 9)
  The Spirit (GAL. 3: 2)
  Perfection (GAL. 3: 3; HEB. 7: 19)
  Miracles (GAL. 3: 5)
  Inheritance (GAL. 3: 18)
  Life (GAL. 3: 21)
  Grace (GAL. 5: 4)
  Faith (GAL. 3: 12)
Since this is the case, what could we possibly hope to get from the law? Use the law for what it can do. Don't jump right back into trying to use the law for what it cannot do.

I am not going to go on about this point in this article. We have plenty of other articles that go on about it. This article is about what the law can do, not what it cannot do.


There is a second thing the law is good for, and that is getting a better understanding of God.

I like to think of the Old Testament as a conversation I got to overhear. Was I an active participant? No. Was anything said to me? No. Was it about me? No. I am a stranger to the conversation, all I did was overhear it. Beware whenever someone says, "Listen to what God says to us." Nothing in the Old Covenant law was said to us. But that doesn't mean it has no value, because it was said for us.

(ROM. 15: 4) For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.

In this, the Old Testament, with its heroes and covenants and its laws, is just like the creation. It is there to tell us something, to reveal to us something.

(ROM. 1: 20) For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse

Paul tells us of these two witnesses - the natural and the revealed. We can find the attributes of God in both, if we are willing to look. There are so many examples of this, I cannot do this topic justice, so I won't even try. I will summarize a few points instead.

In reading through early Christian history, I have been privileged to read over and over again how they used the law to come to a better understanding of Jesus, of the nature of God, of fine details and of broad strokes. You will never fully understand Jesus the Messiah and His ministry and accomplishments without reviewing the law. Even though the earliest Christians did not feel obliged to keep the law (they knew it didn't apply to them and couldn't be kept anyhow - even by the Jews), they still read and learned from it.

The ceremonial law was used to teach Israel about the holiness of God. Reading about it can teach the same to us. So many points in the ceremonial law - from the way Israelites were not allowed to participate if they were ceremonial impure, to the way the High Priest could have no great deformity, right down to the priestly garb how it was vibrantly multicolored most of the time but stripped of all pretense and pure white on the Day of Atonement - taught people about the holiness of God. He is a God of wholeness and perfection. Set apart. Holy, holy, holy. The majority of those rituals and sacrifices had very little to do with morals but were about preserving sacred space. Even the poorly named "sin offering" wasn't about sin, it was about ritual purification to make you fit to enter holy space. That's why even pots could be contaminated, and certain ones were broken while others were scrubbed clean. Can pots sin? No. Those rituals and sacrifices could never remove sin (HEB. 10: 4). They were about holiness, not righteousness. You could technically be morally impure yet be ritually pure. The space which God occupied, the Holy of Holies, was entirely set apart and needed to be perfect and whole. The closer you got to it, the more perfect and clean and whole you needed to be. Why? So we could be perfect and clean and whole? No. So all could learn that God is perfect and clean and whole. We can still learn from the ceremonial law!

The holy days might not teach us about some "7,000-year plan of God" as Herbert Armstrong frequently said, but it does teach us about the attributes of the plan of God to bring about a Messiah to be a propitiation for sin and bring about Atonement. One need not keep the holy days to learn from them!

The Ten Commandments, being the core of the Old Covenant, might not be binding any longer in the letter, since that Covenant is abrogated, but much can still be gained from them. For example, the Sabbath day teaches us that God cares for us, bodily, not just spiritually. And not just humans, but animals and even the land as well. The commandments regarding murder and theft and honoring both your father and your mother teach us that God cares about society and family, and so should we. And who cannot learn from the Shema? "Hear O’ Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One" (DEU. 6: 4). What a statement! The law, written and engraved on stones, may no longer be our source of righteousness, but the lessons they teach are still quite valid.

For another example, look at the way the New Testament quotes from the Old Testament. If I had to choose one New Testament book that pulls form the Old Testament the most, I would suppose it is the book of Revelation. Most people only see scary images and opportunities to unlock future mysteries if they only try hard enough, but they miss how the book is practically a duplication of old themes which are meant for everyone in their own time, fifteen hundred years ago and right now, to learn from and apply in our lives. The entire book of Revelation is far less about some future events and more about how you approach life right now. We've had the book for nearly 2,000 years. Everyone who has read it has waited for the fulfillment but had to apply its lessons to their lives in their time. What does it say to us?"

(REV 1: 3) Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near. [Even today! Every day!]

Paul says the law even witnesses to something greater than itself.

(ROM. 3: 21-22) 21 But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22 even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe.

That is in the law! The second good use of the law is to point us at God's righteousness. Our unrighteousness but His righteousness. That is a proper use of the law.

I have always been impressed by Martha's ability to make points about what I'm trying to describe here. If you want more, I recommend you read everything she's written. She does a much better job than I.


This post is about what the Old Covenant law can do. The old law is good, if we use it lawfully. I hope I have demonstrated the Old Covenant law has two uses: 1) to show the wicked how they need a Savior, and 2) to help guide the righteous to a better understanding of God. It cannot fix our hearts. It cannot clean our hands. It cannot bring us closer to God.

Once a sinner is aware of their sin and aware of their need for a Savior, introduce them to their Savior. That is the ultimate goal of the law - to point mankind to their Savior. 

(ROM. 10: 4) For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.

Christ is the goal of and the termination of the law. It pointed to Him. Like a pedagogue, it watched over Israel while they waited for Him (GAL. 3: 23-25). He fulfilled it - all of it - and then He replaced it. He, working in us through faith, sends the Holy Spirit to us to do what the law could never hope to do. He can fix our hearts. He can clean our hands. He can bring us closer to God. The Holy Spirit, from the Father through the Son, is our teacher and guide. God in us, and us in Him. And it all starts with seeing our own need.

Right now would be a great time for you to read Galatians 3 again. (I'll wait while you do.)
There. Do you see how it all snaps together now? Funny what a little perspective can do.

I don't know how many opportunities you are going to have to use the law to help a person see their need for their Savior, but if you do get that chance, hopefully you do it knowing the proper limits of the law. And do so in love.

God bless you, dear reader, deeply loved by God. I pray for you to know the law better, know yourself better, and know Him better, and to have a closer walk with Him though faith.


It is important that you understand; Everything on this blog is based on the current understanding of each author. Never take anyone's word for it, always prove it for yourselfit is your responsibility. You cannot ride someone else's coattail into the Kingdom. ; )

Acts 17:11



Miller Jones/Lonnie C Hendrix said...

My posts about Torah approach the subject of its value to Christians from a slightly different perspective, but I find no fault scripturally with what you have offered here. Bottom line, our righteousness is derived from Jesus Christ, not Torah! And Christians should be applying the Law of Love to everything we do going forward - NOT because that will earn us anything, but to demonstrate our love for God and our appreciation for what Christ has done for us. Thanks for the post.

xHWA said...

I agree with your approach as well. Together, we hit a more complete picture. Thanks for reading!